The Sustainable Development Goals are a map of future opportunity.
It’s that simple.
Since 2015, critics have fretted that the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and their 169 action-specific targets are “too complex”, “unwieldy”, or “hard to keep track of”. But three critical insights can help to correct that perception:
- The SDGs are a map of future wellbeing.
- Their universality (193 nations agreed to implement all of them, at all levels domestically, and abroad through international cooperation) makes their complex interactions a virtue.
- Real progress on all 17 will create far better conditions for prosperity; lagging on one or more will affect opportunity across whole economies.
The everyday, everywhere collaborative effort to free humanity from suffering and deprivation — to open access to well-rounded lifelong education, to catalyze an inclusive resilient middle-class society, reinforced by participatory civics — requires that we make serious progress on all 17 of these Global Goals, at all levels. This is everyone’s work, everyone’s responsibility, and markets will adjust — either with high or low intelligence — to this mandate.
The most salient emerging financial and entrepreneurial insight of the 21st century may well be:
Markets (whether sector-specific or multi-sector), finance and international trade, are not zero-sum games; they are not proverbial pies of finite size, where anyone’s gain is someone else’s loss.
In the everywhere-active, everyday SDG economy, enhancement of value in one area catalyzes an expansion of value in all of the others.
- Progress on Sustainable Cities (11) and Innovation and Infrastructure (9) does not erode human health (3), limit availability of food (2) or exacerbate dangerous concentration of wealth among a few (1, 10) .
- Because all of the Goals are characterized by sustainability, they are designed to enhance our overall likelihood of success on all fronts.
- All of these listed here are further enhanced by progress toward Sustainable Energy for All (7), which also directly supports meaningful climate action (13).
Future investment opportunity will be shaped by this logic of interactive, inclusive progress and prosperity. Contrary to the long-held view of some scorched earth libertarian thinkers, this shift toward a new standard of shared progress will not erode the sovereign dignity of free individual persons; it will enhance and expand that sovereign dignity of the individual, by providing the guarantee of a society that will not allow for its erosion.
As a matter of comparison, consider the smart phone:
- As recently as 20 years ago, most information about most subjects was not available to even 1/10 of humanity, at any given time.
- The Internet, ephemeralization of computer processing systems, the delivery of supercomputing power to billions of people, and the wireless connection of those devinces to the Internet, have fundamentally changed our relationship to information.
- While we are now dealing with new inefficiencies, like the problem of viral misinformation and various kinds of hacking, we are all much closer to meaningful information than ever before.
- Our communicative powers (both interpersonally and in publishing for general consumption) are far greater than were available to even 1% of people for most of our history.
- It is unthinkable that we would relinquish this new capacity for shared, inclusive value creation, simply to return to the status quo ante.
The SDGs create a dynamic in the organization of geopolitical and economic forces that provides a similar opportunity: if that kind of industrial and informational prowess can be spread amongst all of humanity, while we intelligently resist the exacerbation of socio-economic inequalities, and more inclusively secure a future of shared prosperity, the opportunity for those who operate most effectively in that new environment will be far greater than the opportunity they enjoy now.
Today, Apple and Amazon compete to be the world’s most valuable companies. In the next two decades, they may well be surpassed by a new kind of financial institution that is open to all, profits from building the wealth not only of the wealthy but of all its customers and collaborators, while connecting sustainable progress in soil management, small business ownership, information technology, clean energy, and everyday spending.
As information, energy and finance that benefit all become the core standard for value creation, the SDGs will serve as a reliable map of future opportunity, for investors and entrepreneurs in all markets and all sectors.
It’s that simple.