I had the opportunity to attend the United Nations Global Compact Leaders (UNGC) Leaders Summit 2016- an annual gathering of business leaders and the United Nations to examine the role of the private sector in advancing the agenda of the United Nations. This year’s event was held on the 22nd and 23rd of June at the UN Headquarters NY and the Marriott Marquis and the theme was ‘making global goals local business’. It was an inspiring and educative  event as it showcased various innovations and initiatives companies are embarking on to implement the sustainable development goals.

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I love the sustainable development goals not only because they are ambitious but also because its formulation was a highly participatory process- it involved youth, civil society organisations, NGOs, business etc. I particularly like goal 17 which calls for partnerships- the importance for partnerships especially with the private sector, for the implementation of the SDGs can never be overemphasized. With the sluggish global economic growth, especially China’s, it is clear that governments alone do not have sufficient resources to implement the SDGs. This holds true in developed countries but more so in developing countries (especially Africa) that have been hard hit by the reduction in demand from China and the fall in commodity prices. This also means that foreign aid may not be sufficient to cover the financing gap in developing countries and this is where partnership with the private sector becomes very critical. But the role of the private sector goes way beyond the provision of finance, they also have a moral responsibility to mainstream these goals into their organisational practices i.e by ensuring gender parity, reducing carbon emissions, provision of decent jobs.

The official 2016 UNGC Leaders summit video.

This is why the work of the UNGC is very critical, by providing businesses with partnership opportunities, trainings and other resources; the global community can get closer to the implementation of the SDGs.

Anyway here are some of my personal highlights from the summit;

-I loved the presentation by UBS on some of their innovative approaches to financing the SDGs, one of which is Impact Investing. Impact Investing is a type of investment made to generate social and environmental impact by incorporating environmental, social and government (ESG) factors in addition to pure financial considerations. I think this is revolutionary as it challenges the way Investors think about investments. I also learnt that while we may think that this type of investment yields less than conventional investments, there is evidence to show that companies with better ESG standards generate higher risk-adjusted returns. I would however aspire for us to create a world where incorporating ESG factors in ALL investment decisions becomes the norm.IMG_20160704_000633

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We were all smiles after a successful opening session at the UN General Assembly hall .

– The unveiling of the SDG Pioneers, these are 10 amazing individuals chosen from hundreds of applications from over 100 countries. These people are working hard to advance SDGs such as women’s empowerment, human rights , clean energy etc; thus making our world a better place to live in. But off course, you know I just had to ‘famz’ with one of them right 🙂 Patrick here is definitely someone to look out for, he started his first business with $50 when he was only 17 years. Then he subsequently  studied renewable energy in China and started his first clean energy technology company when he was 22. Since then, his company Helvetica Group now specialises in various areas of renewable energy. He has gone on to be listed in Forbes ’30 under 30 Africa’s Best Young Entrepreneurs 2013′ and Forbes ‘ 10 Young Millionaires to watch’ amongst several other awards.

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With Patrick Ngowi from Tanzania
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Group photo of all the amazing SDG pioneers committed to making our world a better place:)

– Yikes, how could I almost forget UNICEF’s amazing innovation! Their virtual reality productions literally makes you step into the daily reality of victims of disease and other unfortunate predicaments. I watched a production on the plight of Ebola victims in Liberia and I almost felt like I was present in the camp. As you rotate 360 degrees, you get to view different scenes; children crying, health workers working, people being buried, medicines being administered etc. I doubt if it’s possible to watch it without being empathetic and becoming inclined to support their cause. I must confess its an effective fundraising tool.

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Captivated by UNICEF’s virtual reality production

– And then there was the sustainable living reception which showcased ‘sustainable’ presentations. Celebrity Chef, Chloe was there to present some of her plant-based culinary creations and talked about her vision for a future founded on sustainable plant-based food. To be honest her  canapés were absolutely nice but I am certainly not turning Vegetarian anytime soon, meat is very central to my existence 🙂 And then there was a mini fashion show and sustainable fashion presentation by Canopy- Canopy leads a campaign to  eliminate the fashion industry’s detrimental effects on the world’s forests, freshwater systems, climate, and forest-based communities. According to Canopy, about 100million trees are logged each year for fashion alone and as a result some forests have become endangered. So Canopy’s campaign is to encourage companies to stop sourcing from these endangered forests and shift to alternatives such as recycled fabrics, non-wood alternatives, organic and socially sustainable cottons. The fashion show showcased outfits made from these alternative materials.

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Sustainable fashion from Canopy 🙂
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At the sustainable living reception with my amazing friend Rawnag 🙂

-And finally some unsolicited advice, as you may have noticed, I used the word ‘sustainable ‘ multiple times. Ladies and gentlemen, since the unveiling of the SDGs it has become the latest buzzword within the UN and the International Development community and rightfully so. So if you are thinking of starting a career in International Development or looking for an area to specialize, I think Sustainable Development (Masters or PhD) is a field worth considering; especially areas such as corporate sustainability, environment, climate change and even gender mainstreaming. Remember this is unsolicited advice but if you heed it and things work out for you, you heard it hear first, so return to pay homage 🙂 (just kidding..not really).

Needless to say, I am happy and thankful for the opportunity to attend such an inspiring summit and see the business community commit to make our world a better place to live in. It can be depressing thinking of the whole range of global problems but gatherings like this give you hope that things can indeed be better.Off course it is not all roses, there are thousands of businesses out there that still violate human and labour rights, treat women unfairly, pollute the environment and engage in corrupt practices. But the most important thing to me is that the entire global community has begun the right conversation about it .

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