How Harnessing Big Data Moves Us Closer to Achieving the UN's SDGs

17 December 2019 10:48

Recently Amsterdam’s very own KIT Royal Tropical Institute was transformed into an inclusive, engaging and interactive hub of more than a 100 like-minded changemakers from a variety of professional and academic backgrounds. The group came together to discuss how big data supports progress on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Established through joint cooperation between Elsevier, the Elsevier Foundation and the UN Global Compact Network Netherlands, SDG Inspiration Day presented a unique opportunity for businesses, as well as political representatives, to set the scene for data-enabled SDG solutions.

Naturally, a room full of ambitious entrepreneurs, CSR officials and governmental actors led to thought-provoking discussions showcasing the crucial role data plays in successful implementation of the SDGs.

Setting the Scene for Sustainable Development

The introduction of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has given the world a common target and outlined the steps we as a society have to take in order to fulfill the SDGs for a better and more sustainable future for all. In order to achieve this, former Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende emphasized the urgent need to close the ranks between the private sector, governments and civil society. The current Chair of the Dutch Sustainable Growth Coalition said, “Wherever I travel around the world, I feel that something is changing. There is a certain enthusiasm about the SDGs and although 17 goals might seem a bit much at once they can really change the world step by step if we combine our efforts.”

The changing character and the growing awareness for sustainable development has also led to an increasing importance of re-evaluating and redefining the purpose of a cooperation. Balkenende emphasised that companies benefit when they expand their definition of value beyond financial gains and also focus on creating societal value for their clients, our society and our planet.

Complementing the inspiring words of Marcia Balisciano, Director of Corporate Responsibility at RELX, the former Prime Minister concluded that today’s corporations face the difficult but exciting task of minimising their sustainable footprint and maximising their sustainable handprint by engaging in a comprehensive effort of transforming their business model. Without this sustainable shift companies around the globe are letting down investors, customers and our society at large.

In her remarks Marcia Balisciano further commented on the extensive efforts of RELX, the parent company of both Elsevier and LexisNexis, in further advancing and supporting the SDGs.

“Our portfolio represents a unique mixture of tools and corresponding data which enables us to support the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals since day one. Together, we can facilitate a sustainable transformation by providing the necessary data and research to understand the effects and mitigate possible risks,” said Balisciano.

UN Secretary General António Guterres has emphasised the critical role of the private sector in supporting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, but the public sector plays an important role as well. Sandra Pellegrom, the SDG Coordinator of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Peter Hein van Mulligen, the Chief Economist and Spokesperson of Statistics Netherlands (CBS) both affirmed that the Netherlands continue to support the implementation of the SDGs both domestically and internationally. Nevertheless, they see room for improvement and indicated that valid, sound and accessible data is the key to achieve a better understanding of present issues surrounding the road towards sustainable development.

The Decade of the Sustainable Development Goals

After almost 5 years of becoming familiar with the Sustainable Development Goals and collecting, improving and validating the necessary data, the global community finds itself at the margins of the decade in which the SDGs will have to be delivered—and current numbers paint a grim picture.

Ole Lund Hansen, Chief, Global Operations, UN Global Compact notes, “It is incredible what has been done so far but if we take the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development seriously it is also clear that we are by no means on track for delivering the SDGs within the next 10 years. Our estimates tell us that it would take 200 years to close the economic gender gap if we continue with today’s pace.”

Data plays a pivotal role in assessing the current state of sustainable development and can help decision makers on regional, national and international levels to streamline and optimise their efforts. The Sustainable Development Goals are unique in being supported by supported by such a vast and comprehensive number of businesses and corporations. Nevertheless, the available data shows a gap when it comes to sustainable investments form the private sector and emphasises the need to raise the awareness for the SDGs among CEOs and other business officials. Events such as the SDG Inspiration Day facilitate an important stage of interaction between different actors from all around the private and public field and enables a better and more sincere cooperation in order to implement the Sustainable Development Goals for a better, brighter and more sustainable world and leave no one behind.

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