Business and the SDGs in India
Together with the Norwegian Consulate General in Mumbai, the National Foundation for India and Samhita Social Ventures, we recently organized a forum in Mumbai on the role of business in promoting sustainable development in an Indian context.
Prof. Dan Banik (UiO), Ajay Menon (Gelato), Namita Vikas (Yes Bank), Raj Gupta (Lowe Lintas), Kristine Anvik Leach (Jotun), Sudhir Shenoy (Dow Chemicals), Anirban Ghosh (Mahindra & Mahindra) and Consul General Ann Ollestad. Photo: Kaja Elise Gresko/UiO
Better Business, Better India?
According to a report by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent a compelling growth strategy for India, unlocking private sector business opportunities worth over US$ 1 trillion by 2030 and potentially creating over 73 million new jobs. But is it simply win-win? What is the current status of corporate engagement with the SDGs in India? And how do corporate leaders themselves, and the surrounding ecosystem of other stakeholders, view the role of business in advancing the 2030 Agenda in India?
These were some of the issues discussed by the two panels, with participants representing Indian corporations and Norwegian companies operating in India, together with government officials, civil society, academia and media. Full agenda can be found here.
The Business Case
Discussions in the first panel emphasized the changing landscape that the private sector is operating in, with increasing awareness related to social and environmental challenges both in global and local contexts. While it was recognized that regulatory measures had traditionally been the key driver to promote more sustainable practices in the private sector, several of the panelists referred to an ongoing paradigm shift in the way of doing business, where disruptive forces such as digitalization, scarcity of raw materials and natural resources and more critical and demanding consumers and activists as important drivers of change. Panelists still recognized however that making "the right choices" was not necessarily always profitable. This especially in a short-term perspective and in a price sensitive market such as India, although sustainability was seen to increasingly influence consumption habits.
Leaving No One Behind
While the first panel showed optimism with regards to a development towards more sustainable business practices, the second panel illustrated a stronger skepticism to win-win discourse and the very foundation of perpetual growth that the SDGs are based on. While SDG discourse in business circles often emphasizes the goals' inherent opportunities for business, one panelist argued that if we take the SDGs seriously we must also recognize that some businesses can never be sustainable and will simply have to go out of business. Panelists further discussed the role of partnerships in ensuring inclusive development, and recognized the potential of public private partnerships to pool together the necessary finance, skills, commitment and innovation required for change. It was however pointed out that to ensure valuable equal partnerships, partners must to a larger extent be willing to share risks openly and overcome an institutional fear of critical voices.