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The role of banks in achieving SDGs

Mark Devadason
This month, UN members gathered in Addis Ababa to work out how to finance sustainable development for the next 15 years, ahead of the UN’s adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) this September.
The SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which have played a huge role in spurring governments and NGOs to address otherwise forgotten development issues. One MDG – to halve extreme poverty globally – was reached five years ago.
The SDGs take up the baton from 2016, with a total of 17 new goals, including one to end poverty everywhere, and another to end hunger
Project Everyone, founded by British filmmaker Richard Curtis and endorsed by the UN, believes the SDGs are so important that everyone on the planet must know about them.
We agree and that is why we are one of the core sponsors of this massively ambitious communication project to share the goals with seven billion people in seven days this September.
The more widely the SDGs are known, the more governments, civil society and the private sector will take them seriously and make them work. Without such universal buy-in, the goals stand less chance of succeeding.
New challenges, new goals
The MDGs were largely financed by aid from rich countries to poor ones, but much has changed since 2000.
Global growth has slowed, with countries finding it challenging to maintain overseas aid. Furthermore – in the wake of the financial crisis – regulators have sought to make the financial system more stable with higher capital requirements. The unintended consequences could reduce the availability of long-term capital to developing countries
Given this backdrop, realising the SDGs will require a large number of stakeholders to pool their resources and initiative. Governments, civil society and the private sector have to work together to come up with better solutions.
Our own sector – banking – can play a pivotal role, helping to widen access to finance for the millions of businesses that make up the backbone of economies worldwide.
Finance is not enough
One way for banks to do this is to push for credit data to become more easily available through credit bureaus. This would help to reduce the cost of borrowing by making it easier for banks to assess risk when taking on new customers.
And banks should continue to support microfinance institutions, providing financing as well as capacity building across the sector. A strong microfinance sector is critical to the economic potential of many developing markets and will help make financial services available to the un-banked and under-banked communities.
Banks should also  invest more in financial education programmes. Giving entrepreneurs access to finance is not enough on its own; we need to provide financial literacy training so they can access the financial services they need to run profitable and sustainable businesses.
The SDGs are going to set very high aspirations for the world for the next 15 years. To my mind, they are a great opportunity for the banking industry to demonstrate its worth to society by enabling people and business to prosper, and we hope this was top  of mind at the conference in Addis Ababa.
It would be a great shame if banking continues to be seen as an outsider to development. If the SDGs are to deliver on their great promise, pathological collaboration between banks, the private sector, civil society and governments will be critical.
This will require a new way of doing business, and – most importantly – it will require banks to get back in the business of supporting sustainable economic development.
The challenge for the financial services sector is to find more innovative ways to support those non-commodity sectors with great potential to spear-head and deepen our diversification efforts – value-added agriculture, manufacturing and technology are all very good picks.
The challenge for Afreximbank is similar – to deepen support to these value-adding industries. The challenge for policymakers is to deepen efforts and action to ensure our business environments provide that space for business and entrepreneurs to thrive.
It is, therefore, imperative that we all come together, and take decisive action to ensure our economies are well and truly diversified. Our failure to act now would be to deny our great continent of three great opportunities – first, the opportunity to leap-frog our economies to global standards (like we did with mobile phone technology); second, the opportunity for our industries to compete favourably on the global stage; and third, the opportunity to lift millions out of poverty.
The author is Global Head of Sustainability, Standard Chartered Bank