Sometimes even the best-laid plans can fail. We often hear the proverb: ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions,’ but most people do not know the second part: ‘The road to heaven is paved with good actions.’ However, the intention to engage in good acts often fails, which points to the principle that there is no merit in good intentions unless they are acted on.
In 2015, the United Nations set 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030. The overarching goal of the SDGs is to ensure we all have a sustainable future, one that is peaceful and prosperous for both ourselves and our planet. The objectives of the SDGs and South Africa’s National Development Plan are mutually reinforcing, and we all have an important role to play in achieving them.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, in South Africa’s 2019 ‘Sustainable Development Goals: Country report’, confirmed this need:
’The SDGs give us the opportunity to collaborate more sharply, more effectively and more deliberately in ‘leaving no one behind’… If we wish to remain relevant within the global community, we need to work together and invest in education, training, reskilling and new skills, to be able to cope with the challenges of the future … Those who suffer most from poverty or exclusion, those who have been left behind and who have no access to development, peace or respect and dignity look unto us, as leaders, with hope for a better tomorrow. We cannot and dare not fail them. Finally, I want to encourage all to mobilise behind the vision of the SDGs and indeed our own NDP so that we can face our challenges and march together towards the new dawn of a better tomorrow. We all have it within our reach to define our destiny.’
To help you join this journey and take action, we have created a project called #SustainableSA where we will be working in collaboration with strategic partners and experts to provide focused monthly information on each SDG. Recognising the fact that action only achieves results when it is informed, measured, reported on and rewarded. #SustainableSA will provide:
- Regular updates on South Africa’s status on achieving each SDG
- Highlights of key actions needed to be taken
- Relevant tips and tools for reporting, and
- Awards for outstanding contributions made by both companies and individuals towards achieving the SDGs
In South Africa, we have ‘pockets of expertise’ on the SDGs and we want to bring these together, to share their wisdom on a consolidated platform, to enable the transformation of decision-making, and to enable more resilient and sustainable businesses models.
Taking practical steps
The SDGs are built on five Ps: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership and it is only by working on each of these that we will be able to overcome the many challenges we as a country face.
Here are some of the challenges we face which according to the Business & Sustainable Development Commission provide at least US$12 trillion in opportunities:
SDG 1: No Poverty
SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
We urgently need to increase our actions taken to reduce our levels of poverty, unemployment and inequality. According to StatsSA, 55% of our population lives below the upper-bound poverty line of R1 227 per month. About 20 million people live on grants and state transfers and about 40% of young people between the ages of 15 and 35 are unemployed. According to the World Bank, South Africa remains the most economically unequal country in the world. It is, however, positive news that funders have committed billions of rands to a new infrastructure drive for South Africa. Infrastructure investment will help to create jobs, increase the capacity of our economy and the reliability of key services such as the provision of electricity and water and reduce the cost of transport. This investment is key to us achieving many of the SDGs and there are a number of fundamental roles all South Africans can play in implementing these infrastructure projects.
SDG 3: Good Health and Wellbeing
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed even more strain on our already stressed healthcare sector. With the likelihood of pandemics increasing, we need to build a better healthcare system, one that can robustly respond to and treat such outbreaks without destroying our economic progress. Before COVID-19 we had shortages of healthcare resources and those that we did have were not affordable to most of our population. Less than 20% of our population of 58 million could afford private healthcare, while the majority have to queue at understaffed state hospitals short of equipment.
South Africa is working on a National Health Insurance Bill which aims to provide universal access to quality healthcare for all South Africans. It was estimated that this will cost about R256 billion. Herein lie great opportunities to help make it happen by looking at how to improve healthcare training, manage diseases more effectively, decrease surgery and treatment costs, monitor patients remotely, implement telehealth solutions and many other areas. It is time for us to start thinking smarter about the healthcare solutions we provide and how we provide them so that we can reach the majority easily and treat them effectively.
Wellbeing addresses a scope wider than healthcare and offers powerful preventative opportunities for investment that can have an extremely positive impact on human development. There is plenty of opportunity for innovation and development in this area.
As South Africa’s economic performance and social progress is dependent on the health and wellbeing of her people, this area plays a key role in being able to achieve all the SDGs.
SDG 5: Gender Equality
Gender inequality remains one of South Africa’s biggest stumbling blocks. Gender-based violence contributes heavily to gender inequality and has been on the rise. President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his address to the country on 17 June 2020, said that gender-based violence in South Africa should be considered a second pandemic − as serious as COVID-19.
It was stated that several international and domestic studies show clear linkages between alcohol abuse and gender-based violence and that we need to urgently re-examine the role alcohol abuse plays in destroying our societies wellbeing. There is an opportunity to provide greater support to people with drinking problems, including through rehabilitation and treatment. There is a need to encourage responsible drinking, especially among young people.
Other gender inequalities we urgently need to address include closing the gender pay gap, reducing imbalances in household labour, increasing the number of female headed organisations (only 3,3% of CEOs of JSE-listed companies are women) and eliminating the ‘motherhood penalty’.
Gender equality has been conclusively shown to stimulate growth, which is crucial for low-income, developing countries. It is vital for South Africa.
SDG 13: Climate Action
South Africa relies heavily on fossil fuels for its energy needs. It emits 500 million tons of carbon dioxide annually and is the world’s 14th largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy demonstrated its commitment to shift away from fossil fuels towards the development of renewables when it issued the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2019) in October 2019. This plan provides a robust outline for the development of new power generation capacity from renewable sources and it has been widely accepted by industry players. But there remain significant challenges to making the transition to renewables because of powerful vested interests in fossil fuels that need to be addressed. According to Tracey Davies of JustShare, most South African companies choose not to recognise climate change as a financial risk and there is a lot of work to be done in getting financing decisions to be made that lower emissions and support sustainable development.
It was encouraging to see National Treasury’s draft Technical Paper 2020: Financing a Sustainable Economy issued in May. The paper outlines the devastating impacts of climate change on South Africa and its financial implications. It provides recommendations for all financial services industry players that will ‘facilitate unlocking access to sustainable finance and the allocation of capital to support a development-focused and climate-resilient economy.’
The paper states that there is a R2-trillion opportunity to be unlocked in order to transition to a climate-resilient economy. Greater disclosure and a speedier adoption of measures and actions will play a key role in achieving this SDG.
SDG 4: Quality Education
There is much work to be done to improve education and training in South Africa. The work stretches from early childhood development through to adult learning and upskilling. Sizwe Nzasana, founder of Future Nation Schools, says that ‘It will take almost one century for children from poor countries to catch up to the education levels in rich countries.’
The education system in South Africa is largely knowledge-focused and does not provide enough teaching on the skills and attitudes required to ‘lead economically gainful and fulfilling lives’. There is also a shortage of good teachers. Teacher training needs to be upgraded and we need to change perceptions of who a ‘teacher’ is: effective learning requires input from community members, parents, siblings and peers.
Educational institutions should collaborate more with business to understand what needs to be taught and how effective their education is in the ‘world of work and earning a living’.
South Africa’s chronic shortage of digital competencies is an opportunity ripe for investment. It is imperative that we embrace technology as an enabler and a driver of innovation.
Education remains a top priority as we need good engineers, electricians, plumbers, doctors, nurses, accountants, teachers, and many other professionals to build our country’s economy.
SDG 2: Zero Hunger / SDG 12: Responsible Production and Consumption
Food insecurity remains a challenge and hunger continues to be a serious issue. Our population suffers from a lack of nutritious food, often consuming poor-quality food. Households keep running out of money to buy food. This has contributed towards our high number of underweight and stunted children. There is a great opportunity for increasing investment into the research and development of innovative farming methods to improve agricultural production and for providing the education and tools necessary to develop small-scale farmers. We need to look at establishing effective and sustainable food security schemes that ensure the provision of nutritious food. Working on responsible production and consumption will help eliminate unnecessary food waste. We have huge room for improving our recycling activities and finding substitutes for our scarce resources.
SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
South Africa still has a long way to go in building affordable housing for all. Many South Africans live in informal settlements without legal title to their homes and with poor or no access to city water sewer and electrical connections. Informal settlements need to be upgraded and the building and allocation of housing needs to be accelerated. Public transport systems need improvement as a large number of our people rely on minibuses, taxis or other private vehicles as their principal means of transport. Improving the integration of public transport would be a big step towards creating sustainable cities and communities.
SDG 14: Life below Water / SDG 15: Life on Land
Section 24 of the constitution guarantees a healthy environment for all South Africans. This constitutional mandate is directly linked to SDGs 14 and 15. Data challenges continue to limit South Africa’s ability to formally report on most of the targets related to these SDGs. Land continues to be degraded, while forest cover declines. We still experience overfishing and marine pollution which are destroying the health of our oceans. Data collection, regular reporting and exposure are key to achieving SDGs 14 and 15.
SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
Corruption and lack of accountability continue to plague our country. Violence and crime continue unabated. Our murder rate has increased, and South Africans are afraid to walk anywhere alone. Now is the time for organisations to come together in a more focused way to fight corruption, violence and crime. Improving our community environments and providing quality education, that is accessible to all, is imperative to achieving this goal. There is a need to develop community safety centres which work towards preventing crime, providing education and supporting women and children everywhere.
SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals
Ann old African proverb says: ‘If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ There has never been a greater need for us to collaborate and to form valuable partnerships as we journey towards achieving a sustainable South Africa.
We have reached a critical juncture. Over the next decade, the success and failure of our organisations and country will be determined by how we respond to these social and environmental challenges.
If you are not already on this journey, we invite you to join us and we look forward to sharing more information and interacting with you further as we roll out #SustainableSA. As Nelson Mandela said: ‘We can change the world and make it a better place.’