#SDGs: Courting the Private Sector for Impact

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​As encapsulated in the CSRFiles Digest edition of October 16, 2015, one of the challenges that contributed to the near success and near failure (depending on the continent in context) of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was the seemingly passive contributions and non-inclusion of the Private Sector. To amend this, the successor Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015 has been designed with the active participation of the Private Sector, and with confidence that the success of the goals will largely depend on Public Private Partnerships. 

One year, five months after (February 28, 2017), Nigeria inaugurated the first African Private Sector Advisory Group; a mirror of the Global Private Sector Advisory Group (PSAG), set up by the United Nations Sustainable Development Fund (UNSDGF). Global PSAG was established to better align public-private partnerships for sustainable development by building a public-private alliance roadmap, collaborating and discussing practical solutions pertaining to the common challenges of contemporary sustainability, and providing the UNSDGF with guidance and strategic support to achieve better development results in coordinating with the private sector.  Nigeria’s PSAG is therefore expected to provide the Global PSAG with guidance and strategic support to achieve a hitch-free and effective implementation of the SDGs in the country. 

Although a development in the right direction; welcomed with much optimism by both the public and private sector, it may be too early to anticipate the success of the SDGs in Nigeria. This is because Nigeria’s stakeholders and masses want action, clear direction, and urgent implementation of strategies to set the goals in motion. Whereas, there have been groups established for joint promotion of sustainable development initiatives in the past who have produced more conversations and debates than action. 

Nevertheless, since the PSAG-SDGs has secured the buy-in of the presidency through the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDGs, prompt and effective action is highly anticipated. There is much work to be done to ensure the activities of the group go beyond the buzz of the inauguration ceremony into action and making a success of the goals; the exact request made in reaction to the global launch of the SDGs in September 2015.

Amidst this laudable development therefore, it is important that certain measures are put in place to ensure the group does not fade into irrelevance but delivers on the set objectives and mandate, to ensure that the Nigerian economy is sustainable; socially, environmentally, and economically.  

A firm start: One of the challenges Networks and Voluntary groups face in Nigeria is attracting committed members. It is worthy of note that PSAG Nigeria is starting out with key partners of high caliber however, some of these key partners also belong to other similar Networks that have become irrelevant. It is therefore important the PSAG ensures it has a firm, action-oriented commitment from every partner/member, from the start.

At inauguration, only a few key private organisations were invited, with restriction as to the number of other committed sustainability-driven private organisations that can be admitted per time. This is probably for regulatory purposes however, the body should be more flexible in admitting new members to allow the participation of more private sector players. Interested players should be able to apply for membership without having to wait for a PSAG membership call. 

Present members are simply top private sector organisations, companies, and a few sectorial organisations; the body would perform better if it not only consider big players and associations but also directly admit Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), who happen to make up over half of the Nigerian private sector. In addition, it can also admit the several multi-stakeholder partnerships already working on the same objectives, in order to synchronise activities.

Furthermore, though there is a high level business plan in place to guide the running of the group, it is important to have it well communicated to every member, well enforced and that the advantages of private sector participation in the SDGs are well communicated to the entire sector; then only will it be easy to get adequate commitment to the objectives of the group.

Nonetheless, it is the role and patriotic duty of every private organization, business, or company, whether admitted to PSAG or not, to align their organisational strategies to the SDGs; engage in effective partnerships with one another instead of dwelling on competition; invest in SDG sectors; and be responsible to fiscal policies (read the complete article on how the private sector can make the SDGs work on www.sustainableconvos.com).

Political Interference: In as much as the involvement of the presidency signifies a governmental commitment, it also poses the risk of political interference and control. It is important that the group is run without political interference or prejudice and the interest and contributions of private organisations are not jeopardised. Political prying could be a major obstacle to the success of the group if not guarded against.

Over the years, political interference and control has been a major hindrance to the smooth operation of many private bodies. The Aviation, Oil, Agriculture, Power, and even Telecommunications sectors are examples of supposed private sector activities that remain dominated by political meddling.  The success of PSAG will be largely dependent on how it is able to properly leverage the involvement of the presidency whilst ensuring political involvement does not supersede or hinder its clear objectives. PSAG should thus be as autonomous as can be; only then will it attract the participation and commitment of all private sector players and achieve its objectives. Nigerians do not want another monolith in the PSAG. 

Measuring and Monitoring: The sustainability of the PSAG lies in the level of private sector engagement it is able to garner in favour of the goals and as such must be able to effectively coordinate the measurement of the performance of the goals. It is also the responsibility of the private sector, now expected to be led by the PSAG, to monitor the progress of the goals, especially for Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). Nevertheless, every businesses is expected to participate in progressive SDG conversations and be open and true to share their participation in implementing the goals, in order to encourage others to work at it. In addition, businesses should provide constant progress data through annual reports, to the newly established PSAG to help in tracking, as well as increase transparency and accountability measures.

Ultimately, since the PSAG will be working hand in hand with the Presidency on the SDGs, it is expected to be the credible intermediary between the public, private sectors and the citizenry. This will ensure better participation of every citizen in working towards the goals and in turn fast-track the achievements of the group, as well as the attainment of the goals on time.  

In as much as over 80% of GDP of developing countries are derived from the private sector (European Commission Website), we can indirectly posit that over half of the goals can be achieved with an enthusiastic thrust and commitment from the private sector, now to be coordinated by the PSAG. 

References:

Private Sector Advisory Group (2017): High Level Business Plan; PSAG

http://www.sahara-group.com/how-un-private-sector-advisory-group-will-help-nigeria-achieve-sdgs-sahara-group-boss.html 

https://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/sectors/economic-growth/private-sector-development_en 

https://twitter.com/hashtag/psag?src=hash 

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