No country is on track to achieve all of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The solution for Africa, say President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana and Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, is to tap the dynamism of its entrepreneurs.
September of this year marked four years since the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by world leaders as an agenda to transform our world into the kind we want, and leave no one behind.
The 2030 deadline set to achieve this ambitious agenda is fast approaching, and a Decade of Action has recently been launched to spur greater action towards the achievement of the goals. While the scorecard indicates that some good progress has been made, we have a long way to go to achieve the collective aspiration enshrined in the 2030 Agenda.
In fact, a recent report by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network concludes that no country is on track to achieving all of the SDGs by the year 2030. In addition, a recent UNICEF report reveals that some 650m children across the world live in countries that are currently off-track on at least two-thirds of the child-related SDG indicators.
We need immediate and accelerated action by all stakeholders, at all levels, to ensure that the rate of progress keeps pace with the level of ambition of the goals. World leaders cannot renege on their responsibilities because of the enormity of the task. We need to double, triple and, in some cases, quadruple efforts to have a fighting chance of achieving the goals.
The good news is we have the knowledge, the technology and the resources needed to achieve the goals. What is required is greater political will, broader and deeper societal engagement, and smarter actions to put the SDGs within reach.
Innovation is required at every level
The standard approaches will not get us there. Innovation at every level, for every issue – poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality, climate change, sanitation, energy and unemployment – is required. Yes, policy choices matter. But, the real keys to success are breakthrough innovations and unleashing entrepreneurship. Their combined power will spur prospects for success.
Across the world, from Albania to Zimbabwe, entrepreneurial dynamism is giving birth to innovative solutions to the problems the world faces. Evidence shows that the countries making the strongest progress toward sustainable development are those that encourage entrepreneurship, and support it with the required investments. Sweden, ranked by the European Union as the leading country in innovation, also topped the Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s SDGs Index and Dashboards Report in 2018.
It stands to reason that if we unleash and give support to Africa’s entrepreneurs at scale, we stand the greatest chance of realising the SDGs.
We need not only to support existing entrepreneurs, but also to inspire a whole new generation of entrepreneurs across the continent. We need to inspire them, train them, and encourage them to look at the continent’s most gripping challenges as the continent’s biggest entrepreneurial opportunities.
This is why the Jack Ma Foundation created the Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative. Over the next 10 years, the Foundation will identify and support 100 African entrepreneurs with $10m grants, mentorship and training.
On November 16, Accra, the capital of Ghana, hosted the inaugural Africa Netpreneur Summit. Ten finalists had the chance to pitch their business in a televised event to win their share of $1m. The Summit also awarded prizes to the winners of the “Africa Innovates for the SDGs” competition, which was launched last year. By making this a continent-wide media event, the Foundation hopes to show millions of people across Africa and the world the power of African entrepreneurship.
We must start thinking about and treating our entrepreneurs as national assets. The Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative drew more than 10,000 applicants from nearly 50 countries in its first year. Deep pools of innovation and entrepreneurial skills reside in Africa.
Failure cannot be an option
Policymakers have an essential role to play in creating the enabling environment and providing incentive structures to support these entrepreneurs. We have to address bottlenecks and red tape, reduce the costs of doing business, and facilitate the development of hubs and accelerators.
And we must provide the foundation for investors, educators and all actors in the entrepreneur ecosystem to flourish. Doing this will result in huge economic and social pay-offs, and place the attainment of SDGs within reach.
Failure cannot be an option. Let us join hands to enable the continent’s entrepreneurs to drive the transformation needed to bring dignity to the lives of millions of people in Africa and indeed around the world.
Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo is the President of the Republic of Ghana, and co-chair of the UN Secretary General’s Eminent Group of Advocates for the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals
Jack Ma is founder of Alibaba Group, founder of the Jack Ma Foundation and one of the UN Secretary General’s Eminent Group of Advocates for the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals