Are You Working On the World’s To-Do List?

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February 22, 2021
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Are You Working On the World’s To-Do List?

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There are a number of major challenges facing the world
today. Poverty, climate risk, war – the list goes on. In 2015, the United
Nations released a list they called the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs.
It was an agenda of actions and targets to reach by 2030.

In announcing
the SDGs, the UN said:

This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. We recognise that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. All countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, will implement this plan. We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet. We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path. As we embark on this collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind.

https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs

Pretty hard to argue with that. So hard, in fact, that all 193 UN Member nations have signed on to the goals – it’s one of the most truly global initiatives in history.

There are seventeen goals in the Agenda, with 169 targets, which include specific measures of progress. Vicki Saunders, the founder of an organisation called SheEO, calls the SDGs “the world’s to-do list.”

All of the goals are simple to
state, but challenging to achieve. For example, the first goal is “No Poverty –
End poverty in all its forms everywhere.” For this goal, there are seven
targets, and eleven indicators, or measures of progress. The first target is:

By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day.

And the target is for this is:

Proportion of population below the international poverty line, by sex, age, employment status and geographical location (urban/rural)

Each year the UN reports on
progress against the indicators. In the 2018 report, they say:

The proportion of the world’s workers living with their families on less than $1.90 per person a day declined significantly over the past two decades, falling from 26.9 per cent in 2000 to 9.2 per cent in 2017.

Each of the remaining sixteen
SDGs has a similar set of targets and indicators, as well as reports on
progress. The seventeen SDGs are:

  1. No Poverty
  2. Zero Hunger
  3. Good Health and Well Being
  4. Quality Education
  5. Gender Equality
  6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  7. Affordable and Clean Energy
  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
  10. Reduced Inequalities
  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  12. Responsible Consumption and Production
  13. Climate Action
  14. Life Below Water
  15. Life on Land
  16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
  17. Partnerships for the Goals

It’s an ambitious set of goals, to say the least. But if we can meet them, the world will unquestionably be a better place – for all of us.

Which raises an important question. If innovation is making new ideas real, to create value – then shouldn’t an important measure of the value we create be the contributions of our ideas to making the SDGs real?

This is an objective that
Saunders and SheEO take seriously. SheEO was started to address some of the
Gender Equity issues raised in SDG number 5. The program is designed to support
female entrepreneurs – specifically, to support women that are developing
ventures designed to address some of the other SDGs.

Here’s how it works:

SheEO is a radically redesigned ecosystem that supports, finances, and celebrates female innovators.

Rather than trying to fit women into the existing models and systems and level the playing field, we are creating an entirely new field.

The model brings together 500 women (called Activators) in each year’s cohort, who contribute $1100 in CAN, US, NZ and AU, and £850 in the UK, each as an Act of Radical Generosity. The money is pooled together and loaned out at zero percent interest to five women-led Ventures selected by the Activators. All Ventures are revenue generating with export potential and are creating a better world through their business model or their product and service. The loans are paid back over five years and then loaned out again, creating a perpetual fund which we will pass on to our daughters, nieces and granddaughters. The 500 women Activators in each cohort become the de-facto ‘team’ of the five selected Ventures bringing their buying power as early customers, their expertise and advice and their vast networks to help grow the businesses.

https://sheeo.world/about-us/

To me, this is one of the most interesting new business models for venture funding that I’ve seen in a long time. Since their launch in 2015, SheEO has signed up over 4000 Activators, and made over $4 million in loans to 53 new ventures. These ventures have on average grown very rapidly, and over 70% have gotten further impact venture funding – an incredibly high hit rate.

Overall, SheEO-funded ventures are addressing all seventeen of the SDGs!
The goals of Good Health and Well-Being, Decent Work and Economic Growth, and
Responsible Consumption and Production are all spaces where lots of
SheEO-funded ventures are working.

This quite substantially expands our set of stakeholders. And it’s not a completely new idea. People have been talking about triple bottom line accounting for many years now. This business approach includes specific objectives for achieving social, environmental and financial outcomes. More recently, the idea of a For Benefit, or B Corporation was developed. These are corporations that have triple bottom line objectives formally written into their articles of incorporation. Many of the SheEO ventures are following this route.

Value creation is at the heart of innovation. If we are going to innovate responsibly, we have an obligation to take things like the Sustainable Development Goals very seriously – I’m not sure we’re innovating at all if we don’t.

Doing this makes building our new business models even harder. But it also greatly increases the rewards and impacts we achieve if we’re successful.

Note: If you’re in Australia and interested in the SheEO program, the deadline to sign up to be an Activator or a Venture is December 3rd. And if, like me, you can’t join up yourself, you can still encourage and support the women you know in joining the program!

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