Meet the two women bringing startups and UN agencies together for social impact
tartup Guide spoke with Ann Rosenberg, Senior Vice President for UN Partnerships at SAP and Global Head of SAP Next-Gen and SAP University Alliances, and Dianne Dain, Head of Global Partnerships at the UN Technology Innovation Labs, about a new partnership aimed at helping startups better align with the Sustainable Development Goals.
If there is one global event that brings diverse worlds together in search of common action, it’s the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos held every year since 1971 in the tranquil Graubünden Valley in eastern Switzerland. Davos buzzes with life each January as politicians, business executives, academics and leaders from the NGO and investor communities gather to discuss the world’s greatest challenges: from climate change and refugee crises to wars and economic meltdowns.
As we start the new decade, however, something seems different about this year’s meeting: Today, more than ever before, Davos attendees across the board are expected to shift from talk to action.
This doesn’t only apply to world leaders but leaders in the startup world, too. Startups, accelerators and investors can be part of the solutions to global challenges. 2020 marks the beginning of the “Decade of Action” and presents an opportunity for them to deepen the integration of impact for the world’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development agenda into their purpose, mission statements, business practices and targeted outcomes, Ann Rosenberg, Senior Vice President for UN Partnerships at SAP and Global Head of SAP Next-Gen and SAP University Alliances, tells Startup Guide.
For startups, it is no longer enough to just have a good return on your investment; you must be accountable for what you create, build and invest in; you need to stand for a higher social purpose.
As part of SAP’s program at Davos, Rosenberg will be teaming up with Dianne Dain and the UN Technology Innovation Labs (UNTIL) program. Their aim is to share how SAP and UNTIL are working with the UN Global Compact to support startups in becoming part of SDG Ambition, a global initiative led by the UN Global Compact that aims to guide the private sector, including startups, to deepen integration of the SDGs and Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact into business strategy, operations, and stakeholder engagement. By raising ambition, corporates and startups can become front-runners in helping the world achieve its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to create a better future for all on a healthy planet.
“For startups, it is no longer enough to just have a good return on your investment; you must be accountable for what you create, build and invest in; you need to stand for a higher social purpose,” Ann says.
SDG Ambition will inspire and guide startups to embed purpose in their vision/mission statement and in company values; establish governance processes at board and management levels that align with the Ten Principles and SDGs; and set purpose-focused goals, as well as a balanced scorecard.
The SDG Ambition Management Framework aligns startups not just on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and Ten Principles but also on a number of less tangible values for improving workplace culture, such as inclusiveness, respect, human centeredness, transparency, collaboration and sustainability.
Switzerland is an appropriate place to begin bringing startups into SDG Ambition, and the week of the World Economic Forum annual meeting is an appropriate time to do so. A number of leading social impact startups, accelerators and investors are based in the small, mountainous country. Switzerland was the first country to host a network of impact hubs, which now number more than 100 worldwide. Its largest city, Zurich, has the world’s highest number of circular economy startups, and its capital, Bern, hosted the 2019 Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). Switzerland is already a hub for life sciences, precision technology and fintech startups, to name a few.
This movement toward social impact in the startup world is going global. According to a recent study across multiple countries, nearly half of all new startups were created with an environmental or social aim.
SDG Ambition will give willing startups the right framework and tools to do this by connecting them with a powerful global player: the UN Global Compact, as well as other UN entities, including the UNTIL program. More than 13,000 companies across more than 60 local networks around the world participate in the UN Global Compact, pledging to follow a set of 10 guiding principles for businesses that span areas such as human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption.
Despite the startup world’s progress in striving for impact, especially in places like Switzerland, many startups continue to need guidance on how to best implement and measure impact in their day-to-day business operations.
The main issue is that up until this point, it’s been challenging to define the startups, innovators and accelerators that are purpose driven
Dianne Dain, the Head of Global Partnerships at UNTIL, which already runs pilot programs in Finland, Egypt, Malaysia, India and Germany aimed at spearheading social impact technology, believes the new initiative will bring many more startups into the UN’s orbit.
“We want to take those principles to the next level and apply them to startups, innovators and accelerators,” Dianne says. “The main issue is that up until this point, it’s been challenging to define the startups, innovators and accelerators that are purpose driven.”
“We’re realizing more and more that this is absolutely what is needed,” she adds.
For Ann, at SAP, SDG Ambition is not only about getting startups to begin thinking about impact; it’s also about starting a global movement with a vision of achieving the SDGs by 2030.
“The year 2020 marks the beginning of the ‘Decade of Action’ when industry, governments, NGOs, academia and startups are moving from awareness to action, to scale impact for the SDGs and the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact,” she says. “If we want to accelerate progress and achieve the SDGs and Ten Principles by 2030, the winning system needs to be redefined around purpose, including for startups.”
Profile photos of Ann Rosenberg and Dianne Dain: Anna Andersen