Poverty, people and planet: The Global Sustainable Development Agenda


Poverty, people and planet: The Global Sustainable Development Agenda

Talal Malik

Trees and the seeds from which they emerge are and have often been a strong symbol of sustainability.

In fact, trees which bore witness to the presence of the great prophets still stand strong and proud today: Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him)  and the Kermes oak trees in the Golan Heights; Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) and the burning bush in the Sinai, Egypt; Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) amid the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) with the Blessed Tree, Jordan. Confucius, the main sage of China, claimed: “The best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago. The second best time is now.”

The United Nations will be planting its own trees in 2015 when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), launched in September 2000, expire. They will be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be launched at the UN Summit for Adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda on 25-27 September in New York. The SDGs represent a second chance for the United Nations and its government members to lead in solving the world’s most critical problems in pursuit of global justice: eradicating poverty, dignifying people and saving the planet.

There is a genuine need to transform the narrative of what the SDGs mean to the public, private and social sectors. Governments can be encouraged to transform their perception of the Agenda from an international obligation to a leadership opportunity. Businesses can perceive the SDG Agenda as not an enhanced and updated edition of corporate social responsibility, but one affecting every part of their value proposition, including their bottom line, which they can accredit as SDG-adherent. NGOs should not be daunted by the scale of the global challenge ahead, but should rather focus on achieving impact with the beneficiaries of the SDGs at grassroots local levels in the field.

But in order to have a genuine chance of achieving success with the SDGs by 2030, there is a need to move beyond the tri-sectorial perspective of stakeholders to the following three mega-demographics.

The first demographic is the individual, where the narrative has to be transformed from one currently of altruism or apathy to ownership, enfranchisement and empowerment. The SDGs belong to each person, as this, after all, is their planet. Key to this process will be enfranchising Millennials, the generation of youth who reached adulthood around 2000, and who largely have a deep desire to make the world a better place. The success in enfranchising this group, and others, can be based on the utilization of technology, especially mobile, in order to measure the impact of success of the SDGs at a global and granular level.

The second demographic are political blocs, mega-city based BRIC countries and inter-governmental organizations, which can help to bring scale to achieving the SDG Agenda. The likes of the European Union, the African Union, APEC, ASEAN and the GCC can enter into greater economic cooperation and trade with one another on a more elevated basis than nation states did historically by focusing on the SDG Agenda and also by institutionalizing a specific fund for it. Greater regional integration will become increasingly important over the next 15 years, particularly if one subscribes to economist Joseph Stiglitz’s perspective of the “leaderless” contemporary multi-polar G-0 world we currently live in.

The third demographic is the most unusual, but arguably, the most critical: global faith traditions, all of whom have eradicating poverty at their core, and for whom institutionalization at scale can be very valuable for the SDG Agenda.

Pope Francis said last month that the Catholic Church has been caring for and protecting the poor since its beginning. Bringing to bear a global institutionalization of this care – in the form of a Vatican Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) – would be very beneficial for the SDG Agenda.

The Islamic world can also contribute immensely to eradicating poverty through the greater global institutionalization of zakat, obligatory almsgiving at the rate of 2.5 percent of every Muslim’s annual income/ wealth, which is one of the five pillars of Islam. With significant stakes in the current $5 trillion global energy sector, the $5 trillion SWF sector, the $2 trillion global Islamic economy and the 2.2 billion rise in the global middle class by 2030, zakat funds which can be sourced and collected by governments to contribute to the SDG Agenda globally are staggering in terms of potential.

Government leaders, and their advisers, at the United Nations would do well to remember a paraphrased final arboreal metaphor when finalizing the SDG Agenda this year: “Our world will grow great when old (and young) men (and women) plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

Engaging governments, businesses and NGOs for the SDG Agenda is critical but only by moving beyond them will there be genuine, sustainable, measurable impact at scale. The SDG Agenda has to be owned by individuals, particularly Millennials, by blocs and large inter-governmental organizations and global faith traditions, which should be encouraged to institutionalize at scale their philanthropic missions.

Success will be achieved if in 2030, when some of us may no longer be here, no single person of the 1.6 billion people living in extreme multi-dimensional poverty today remains in that same state then.

"Nemo Resideo": No one will be left behind.

Talal Malik is an adviser on governance, strategy and influence to some of the world’s senior government and business leaders. He can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/in/talalmalik