Innovation That Matters

Innovation and SDG 17: Partnerships for the goals

Sustainable Source

Underpinning all of the SDGs is the need for partnerships – between the private and public sector, between investors, companies, and consumers, and, perhaps most of all, between the developed and the developing world. How are innovators facilitating cooperation while providing an example of partnership in practice?

The multi-faceted challenges facing the world today must be tackled collectively. And it will only be possible to achieve the SDGs if everyone commits to collaboration, both within and between societies.

In particular, developing countries that have not reaped the economic benefits of industrialisation need to be supported as they transition to a greener, healthier, and more prosperous society. This support must, in turn, tackle the inter-related issues of debt relief and access to finance, communications technology, and global markets.

Action on the SDGs is not the sole preserve of governments. Businesses, NGOs, and individual citizens all have a role to play, and building partnerships between these societal actors is essential.

SDG 17 focuses on this partnership building, and, in many ways, underpins all of the other SDGs. But how can innovators help deliver on SDG 17? Their role is twofold: they can facilitate partnerships, and they can act as inspiring examples of what partnership can achieve. And of course, innovators exist in all corners of society, in organisations and communities of all kinds.

Building exports in developing countries

One of the issues raised in SDG 17 is the access of developing countries to global markets. Today, only one per cent of exports in the global merchandise trade come from the world’s least-developed countries, and this percentage has remained flat since 2011. As a result, target 17.11 within SDG 17, which called for the least-developed countries’ share of exports to double by 2020, has not been met.

Despite this lack of overall progress, individual innovators continue to work hard to develop new sustainable and exportable products in developing countries. For example, one startup is hoping to acquire disused land to create a bamboo industry in Jamaica that will export the sustainable crop for use in paper-making. And, in Kenya, an entrepreneur is hoping to turn the overlooked croton nut into a sustainable cash crop.

Mobilising finance

Target 17.3 within SDG 17 calls for the mobilisation of finance from multiple sources to support developing countries. Innovation in finance has come from both the public and private sector. In 2017, supported by the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank, Fiji made history by becoming the first nation to issue a sovereign green finance bond. Proceeds from the bond sale were earmarked for initiatives to improve crop resilience, bolster flood management in sugarcane fields, support reforestation, and rebuild schools to better withstand extreme weather. 

In the private sector, one startup in Chile has developed a platform that makes it easy for small businesses to manage their business and quickly apply for loans. Such a service is crucial as the company points out that only 5 per cent of companies in all Latin American countries have access to recurring financial services.

Cross-sector partnerships

Partnerships across the different sectors of society will be crucial to achieving the SDGs, as is highlighted in target 17.17. And innovators are developing new ways for organisations of all kinds to tap into the broad range of skills embodied within communities.

One exciting example of this principle in action comes from South African startup Zindi. Presented with data-centred challenges by companies, NGOs, and government institutions, the company invites its community of data scientists to take part in a number of solution-finding competitions. Each winning solution bags its creator a cash prize.

Information and communications technology

Target 17.8 highlights the importance of enabling technology, particularly ICT equipment, for building effective partnerships. Yet this technology is not always readily available in developing countries. In the least-developed countries, there are only 1.4 fixed broadband subscriptions for every 100 inhabitants, for example. Innovators are therefore working hard to improve digital access.

In Benin, one startup offers workshops that teach people how to build their own computers from jerrycans. The training is offered for free, but participants must find the components to build their own computers themselves. These can come from old or broken computers that are being recycled, or purchased. Over the long term, however, access to top-of-the-range communications equipment is essential. In South Africa, telecom giant Vodacom is hoping to make smartphones accessible to everyone with a ‘Good as New’ programme that offers used Apple iphones for sale at a fraction of the cost of a new model.

Dissemination of clean technology

At present, annual clean energy investment in emerging and developing economies needs to increase more than sevenfold to put the world on track to reach net zero by 2050. And the dissemination of clean technologies must be done in a way that ensures they are affordable for developing countries.

In Peru, a social enterprise is making it easier for off-grid households to acquire solar-powered lights and other cleantech solutions. Using a pay-as-you-go model, users can buy one week’s worth of solar energy at a time. To make the financing option viable, the enterprise is working with a range of partners to provide larger solar arrays from which communities can buy power. In Tanzania, EDFI ElectriFI, the EU-funded electrification financing initiative, has invested in Simusolar, a startup that develops affordable solar-powered water pumps and fishing lights for off-grid communities.

Words: Matthew Hempstead

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