This interview first appeared in the SDG Bulletin South Africa (June 2018)

On the sidelines of the most recent Responsible Business Forum on Sustainable Development, university students interviewed leaders on how their organisations are contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Sadiyah Ebrahim interviewed Nigel Beck, Group Head of the Environmental and Social Risk and Finance at Standard Bank/Stanbic Globally.

 

SE: What roles do the SDGs play in Standard Bank’s overall strategic plan?

NB: We identified ten areas in which we can make a significant positive impact, in line with our commitment to driving sustainable and inclusive economic growth in Africa. The priority issues and targets contained in the UN’s Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the African Union’s (AU) Agenda 2063 and South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP) informed our thinking. We have mapped these to the SDGs as part of our process. What we are doing now is a more in-depth mapping of the SDGs against the banks approach as well as working with the Banking Associations’ on a lot more detail

 

SE: In what ways can the financial services industry drive the attainment of the SDGs in Africa?

NB: Financial services touch a number of different sectors through financing, consequently, we are able to influence a large number of the SDGs indirectly or directly. For example, we are able to finance the mining companies or agriculture moving in a specific sustainable direction, in line with zero hunger (SDG 1), no poverty (SDG 2), etc. The financial services sector is quite unique, in that we are almost like an umbrella over all the other sectors, but that also means that it is quite difficult to determine which SDGs to focus on.

 

SE: Lack of access to education, unemployment and poverty significantly affect Africa’s youth and the youth are often left behind. How can the financial services industry address this?

NB: I guess through educated investment, so through investments that have the right outputs. In other words, looking at financing through a sustainable perspective and not a purely financial perspective. We need socioeconomic as well as environmental return to try to make sure we get the most out of it. We are looking at opportunities to uplift communities in poverty-stricken or underdeveloped areas, we invest in those areas to make sure that there is economic growth and then with economic growth we can focus on education, for example, skills transfer. I guess the answer to what I’m saying is to direct finance in a responsible way in those areas as well as obviously looking at specific initiatives for example, at Standard Bank education is important to us, and we focus on this through our CSI initiatives, we do finance a lot in education, for example Feenix (see attached Report to Society), which focuses specifically on financing into education and supporting education.

 

SE: Would you say that focussing on the SDGs makes good business sense? What value can you expect from focussing on the SDGs and trying to attain them?

NB: I would say yes and no. I think the value varies to some degree when focussing on the SDGs. You must also remember that the SDGs were built for sovereigns, they were not built for the private sector. So, for example, a lot of the underlying targets and goals are difficult for the private sector to interpret and make relevant to their businesses. So, in my mind if you are asking me what you think you should be doing, I think you should take the SDG framework and take it for government and then take that same SDG framework and then change it slightly to make it more relevant for the private sector. So, slimming down some of the specific metrics or measurements so that the private sector can report against them. If you do that, then I think the SDGs would be a lot more relevant for the private sector. Because at the moment what we are trying to do is to fit a square plug into a round hole trying to force something which doesn’t work under the current SDG framework.