“The Sustainable Development Goals define the most compelling global challenges of our era. Wasafiri’s work with multinationals is demonstrating the vital leadership role they can play in forging more inclusive and sustainable economies, and strengthening global public goods like security, health, biodiversity and climate. We want to grow this aspect of our work and needed a very special person to lead this endeavour. I am absolutely thrilled to say Jenny Costelloe has accepted this role. She introduces herself in this blog, and I have no doubt that her energy, charm, intellect and experience will take Wasafiri into exciting and important new work.” Ian Randall, Founding Director, Wasafiri.
I am very excited to join the Wasafiri team this week as the Business and SDGs Lead based in the Brighton office (UK). Why is this move so exciting? For me personally, it promises to provide many opportunities to learn from and work with a diverse and experienced team, whilst hopefully bringing some of my experience to help the team; and professionally, I’m looking forward to applying Wasafiri’s systems expertise to business challenges and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this post I’ll talk more about my experience, emerging frameworks and why I think it’s exciting to be applying Wasafiri’s systems thinking to some of the world’s most complex problems.
I recently repatriated to the UK after 11 years in Southeast Asia, where I worked in a variety of corporate responsibility and sustainability roles. In Asia I was lucky enough to observe companies in the region embark on a journey of understanding their impacts on society and the environment, and I was an advisor to a number of them as they shaped their sustainability strategies. I worked with the stock exchange in Singapore for many years; I helped the global alcohol group, Diageo, define and implement their women’s empowerment strategy for Asia-Pacific; I also spent two years as Director of Country Partnerships for a World Economic Forum-instigated platform for agriculture (“Grow Asia”), where I helped build multi-stakeholder partnerships for sustainable and inclusive agriculture in five countries.
My 11 years in Asia were filled with continuous learning: as new sustainability frameworks emerged; as issues and challenges became more complex (or, rather, as our understanding of their complexity grew); and as more and more organisations became involved in trying to tackle some of the world’s complex problems. Each conversation, project, client or role presented something new! At times I felt as if I was in a region at just the right time – to observe the increasingly sophisticated discussions about environmental and social impact, and to see a wide range of companies, NGOs, academia and governments come together to explore potential solutions. And let’s not ignore that Asia is the ‘home’ to many of the most challenging problems we face: the biggest contributors to the world’s plastic problem are China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, whilst Indonesia and Malaysia are the world’s biggest producers of palm oil. There is a real urgency in Asia to find solutions for these problems and impacts, to innovate and collaborate, and grow at the same time.
Often my work in Asia entailed keeping track of rapidly evolving sustainability frameworks, such as the multiple iterations of the Global Reporting Initiative (for sustainability reporting), ISO26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility, the Millennium Development Goals, the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, Sustainable Rice Platform, UN’s Women’s Empowerment Principles, and so on. Of all the frameworks, the one that has, in my opinion, done the most effective job of bringing together the world’s most pressing problems is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These “Global Goals” identify 17 interrelated challenges, each of them complex systemic problems such as hunger, poverty, or inequality. One of the features that I like in the SDGs is the recognition that the Goals (and the challenges that they address) are interlinked; we cannot achieve zero poverty if we do not treat women as equal to men, for example. The linkages are strong and well-articulated in the SDGs. Another strength of the SDGs is the implicit understanding that these Goals cannot be achieved by one organization or sector alone – they require ‘deep and meaningful’ collaboration between public, private and civil society sectors. Indeed SDG #17 – Partnerships for the Goals – calls out the need for us all to work together if we’re going to come close to achieving the other 16 SDGs. I believe that the SDGs also help identify the roles and responsibilities of different sectors. In particular, I would like to see the private sector take note of these accountabilities, because then many companies would appreciate that they can play a role and/or they don’t have to solve each and every problem on their own – that’s not the expectation, nor is it realistic. Rather, the SDGs map out who can do what for a more sustainable, inclusive planet.
And this brings me to why I am so excited to be joining Wasafiri: this is an organization which specialises in systems (see the Systemcraft framework, which encapsulates this thinking) and which has a strong track record in convening diverse organisations to tackle complex problems. To me, this sounds like exactly what the SDGs call for – an appreciation of complex systems, the ability to create opportunities for collaboration and broker partnerships, and more broadly, a belief that every country, organization and individual can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to discuss how your business can play a role in addressing the SDGs.