50th anniversary blog: The importance of infrastructure, industrialization and innovation

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50th anniversary blog: The importance of infrastructure, industrialization and innovation

15.09.2017

The UN Youth of Finland was established fifty years ago in 1967. To celebrate this, we are publishing blog posts concerning each one of the Sustainable Development Goals. This blog post focuses on the 9th Goal, which aim is to build resilient infrastructure, to promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and to foster innovation. Lotte Fredriksson, an UN Youth of Helsinki alumnus with a background in international innovation policy and sustainable business, tells us more on how the goal is being implemented.

One of the prerequisites for creating growth for society, as well as for achieving SDGs such as the eradication of extreme poverty, is to develop good conditions for corporations and entrepreneurship. The 9th Goal aims to promote these conditions in a sustainable and inclusive way, both in developed countries as well as through particularly strong efforts in developing countries.

Building resilient infrastructure, such as transportation, energy, storage facilities and communication technologies, is in today’s world viewed as essential for empowering communities, enabling business activity and achieving sustainable development. Moreover, investments in infrastructure are strongly linked to growth in productivity and incomes, as well as improvements in health and education.

Inclusive and sustainable industrialization is regarded as a primary source for job creation and economic growth, enabling quick and sustained increases in living standards, as well as bringing technological progress for meeting environmental objectives. Industrialization also supports social development through providing opportunities for social inclusion, including gender equality, empowering of women and girls, and creating jobs for the youth.

While industry develops and social and economic transformation occurs, it both requires and enhances the application of science, technology and innovation, while also encouraging larger investments in skills and education. Fostering innovation is important for both industrial development as well as the addressment of global challenges, which are urgently calling for new business solutions, innovation and technology.

The three pillars of Goal 9 – infrastructure, industrialization and innovation - are strongly entwined, serving as crucial drivers of social and economic growth, while together providing resources to meet the broad, inclusive and sustainable development objectives.

Solutions are needed in respective fields: Along with urbanization, the importance of transportation and renewable energy are quickly growing, while the huge developments in industrialization processes, as well as in information and communication technologies, are challenging society to think in whole new ways.

However, remarkable differences exist between societies, regions and countries. These have often been caused by economic growth that has occurred without the participation of and reward to significant segments of the population. Furthermore, while developed countries are faced with the early stage of the fourth industrial revolution, developing countries are still lagging behind and struggling with manufacturing and infrastructure – more than four billion people still having no Internet access. Bridging divides like these is crucial for ensuring that no one is left behind

What is then being done for the achievement of Goal 9?

In Finland, the “Society’s Commitment to Sustainable Development” is used as a key instrument by the government in the implementation of the SDGs, having gathered a large amount of operational commitments from diverse types of actors in Finland. The commitments are freely formed and published on https://commitment2050.fi/, to then receive follow-up and support.

Examples of committed industries and businesses include the Finnish Forest Industries and Nokia. As the SDGs are interconnected and relate to businesses in various perspectives and degrees, multiple goals are usually targeted. While focusing on Goal 9, the Finnish Forest Industries, having recently experienced large turmoil, aims to continue developing solutions within bio-economy, investing in resource efficiency, and operating responsibly throughout their global value chains.

For Nokia, the Goal 9 is highly relevant as it relates directly to their core business of technology innovations and network infrastructure, which consequentially can also support several other SDGs (see graphics below). Significant opportunities are also found in the increased use of Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices, which enable people, sensors and devices to connect in a new way, opening up numerous global possibilities to improve e.g. safety, health, sustainability and productivity.

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Source: Nokia

Finnish businesses are also being involved in the SDGs through initiatives and networks such as the UN Global Compact, which also operates a Nordic network, providing companies with advice, knowledge sharing and concrete tools for the implementation of the SDGs. Another notable initiative is the Nordic Solutions to Global Challenges, led by the Nordic Council of Ministers. The initiative aims, for example, to create export platforms for Nordic businesses within welfare solutions and sustainable cities, targeting developing and emerging countries as well as infrastructure.

Looking at developing countries, ensuring access to national, regional and global markets is highly important for companies to develop their full potential. These factors are also essential for foreign investments, such as export of the above kind, which can provide important contributions to e.g. employment, innovation, technology transfer and infrastructure.

Within the UN system, much of the work is focused on assisting developing countries to reach their SDG targets. The UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), with its mandate “to promote and accelerate inclusive and sustainable industrial development to achieve shared prosperity and environmental sustainability around the world”, is primarily focused on the Goal 9. Its activities include e.g. promotion of small and medium enterprises and agribusiness, strengthening of trade capacities and value chains, as well as technical support for green industry and manufacturing.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is another active organization within Goal 9, fulfilling the targets through e.g. partnerships with the private sector (e.g. the Responsible Business Centre – news and various ongoing projects within each SDG: http://sdg.responsiblebusiness.com/) and support for governments via its country offices (read “Goals in Action” stories: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals/goal-9-industry-innovation-and-infrastructure.html).

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) supports Goal 9 through e.g. trade facilitation programmes and science, technology and innovation policy reviews. An example of their projects is eTrade-for-All, which provides a multi-stakeholder platform to help developing countries unlock the potential of e-commerce, through pooling development partner and private sector resources and facilitating access to beneficiaries.

Innovation in Goal 9 is largely connected to technological innovations, often of frugal or exponential type – i.e. solutions that are scalable, low in cost and suitable for developing countries. The need and immense potential of such has given rise to various initiatives that provide e.g. networks, technical advice and funding for innovation.

Prominent examples within the UN include UNDP Innovation Facility, UN Global Pulse, Unite Labs, and the Call to Action for the UN Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development (including showcase of Youth Innovators). Other initiatives currently active within the Nordic countries are e.g. UNLEASH and the Nordic Frugal Innovation Society, also open for youth participation.

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Source: UN Global Pulse

Goal 9 encompasses a tremendous field of challenges and possibilities. Above is only a small proportion highlighted of all ongoing initiatives as well as issues to be tackled. Much more could be discussed on connected topics such as transport, financial systems and greening of industries.

If you want to read more about the Goal 9 targets, visit: https://isid.unido.org/goal9.html

Annual progress reports are updated here: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg9

Related news, articles and policy briefs can be found here: http://sdg.iisd.org/sdgs/goal-9-industry-innovation-infrastructure/

Lotte Fredriksson