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A fair trade model for the B2B sector: how finance can apply innovation to tackle UN SDGs

Applying fair trade concepts more widely across industry, promoting cooperatives, and sharing financial expertise with grassroots organisations are all ways in which the finance community can help towards meeting the 2030 UN sustainable development goals (SDGs).

After the launch of Finance & Business2030 conference in London, Chartered Accountants Worldwide surveyed more than 120 delegates for their thoughts and reactions following the event which featured finance and business professionals discussing ways to develop a plan of action towards achieving the goals. FinBiz2030 is a joint initiative between One Young World, Chartered Accountants Worldwide and the City of London.

As part of the survey, we asked delegates from across the spectrum of public, private and third sectors, what digital skills, expertise and innovative ideas can the finance and business community bring to the goals. Here’s what they told us:

Fair trade; wide reach

Applying fair trade concepts across more industry sectors was a key point of agreement. While the idea is well established in areas like agriculture and mining, our delegates felt it can be applied more universally across industries. The fair trade symbol is instantly recognisable in the consumer world; our delegates wondered if it’s possible to create an equivalent for the B2B market.

Sharing the knowledge

Another strong suggestion was for finance professionals and the sector as a whole to share and provide both expertise and funding to grassroots organisations. This community-driven approach to supporting projects would allow finance to scale up or down as needed.

Delegates also want to see the finance sector to support self-led communities by sharing knowledge, advice, skills and financial literacy. This needs the sector to listen to grassroots organisations and understand their needs. Some suggested that these initiatives could come in the form of pro bono work, in a similar way to the legal profession.

Scaling community projects

One example highlighted in the feedback was to tackle a problem like plastic waste in refugee camps. There’s an opportunity to turn that waste material into marketable products and to do so on a local basis. Finance and business professionals are well placed to advise on how to make this kind of project profitable and allow it to scale. This support could be in the form of curating partnerships, consulting, advocacy, pro bono finance or green financing. It could also be set up in a way that taking part in these initiatives would contribute towards CPD, one delegate suggested.

As one respondent said: “Finance needs to be more readily accessible for organisations working to address the SDGs. Business need to broaden the way they access investment prospects between profit and loss and begin to consider other facets of business development.”

Inspired by startups

One delegate took their cue from the technology startup world, urging the community to embrace a hackathon type approach. This would involve events including workshops where people don’t just debate a problem but actively collaborate on a potential practical solution. “While the discussions were hugely insightful, it would be great to make the events more practical by challenging groups to develop minimum viable products/versions of their ideas. This would generate even more momentum for tangible change following these events,” they said.

Another delegate said the finance community shouldn’t think of new technology – the so-called ‘fourth industrial revolution’ – as a threat. “I would like business to see the challenges of the change being driven by the fourth industrial revolution as opportunities. The pace of change is daunting and emergent modern social issues (such as vast amounts of the population not having the right skill sets) are so complex and global; often business shy away due to the scale and scope of the challenge. I believe that an insightful framing of the issues and the right perspective can help businesses find their role in the larger strategies set out by the UN and other institutions, so that they can make a lasting impact.”

Communicating the goals

Our delegates see technology as an opportunity to connect people with the SDGs by enabling the business world to collect data and then communicate its findings to the public in an easily understandable way.

“To help people understand this data is crucial to the way of conquering the challenges in the SDGs. How do we know what life below the water is without communication? How do you inform people? However there is still a big gap in the market for how we make this data clear. A lot of the emphasis has been on the developing world. However, we need to establish our baseline in the developed world to harness these tools. Through the business and finance community this is helpful,” said one delegate.

To achieve collective action from this data, another delegate suggested using the model established by One Young World that encourages competition to achieve the best possible results. “They also utilise their platform to inform the community about data. Is there a way that we build a similar platform to inspire this ‘race to the top’?”

Working towards achieving the UN SDGs aligns with Chartered Accountants Worldwide’s goal of #BuildingTrust. See our inspirational video highlighting what it means to be a Chartered Accountant. And check back next week as we reveal more insights from Finance & Business2030 here on Charteredaccountantsworldwide.com.