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Universities and businesses, key to success of the 2030 Agenda

  Photo: Shridhar Gupta / unsplash

Photo: Shridhar Gupta / unsplash

Roger Cassany
The UOC is holding the #ODSUOC workshop in September to reflect on the path to take to achieve the 17 SDGs

Sustainable development on our planet presents a global challenge requiring coordinated global and local action in all spheres of society. For this reason, in September 2015, 193 United Nations member states agreed upon an agenda and adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), establishing a deadline for their achievement: 2030.

However, they did not specify a route for getting there, leaving it to governments to decide the role each administration, institution, private company and citizen was meant to play (as well as how and to what extent). That was four years ago and a need has been shown for global coordination and governance, which are far from simple tasks. It is in this context that the fundamental role to be played, not only by governments and administrations but also by universities on the one hand and businesses on the other has recently come to light.


Universities and knowledge

"The 2030 Agenda is the first of its kind to explicitly highlight the fundamental role of higher education, that is, of universities, in achieving these goals", explained Vice President for Globalization and Cooperation at Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), Pastora Martnez Samper. Martnez Samper was the UOC's representative at the United Nations High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, held in New York in July, in which the UOC played a very active part, as it did last year.

For Martnez Samper, universities are crucial to the transformative nature of the 2030 Agenda at all levels, as they are the main institutions responsible for training and transferring knowledge, an essential element in collectivizing both the SDGs and the solutions and strategies for achieving them. Moreover, as she explained at the HLPF (you can see her address here, minutes 02:12:00 to 02:22:00), online learning is one of the formulas that have proved to be most effective in bringing down traditional barriers to access and share knowledge. The UOC's 25 years' experience has also highlighted online higher education as a most efficient tool in generating citizens with global awareness.


Opportunity for businesses

But what about businesses? What is and what should be their role in the 2030 Agenda? The advisor to the High Commission for the 2030 Agenda, Isabel Garro, who took part in the symposium organized by the UOC and Unesco Etxea in Bilbao "Incorporar la Agenda 2030 en la estrategia de tu empresa. Claves para el desarrollo sostenible" (Incorporate the 2030 Agenda into your company strategy. Keys to sustainable development), had these words to say in an interview at the UOC: "This is a multi-level, multi-agent global agenda of an evidently transformative nature that commits all social stakeholders, including the business sector". She went on to add that, for businesses, incorporating the SDGs into their strategic plans will not only make them participants in the building of more prosperous, more just and more equitable societies, but can also generate business opportunities worth 12 billion dollars.

According to Martnez Samper, rolling out the 2030 Agenda in businesses is indeed a necessity, but it could also "become a formula for finding solutions to challenges faced by the companies themselves". In fact, she explained, the 17 SDGs are labels for classifying and categorizing the lines of a single, generic, common goal: to make a fairer, more equitable world for everyone. "All the goals are interconnected; they cannot be addressed from an exclusive perspective, because they all move in parallel, just as all of society's stakeholders must work interconnectedly, seeing to it that they are not left behind".

In fact, the business sector is already working on it. The Spanish Global Compact Network, under director Garro and president ngel Pes, deputy director general of CaixaBank, has published a guide to help businesses apply the 17 SDGs. Meanwhile, the employers' association Foment del Treball Nacional has undertaken this year to promote the 2030 Agenda among its member companies. The aim is to make the SDGs a strategic part of companies' business. "The business sector's contribution is key because every action, whichever sector it comes from, affects the others, the common interest and future public policy", explained Martnez Samper.


The UOC commitment

Since 2016, when the UOC began an in-depth debate and internal reflection on what was to be its role in this development agenda, the University has made its commitment to the 2030 Agenda clear, and was one of the first Spanish universities to include it in its Strategic Plan. Furthermore, in July last year, the International Association of Universities (IAU) designated the UOC as the university in charge of leading Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG 3), which aims to ensure good health and well-being for all at all ages. For the past year, the UOC has been coordinating a group of universities from around the world that is working to foster understanding and use of the health and well-being SDG in higher education with an international and multidisciplinary approach.

With a view to the fourth anniversary of the world agreement, the UOC has organized the #ODSUOC workshop to take place on 25 September, to publicize and share all the initiatives under development in the different areas of the University – faculty, research and administration ‒ on how to advance towards achieving the sustainable development goals.