The UN Sustainable Development Goals: Background

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The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted in 2000, aimed at an array of issues that included slashing poverty, hunger, disease, gender inequality, and access to water and sanitation. Enormous progress was made during the time frame (2000 – 2015) of the MDGs, showing the value of a unifying agenda underpinned by goals and targets. But despite much success, the indignity of poverty has not been ended for all.

What was therefore required was a broader sustainability agenda, one that would go much further than the MDGs in addressing the root causes of poverty and the universal need for development that works for all people.

One of the main outcomes from the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in 2012 was an international agreement to negotiate a new set of global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to guide the path of sustainable development in the world after 2015. Building on the MDGs, the SDGs were established following the largest multiple stakeholder consultation process of its kind. 

It was determined that these goals should be “action-oriented, concise and easy to communicate, limited in number, aspirational, global in nature and universally applicable to all countries, while taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities.” They should be “focused on priority areas for the achievement of sustainable development.” They should also reflect “the moral principles that no-one and no country should be left behind, and that everyone and every country should be regarded as having a common responsibility for playing their part in delivering the global vision.” 

On September 25th 2015 during the UN General Assembly in New York, an unprecedented 193 countries adopted the 17 new Sustainable Development Goals with 169 specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years. In the words of the United Nations Development Program, the goals are designed “to end poverty, hunger and inequality, take action on climate change and the environment, improve access to health and education, and build strong institutions and partnerships, and more”.

All of the goals have been conceived as applying ambitions and challenges to all countries. All of the goals and targets contain important messages and challenges for developed and developing countries alike. However, for the goals to be reached, everyone needs to do their part: governments, the private sector, civil society and people like you.

The Importance of Private Sector Engagement and Partnerships with the Global Goals


The goals are achievable but challenging. The key role corporations will play in this effort was highlighted during the 2015 Private Sector Forum in New York held in conjunction with the U.N. Sustainable Development Summit. The Forum was designed to increase understanding of efforts underway by the private sector and civil society, and provide a platform for the private sector to announce long-term goals and partnerships that will make an important contribution towards achieving sustainable development for all.

The private sector is unequivocally important to the success of the SDGs. The questions are, Why should a corporation care, and How can they get involved?

Unlike the MDGs before them, the SDGs are more business-oriented. According to a U.N. report, “In addition to eliminating poverty, the new framework must address the drivers of change, such as economic growth, job creation, reduced inequality and innovation that makes better and more careful use of natural resources. Industry will assuredly play a prominent role in advancing all these drivers.”

As the U.N. report points out, the private sector’s international reach and business practices can enact real change and innovation. Corporations can reach developing regions to spur sustainable economic growth, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and champion peace and gender equality. All of these things, while being good for the world, are also good for business.

There are many ways the private sector can help. It can align Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies with the SDGs, encourage skills-based volunteering for SDG progress among employees, include global causes in workplace giving campaigns, provide gift-in-kind contributions, and raise awareness of the SDGs among staff and the public.

Initiatives such as IMPACT 2030, a collaboration of international leaders from the private sector, nonprofits and governments that are working towards the success of the SDGs, are already underway exploring specifically what can be done to mobilize corporate volunteers to contribute directly to the success of the U.N.’s SDGs.

Achieving the SDGs will mean a safer, cleaner, more peaceful world for all, but that success requires commitment, participation and coordination from all groups—governments, NGOs, individuals, and the private sector. While the next 15 years will bring challenges, they will also bring change as we work together to overcome hurdles and meet the goals. Just last year, the United Nations finalized the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a group of objectives that will continue the Millennium Development Goals’ (MDGs) journey to make the world a better place.

Global Impact’s Commitment to the SDGs


Understanding the important role the private sector will play in achieving the SDGs is critical. Any group that doesn’t get on board quickly will be playing catch-up in the coming years. But where do corporations go to find a trusted partner to guide them in their work developing business activities and CSR/employee engagement initiatives linked to SDG success?

Since 1956, Global Impact has generated more than $1.7 billion to help the world’s most vulnerable people by building partnerships and increasing resources for the world’s most vulnerable people. Serving both private sector and nonprofit organizations, Global Impact provides integrated advisory and secretariat services; campaign design, marketing and implementation for workplace and signature fundraising campaigns; as well as fiscal agency and technology services.

For the Sustainable Development Goals, Global Impact’s areas of expertise will be focused on Goal #17: Partnerships for the Goals with the Private Sector. A successful sustainable development agenda will require partnerships with the private sector – partnerships that are inclusive, built upon principles and values, and with a shared vision.