As the expectations of businesses evolve in the new era of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), businesses need to be accountable for maximising positive development outcomes. So, what does this mean for a social enterprise? We’re less than a decade out from the finish line for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and it’s time to put initiatives, businesses, and impact in overdrive.

There’s just one problem. A PWC study indicated that 71% of businesses made plans to engage with the SDGs—but only 13% have identified tools necessary to assess their impact against them.

It’s great to want to support sustainable development and curb poverty, but without clearly defined aims, impact measurement, and quality reporting, accountability could be an issue and 2030 may not end up being what we all hope and dream it will.  With this in mind, we’ve come up with some steps for how to keep your social enterprise accountable to the SDGs.

First of all, it may be time to reconsider the SDGs in light of the upsets of the last couple of years: indeed, the past two years, have focused almost exclusively on the survival of social enterprises. It has become much easier to focus on the “day-to-day” than on the, once well-defined and highly prioritized, commitment to the SDGs.

Where to start? Have a look at the Sustainable Development Goals Report from July 2020.

Once you’ve done that, you may need to assess the urgency of the SDGs and then figure out how far you currently stand from achieving them. The novel coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated many social concerns, including underemployment, disruption to health services, education suspensions, increased risks of child labor, and a rise in global poverty—the first since 1998. You may now play a new role in tackling some of the SDGs, or will have an impact that is now more necessary than ever. Revisit or redefine your priorities, and consider taking a more central role in achieving them.

In addition, you should try to avoid ambiguous or broad goals and instead develop well-defined key performance indicators (KPIs) so that guiding, evaluating, and reporting on your impact is not only a more streamlined process, but also helps provide some assurance that you are accountable to the SDGs. Once you’ve established a rejuvenated commitment to the SDGs, it’s time to embed it anywhere you can. Take a holistic view and see if and where the SDGs can fit into all levels of your organisation—be it your business model itself, your supply chain, your internal operations or even your community.

One way to greatly increase your chances of success is undoubtedly to get connected. If you’ve ever made a personal change – quit smoking, run 2 miles a day, try that new artistic hobby – you may already understand that achieving goals is much harder in isolation. When it comes to the SDGs and accountability, the best thing you can do is share who you are and what you’re accomplishing (or hope to accomplish) with others.

This could mean: sharing your SDG-related goals and outcomes with your team, clients, or community; developing partnerships that help contribute to the SDGs; or simply joining Social Change Central as a member so that relevant opportunities and SDG-oriented actions come directly to you (no need for hours of research). We need collaborative and collective action in social innovation and achieving the SDGs by the end of the decade needs it too.

Accountability to the SDGs hinges upon being able to evaluate and communicate your impact. As a social enterprise, you may not have a dedicated sustainability expert or an endless amount of data, nor will you likely play a role in national or regional SDG reporting. However, your contribution to Agenda 2030 is definitely worth measuring and sharing.

Fortunately, for those with limited time, team bandwidth, and resources, there are several valuable tools out there to help:

  • The SDG Compass platform hastools and indicators which can help you measure and report your contribution to the Goals.
  • B Lab has also developed a free impact management toolto evaluate your organisation’s contribution to the SDGs.
  • The SDG Trackeris a free, open-source tool that allows users to track and explore progress through interactive data visualizations.
  • GRI is one of the main bodies associated with SDG reporting, and they provide many free resources.

In conclusion, social entrepreneurship and social innovation activities, will play a significant role in the achievement of the SDGs. In fact, in many targets, social enterprises outperform enterprises from the private sector.  To maintain our significant contribution, remaining accountable to these SDGs is essential. It all starts with understanding the 17 goals and our place in them, before being able to use measurement and data to connect our impact to the achievement of SDGs. Then, it’s up to us to brag and boast and get our teams, stakeholders and communities talking about the SDGs with us.

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