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SDGs to be bedrock for future policies, investments: UNDP Country Director

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  • Unilever, UNDP, UNGC enter into strategic PPP agreement 
  • Aitken Spence Holdings, Commercial Bank, Dialog Axiata, MAS Holdings, Unilever Sri Lanka pledge support to drive a wave of sustainable business projects 
  • UNDP partners Unilever Sri Lanka to host annual forum on sustainable human development from next year
  • UNGC Chairman urges corporates to pursue sustainability strategies in areas relevant, impacts larger society
  • Commercial Bank intends to expand lending portfolio to cover business proposals safe for society, environment
  • Dialog assures its commitment to connect business with related partners for sustainable development

By Charumini de Silva

United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Sri Lanka Country Director Jorn Sorensen said the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be the bedrock for future regulations and policies that inform and channel investment into priority sectors and restrict businesses that have negative social or environmental returns.

He made these remarks addressing at the Unilever Sri Lanka, UNDP and the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) together announced the initiation of strategic public-private partnerships (PPPs) around the country’s key priorities related to the 2030 SDGs at a media conference held last week in Colombo.

Aitken Spence Holdings, Commercial Bank, Dialog Axiata, MAS Holdings and Unilever Sri Lanka pledged their support to drive a wave of sustainable business projects that are set to be rolled out through these partnerships.

Unleashing private sector potential

Sorensen said to further strengthen greater collaboration between the public and private sector, the UNDP will be partnering with Unilever Sri Lanka to annually host a high-level private sector forum on sustainable human development, starting in 2018.

“By connecting business with governments and the development partners, we hope to help create a policy environment that unleashes the potential of the private sector. When governments understand the needs of business, and businesses understand the development priorities of governments, everyone stands to benefit,” he added.

He emphasised that neither governments nor the UN can do it alone without everyone’s contribution. “Through partnerships I am convinced that we can play a role in defining the countries and regions sustainable future.”

With its 50 years of experience in development, he said UNDP is co-designing new approaches to convene, catalyse and capitalise to leverage partnerships for the SDGs to support Sri Lanka achieve sustainable human development. 

“UNDP will further evolve and adapt to become more innovative and efficient to remain a trusted development partner of choice and to respond effectively to new and emerging needs in the country,” Sorensen stressed.

Unilever Sri Lanka Chairman Carl Cruz and UNDP Country Director Jorn Sorensen exchanging the agreement

Moving ahead as one

Unilever Sri Lanka Chairman Carl Cruz said the country’s goals around the 2030 SDGs cannot be achieved through the efforts of any single entity, acting alone. 

“We all need to develop at the same time and same pace — no one should be left behind. We need to rally each other up, go outside our comfort zones and work together to help the nation realise its vision. We firmly believe that this is the only way in which we can ensure that we move ahead as one, without leaving anyone behind,” he added. 

He highlighted the importance of adopting sustainable models both in civil service and in business while mobilising collective action will help bring longer lasting, wide spread positive change. It was pointed out that the projects are aligned to the country’s agenda and have a clear sustainable business model that ensures their success and longevity.

“You can see the power house of associates who have joined forces here for the country and for a brighter tomorrow. Like-minded organisations need to join hands. We all are different organisations, have different business models, but one point remains true to all of us, that galvanise us together, that is we are all here in Sri Lanka for the long term. For us to win Sri Lanka will have to win,” Cruz emphasised.

According to him, Unilever Sri Lanka has embarked on three poverty alleviation projects which include Grama Shakthi, Sunlight and SustainabiliTea. 

“I am happy to announce that UNDP will be partnering Unilever and we hope to have annual interventions with the aim of sharing best practices and further cementing the fact that the only acceptable way of business today, is sustainable, responsible business,” Cruz added.

Sustainability as a corporate strategy

UNGC Chairman Dr. Rohan Fernando said it was important that corporates in Sri Lanka pursue sustainability as a corporate strategy in areas where there is an impact and also on areas that are relevant not only to the private sector, but to the larger society. 

Outlining a private sector point of view on sustainability he described it as doing ‘good’ business. “We don’t do things for the sake of doing it, but we are committed to ensure that we fulfil the aspirations and the objectives of the triple bottom-line which includes people, planet and profit. We feel that sustainability is about this.” 

Although the sustainability issues are found daunting at present, he believes with collaborative efforts it will be very miniscule.

Noting that many forums today talk of sustainability he however said only UNGC members ‘walk the talk’. “All our members have realised that unless long-term perspective on sustainability is aligned to their corporate strategies this is not going to work.”

Dr. Fernando pointed out that in today’s business world international buyers are very mindful of the sustainability practices adopted by corporates on employees, environment, and customers. Thereby he urged companies to be committed for triple bottom-line.

While stating that this initiative on sustainability will take a new turn in the years to come, he also acknowledged it was encouraging to see Government’s support which reflects its commitment.

Sustainable business practices 

Sharing views on the forum, its outcomes and the way forward Commercial Bank Ceylon Plc Managing Director and CEO Jegan Durairatnam said the bank has been in the forefront with a plethora of sustainable business practices.

He explained that the bank has committed not to lend to business that doesn’t have sustainable best practices. “We look at sustainable from two angles, one is CSR trust and the other is social and environmental management impact. With the support of multilateral agencies like IFC we help companies to obtain loans that practice environmental and sustainable practices and it is a rigorous test we put through them.”

Durairatnam noted that over the years Rs. 350 million worth has gone through this rigorous test. “In future we intend to take this forward to an extent that we have 70% of our lending goes through a process where it is safe for both society and for the environment. We intend to bring world class best practices to sustainable business in Sri Lanka,” he stressed.

Reiterating that bridging the digital divide was a core principle of the company from inception, Dialog Axiata PLC Group Chief Customer Officer Shayam Majeed assured that the firm would continue connecting business with relevant partners for sustainable development.

“One good initiative we have launched is ‘Govi Mithuru’ that connects farmers of rural areas with the markets and there are over 400,000 subscribers today benefiting from this initiative.  We have always believed in triple bottom-line principle and we will continue on do sustainable business in Sri Lanka,” he added. 

Members of the projects’ working committees met after the media conference to discuss the road map for each project. Aligning the project goals to the wider national agenda, the teams finalised the immediate next steps.

Pix by Lasantha Kumara


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