George Soros calls on investors to help achieve Sustainable Development Goals

Billionaire investor endorses new OECD report

Veteran investor George Soros has called on investors to play their part in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as he endorses a new report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) looking at the SDGs as business opportunities.

The SDGs were adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in September last year. The SDGs are a set of 17 targets to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030.

Observers say trillions of private capital will be needed to achieve the goals, alongside philanthropy and aid. And Soros, also well known for his philanthropy and political activism, shares this sentiment in a preface to an OECD report entitled The Sustainable Development Goals As Business Opportunities.

Soros begins by noting the “ambiguity” inherent in the growing attention towards private sector solutions to public problems.

“Describing the SDGs as ‘business opportunities’ for those pursuing profit could be interpreted by some readers as encouraging the exploitation of the world’s most severe problems for personal gain,” he says. “This ambiguity is worth addressing head on.”

Soros says that there are countless business opportunities that could advance the self-interest of thousands of investors and entrepreneurs while also advancing the SDGs. But he adds that the SDGs can also help with identifying opportunities to better regulate the pursuit of personal profit.

“The articulation of public interest in the SDGs can reveal where self-interest aligns with the greater good, and where they conflict,” he says. “The need here is to encourage private business activity where they align, and better regulate it where they conflict.”When private business activity can align with the SDGs, Soros says investors, entrepreneurs and business executives must contribute — alongside a strengthened civil society and thoughtful regulation of business activity.

The OECD report outlines five pathways to the SDGs through private sector involvement: foreign direct investment; blended finance such as using public funds to de-risk investments; measuring private finance that is mobilized for sustainable development; responsible business conduct and social impact investment.

The report was developed by Erik Solheim, the former head of development at the OECD, who is now head of the United Nations Environment Programme.

Introducing the report, Solheim says the 17 SDGs represent a “pipeline of sustainable investment opportunities for responsible business”.

“There is more bang for every buck when profits are combined with bringing people out of poverty, improving environmental sustainability and ensuring gender equality,” he says.

Meanwhile, the OECD is set to release a report focused on social impact investment in developing countries by the end of 2017. It follows a report last year exploring how to build the evidence base for social impact investing commissioned by the G8 Social Impact Investment Tasks force led by Sir Ronald Cohen. The work is being led by Karen Wilson, a consultant in the Structural Policy Division of the Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation at the OECD.