Innovation That Matters

Innovation and SDG 8: decent work and economic growth

Sustainable Source

Economic growth has lifted over a billion people out of poverty – but innovation is crucial if we are to continue to provide people with a decent livelihood

Over the past 25 years, 1.1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty, and broad-based economic growth has been a key driver of this remarkable achievement. SDG 8 recognises this, setting a target of 7 per cent annual GDP growth in the least-developed countries. But, despite the progress made to date, COVID-19 is casting a long shadow on both growth and jobs. Written into SDG 8 is an acknowledgement of the importance of innovation for job creation and productivity.

Small businesses

Seven out of ten jobs in emerging markets are generated by small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). But a lack of formal processes and infrastructure is an important challenge in some parts of the world. Target 8.3 within SDG 8 encourages the formalisation of small businesses. But informal practices are often deeply embedded within cultures and economies. At Springwise, we have spotted A B2B retail platform that is specifically tailored to Africa’s informal economy. 

Financial inclusion

A key issue for many small businesses is the lack of access to finance – and this applies to individuals too. Target 8.10 aims to expand access to banking, insurance, and financial services for all. However, there remain dramatic differences in the percentage of people who have access to a bank account in developing compared to developed countries.

Thankfully, we are seeing innovations that address this problem. A Nigerian startup has developed an app that can connect the unbanked to financial institutions and large businesses. Other innovations are providing finance to individuals in new ways, outside of the traditional banking system. For example, a ‘super-app’ serving Francophone Africa, began as a ride-hailing service, but will soon be providing digital banking services to its users.

Migrants and refugees

In developed countries access to finance can be difficult for particular groups – notably refugees and migrants. US challenger bank Fair provides a wide range of services for immigrants who have difficulty accessing traditional banking.

Ensuring immigrants and refugees participate in jobs and growth is a broader challenge. Target 8.8 promotes safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrants – especially women. A social enterprise in the Bourj al-Barajneh refugee camp in Lebanon, empowers refugee artisans to hand-embroider old clothes to create new upcycled product collections. The studio also provides the women with training and language skills.

Making work accessible for all

Migrants are not the only individuals that can be excluded from jobs and growth. Target 8.5 highlights the importance of providing people with disabilities equal access to productive employment – this includes developmental as well as physical disabilities. For example, studies estimate that 50-75% of autistic adults in the US are unemployed. To address this, a US startup connects workers with autism to jobs suited to their skillset.

Skills for the future

In the short-term there has been a focus on innovations that help workers react to the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, a US AI platform matches recently unemployed workers with urgent job openings.

A longer-term issue impacting the whole workforce, is the fact that many workers will need to develop new skills to equip them for the future and meet the needs of the industries of the future. In response, an Israeli startup has created an AI-powered training platform that helps businesses predict future skills gaps.

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Words: Matthew Hempstead