The United Nations & Social Enterprises in the era of the SDGs.

As I am about to embark on my first speaking engagement at the United Nations for the Mentor Capital Network’s Annual Gathering, I am excited about the roles social enterprises can play in the mission of the UN.

Every September, New York City, specifically midtown gets a little nuts, gridlocked, and taken over by endless caravans of black suburbans. The United Nations holds its annual General Assembly meeting, and generally each member country sends its head of state. Every year is a major event, however this year is significant because the UN and its members will be adopting the new Sustainable Development Goals, as the Millennium Development Goals set in 2000 are to expire at this years meeting. The member countries adopt these 17 goals and are ideally supposed to be working towards them individually and through their international aid programs. The UN has in the past worked with the private sector to play a role in a donor capacity, more so than through actual development which is left to UN organizations, governments, and non-affiliated NGOs.

In February I spoke at the Conference Boards Community + Impact Symposium and the panel that kicked off the meeting was about the private sector’s role in the upcoming United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Candidly, I was not aware of the 17 new goals, however as I looked them over I was struck by how much alignment they have with the impact objectives of the social enterprises I work with every day. When the Millennial Development Goals were set, social enterprises existed, but not in the same volume and geographic reach that they do today. One could say that the MDGs played a role in the growth in the sector as they brought a focus to eradicating poverty and all of the drivers of poverty. The missions of all of the impact driven for profit enterprises are both intertwined and aligned with the UN’s SDGs. However, I presume that most of the social enterprise founders aren’t aware of them or the potential for interesting partnerships.

In this next round of development goals the UN would like to increase the private sector’s engagement beyond what it has traditionally been. Social enterprises need to be engaged in that process. There are a few ways in which that could/should happen.

~ Social enterprises need to become more aware of what the 17 goals are, and which ones specifically align with their organizations.

~ The UN needs to increase it’s own engagement with social enterprises with directly or more pragmatically through the support organizations that have developed in the last decade.

~ Private Foundations, whose missions are aligned with the SDGs, should see for profit social enterprises as an additional avenue to achieving their objectives in markets where they have traditionally been grantors.

~ Medium and large private sector organizations should see social enterprises as business objective aligned pathways to increase their own support of the SDGs, beyond a donor role. Whether that’s through diversifying their supply chain or through direct investment activities.

~ Governments domestically need to continue to open up their markets towards the development of social enterprises, making their business environments ones where these ever-emergent mission driven organizations can thrive.

~ Governments internationally, specifically through their aid programs need to increase the opportunity for social enterprises to play a role in achieving those objectives on the ground.

The role that social enterprises could play this round of development goals, could and should be significant. The perception of just who is the private sector is at the UN will shift as those social enterprises deliver. There are partnership opportunities across the board for all of the stakeholders.