Poverty, people, planet: Global Sustainable Development Goals

There is a genuine need to transform the narrative of what the SDGs mean to the public, private and social sectors

Talal Malik
Talal Malik
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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 sages of history still stand strong and proud today, now sacred destinations: Krishna and the tamarind tree in Imli Tala, India; Patriarch Abraham and the Kermes Oak Trees in the Golan Heights; Prophet Moses and the Burning Bush in the Sinai, Egypt; Confucius in the Forest, Qufu, China; Buddha and the Bodhi Tree; Jesus Christ amid the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane; and Prophet Mohammad with the Blessed Tree, Jordan.

Confucius claimed “the best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago. The second best time is now.”

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

Talal Malik

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 U.N. Summit for Adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda on September 25-27 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 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 will be a need to move beyond the tri-sectorial perspective of stakeholders to the following three mega-demographics:

1. The Individual

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 Millenials, 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.

2. The Bloc

The second demographic are regional and super-regional blocs, mega-city based BRIC countries and inter-governmental organisations, 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 co-operation and trade with one another at a more elevated basis than nation-states did historically by focusing on the SDG Agenda and also by institutionalising a specific fund for it. Greater regional integration will become increasingly important over the next fifteen years, particularly if one subscribes to economist Joseph Stiglitz’s perspective of the “leaderless” contemporary multi-polar G-0 world we currently live in.

3. Faith Traditions

The third demographic are 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 Pope said in January 2015 that the Catholic Church has been caring and protecting for the poor since its beginning. By 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 alms giving at 2.5% of every Muslim’s income/ wealth, which is the main external mission of the five pillars of Islam. With significant stakes in the current $6 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 Millenials, by blocs and large inter-governmental organizations and global faith traditions, who should be encouraged to institutionalize at scale their philanthropic missions.

Success can be envisaged in 2030, when many of us are no longer here, that no single person of the 1.6 billion people living in extreme multi-dimensional poverty today will remain in that same state then.

Nemo Resideo - no one would have been left behind.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on February 12, 2015.


Talal Malik is an adviser on governance, strategy and influence to some of the world’s senior government and business leaders. He has previously held senior executive roles at McKinsey & Company, Reuters and the United Nations and has a Masters from Pembroke College, University of Oxford.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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