Women can leverage SDGs to steer business to sustainability
The advocacy for women's recognition and involvement in development transformation is not new. Born in 1860, activist Charlotte Perkins Gilman was one of the earlier women who bravely championed the rights of women at a time when the gender equality concept was not coined yet.
She was vocal against societal demands placed on ‘dutiful housewives’ and championed for women to be liberated from compulsory domesticity.
Closer home, independence activist Mekatili wa Menza was on the battle frontlines to liberate the Giriama people against colonial rule between 1912 and 1915. Such transformative efforts inspired many people across the globe to believe in women's empowerment, setting the foundation for future campaigns for gender rights.
Today, major strides have been made and much more is in the pipeline. Data from Fortune Report indicates as of last year, 41 of 500 CEOs in the Fortune companies were women, a rise from 12 women in 2011. Early this month, Avance Media Africa released the 2021 Top 100 women CEOs in Africa inspiring the next generation of leaders where 10 Kenyans, including myself, featured because of our role in driving sustainable companies.
However, as the gains continue to show significant progress, the aspect of sustainability still calls for attention. As this happens, one thing is clear: Sustainability is key to more development and women have a role to play. For them to do so, some of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set a strong foundation.
First, awareness of the SDGs and what they mean is critical. In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) introduced the concept of sustainable development through the Brundtland Report. Defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, the United Nations has incorporated this in the 17 SDGs.
Four of the SDGs remain at the core of ensuring women take the centre stage in business sustainability.
First, the goal of gender equality calls for urgent attention for women seeking to drive sustainability. So far, we have seen the struggle around gender equality and this may remain the case if necessary action is not taken.
Despite having a progressive Constitution that promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment, gender inequality remains a key concern. As such, many women are left out of decision-making platforms. To counter this, women need platforms that champion advocacy while also lifting others and giving them a sense of development.
For instance, at KenGen the Pink Energy Initiative has continued to play an important role in ensuring the rights of women are advocated. The platform has also created a place where women share ideas for progression. Such cases are significant in steering not only business development but also business sustainability.
The Partnerships SDG comes in as other such platforms. The wise saying “No man is an island” has become more relevant today.
According to the UN, partnerships offer a better platform for accomplishing common goals compared to working alone. For women in business, this tenet plays a critical role in sustainability in a manner that one is able to create a better network, have a pool of ideas and where necessary, pull more resources for a common cause.
Women, therefore, have an opportunity to drive sustainability through partnerships—collaborating with others on like-minded initiatives.
The third SDG to focus on, innovation, continues to play a key role in emerging affairs and what the future holds. So far, we have seen the power of innovation and what the future holds for companies. According to McKinsey report on Growth and Innovation, 84 per cent of business leaders say their future success is dependent on innovation.
Further, the growing demand for innovation in our organisations shows it is a critical element in driving sustainability. The question that begs is how to go about it. As such, the aspect of nurturing an innovation culture is a good way to involve more women. Establishing platforms such as KenGen’s Good to Great platforms can be a great idea.
Last but not least, increasing climate action in organisations is a critical element in driving sustainability. During the COP26 meeting, I had an opportunity to interact with global business leaders. Climate change presents a viable business opportunity for hundreds of years to come. By championing the efforts, businesses are able to care for the world while also caring for themselves.
That said, more awareness is required of sustainability.
— The author is the Managing Director and CEO of KenGen PLC