What the SDGs mean to us and how we use them as a framework in the work we do!
If you were asked to think of the idea of a waste-picker in a developing country the image that in your mind is probably a person wearing tattered clothes scavenging for pieces of plastic or cloth in a large open air dumpsite with eager vultures circling overhead. While this image is the reality in many parts the world, I recently came back from a 2-week expedition in India with inspiring memories of how this sad reality is changing for the better. I’ll explain how a global framework is enabling this local change.
When we started Gone Adventurin, our vision was to help businesses positively impact local communities. This was born out my previous work experience in a large corporate where I had constantly felt that my day to day work wasn’t directly empowering people. While our vision was clear, we couldn’t define exactly what “positively impact local communities” really meant because it meant different things to different people in our team. For some it meant creating inspiring stories while for others it meant creating sustainable partnerships between local NGOs and businesses.
The launch of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015 gave our social business a clearer sense of what we could accomplish and what “positively impact local communities” looked like. The SDGs have provided a unifying framework where traditional businesses, NGOs as well as innovative startups and social enterprises can work together on the same global development goals in any part of the world.
Our expedition in India across the urban centers of Bengaluru and Pune is a good example of this. The project started 2 months ago over my discussion with a member of the global leadership team of a leading consumer goods company. The company had then just recently picked up WASTE as a focus of their business innovation and was actively looking to understand the post-consumption waste landscape of its products in fast-growing developing markets of Asia such as the Philippines and India whose urban areas are struggling to cope with growing levels of household waste.
I brought up the idea of looking at waste holistically – this means not just as an issue by itself but also how it affected other sustainable development topics such as Poverty, Energy, Health and Responsible Production. We also discussed how collaborating with local Indian startups working on various aspects of waste management would help the company ensure it also included other sustainable development topics during its innovation process. The company loved the idea and in a matter of weeks my team was off to India to help the company develop a comprehensive understanding of post-consumption waste and identify potential startup partners to help develop its pilot innovation programs.
During the first week we met with 11 inspiring startups across Pune and Bengaluru (both are cities which have active citizen movements and forward-thinking waste management policies). This helped us design and map the post-consumption waste journey and areas where the consumer goods company can focus its innovations.
One of these startups – Hasiru Dala Innovations, has developed an unique franchise-model where waste-pickers with basic literacy skills are able to run their own waste management businesses in dry waste recycling centers across the city. Apart from enabling thousands of waste pickers across the city to get ID cards, the startup has also launched its first women-only waste collection unit where the women who run the unit have driving licenses, ATM cards, health insurance and earn enough monthly income to send their children to school.
During our second week, we introduced many of such startups to the consumer goods company’s Indian leadership team. The team was left impressed at the business model innovation of these startups. The startups will now be chosen not only based on their impact on waste but also their impact on alleviating poverty (SDG #1), access to quality education (SDG #4), decent work opportunities created (SDG #8) and gender equality (SGD #5). Thus for businesses investing in social innovation programs, the SDGs now provide a comprehensive framework to develop and measure the impact of their programs.
Paul Bulcke, CEO of Nestle AG, says “The private sector helped prepare the SDGs and had the opportunity to give input. This opportunity to contribute, helped make these goals everyone’s goals. So, now is the time for the private sector to make explicit societal commitments, to explain how they will help the world achieve the SDGs”
A recent report by 3BL MEDIA suggests “With only two months of the second quarter of 2016 tallied, the number of Flexible Media Releases mentioning the SDGs had already exceeded the January-March period by 30 percent. Consumer and pharmaceutical brands are tops in referencing the Global Goals. Among the consumer companies outlining commitments to tackle challenges are PepsiCo, Diageo, General Motors, Kimberly-Clark, General Mills, Nestle and H&M.”
To us at Gone Adventurin’, the SDGs have become a powerful tool to focus our work with consumer goods companies in integrating impact into the core of their businesses and measure our impact. We strongly encourage business leaders across all industries to consider doing so too.