Private industry leaders gathered at BBVA Compass Plaza in Houston for a workshop Tuesday on how businesses can push progress on the most pressing issues of our time. The workshop, hosted by BBVA Compass, the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals Fund and the BBVA Microfinance Foundation, had two goals: to help spread the word and build understanding of the United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which revolve around issues like education, health, poverty alleviation, clean water and the climate; and to gather input from executives at some of the companies that are already focused on tackling some of those same issues.
The meeting was the fifth workshop held so far by the SDG Fund and will be the only one held in the U.S. Previous meetings were in Colombia, Nigeria and Spain. The SDG Fund will gather the findings from all of the meetings and feed them into its final report to be presented at the UN headquarters.
"We're here to talk about how to contribute to a sustainable development agenda that applies to every corner of the globe," BBVA Compass Chairman and CEO Manolo Sánchez said as he opened the meeting. "We might be in one of the most developed economies on earth, but the Sustainable Development Goals and what they mean for private sector companies are still very relevant and important."
Paloma Durán, director of the SDG Fund, talked about her organization's role and why it has swept private industry into the process to contribute to solutions to the complex issue of poverty. The SDG Fund is currently working in 22 countries to pilot innovative programs in sustainable development.
“This is the first time the UN has brought private industry into the process to this degree, where we’re putting them at the table with us at the very beginning as we talk about how to move forward,” Durán said. "That’s a critical change from the past. We need the engagement of the private sector to work together with the UN, local governments and civil society to improve the lives of people living in vulnerable areas.”
Javier M. Flores, director of the BBVA Microfinance Foundation, talked about the vital role that financial inclusion plays in lifting up the world's most vulnerable populations. The foundation, now an independent nonprofit that was created by BBVA in 2007, is the largest philanthropic microfinance institution in Latin America. It serves as a lifeline to 1.8 million entrepreneurs, 61 percent of whom are women, throughout Latin America.
"The BBVA Microfinance Foundation was set up as a tool for improving the future for vulnerable people,” Flores said. “Financial inclusion plays an important role in that, alleviating poverty as well as ensuring broad-based and sustainable social development. And that’s why it’s omnipresent throughout the Sustainable Development Goals that we are talking about here.”
The United Nations Economic and Social Council recently granted the BBVA Microfinance Foundation consultative status so that it can serve in an advisory capacity to other U.N. bodies regarding sustainable development. The foundation has published an exhaustive report of its work across Latin America, which can be found here.
“Financial inclusion plays an important role in alleviating poverty as well as ensuring broad-based and sustainable social development
Executives from various companies in Houston discussed how their firms are approaching the various goals, either formally or informally. The SDG Fund plans to deliver its final report at the UN incorporating their feedback later this year.