Unilever Sri Lanka together with the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) Sri Lanka hosted a discussion on public-private sector partnerships to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at The Hilton, Colombo, recently.
The first event of its kind, the forum brought together C-suite executives from both the public and private sector, stakeholders from the academia, media and non-government development agencies. Mr. Austin Fernando, Secretary to H.E. the President of Sri Lanka too was present at the event. In line with Goal 17 - Partnerships for the goals - the organizers sought to highlight the need for a strong commitment to partnerships and cooperation to drive the nation forward and help realize the SDGs.
Carl Cruz, Chairman, Unilever Sri Lanka welcomed the invitees and delivered the inaugural keynote address of the evening. Highlighting some of the pressing issues faced by the world, he stressed on the need for collective action to foster sustainable development. He spoke about how the company places sustainability at the core of its business model and works by the simple philosophy of ‘Doing well by Doing Good’.
He further went on to share instances of initiatives undertaken in partnership with communities and other stakeholders where win-win collaborations have been made. He also updated the audience on the progress made by Unilever, both globally and locally, in the 6 years since the launch of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, the company’s blueprint for sustainable equitable business.
Dr. Rohan Fernando, Director, Head of Business Development and Plantations, Aitken Spence PLC and Chairman of UNGC Sri Lanka, followed Carl. Drawing on his extensive experience across the Aitken Spence group, mentioning the success stories of Heritance Kandalama hotel and the Aitken Spence carbon neutral printing facility. Being far sighted and patient has paid dividend with these sustainable business ventures, because they have added value to both the community and the business. He also touched on work done by other UNGC members around the country.
Director - Group Human Resources, MAS Holdings, Shakthi Ranatunga delivered the final keynote address of the day. Educating the forum on MAS’ strategic social and environmental sustainable initiatives, he highlighted the importance of forging private and public partnerships to achieve sustainable goals. He pointed out that state sector stability and reach should be complemented by private sector agility and efficiency when rolling out initiatives.
The key notes were followed by a panel discussion on the ‘Synergetic advantage of partnerships in driving the SDGs’. Supun Weerasinghe, Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dialog Axiata PLC; Shea Wickramasinghe, Group Managing Director (MD), Ceylon Biscuits Limited; Una McCauley, United Nations Country Representative – Sri Lanka; Asoka Abayagunawardhana, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Strategic Enterprise Management Agency (SEMA); Prof. Ajith De Alwis, Project Director COSTI took and part in this discussion which was moderated by Sumeet Verma, Director – Human Resources and Corporate Relations, Unilever Sri Lanka.
The panelists deliberated on the fact time is running out and a sense of urgency must set in towards action. Furthermore mutually beneficial partnerships where purpose and profit go hand in hand will ensure sustainability of projects, which will benefit more.
The audience was then split into three groups for moderated round table discussions on three of Sri Lanka’s key country call outs related to the SDGs viz. sustainable agriculture, economic inclusion of women and waste management. Identifying key issues faced by the nation in these areas, the groups deliberated on possible solutions and corrective actions, focusing on enabling greater partnerships and collaboration amongst all relevant stakeholders.
The outcomes of these discussions as well as key learnings from the rest of the forum are to be compiled into an action policy document which will be handed over to the Secretary to H.E. the President of Sri Lanka, the Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Sustainability and Wildlife to garner greater support from the government and drive necessary action by the relevant ministries and departments.
About United Nations Global Compact (UNGC)
UN Global Compact (UNGC) is the World’s largest corporate citizenship initiative; this movement currently holds over 9,500 signatory companies from 162 countries, all working towards aligning strategies and operations with the core values of sustainable development, and taking actions that advance societal goals. These signatories are guided by Ten Principles of the UNGC which are universal ideologies on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. The vision of UNGC is to mobilize a global movement of sustainable companies and stakeholders to create the world we want. To make this happen, the UNGC supports companies to:
- Do business responsibly by aligning their strategies and operations with the Ten Principles; and
- Take strategic actions to advance broader societal goals, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with an emphasis on collaboration and innovation.
Global Compact Local Networks advance the initiative and its Ten Principles at the country level: Global Compact Network Sri Lanka was launched in 2011 and includes participation of all key corporates in the country. Local Networks help companies understand what responsible business means within different contexts and facilitate learning, policy dialogue, collective action and partnerships. Through the local networks, companies can make connections with other businesses and stakeholders and receive guidance to put their sustainability commitments into action. Local Networks are independent, self-managed entities, and act as a point of contact for UN Global Compact signatories in a country.