Everyone seemed fairly excited when the Millenial Development Goals(MDGs) were created at the turn of the century in 2000. Organisations and donor agencies as well as governments, were ready to tackle the issue of world poverty levels which at that time was at about 2.5 billion poor people in the world.

The MDGs were meant to achieve poverty eradication to a significant level and it was aimed at the poorest countries. A lot of strides were made, but there was still poverty everywhere.

So, the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) were born at the UNGA in September 2015. With these new goals, the timeline for the agenda is 2030.

The world wants to see amongst other things:
·               Zero hunger
·               Zero poverty
·               Good health and well being for all
·               Quality education for all
·               Gender equality
·               Environmentally conscious societies

These are some of the top sustainability goals for governments, donor agencies, private organisations as well as individuals.

On November 7, 2019, I attended the De Beers Summit for women in Gaborone, Botswana. The beautiful, clean and calm city in the southern region of Africa, is one of the continent’s best hidden secrets. Batswana who are known for their kindness, have certainly worked hard since being one of the poorest countries in the world at the time of their independence in 1966, to becoming one of the wealthiest nations in the Southern African region. The country’s GDP is about $19 billion dollars and their GDP per capita is one of the highest on the African continent at about $18,200.

Botswana’s currency, the Botswana Pula, is stronger than the South African rand. Their main source of revenue is the mining of diamonds. And De Beers mining company which has been in existence for 131 years in Southern Africa has been generating hundreds of millions of dollars annually for the country through the mining of diamonds. The government of Botswana has a stake in this company and their joint venture which is called Debswana(De Beers and  Botswana combined) was formed in 1969.

The title of the summit I attended was ‘Bridging leadership and purpose for socio economic impact’. I was to speak on a panel on sustainability and finance along with Lynette Armstrong, the Managing Director of Debswana; Lulu Rasebotsa, the MD of Liberty life in Botswana and Reason Nyamambi, from Hollard Life in Botswana too,

This summit was focused on women. And yes, gender equality being one of the top 5 SDGs, the focus was not in any way misplaced. Organised by women and for women, the discussions were warm and passionate. I was in the company of very knowledgeable women both participating in the audience and speaking about their experiences.

Botswana has a presidential cabinet comprising of 5 women out of 15 Ministers. Not bad at all. Their First Lady, Mrs Neo Jane Masisi, a 48 year old career woman, had worked in the United Nations for about 14 years, travelling around Africa and even to the war torn region of Central Africa. She travelled abroad to work with the support of her husband, the future president who didn’t know so at that time.

Mrs Masisi has more than earned her stripes. She has the experience to understand what is needed to alleviate poverty and improve the wellbeing of Africans and especially of her own citizens. She is there to work and to make sure that collectively, a lot of the SDGs are achieved.

One of the questions which was asked in the audience and which made me think was this: Does the ordinary woman or man living in the rural areas know anything about MDGs? The answer is probably not. They may be  unconsciously involved in activities that are contributing to the success of the SDGs, albeit in their own small way, but they may have never heard about the agenda. I am not quite sure if that really matters or if some kind of awareness campaign is needed to sensitise people even in the rural areas, about getting involved in lifestyles and community activities that will contribute positively to the development goals.

Africa has a population of about 1.2 billion people and GDP of over 2.5 trillion. This is a huge market with a potential waiting to be harnessed. The high rate of poverty, inadequate infrastructure, lack of access to education and to funding, all lead to financial exclusion and widening income equality gap.

It is true that one of the primary responsibilities of a financial institution is financial intermediation. At the United Bank for Africa, UBA, where I work as the CEO of the UBA Foundation and the Group Head for Communications, when we plan our annual budget, we integrate the 2030 development agenda into the process. Our expected SDG targets are stated from the onset and this informs resource allocation. To this effect, we are able to monitor and evaluate impact across the continent.

Operating in 20 African countries, we have a conscious dedication to improving the lives of people in the communities where we do business. The three areas of focus for us at the UBA Foundation are Education, Economic Empowerment and the Environment.  We are committed to ensuring that more children get educated on the continent because this is one of the best ways to bring the continent out of poverty. Our Read Africa initiative and National Essay Competitions are targeted at the underprivileged, to give them the opportunity to read and to learn even at tertiary levels. 

The gardens that we are growing across Africa represent part of our commitment to a sustainable environment. The green environment is not yet as much a priority in Africa today as it is in the west. We are still battling with power supply and the fumes of electricity generators which pollute the environment in ways that are very detrimental to the success of the SDGs.

At UBA, we are championing the mobilisation of funding SMEs as our loan portfolio grew to about U$5 billion in 2018 across Africa. We desire to create expanded access to finance for the greater majority and continue to increase our female representation on the group boards and in top management. Times are changing, and it is rare now for one to sit on a board and be okay at not seeing women well represented.

I believe that the 2030 agenda will witness significant progress from the MDGs. The company I work at, UBA, is playing a major role on the continent as the Group Chairman, Tony O. Elumelu continues to champion the cause of poverty eradication on the continent through his Foundation, the Tony Elumelu Foundation and its impactful entrepreneurship programme.

We all have a role to play in ensuring the SDG agenda is met. It is not the work of developmental agencies nor of governments alone. It’s a collective effort of the private sector(both big and small corporations) and of individuals playing their own role.

Most importantly, the key role that women play in building  communities cannot and should not be under estimated.  Women build lives and families as well as villages, governments and organisations. The De Beers W summit reinforced to me that in order to have sustainable development, we need to place emphasis on young people on the continent and ensure that we lift up their hopes and their dreams for a better future
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About Okorie, M.Chidi


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