At a recent meeting of the newly established UN Global Compact Network Egypt where I participated as one of the group’s founding members, one of the most important topics discussed was the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals SDG’s and their potential impact on the alleviation of poverty andthe global economy. While no one can dispute the merits of the SDG’s, the issue of how these ambitious set of goals can beachieved remains a topic of heated debate given the fact that there is no binding agreement to help guarantee their implementation.
To give some background, the 17 SDG’swere developed and adopted by world leaders at the UN summit in September 2015 with the prime objective of building on the success of the Millennium Development Goals. The SDG’s however aim togo much further with a broader and more ambitious sustainable development agenda. This includes among others, a bid to end all poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all by 2030.
The goals are global in nature and their achievement would have a positive impact on the lives of millions of people across the globe but they are even more crucial for the populous countries of Africa where citizens from all social classes are feeling the brunt of slow economic growth, rising prices and the lack of vital services such as public education and healthcare.
The lingering question remains, will it be possible to actually hit these targets without any binding agreements to do so?The answer is that it will not be possible without a collective effort on the part of governments, civil society and the private sector. This triangle of power will need to come together and establish a set of clearly defined roles to illuminate redundancy and ensure maximum efficiency.
The private sector needs to play a much more active role in the process; governments need to establish proper regulatory frameworks and find ways of encouraging private companies to step up tothe plate by streamlining procedures that will allow them make the types of investments that are required to fulfill some of the developmental objectives that governments are no longer able to meet alone.
The civilsociety/NGO’s role is to act as the conduit between the public and private sectors. They are the glue that holds the triangle of power together and thus their role should not be undermined. Everyone needs to feel that they are part of the process of change in order for us to achieve the SDG’s.
Businesses must aligntheir investment goals with national ones which can be a challenging and delicate balance to achieve because at the end of the day businesses need to achieve profits. Balancing financial return with social responsibility is not impossible, but it must be explored in an innovative manner. We must start to think of ways we can fill the gaps that can be both profitable and socially beneficial.
A good start would be to recognize the fact business and social investment are not inimical to one another. Private sector investors are becoming increasingly aware that their ability to grow is directly linked to the existence of a stable and prosperous society. They should therefore play a leading role in helping address these development goals. Not just through philanthropy but through the right kinds of investments.
To give but a few examples – investments made to support education help create a skilled workforce that is capable of supporting future innovation and addressing current and future challenges.Investments that help improve the quality of life for a broader cross segment of society will ultimately result in healthier communities that can sustain not long-term business growth. Traditional views of capitalism and development alike must be altered to embrace a much more integrated, conscious and value creating approach to sustainable growth and development.
As a leading African investor in the vital energy and infrastructure sectors, we at Qalaa have always tried to lead by example and walk the talk of social investment. Our subsidiaries such as ERC (the Egyptian Refining Company) are making positive contributions to their surrounding communities. In addition to creating 10,000 new jobs during the peak of construction, ERC has worked closely with local NGO’s and the Egyptian Ministry of Social Solidarity to create opportunities for knowledge transfer through a team of international industry experts who are employed alongside thousands of workers from the local community. Other community engagement project that ERC has carried out include the refurbishment of 4 local schools benefiting more than 5,000 students, providing vocational training opportunities for over 900 community members, establishing community centers to maintain dialogue and assess the needs of local residents and providing computer literacy classes to 45 community members, mostly women.
Our energy subsidiary TAQA Arabia is the largest private sector energy distribution company in Egypt delivering gas to approximately 1 million customers. TAQA is currently studying potential expansion of the company’s natural gas distribution business to serve industrial and household clients located far from the present natural gas grid including residential clients in 14 villages across Upper Egypt and investing in solar power projects.
On the holding company level we recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of a private scholarship foundation that we have established through an endowment. The Foundation has thus far seen over 150 students graduate with postgraduate qualifications from some of the best Universities in the world. The students are awarded full study-abroad scholarships on the condition that they return home and work in their respective fields upon the completion of their degrees. Needless to say most of these students have positively impacted the Egyptian economy in cutting-edge fields such as solar energy and molecular biology, and cultural entrepreneurship.
We also invest heavily in R&D in the honest belief that it creates the basis for future enterprise survival through the new processes and more efficient ways of using our finite resources.
A good example is our ground breaking technology that recoups the energy lost through waste created by the agricultural system and population centers. When they clear or open up new land for agriculture, farmers’ the world over, burn off hundreds of tons of foliage. In the cities, municipal authorities are grappling with an ever rising challenge of managing solid waste as populations surge.
Our subsidiary, the Egyptian Company for solid Waste Recycling (ECARU), has pioneered technology that converts both municipal solid waste and biomass from farms into an energy stream. This innovation helps bridge the continent’s significant energy shortfall in a manner that shrinks the environmental footprint of meeting the demand for energy.
The amount of waste generated in a city like Kampala for example can be an adequate source of energy for street lighting and other applications. In 2013 Kampala was on average, generating about 1,538 tons of solid waste per day. That equates to 46,140 tons in a month or 553,680tons in a year, a vast resource in a country where energy costs are high and contribute nearly a quarter of the cost of service provision.
In Egypt and more recently in Ethiopia, due to the ever increasing need to reduce global warming through reduction of carbon emissions, many industries including power generating companies and other energy users have been working towards reducing reliance on coal, oil and gas setting off a race to find alternative fuel sources.
ECARU has perfected the technology and operational capability to produce high quality alternative fuel from farm waste and municipal solid waste.
With examples like these, it is clear that investing in human capacity development and innovative ways of dealing with economic, social and environmental challenges we can have a meeting point between business and governments agendas in the pursuit of social development goals.
Qalaa Holdings plays national leadership role as advocate for sustainable investing with a seat on the founding board of the of the UN Global Compact Network Egypt, the local offshoot of the UN Global Compact Network