The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a critical framework for nations around the world to create positive social and environmental change to ensure no one is left behind. Each country faces its own set of challenges and opportunities when translating the SDGs into reality. I met with a local, Turana Alieva who is building a career in the social sector. She has previously been an intern at the UNDP, was the Former Secretary General at Baku Engineering University (BEU) Model United Nations and worked on a socio-economic development project implemented by a German development agency – GIZ. Her passion for the SDGs led us from a conversation about what is happening in Azerbaijan to creating an event to share my global reflections on the SDGs with a local community called Earthpreneurs Azerbaijan. The conversation was very lively with about 25 people joining to hear global trends as well as share their own experiences.
I presented 5 SDGs with trends I have seen around the world. Below is a summary of what was presented as well as reflections from the attendees.
The Earthpreneurs Community
Earthpreneurs was established in 2017 as a global community of young people aiming to achieve the SDGs through social entrepreneurship. Later on, local Earthpreneurs communities were established in different countries including Azerbaijan, where the local Azerbaijan community was established on April, 2018. Currently there are around 600 people in Earthpreneurs Azerbaijan network and founders of the local community mainly organize capacity-building workshops, trainings for local youth as well as awareness-raising events on the SDGs.
Five SDG Insights and Trends-
SDG 5: Gender Equality
Target 5.5: Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life
Intrepid Travel’s approach to gender equality in their tours was used as a best practice example. Their work to empower women to run businesses at a local community level has expanded across a number of countries where women do not traditionally have the same working opportunities as men. Intrepid employs 1,800 staff of 68 nationalities across the world and are committed to 50/50 gender equality employment across all their countries. They are doing this by creating employment opportunities for women including roles as their tour guides, chefs, hotel owners, experience operators and private transportation drivers. As Turkey has such low female labour participation rates, they have been busy working on opportunities.
The attendees shared an example of one of the growing number of social enterprises in Azerbaijan, Buta Arts and Sweets. They provided employment through their sweets business for women with disabilities who have been locked out of the employment market.
We also discussed the concept of a B Corporation and shared how businesses are changing their core business to incorporate social and environmental factors rather than just having a Corporate Social Responsibility budget.
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SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
Target 8.2: Achieve higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation, including through a focus on high-value added and labour-intensive sectors
We covered a lot of ground with this topic including examples from Latvia, Estonia, Spain and Portugal. Introducing the concept of a startup ecosystem, the discussion looked at the role of government to create an enabling environment for startups through things like startup visas, funding and incubators. Latvia was used as a case study to show the impact of using an incubator network across the country to stimulate economic growth at an urban and regional level. Their government run incubator offers programs, mentoring and co-financing opportunities in an attempt to grow the number of startups in Latvia.
Barcelona in Spain was used as a case study to show the role of creating a lucrative lifestyle and culture to attract talented employees. They have over 70 000 developers in Barcelona alone and this then attracts startups as they want to work with the best talent. Barcelona also has over 30 million tourists every year, which means they have a high turnover of foreigners who can see for themselves the lifestyle options on offer.
There were a few people in the room who were from startups and they said that the market is very new in Azerbaijan. There are hardly any incubators or co-working spaces in Baku which makes it difficult to build the capacity of new businesses. The government is working on tax benefits for startups however they are still in the middle of defining key terms including small & medium enterprises, startups and social enterprises. Once the parameters of these business types are defined, the tax and other benefits can be attached. Quite a few of the attendees were interested in the startup visa offered in other countries including Portugal, Estonia and Latvia.
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SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
Target 11.3: By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries
Urban planning is incredibly important for cities of the future as population growth is set to rapidly increase. One case study used was Utrecht in the Netherlands who are leading the way as a global goals city. However they are not just focusing on urban planning but how they can raise awareness of the SDGs in the local community to inspire change. They are working with local community action groups and businesses to help them translate the SDGs into meaningful action. One example was a local building that the council built which is completely circular. Each element can be deconstructed and reconstructed to ensure there nothing ends up in landfill. This is due to the understanding that the face of Utrecht will change over time and that buildings need to be built in a way that is more modular and adaptive. The business inside the building is also sustainable with an urban farm and sustainable, organic produce.
They also have an SDG walk which has mosaics of the 17 SDGs, made by local community members so inspire others to act on the goals. Civic engagement is an important element of activating the SDGs to find more opportunities in spaces beyond the immediate management of local governments.
Milan was also discussed as an interesting hub of activity for sustainable cities. The Milan City Council led the development of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact which is open to cities around the world to sign up to create a more sustainable food system that is good for the health of people and the natural surroundings. Some of the policies they encourage are reducing food waste, increasing access to healthy food in communities (including schools) and developing spaces for people to connect with food. There are over 200 cities around the world who have signed up to the pact and are responsible for half a billion people.
A few attendees discussed the mobility aspect of the city and the challenge that the city ‘is designed for cars, not people.’ The streets of Baku are designed in a way that seems to promote car usage. The footpaths are not in great condition and have lots of steps, the pedestrian crossings are often underground and there is minimal pedestrian signage. Further, cycling paths are non existent at the moment however there are plans for a 7km track to be implemented in 2020.
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SDG 13: Climate Action
Target 13.3: Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning
One EU led organisation EIT Climate KIC is leading the development of scalable climate solutions. Their model is based on a change in system, not just a change in products. They are Europe’s largest private-public partnership climate network with over 350 formal organisation partners from 25 countries. Acknowledging the role of businesses and public organisations like governments, universities and charities is a really important element of tackling the climate crisis.
One of their many programs is the Climathon, a world wide platform with a powerful annual hackathon. The hackathon translates climate change problems into tangible projects, supporting climate positive businesses & start-ups and addressing local policy changes. It is the largest climate hackathon around the world. In 2018 there were over 5000 people in 46 countries across 113 cities.
In Finland, the smart and clean foundation are another organisation who focuses on private public partnerships. It is a group of 29 partners: 5 cities, 14 businesses, 4 universities and research institutions, 5 state actors and one regional council who are all working together to make Helsinki has the world’s most attractive emission-free mobility, the world’s most resource-wise citizens, the world’s smartest urban energy and the world’s leading circular economy city.
One, in particular, is the Renovation Leap Ecosystem. The aim is to transform the way we renovate old buildings. A challenge in Finland is that many of their buildings are historic and beautiful, which means they are old and not the most energy efficient. To combat this, repair construction is being sped up and made smarter through quality objectives, life cycle solutions, procurement methods and service concepts. Prefabricated elements and modular components improve the efficiency of repair construction and reduce the cost of, for example, pipe and facade renovations. At the same time, properties are made smarter and more energy-efficient. There are about 30 companies in the ecosystem. Components and other smart solutions will be tested during 2019 in residential apartment buildings in Helsinki and Lahti that are in need of repair.
Azerbaijan is a natural resource rich country. For decades, their primary industries have been oil and gas. In fact, on 20 September (the day of the global climate strike), it was a national day to celebrate oil men. However things are slowly starting to change, with the acknowledgment of declining oil prices and the need to transition to a low carbon economy.
In late 2016, the president approved a strategic roadmap for economic reforms that identified key non-energy segments of the economy for development, such as agriculture, logistics, information technology, and tourism. This included making the tourist visa easier to receive, I can testify was an easy and seamless process.
When asked why a strike was not organised for the September 20th global climate strike, there was an acknowledgment that the community needs to coordinate more effectively. One woman put the challenge out to the people in the room to use this event as a catalyst to bring the momentum of the SDGs back in Azerbaijan. Having a core group of connected and engaged individuals who are willing to organise events that align with global trends is an important next step for the community.
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SDG 15: Life on the Land
Target 15.9 By 2020, integrate ecosystem and biodiversity values into national and local planning, development processes, poverty reduction strategies and accounts
For this SDG, 3 case studies were highlighted showing the role of business, NGOs and governments to stabilise life on the land through tree planting. Tree planting and ensuring long term ecosystem repair is a critical element to tackle the climate crisis.
Ecosia was an example of a business who plants trees for every search on their search engine. The core of their business is designed to have a positive impact with everything from being more than carbon neutral in their operations to planting trees whenever customers use their product.
Plant for the planet was used as an example of a global NGO who is coordinating mass tree planting efforts around the world. Having partnerships with local NGOs and businesses could drive new opportunities including team volunteer days and sponsorships.
Hearing of a business that incorporates environmental factors into the core of their business was a talking point for many. It seemed to really challenge the view that business is for profit only. One startup even discussed how they could incorporate tree planting into the core of their business.
One attendee brought up the important point that we need to ensure the longevity of tree planting through maintenance and ensuring there is funding for the growth of the trees. He said that if the trees are not being watered and maintained, then it can cause more destruction. A founder from Green Baku was also in attendance who are the first recycled paper company in Azerbaijan. He mentioned a really interesting point that they never win any awards at a global level because their idea is not really innovative globally. However for Azerbaijan it is perceived as very innovative and necessary for the future of the country’s natural resource management.
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Check out the Ecosia website and make it your main browser here.
Plant for the Planet website is here
After the presentation and discussion the attendees were encouraged to write down one action that they can commit to in order to keep the momentum of the SDGs. Some spoke about becoming vegan to tackle SDG 13 Climate Action. Others mentioned that there should be stronger communication between the government and civil society, especially youth organizations. Also there is a lack of info about existing opportunities, so awareness-raising, cooperation and active youth participation in decision-making was mentioned as one of the key factors defining sustainable development.
Building and maintaining momentum for topics like the SDGs is incredibly important for countries around the world. For Azerbaijan, as oil and gas prices continue to decline, it is important that there is investment in new industries to promote economic growth. There seems to be a strong group of people who are passionate about creating social and environmental change in the country, however it seems they are not yet activated on a regular basis. For many people in Azerbaijan, the focus is on earning a decent living rather than thinking about driving social and environmental change. Hopefully in the future, their startup ecosystem will be based on social entrepreneurship rather than just profit driven startups.