Real Leaders

Companies Challenged to Disrupt Business-As-Usual Mindset

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash

Nearly 800 business leaders from over 70 countries joined leaders from civil society, Government and the United Nations at the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit 2017. Convened during the 72nd Regular Session of UN General Assembly, the Summit focused on driving responsible business action and partnerships to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Climate Agreement.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed delivered a special video message to Summit attendees, emphasizing that “to achieve our goals, we need leaders from all of society, including and especially business, to show the courage that helps chart a new course for humankind.” She further highlighted that “achieving the SDGs also calls for collaboration,” encouraging participants “to partner with others, including with the United Nations, especially at the country level [where] the Global Compact Local Networks have really an important role to play.”

With a view to guide participants in rejecting the status quo and the business-as-usual mindset, the Summit featured conversations with leaders from diverse sectors on the challenges and opportunities of pursuing the Global Goals. Speakers explored the role of non-state actors and cities to protect our planet through supporting the Paris Agreement.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women (pictured above), highlighted the role of technology in advancing Goal 5: Gender Equality. “Of the next 1 billion who are going to be connected to the internet, 75% of them must be women and girls. Because right now, the gap between men and women who are connecting is widening. We have to change the trend.” She continued, “Women lost out in the industrial revolution, we should not lose out in the digital revolution.”

Speaking from the perspective of his own city, the Honorable Bill Peduto, Mayor of Pittsburgh, focused on how cities can contribute to advancing the Global Goals. “There were some really smart people who started thinking about what if our future was different than our past. And instead of offering a false hope and a false narrative, they offered a long-term plan of how a city — a city that had its economic heart ripped out, a city that everyone had said had lived its time and had died — could come back,” Peduto noted.

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, outlined the role of business as a force for good, saying, “Business cannot be a bystander in a system that created it in the first place.” When asked what was needed to achieve the Global Goals, Polman said, “in implementing the SDGs, as in any change process, there will be bottlenecks, setbacks, cynics, skeptics. It takes courageous leadership. That’s where the breakthrough comes from: from people who understand that putting the interests of others ahead of their own is actually in their own self-interest.”

Six of the 2017 class of SDG Pioneers were also recognized at the Summit for doing an exceptional job of taking action to meet the Global Goals. They shared stories of how they are working to champion sustainability at their companies and to mobilize the broader business community.

The Summit sought to catalyze the private sector to raise their ambition level for people and planet, drive innovations and work together to create a framework for measuring progress and impact on the SDGs. With less than 5,000 days to meet these Global Goals by their 2030 deadline, the UN Global Compact released a new set of tools and resources to support business regardless of where they are on their sustainability journey.

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