Exploring the Challenges to and Solutions for Achieving the SDGs

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are attracting global attention. This session introduced hints for how companies and organizations should approach the SDGs as well as how to engage in efforts to achieve them.
[Fujitsu Forum 2018 Frontline Session Report]

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are global goals to achieve during the period from 2016 to 2030. The SDGs are part of the "2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development," which was established at a September 2015 United Nations summit. A total of 193 countries are part of this agreement, which includes 17 goals, 169 targets, and 230 indicators.

At Fujitsu Forum 2018 held in May 2018, a session entitled "Fujitsu and SDGs: An eye toward achieving Global Goals" was held. Helen Elizabeth Clark, who was deeply involved in the SDGs' formulation, spoke with Nobuhiko Sasaki, Corporate Executive Officer and Vice Chairman of Fujitsu Limited, about how companies and organizations should approach the SDGs as well as how to engage in efforts to achieve them.

Helen Elizabeth Clark
Former prime minister of New Zealand and former administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Clark was Prime Minister of New Zealand for three successive terms from 1999-2008. She was the first woman to be elected as Prime Minister in New Zealand. While in office, She advocated strongly for New Zealand's comprehensive program on sustainability and for tackling the problems of climate change. Later, from 2009 to 2017, she served as the first female administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Today, she is actively involved in global developmental efforts to achieve the SDGs and continues to be a strong voice for various global challenges, including sustainable development, climate change, and gender equality.

The Paradigm Shift Taking Place at Global Scale

The SDGs are the global goals that succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were formulated in 2001. Clark started the discussion by explaining the difference between the MDGs and SDGs. The MDGs had eight goals, and efforts to achieve them produced variable results. However, the SDGs are a different approach. They are not solely targeted at developing countries; they are an agenda relevant to every country on earth, and the goals are defined in a way that includes developed nations as well.

The shift from the MDGs, which mainly targeted development in developing countries, to the SDGs, which target all countries and people, including developed nations

As one of the SDGs' central assumptions, they stipulate that "no one should be left behind in our societies." Clark explained that technology is a very important part of addressing the SDGs. "In our development toward industrialization, we did not look after the environment very well, and the problems that this caused have now caught up with us. The fast-changing climate has become a threat to the gains that we have made."

Clark continued by explaining the new agenda. The new agenda says, "Let's aim for a world where no one lives in poverty. Let people enjoy the ability to be educated, enjoy a dignified standard of living. Let's do this in a way that is sustainable. Regarding the way we design our cities, or the ways we dispose of our waste, let's think in a much more joined-up way about what development really is, and then we will have truly sustainable development."

Nobuhiko Sasaki, Corporate Executive Officer and Vice Chairman, Fujitsu Limited

Listening to Clark speak, Fujitsu's Nobuhiko Sasaki reflected on the major technological advancements of the past 15 years. "For example, let's consider the several billion smartphones in use today. Computing power that was once only accessible to a select few researchers is now in the hands of elementary schoolchildren. Such a major change has caused a global paradigm shift, and while it has provided great convenience, it has also created disparities and other problems in society. We must also focus on these changes."

What is the Role of Private-sector Businesses in Combating Threats to Sustainability?

Today, countries around the world face threats to sustainability, including overpopulation, aging populations, limited food supplies, and natural disasters. Clark explained that in her opinion, achieving the SDGs requires very big partnerships, and it is unthinkable that the private sector would not be a very prominent part of such partnerships. To achieve the SDGs universally, it will take a tremendous amount of investment.

Clark continued by citing figures from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). It is estimated that achieving the SDGs in developing countries would have a price tag of between 3.3 and 4.5 trillion dollars per annum of investment. The likely shortfall of investment in developing countries today is 2.5 trillion dollars. Meanwhile, she explained that contributions made by Official Development Assistance (ODA) total about 140 billion dollars a year. Official grant money does not cover these expenditures. This is where we return to the role of the private sector.

Clark offered the following advice to developing countries: make your policies and shape the environment in ways that will make your country an attractive place for investment. Developing countries today have the prospect of leapfrogging generations of development through the application of smart technologies. She noted she was pleased that companies see their relationship between what they exist to do and what the needs are out there in supporting the SDGs to become a reality, both across economic goals, social inclusion goals, and environmental sustainability, and also in finding smart solutions and answers to these challenges.

Sasaki commented, "The private sector has two sides with regard to how to face threats to sustainability. The first is how corporate activities have made some of these threats worse. The second is how private corporations are in a unique position to find solutions to these threats. Fujitsu aims to provide such solutions. What companies should do to contribute to combating these threats is not merely to donate and offer free services. A company's duty is to contribute to society, and gain sufficient profits to expand their business."

Expectations for Technology in General as it Relates to the SDGs

Clark offered her opinion that there are great expectations for various technologies to help achieve the SDGs. She explained how new technologies like cellular phones/smartphones, big data, and drones play various roles in improving people's lives and ensuring government transparency.

According to Clark, to take the example of information and communication technologies of devices like smartphones, their proliferation has enabled farmers in developing countries to obtain useful information to link directly to markets. If you take blockchain, for example, an area in which Fujitsu does interesting work, the technology can realize transparency and accountability and thereby help eliminate corruption.

Regarding expectations for the latest technologies, Clark further stated that UNDP, in co-operation with various UN agencies, employs technology to help improve productivity and support development. Use of technology enables us to bring knowledge, information, and services to some of the most remote places on earth.

This session introduced co-creation efforts made in collaboration by Fujitsu, UNDP, and Tohoku University. At the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Sendai in March 2015, the establishment of the Global Centre for Disaster Statistics was announced, which aims to help reduce the damage caused by large-scale natural disasters. Starting in March 2017, Fujitsu joined in this effort as a partner.

This initiative aims to advance the formulation of a "disaster statistics database," which is being modeled after a statistics database related to the Great East Japan Earthquake. The prototype is scheduled to be complete by July 2018, and the plan is to incorporate databases from 20 countries around the world in the years following 2020. Sasaki explained, "As an ICT company of Japan, a country that has experienced massive disasters in the past, we believe it to be our responsibility and mission to engage in efforts to create disaster databases. With the aim of achieving the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction goals for 2030, Fujitsu Group as a whole will make efforts to consider how we can make this a business with value, and how to contribute to the world through our core business."

Co-creation efforts by UNDP, Tohoku University, and Fujitsu

Fujitsu is also engaged in efforts to improve productivity in agriculture as well as to develop relationships with medical institutions and provide solutions for in silico drug discovery. Sasaki commented, "All of Fujitsu's activities relate to the SDGs. The 17 goals of the SDGs serve as crucial milestones for our company."

The Importance of Building Partnerships with Many Companies and Organizations

Clark commented on the co-creation efforts related to the Global Center for Disaster Statistics, noting that Japan is a leader internationally in the disaster risk reduction agenda. Japan has experienced many sorrows and tragedies. In many countries, far too little effort is going into disaster risk management and risk reduction. To make such efforts, you need a good database of knowledge, and so the disaster statistics database, which Fujitsu is supporting, is extremely important in building the knowledge base.

Clark continued, saying that if you push forward with development without knowing your risks or how to manage them, and do not put in place measures toward risk reduction, you cannot achieve sustainable development. The important things in disaster risk management are to gather information, to learn as much as we possibly can, and to help communities put in place systems that would enable us to address even higher levels of disasters and the challenges of climate change. To achieve this, it is important to develop many partnerships between companies and organizations.

Promoting Diversity to Eliminate Inequality

In this session, Clark explained her thoughts on individuals and diversity from her unique perspective as someone with deep experience in various settings regarding problem-solving on a global scale.

She explained that the theme of inclusion is central to the SDGs. It is crucial to empower everyone, regardless of what part of society they come from, to enable them to reach their full potential. Inclusion refers to the involvement of people from all backgrounds to have the opportunity to participate in and contribute to the organization, as well as to accept and utilize their unique experiences and skills.

In addition, Clark introduced a UNDP report that showed that the economic cost of gender inequality in Africa is 95 billion dollars per year.

Regarding the importance of gender equality, she added that in both Japan and New Zealand, we have had to tackle the issue of lower rates of participation by women in the workforce. Companies that have significant proportions of women on their boards and in senior management score very well in international performance. To realize a society that espouses equality, there must be support structures that help women. It is crucial to enable women to pursue various opportunities by providing these types of support.

High Expectations for Japan

In this session, Clark, who has visited Japan around 25 times, was asked about her expectations of Japan. She replied that Japan is a strong partner in international development. It is not just about money; Japan provides practical support and works to build peaceful societies from the bottom up. So, she hopes Japan continues to be a very strong development partner.

She also expressed her opinion that private corporations like Fujitsu will serve an increasingly important role. She added that developing countries are not simply seeking aid from ODA but want to develop solutions together through co-operation. She explained that major influential companies like Fujitsu have much to offer, not only through what they do in corporate social responsibility (CSR), but as important partners for developing countries with regard to investments and technological support.

Hearing this, Sasaki responded by describing Fujitsu's ambitions. "The reason why Fujitsu is committed to achieving the SDGs is because we believe this will help spark innovation. Based on this new concept of the SDGs, we aim to engage in co-creation with companies and organizations to face global challenges together. We believe this will transform the way we have been conducting business at Fujitsu and will be a direct approach to society and to the world. We want to take this opportunity to form stronger partnerships worldwide, and to become a company that contributes to the world."

What Kind of World to Strive for by 2030

On the topic of what kind of world to strive for by 2030, Clark commented that the agenda for the SDGs makes a fundamental statement that there will be no peace without sustainable development, and no sustainable development without peace. Therefore, what she really wants for 2030 is a world that can sustain peace. Many people in the world have been forcibly displaced from their homes, and many international conflicts are taking place. She wants to see us address the problems that break down social unity.

Clark added that she wants to see societies where people are well-educated, happy, and healthy. She wants to see governments with systems that kick in to help when people are sick or very poor, and governments that allow people to express critical opinions. My goal is to see societies in which things can change if people feel that they need to.

Sasaki concluded the session by saying, "The SDGs, which are very ambitious goals, may seem too distant for us as individuals. However, I want all of us to consider them to be a personal matter. The SDGs are a universal language. They are something that can generate new knowledge that can be used to solve problems for everyone on earth. We at Fujitsu will continue to make great efforts toward achieving the SDGs."

Presenters
  • Helen Elizabeth Clark Former Prime Minister of New Zealand and former Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
  • Nobuhiko Sasaki Corporate Executive Officer and Vice Chairman, Fujitsu Limited
Moderator
  • Sogo Fujisaki CSR and Sustainable Development Strategy Division,
    Responsible Business Unit
    Fujitsu Limited