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Business

Pursuing SDGs through human ingenuity

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa - The Philippine Star

Days ahead of the start of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the sixth Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers Report was released with the grim observation that nearly every one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at this halfway mark is off track to achieving them by 2030.

It was in 2015 when UNGA laid down and adopted 17 goals that its members agreed to act on in order to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity – although specific targets were set only in 2017 by which countries could measure their progress.

While the UN has an online publication called SDG Tracker (https://sdg-tracker.org/), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation maintains its own cache of data indicators, which more importantly it uses to understand – more than just measure – progress in achieving the goals.

The foundation report headlines that today, halfway to 2030, it is time to change our approach to achieving the SDGs. What the foundation co-chairs Bill and Melinda express in their essays at the report’s introductory part are not just optimism, but new ways of thinking based on keen observation.

Bill Gates’ piece is about world hunger: “The war in Ukraine shows that hunger can’t be solved with just humanitarian assistance alone. Investments in agriculture R&D are required.” Melinda French Gates opines: “Gender equality depends on women having power, not just ‘empowerment’.”

Agriculture innovation

Bill Gates writes that even before the war in Ukraine, global food aid had been skyrocketing, and will continue rising well before the decade end. While helping others and bringing food to the hungry is a good thing, he notes that it doesn’t solve the food scarcity problem.

“The goal should not simply be giving more food aid. It should be to ensure that no aid is needed in the first place,” Bill says. In Africa where hunger is now a big issue, low land productivity had become a reason for more importation of corn, a staple in the locals’ diets.

However, whenever global supply chain shocks happen, such as the stoppage of corn exports from a large producer like Ukraine because of war, hunger becomes a crisis that imperils millions of lives.

The usual answer to this crisis is to increase food aid, which has already reached a record high of $57.1 billion in 2020. Aid for agriculture research, on the other hand, has remained almost at a plateau, with the amount for 2020 at only $9.0 billion.

Faced today with a bigger threat on agriculture from climate change, the world’s development aid should focus on bringing innovation in agriculture. Research on improved seeds is not the only way to go, but being able to determine other coping mechanisms that will protect agriculture production.

“It good that people want to prevent their fellow human beings from starving when conflicts like Ukraine interrupt the food supply, but we also have to recognize that those crises are symptoms of a deeper problem – many countries don’t grow enough yet, and climate change is making farming even harder. That challenge can’t be solved with donations. It requires innovation,” Bill stresses.

Key to future progress

Melinda French Gates, on the other hand, expounds on the foundation’s work on women empowerment where she admits that ensuring a woman’s ability to earn a livelihood has not translated to huge gains on the global goal of gender equality.

Melinda presents a sobering reality, one based on new data from Equal Measures 2030 that says gender equality will not be achievable until at least 2108 – equivalent to three generations – if current development interventions alone are relied on. New approaches will have to be adopted.

Two approaches – building economic resilience through expanded access to digital financial tools and implementing a robust caregiving infrastructure that enables women to earn an income outside of the home – have yielded positive results in real life experiences.

Force multipliers

According to Melinda, “True equality depends not only on a woman’s ability to access a livelihood, but also on her ability to control it fully. It means not just putting food on a kitchen table, but also being able to make decisions for her family around that table. It means not just benefiting from a government policy, but designing those policies. It means not just empowerment, but real, lived power.”

Additionally, “Because when women have power – over their money, over their own bodies, and in society – we all benefit. Women are force multipliers: An extensive body of research shows that when women can control their own money, their sense of self changes. So do the expectations of those around them. Their children are more likely to attend school. Their families are healthier. Their household income grows – and so does the global economy,” Melinda writes.

“So when it comes to the future of progress – not just on the global goals related to gender equality but on those on good health, quality education, ending poverty, and more – there is one engine that can drive them all: women’s power.”

Lessons

Unlike speeches delivered by global leaders at the UNGA77, organizations like the Gates Foundation, as well as other private institutions and businesses that heavily fund development change, offer more interesting responses to global problems highlighted by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres during the opening day.

Bill Gates’ views on food security, particularly, resonate well for the Philippines, which is increasingly resorting to importing food because of a mishandled agriculture sector. We should be able to draw some precious lessons from this if we unleash our ingenuity.

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We are actively using two social networking websites to reach out more often and even interact with and engage our readers, friends and colleagues in the various areas of interest that I tackle in my column. Please like us on www.facebook.com/ReyGamboa and follow us on www.twitter.com/ReyGamboa.

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at [email protected]. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

UNGA

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