2015 was a year of grand political ambitions channelled into the Sustainable Development Goals. These ambitions can be turned into concrete business opportunities – given the right mind-set and urgent action.
First, the mind-set. Our survey of more than 5,500 public and private sector leaders around the world shows a readiness for action and an appreciation of the challenges we face. Business leaders – 83 percent of our respondents being private business leaders – are especially concerned about Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to well-being, good health and jobs – in short, the creation of decent lives.
The survey reveals that these “back to basics” SDGs has the biggest impact for good business as well for a sustainable society. However, neither these nor any of the 17 SDGs can be tackled by the public sector alone. Luckily, public and private sector leaders see business opportunities in all of them – and they are ready to seize them.
Second, the urgency. The long list of SDGs illustrates both the urgency and the complexity of the challenges the world faces. Questions of inequality, health, and poverty are inextricably linked with climate change, land degradation and ocean biodiversity. And our time for addressing them is running out. If we are to solve these global problems within the 15 year timeframe set, we must pursue concrete opportunities for change. This report, and last year’s report, is full of them. We do not claim that the opportunities are easy shortcuts to achieving the SDGs, but they can inspire us to operationalise the broad ambitions behind the goals.
The opportunities demonstrate new ways to make the best of systemic risks, thus bringing the world closer to a safe and sustainable future. See opposite page for an overview of how the opportunities are linked to the SDGs.
MAKING PROSPERITY POSSIBLE
Zooming in on the five risks presented in this year’s Global Opportunity Report, 42 percent of the leaders we asked across the world singled out youth unemployment as the most pressing issue to solve. We saw a similar concern last year, with unemployment rated as the most pressing risk of all. Particularly since the 2008 financial crisis, generations of young people risk being wasted to a life without future prospects and prosperity.
Not having a job equals to loss of income, low self-esteem, loss of identity, and loss of a sense of purpose for many youths today. This loss of talent and opportunity has personal, societal, and sometimes even global repercussions.
The leaders we surveyed understand this growing risk and the immense potential for prosperity that can be unleashed if it is addressed correctly. Our data shows a consistent belief that decent work is the SDG holding the greatest potential for business opportunities.
In tackling youth unemployment, we are not only challenged by the aftermath of the global financial crisis. The much bigger challenge is digitalisation of work processes, which threatens to make 50 percent of the current work force obsolete. Even though digitalisation threatens to rob jobs it is also a driver of job creation in some parts of the world. The ever changing skill landscape makes it even more urgent that we think creatively about new opportunities for young people.
In this report, we present opportunities for decent work by way of bringing job opportunities to disadvantaged youth or removing barriers to entrepreneurship through digital innovations. It is clear that there is not one silver bullet to job creation, but rather many opportunities that we must build upon to ensure decent lives for all, now and in the future.
The opportunities have been linked to the SDGs by analysing how the opportunities contribute to the underlying 169 targets of the SDGs
A HEALTHY FOUNDATION
The public sector rates the SDG number 3 concerning health and well-being, highest on both dimensions: good for business and good for society. Our survey respondents particularly see healthy people as a determining factor for keeping public health expenditures down and ensuring long-term societal sustainability.
Health as an economic and social foundation for society is challenging. Governments everywhere are struggling to manage the rapidly increasing costs of health care, projected to rise 5.2 percent a year between 2014 and 2018 at a global level. This increase is partly driven by the health needs of aging populations, growing populations, and the rising prevalence of chronic diseases. In low and
medium HDI countries diseases once thought to be challenges for affluent countries alone, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), have emerged as the leading cause of death and disability.
We expect the public sector to drive new markets in preventive health care. Innovative leaders will pursue new opportunities for collaborative action between the public and private sector to keep populations healthy through investments in healthy lifestyles. One example is the promotion of new diets with less meat, included in this year’s opportunities. Opportunities from last year’s Global Opportunity Report, such as everyday health enablers, innovative finance for a healthy generation, and combating NCDs with mobile technologies are also concrete avenues to help achieve this SDG.
NEW PARTNERSHIPS FOR CHANGE
Our survey shows that business leaders see opportunities across all the 17 SDGs and are tuned to advocating for systemic change almost to the same extent as civil society. With this in mind, we predict – and welcome – that businesses will reach out to citizens and organisations to cocreate solutions rooted in good and sustainable societies.
The opportunities in the report for getting youth back to work and for improving public health are examples of collaboration between citizens and business to the benefit of all.
Our survey reveals one immediate challenge in incentivising these new partnerships is that lower levels of management, particularly managers in high HDI countries, are not very well aware of the SDGs. Targeted information efforts may thus be needed to further fuel the drive of business, upon which change depends.
The majority of the opportunities in this report are based on existing technologies and modes of collaboration making them ready to pursue and scale up. Given the urgency of tackling global risks such as climate change, food shortage, and unemployment, only lack of knowledge and political will are holding back change. Opportunities in this report can help turn ambition into reality; the time to pursue them is now.