World leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, at the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, 2015, which includes a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) along with 169 targets to end poverty, reduce inequality and injustice and tackle climate change calamities over the next fifteen years. SDG implementation will require much larger amount and more varied sources of financial resources than it was for meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
This new Agenda is a milestone in global, national and local development efforts and calls for actions through the help of global partnerships with both the public and private sectors. To achieve these SDGs governments must take the lead in living up to their pledges pursuing a 'whole of society approach'. At the same time, the private sector should extend its helping hands to the government with new initiatives, new ideas and new technologies for the sake of the country and betterment of the people.
WHY PRIVATE SECTOR? Bangladesh was one of the few countries among the developing nations that have achieved most of the goals of MDGs. That led the UN to involve Bangladesh in the process of framing SDGs right from the beginning. Bangladesh also responded positively by proposing 11 goals, 58 targets and 219 indicators, many of which were included in the proposal of the 30-member Open Working Group (OWG) of the UN General Assembly. Therefore, Bangladesh was well aware of the SDGs development.
The SDGs are quite efficiently embedded in the plan document of Bangladesh. The 7FYP growth strategy is basically a private sector-led growth strategy where private sector is expected to contribute 77 per cent (24.65 trillion) of the total outlay of Taka 33.9 trillion. The public sector investment will be devoted to creating necessary infrastructures to facilitate private investment, while playing its due role in creating human resources and other social obligations. Aside investment, the private sector has to take the lead role in creating productive employment opportunities and adopting a production system that is environment-friendly and climate-resilient. Under corporate social responsibility (CSR) it can address many social responsibilities. It can play a dominant role in innovation and transfer of technologies. Private sector has many responsibilities concerning SDG goals 1 to 9 and 13-15.
Surely, national governments will continue to have the primary responsibility for financing the SDGs through their own development plans and budget, but it will not be enough, given the wider breadth and width of the scope of SDGs. To fully realise the SDG goals, all parties-government, civil society, media and the private sector-must have a shared responsibility.
Private sector has been the driver of economic growth in Bangladesh like many other developing countries (77 per cent of total investments comes from private sector). A large number of targets of SDGs are related to growth, employment, and the delivery of key services such as education, health and sanitation, which cannot be achieved without the active participation of the private sector. In order to achieve these goals through greater involvement of the private sector, there has to be a framework of how these two actors can work in tandem. In some cases, particularly protecting environment, private sector requires incentives from the government to remain competitive in the world market. In order to make private sector more 'responsible' in production and consumption, an efficient mixture of laws and incentives should be in place. The modalities of engagement of the private sector in achieving SDG goals can be categorised into four groups:
n Re-invigorate the contributions of the private sector: The private sector plays a crucial role in helping countries meet the national goals. They are already involved in reducing unemployment, providing important services like health and education, meeting the large demand of the population through production. And now, more than ever, there is a greater need for alignment, measurement and communication for the sustainable efforts to enable a strong private sector contribution to the SDGs. In this case, the government does not need to do anything, except for oversight and caring about quality.
n Engaging private sector through incentive/disincentive mechanism: There are activities for which the private sector requires incentives to deliver. There may be a few sectors or areas where this sector has the possibilities but requires an extra push through incentive mechanism. The government should identify these areas and take appropriate measures to create opportunities for the private sector. The incentives will identify new areas for the private sector to invest in line with SDGs. Sustainability is reliant on innovation, and in order to be innovative, the private sector has to play a pivotal role. The private sector can move quicker and smarter than other actors in the economy in every aspect. For a paradigm shift the private sector should be involved in new areas of innovation, wisdom and setting examples of best practices.
n Engaging private sector through laws: In some cases, effective laws and their enforcement are required to get the private sector contribute to the SDGs producing desired outcomes while ensuring sustainability. The Government should see the private sector as the best agent of wealth creation and social wellbeing.
n Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability are now key business functions, which have paved the way for corporations to examine their wider role in society in ways that have never been done before. Therefore, a framework is required to align the use of CSR with SDG goals and targets and also for monitoring.
Table I shows the sectors in which the private sector can be involved to achieve the SDGs.
CONCLUSION: Governments will be the overall mediators of development through the public purse. But their failure in many countries has provided an empty space that must be filled by other entities, and a major one is the private sector and its champions, the large corporations. It is relatively easy to argue the obverse that corporations should stick to making profits and leave development to governments. But development creates good business environment. The market, left to purely profit maximisation has been unable to fulfill social roles such as reducing unemployment, ensuring primary and secondary education for all, tackling major diseases of the Third World, etc.
At the end, it is the people who make the market for products and services. Markets can grow only when people have purchasing power. Poorer people mean less growth of market. Peaceful socio-economic situation brings more investment; better climate, hygiene, sanitation etc. reduce man-hour loss due to sickness of self or kids. Quality education creates better citizens and workforce which create the base for good governance. Prudent use of land (barren and fertile) for urbanisation and agriculture helps economy to grow in a better way and use of green energy has a positive impact on all these. Though CSR is seen as responsibility of large companies only, the concept of 3R (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) and value of peace must be inculcated to each and every entrepreneur to make development sustainable for all.
The article is adapted from a trigger paper in the Consultation meeting between the Government of Bangladesh, private sector and the UN system on the role of the private sector in facilitating the implementation of SDGs held in Dhaka on November 23, 2016. Author, Dr. Shamsul Alam, is Member (Senior Secretary), General Economics Division (Government Focal point for Poverty/SDGs), Bangladesh Planning Commission.