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Youth Perspective: Making the Sustainable Development Goals palatable for Young Executives at work

Vuyolwethu Dubese

05 Oct 2017

A couple of days ago I participated in a Twitter chat that was hosted by The World’s Largest Lesson, which is one part of the United Nation Global Goals campaign that focuses on raising awareness of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Twitter chat was a global conversation facilitated by the #TeachSDGs hashtag, engaging teachers, parents, ambassadors and people alike who wanted to exchange information of how to better communicate the SDGs and support one another while doing it. This made me wonder what corporates are doing to #TeachSDGs, especially to millennials at work and how impactful they are at implementing them.

I have to admit, up until a year ago I didn’t know about the SDGs, their objective and why they mattered to me, even though I was a well informed young woman. Aware of the United Nations (UN) and the complexity and myriads of initiatives and divisions that were under the organisation, especially the UN Women Africa division, I came into Thomson Reuters and became clued up through the Corporate Responsibility & Inclusion (CR&I) team.

I had an incredible group of people who were patient enough to help me break down what these SDGs were, and because youth and women inclusion and empowerment is something that is a passion of mine, starting to unpack SDGs 4 Quality Education, 5 Gender Equality and 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth  is where my understanding was inspired.

So what would it take to make SDGs palatable to a young employee/executive whose only concern is meeting their 9-5 deadline? How do you inspire and/or raise awareness when THIS bottom line doesn’t pay but needs you to volunteer?

According to Unilever CEO Paul Polman, the SDGs have the “greatest economic opportunity of a lifetime” and will offer such if the SDGs become central to business and investment strategy and decisions.

In order to actualise on the potential of the SDGs, companies have to get employees, processes and technology involved and marriage it with the business and what matters most to their employees.

Risk Management firm, DNV GL released a report in 2016 analysing 17 multinationals signed to the UN Global Compact and how they integrate the SDGs for business growth.

Kenyan telecommunications company, Safaricom, was the company used as an example for SDG 10, which focuses on inclusion and encouraging economic participation through a mobile money platform called MPESA. Though MPESA, 25 million people were able to be financially included across Africa, Europe and Asia. These are all great examples of how SDGs can motivate companies.

We need more of my peers and younger concerned, and ensuring that corporates and their future businesses are creating social and economic impactful profits. You cannot force someone to fish or take them to the lakeside by force and expect great results, you can however teach someone how to fish. So can companies teach their millennials how to fish? How can they #TeachSDGs?

  1. Get people involved through innovation practices

One of the best ways to creatively create awareness around the SDGs is to make use of the resources and capabilities to foster innovation and in a sustainable way. Ideas such as a corporate challenge around Finance and Risk and linking it to SDGs 1 – 3 and  $10 000 as a prize for the challenge, not only gets people excited about the business, but also serves as a great way for people to work together. Another idea is to perhaps have a department focus on a particular SDG and doing quarterly fun themed days about the work and impact that they’re doing, even including outings and partnering with customers or universities.

  1. Dedicate a Day or Two to Volunteer

At Thomson Reuters, we have one of the innovative ways to get both young and old employees to be a part of the Global Volunteer Network. All employees receive two days a year to support the causes that mean the most to them, and it is exclusive of leave days. This is one way to showcase how you can compensate sometimes with not just money, but in time that I’m sure your employees will appreciate.

  1. Create an enabling work environment

Take some stock of not only the millennials, but all your employees (this task can be championed by CR&I and managers) and what passions that they have outside the business.

Emmanuele Marie Parra, a Publishing Specialist by trade at Thomson Reuters, is also currently the Thomson Reuters Foundation Ambassador (2016) because of her passions outside the business as an Anti-human trafficking advocate. Em brought her personal life to work, and because the environment enabled her to bring her passions in, she was able to have resources that maximized her impact, and create awareness about the work she does, with Thomson Reuters getting the opportunity to act on UN Global Compact and expand the knowledge of the SDGs at work!

These are only a few of ideas and suggestions that corporates (small or large) can incorporate into their culture to #TeachSDGs. It’s possible to make these SDGs palatable and to not only create awareness about them, but to integrate them as a part of the business.

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