The very idea of sustainability was first introduced in a report by the Brundtland Commission in 1987 titled as Our Common Future, which famously defined Sustainable development as:
“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generation to meet their own needs.”
This report was a culmination of almost a decade of research and work which successfully integrated ideas and developed a holistic approach of looking at the idea of development from an economic, social and environmental lens. The endorsement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by the 193 member states in 2015 was a nod towards these ideals of sustainable development, aiming towards the idea of “de-growth”. Contrary to what the word might denote on the first instance one encounters it, de-growth does not mean shifting the focus of nations away from economic growth, rather this economic theory which was born in the 1970s, aimed more towards moulding the policies in such a manner that the growth policies pursued by the nations took into account the major problem which permeates human kind: the scarcity of resources and by its very extension, the limits put by environment and ecology on the scale of growth which can be attained sustainably. Therefore, the 2030 agenda for the sustainable development goals was an international pledge on accounts of the member states for a sustained as well as inclusive economic growth, social inclusion and environment protection. Furthermore, the agenda moves beyond the existing ideals in a certain special aspect. In place of looking at sustainability from the common three - pronged lens, it incorporates another two major features, therefore coming up with 5 critical dimensions: people, prosperity, planet, partnership and peace.
Exploring the role of entrepreneurship in attaining the crucial 2030 Sustainable Development Goals:
One common metaphor which can be used to describe our problem of sustainability has been equivalating the global economy to a funnel. Over the years, on accounts of growing population and global economy, the demand for resources has been exponentially rising whereas the supply is declining. This theory predicts that at one point, we will reach a blind-spot where there would not be enough to sustain a major chunk of the global population therefore necessitating the need for a major overhaul.
A quick glance at the various sustainable development goals under the 2030 agenda makes it apparent that an extensive overhaul of the current economic system is needed. This necessitates the participation of all the segments of the economy including the producers since any policies or plans which are adopted would have a significant impact on the value chain associated with production possibilities. Therefore, the recognition that each agent in the economy, no matter how small, contributes to the global chain of actions and therefore has the ability to make a contribution. Entrepreneurs and firms must take these goals as a guiding force and participate as a catalyst in the system of change. It has been globally accepted that all the SDGs are interconnected with each other in one aspect or another. This creates both a challenge and opportunity for stakeholders as it enables them to tackle more than one SDG at one time.
Adapted from the work of David LeBlanc, the following illustration showcases how businesses can play an integral role by incorporating innovation principles and ideas to have a beneficial impact for the global economy.
Now the question arises what are the possible opportunities available for entrepreneurs to play a more prominent role in helping reach the global sustainability goals. These include but are not limited to:
- Designing products to meet the basic needs and amenities of people in emerging markets.
- Development of distribution channels at local level to help individuals who lack access to formal markets, benefiting the society as well as gaining advantage by servicing markets previously unserviced.
- Foster local supply chains and source raw materials from small-scale producers while training and employing local communities to drive down costs and improve worker efficiency and providing employment opportunities.
- Leveraging technology for financial inclusion by providing micro-credit and financial service to previously unbanked
- Micro-insurance products and services provided to low-income individuals possibly as part of remuneration for labour utilised
- Promoting technology based solutions to meet the health and education demands especially for individuals located in previously unserved locations.
There are numerous other ways which one can articulate to highlight the different possible ways to deal with the global problems of today. These ways adopted by the enterprise or businesses do not have to be restricted to any one part of the value chain, rather they can easily be incorporated at the various levels which form part of the production value chain of an enterprise. This includes:
- Ethical sourcing of raw materials while ensuring curtailment of exploitative and unfair trade practices at the input stage.
- Employing individuals from marginalised communities in the production or sourcing phases to ensure provision of opportunities. This can further be supplemented by undertaking training initiatives which can improve effectiveness and efficiency of labour
- Through the types of products and services which are offered by the enterprise; these can include solar energy sources, hygiene products, low-cost necessities such as water filtration systems or services to the unserved or under-privileged
- Through the use of profits and surpluses generated; for example provision of meals or financing arrangement to artisans associated with development and creation of products
- Through direct training and development programs organised for the individuals lacking proper access to education or skill development.
A promising approach to tackling the issues of sustainability has been the recent wave of growth of social entrepreneurs; individuals who aim to find or develop innovative solutions which can be implemented to solve cultural, social or environmental problems. One such example is the eHealthPoint venture in India which has been able to provide primary health consultations to rural or remote communities. By pulling in villagers to various water points located in different states which allowed collection of filtered water at a subscription of $2 per month and building primary care facilities at some of these water collection points, the enterprise was able to provide basic care facilities, tele-communication medical consult, diagnostic tests at low cost as well as genuine generic drugs.
As discussed above there are a plethora of ways in which enterprises and entrepreneurs can help to guide us towards an improved global future. Perhaps it is the guiding features which make social enterprises work as well as they do. They are tasked with applying business and management principles to solve social problems which the market or government fails to meet. Furthermore, due to the resource constrained nature in which social enterprises work, this often leads to development of effective, affordable and cost-efficient solutions. Lastly, sustainability of solutions by incorporating techniques which can ensure sustenance of products and businesses becomes a necessary prerequisite for such enterprises. Under such circumstances, it becomes more and more clear that supporting and overarching policies from governments might provide the necessary impetus for the growth of many such enterprises.
This has been co-authored by Nehal Kaul and Devika Chawla.