In 2015, the United Nations launched the Sustainable Development Goals for the next 15 years. They have been widely criticised for being too ambitious.
The first goal is to end all poverty – an afternoon’s work I hear you say? Next! Reading through these goals can feel overwhelming – or worse, distancing – but I argue that the perceived ambitiousness of these goals has stemmed from an obvious place: we’ve been trying to solve world problems by only effectively utilising half of the population.
The predecessor of the SDGs were the 8 Millennium Development Goals set by the UN in 2000. By the 2015 deadline, we had reached 3 of 8 of them. Not bad seeing as most of the shots were being called from a limited and narrow perspective. By 2015, we were still seeing women in only 17% of leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies. “But what about, start-ups – new companies? They must be doing better…. Surely?” Not so – only 7% of start-ups are female-led. Where are all the women at?! We can do better than this.
The SDGs focus on the biggest crises affecting the world today and require everybody’s perspective in order to solve them in a way that’s beneficial to the maximum number of people. Men and women are simply hardwired to take different things into consideration and that’s why, more than ever, we need to be working together. The stats show that the shift towards equal leadership is just too slow at giant companies. We must take matters into our own hands and make an active effort to bring together diverse groups to think deeply about migration, hunger and climate change.
Tackling huge global issues will require the active involvement of everyone on the planet. Whilst governments, large organisations and big business inevitably have key roles to play in this, I believe that it will actually be small, fast moving, innovative start-ups and existing organisations that will make the most impact.
I am a board member of Fast Forward 2030, a think tank that promotes new business models that will help deliver the SDGs. The emphasis is on business because we believe that companies may be in a better position to affect real positive change than charities ever could be. The main difference between them is that businesses are set up to make profit and are therefore self-sustaining, whereas charities constantly rely on a reliable stream of donations meaning that there’s a higher risk that their good-doing could end at any time. I argue that an organisation that makes a humble profit on providing life-saving healthcare would be able to help far more people than a charity with the same goal in the long run.
As the issues covered by the UN’s SDGs become ever more urgent, now is the right time for more women to be part of the conversation about what business models will get us there. Everyone should have their say in global development. That includes you. You owe that to the rest of us, girl.