Partnerships for the SDGs

While many major corporations support the goals, implementation is lagging. This series of research summaries analyses why this might be so.

In 2015, the United Nations released its Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, which contains the better-known Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are aimed at creating a more sustainable future in multiple ways. Unfortunately, while many major corporations support the goals, implementation is lagging, with the SDGs unlikely to be achieved by 2030. This series of research summaries analyses why this might be so, and calls on a range of stakeholders to get active.

The following articles are free to read in a special issue of the Journal of Business Ethics, 2022, 180(4) on the SDGs.

Multi-stakeholder engagement for the SDGs

The world is not on track to achieve Agenda 2030—the approach chosen in 2015 by all UN member states to engage multiple stakeholders for the common goal of sustainable development. The creation of the 17 SDGs arguably offered a new take on sustainable development by adopting hybrid and principle-based governance approaches, where public, private, not for profit and knowledge-institutions were invited to engage around achieving common medium-term targets.

Cross-sector partnerships and multi-stakeholder engagement for sustainability have consequently taken shape. But the call for collaboration has also come with fundamental challenges to meaningful engagement strategies—when private enterprises try to establish elaborate multi-stakeholder configurations. How can the purpose of businesses be mitigated through multi-stakeholder principle-based partnerships to effectively serve the purpose of a common sustainability agenda? In selecting nine scholarly contributions, this special issue aims at advancing this discourse.

To stimulate further progress in business studies, this introductory essay, furthermore, identifies three pathways for research on multi-stakeholder engagement processes in support of the Decade of Action along three coupling lines: multi-sector alignment (relational coupling), operational perception alignment (cognitive coupling) and goal and strategic alignment (material coupling).

G. Abord-Hugon Nonet et al. 2022. Multi-stakeholder Engagement for the Sustainable Development Goals: Introduction to the Special Issue.

Corporate implementation of the SDGs needs interconnections and inclusiveness

The United Nations (UN) 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has considerable potential for achieving a more sustainable future. However, the concrete realisation of the SDGs is impeded by how they are implemented by a diverse set of competent agents. This conceptual paper draws on social impact theory to investigate how businesses can utilise the SDG framework to achieve positive social outcomes.

The authors identify two pathways that can guide businesses to improve their SDGs interventions, which entail considering the interconnections between the goals that are directly or indirectly affected by the initiative at stake and the inclusiveness of the actors affected by the SDGs. Building on the literature on hybrid organising (to frame interconnectedness) and the literature on multi-stakeholder partnerships and deliberative governance (to frame inclusiveness), the authors discuss a set of organisational mechanisms and transformations that can help businesses ensure that their SDGs interventions are more socially impactful. By doing so, this paper extends the literature on the role of companies for sustainable development and provides some practical implications.

Simona Fiandrino, Francesco Scarpa & Riccardo Torelli. 2022. Fostering Social Impact Through Corporate Implementation of the SDGs: Transformative Mechanisms Towards Interconnectedness and Inclusiveness.

Wicked problems, SDGs and stakeholders: The case of deforestation

The SDGs are an opportunity to address major social and environmental challenges. As a widely agreed framework they offer a potential way to mobilise stakeholders on a global scale. The manner in which the goals, with time-based targets and specific metrics, are set out within a voluntary reporting process adopted by both governments and business, provides a fascinating and important case for organisational studies. It is both about advancing performance measurement and evidence-based policy-making for sustainable development, and also participation and consultation at a wider, more global scale, than has ever been possible before.

This paper contributes to the notion of SDGs as a wicked problem, answering calls for deeper theorisation, via synthesis with core ideas in the management field of decision theory. A case study on the wicked problem of deforestation and its links to supply chains, multi-stakeholder initiatives and SDG reporting, provides an illustration of the relevance of the application of decision theory to wicked problems, presented using a novel conceptual framework. This helps to illustrate new avenues for research and practical application regarding the balance of technocratic and participative approaches for sustainable development.

Anthony Alexander, Helen Walker & Izabela Delabre. 2022. A Decision Theory Perspective on Wicked Problems, SDGs and Stakeholders: The Case of Deforestation.

Global health partnerships: Complexity and the SDGs

Multi-stakeholder partnerships (MSPs) have become a major driver to attain the SDGs. However, managing MSPs is difficult because of the multiple complexities they involve. The authors seek to contribute to a better understanding of how MSPs cope with these complexities by exploring the MSP scope. In this study of four global health MSPs, the authors find that a function-oriented scope in terms of focusing on a single intervention helped filter the relevant external and internal complexities, whereas an issue-oriented scope focused on addressing the health issue with multiple interventions magnified the complexities.

As a result, the latter MSPs became overwhelmed and self-absorbed, while the former MSPs managed to remain outward-looking and sustain their collaborative energy and support. On this basis, the authors identify three mechanisms through which the MSP scope either helped or hampered the ability to cope with complexity, and the authors discuss the theoretical and practical implications for MSPs addressing the SDGs.

Özgü Karakulak & Lea Stadtler. 2022. Working with Complexity in the Context of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: A Case Study of Global Health Partnerships.

Good intentions gone awry

How to achieve sustainable communities with decent work and economic growth without negative environmental impact, is at the heart of the SDGs and a top priority of many governments around the world. This article critically explores the role of government intervention for achieving sustainable local prosperity in frontier markets of developing countries, where such advancement is especially crucial.

More specifically, the authors explore by an in-depth case study how multiple stakeholders cooperate to enhance local development and export from firms in the leather and leather products industry in Ethiopia. From a multistakeholder engagement perspective, including representatives of local businesses, United Nations, Ministry of Trade and Industry, and other development partners, the authors analyse how government interventions have resulted in unintended outcomes despite their good intention.

The authors contribute with a new understanding of why development initiatives in frontier markets struggle with stakeholder integration, caused by power asymmetry and lack of institutional trust which prevents the achievements of sustainable development goals. Contextualized implications for firms, government, and non-governmental actors on how to improve collaboration are provided, and policy implications are proposed.

Ethiopia L. Segaro & Kajsa Haag. 2022. Good Intentions Gone Awry: Government Intervention and Multistakeholder Engagement in a Frontier Market.

Values and multi-stakeholder dialog for the SDGs

The objective of this article is to create an understanding of how the SDGs can be used to steer stakeholder engagement for transformative change, meeting global challenges, and navigate a new business-societal practice driven by a values-based business model. The article is a conceptual study with case studies of the role that the SDGs play in multi-stakeholder dialog via the kind of sustainable business-societal practice that takes corporate social responsibility (CSR) to the next level, where it is embedded in a values-based business model, creating a new meaning to effect real business-societal transformation. Multi-stakeholder dialog implies interactive and communicative engagement with the full range of stakeholders in order to create value for all, employing a societal perspective and using the value network as a basis for effective decision-making.

The authors explain their methodological approach by presenting multi-stakeholder dialog in practice, in the form of multiple case studies. These empirical settings consisted of two values-driven privately owned companies with a strong reporting mechanism and a clear transformation agenda based on the SDG challenges: IKEA and Löfbergs. The empirical study provides the basis for the proposed model. This article makes an original contribution to the study of the use of SDGs in management and service research. It investigates steering and navigating processes in specific contexts in order to determine what should be subject to legal enforcement and what comprises moral and/or ethical value, particularly at the societal level.

Samuel Petros Sebhatu & Bo Enquist. 2022. Values and Multi-stakeholder Dialog for Business Transformation in Light of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

European achievements through collaborative innovation towards the SDGs

The role to be played by multi-stakeholder partnerships in addressing the ‘wicked problems’ of sustainable development is made explicit by the seventeenth SDG. But how do these partnerships really work? Based on the analysis of four sustainability-oriented innovation initiatives implemented in Belgium, Italy, Germany, and France, this study explores the roles and mechanisms that collaborating actors may enact to facilitate the pursuit of sustainable development, with a particular focus on non-profit organisations.

The results suggest that collaborative innovations for sustainability contribute simultaneously to the fulfilment of different Sustainable Development Goals, reaching beyond their original intent, and that the value being created has the potential to reinforce such roles and mechanisms. These partnerships are prompted and managed by non-profit organisations that act as metagovernors of collaborative innovation processes as they play the roles of cultural spreaders, enablers, relational brokers, service provides, and influencers.

These findings will help policy-makers and practitioners in the public and non-profit sector to identify and utilise emerging opportunities for value creation through collaborative innovation, and to better design existing and prospective collaborative efforts aimed at sustainable objectives, thereby supporting progress towards the implementation of Agenda 2030.

Laura Mariani, et al. 2022. Achieving Sustainable Development Goals Through Collaborative Innovation: Evidence from Four European Initiatives.

Purpose and the SDGs: Interactions among the private sector and stakeholders

In this paper the authors explore the nature of the emerging purpose ecosystem and its role in transforming and supporting business to help address the SDGs. The authors argue that interactions among its ‘private actors’, who share efforts and belief in changing and redefining the purpose and nature of business by advocating broader non-financial performance outcomes, have the potential to contribute to a wider sustainability-oriented transformation of the business sector.

Through interview data collected in the UK and Australia, the authors identify six main roles that characterise the activities and interactions among its actors and their stakeholders. This research contributes to expanding knowledge on the emerging phenomenon of the purpose ecosystem and how its actors support the achievement of the UN SDGs by seeking to change the purpose of business and integrating the goals into their operations and engagements with stakeholders.

Wendy Stubbs, Frederik Dahlmann & Rob Raven. The Purpose Ecosystem and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Interactions Among Private Sector Actors and Stakeholders.