Aligning Profit and Impact: How Business Is Evolving to Contribute to the SDGs

July 29, 2016 Annie Rhodes

This article was originally published on npENGAGE.

Reflections from the SDG Business Forum by Annie Rhodes  

Jumping off from my article last week on cross-sector partnerships for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), this week I’d like to talk about how business is evolving in its response. The day after the Partnership Exchange, I attended the SDG Business Forum, which was co-hosted by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), and the UN Global Compact in collaboration with the Global Business Alliance (GBA). The SDG Business Forum was an opportunity to convene with leaders from business, government, UN agencies, key international organizations, and civil society groups to unpack the role that business will play in delivering the 2030 Agenda.

It was reassuring to hear the discussion again on data, partnerships, and collaboration - and the imperative to maintain a consistent emphasis on these trends moving forward. My most important take-away from this forum, however, was the recognition that businesses are re-framing their core strategies to innately work towards specific SDGs. During the Business for Agenda 2030 session, each company representative took a goal and articulated how their business strategy was helping to achieve that goal. They did this by walking through examples from the field, implementation methods, and learnings, as well as the potential for their work to simultaneously address other goals. It was great to see how many other SDGs each company was working towards in addition to the example they were providing, and that they realized how they can maximize their impact and benefit to address multiple goals.  

Another strong and positive force in the evolution of businesses addressing the SDGs is coming from the market. New business frameworks encompassing the SDGS are not just emerging from internal efforts, but also from the voices of companies’ external counterparts, customers and the general public. A few prominent anecdotes from this session highlighted the increasing tendency of clients requesting that their investments support the SDGs. So not only are businesses thinking how to re-frame their work to address the SDGs, but the very mechanism that moves their work forward is pushing for impact-focused investment portfolios and sound business practices that are specific to the SDGs.

The participants departed from the SDG Business Forum with a sense of unified conviction and determination to change the way we do business to further the SDGs. And leaving the discussion that day, I walked away with several guiding questions that all businesses should consider as they approach their strategies for the SDGs:

  •  How do we want to contribute to building a more stable world?
  • How do we encourage people to participate in furthering the SDGs?
  • How do we create scale?
  • How do we create repeatable, strategic, profitable projects?
  • How do we acknowledge children’s rights into business?
  • How can we create more concrete investments?
  • What type of capital can our company contribute to the SDGs?  Are we investing through Financial capital, through our Human capital, through our Technological capital or some other type of capital?
  • How do we engage on the local level?
  • How can we create investments as asset strings that are tied to SDGs?

I’d love to hear more about how your company is incorporating the SDGs into its business strategies and investments.


Annie Rhodes

Annie Rhodes serves as the Director, Foundation Strategy in the MicroEdge division of Blackbaud. In this role, Annie helps philanthropic organizations leverage technology to optimize how they manage their giving and improve collaboration with funding partners and grant recipients. Annie is also aiding customers evolve from simple grantmaking programs to results-focused giving programs that establish and measure outcomes and drive toward impact. As part of this, Annie led the development of Blackbaud Outcomes™, a technology solution that helps funders and nonprofits track and measure the results of their giving programs. Annie is also currently leading efforts to map Blackbaud Outcomes to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to provide funders with the opportunity to measure how their grants are contributing toward the broader efforts to achieve the SDGs.

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