Communications that change the world: the Sustainable Development Goals

  • 1.25 is the magic number.
  • $1.25 is equivalent to 80p a day
  • That’s less than your average cappuccino
  • Yet more than 800 million people live on this, or less, every day.

Living on $1.25 a day is living in extreme poverty; 800 million people in this state is unacceptable. What can we do change this?

IABCUKGlobalGoalsIn 2000, the UN came up with a plan to half extreme poverty by 2015 and called it the Millennium Development Goals. Did they succeed? Yes, two years ahead of target, but much was left to be done. Three years ago they came together again, this time with the input of the private sector and NGOs, and agreed to take it further. Last Friday, all 193 countries members of the United Nations endorsed a plan to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and fix climate change: the Sustainable Development Goals.

The 17 goals have been called too ambitious, too many, too complex and too expensive to be met by 2030. However, even the cynics agree that these public statements have galvanised ambition, raised unprecedented amount of aid-money and, ultimately, changed global behaviour.

Isn’t that what we, as business communicators, try to achieve through our work? That’s the question behind this blog. In my opinion, the launch of the global goals are a great example of how our profession -at its best- can change the world. Here’s why:

1. Engagement led to defining outcomes

As opposed to the MDGs, which were famously concocted by an isolated group of gurus, the SDGs came to life after three years of dialogue. The result, albeit imperfect, is now owned by everyone. Shared results always have a better chance of being successful. The listening exercise transformed the goals, and enriched all of those participating.

2. They’ve made it matter to everyone, so everyone is involved.

The spirit of the goals is to leave no-one behind: youth, women, minorities, and even big corporate businesses. But how to get them involved?

“A key challenge was to make the goals accessible outside the development community” says Katja Iversen (@Katja_Iversen), CEO of the global advocacy organization Women Deliver. Before running Women Deliver, Katja led strategic communications at UNICEF and knows first-hand the value of meaningful communications. “If we want to drive progress, we need broad engagement, including by the business community. And it has to business as unusual. Stories about real people, showing that success is possible – that it is not all war, doom and gloom- are key. That is where the identification blossoms, the collaboration starts and action accelerates”.

The role of the UN Foundation in translating a policy-heavy text into a meaningful campaign was crucial. Take a look at their Employer toolkit or let the stories of the Tell Everyone campaign move you to action.

If you are in-house communicator, this is your chance to map your business outcomes against a global movement and motivate your people.

The responsibility of meeting the UN goals might lie with the governments, but the role of business can’t be ignored: we are employers and generate the income needed. We bring expertise, investment and can catalyze development. Cutting-edge companies are making their commitments public – you and your company however large or small can do the same. Join Richard Branson, Paul Polman from Unilever or, my employer, Mark Cutifani of Anglo American, in publicly stating how your company will support government in achieving the goals. As Mark put it supporting the achieving of the SDGs “means doing our work with excellence and ensuring our presence in host countries leaves a positive lasting legacy.”

Now what? In the worlds of Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, (and Elvis!) “A little less conversation, a little more action -please”. The work begins after launch, and the true test of this global movement will come with implementation. Just as any communications campaign. You can start by telling everyone the story of how you – as a communicator – can change the world. 


The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) is a global membership association with a network of 12,000 members in more than 80 countries. We deliver on the Global Standard in communication through educational offerings, certification, awards programs and annual World ConferenceFollow us on Twitter @iabcuk