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The challenge of the SDGs to us and our partners

This speech was given at the Global Child Forum in Stockholm on 26 November 2015 by Plan International CEO, Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen.

Plan International CEO Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen
Plan International CEO Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen

Shortly after the adoption of the SDG agenda global civil society leaders met in Bangkok, and a colleague of mine reminded us of a quote by Oscar Wilde, which goes as follows: "When the gods want to punish us, they answer our prayers."

With the Sustainable Development Goals we got what we prayed for. A bold and transformative agenda for change. We now have the punishing task of ensuring that we all change ourselves. To achieve the world we want will be a punishing task because core power structures underpinning our societies, our economies and our communities will have to change.

The pursuit of “equity,” or fairness, is what binds all the goals together. It echoes the notion championed by Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen, that equal consideration for all demands unequal consideration in favour of the most disadvantaged. In other words, we must now make a conscious choice and stand for all children’s rights through a focus on girls and other disadvantaged children.

So the question is: which side of history will you be on – what change will you make and what change will I make?

To deliver that fairness for girls and others will require new and good behaviours, such as payment of corporate taxes so domestic revenue can be generated for improved service delivery to the most marginalised.

It also requires a fresh look at longstanding policy questions, such as who benefits from growth, and the balance between state and the market.

We know that companies can have a huge positive impact on most areas of children’s – and especially girls’ – lives. And investing in children's rights is good for business – as many of you know. And ignoring them can, as Store Enso has learnt, be a perilous affair.

This is why at Plan International we have seen partnerships with the private sector on child and girl’s rights grow exponentially. Today we have over 500 corporate partnerships. We partner:

  • with Ericsson in India on girls education in slums,
  • with Kesko to create a fishing industry in Asia free of exploitative child labor,
  • and with Accenture to develop digital birth registration to help ensure all children are counted and can access their rights.

But much more is needed. As an example the Overseas Development institute has calculated that if everyone just continues doing exactly what we are doing today it will take us not 15 year but 65 years to reach targets related to girls' education alone. 

So bigger and bolder steps are needed and our partnerships must 1) raise their level of ambition; 2) they must multiply; and 3) they must grow faster.

On the level of ambition some companies have already moved beyond bottom line and risk management considerations alone and embrace the fact that a world where rights are upheld, where the planet is protected and where rule of law actually rules is a better world for all.

Children and young people are of course future employees and corporate leaders. Investing in education at all stages of a child’s life is key. Many already know that if we invest in girls’ education, each additional year of schooling boosts long-term growth by 0.58 percentage points per year.

Overcoming barriers to keeping girls in school is also important. So we need more leaders across different sectors – including the corporate sector – to speak out for example against early and forced marriage and early pregnancy. A great example of this is the CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi

I know this may sound too sensitive for some. But this is why it’s important: In the 7 minutes my speech lasts, 200 girls under 18 will be forced into marriage and drop out of school. That’s 16.000 girls during the hours we spend here today. A sure way to slow opportunity and growth.

I also mentioned the need to build larger partnerships faster. This is, however, tough. We know that most partnerships between civil society and companies take many years to develop, to build trust and understanding, assess impact and scale up. So how do we build courage and trust faster?

While not the only solutions, let me close by talking about transparency, accountability and innovation. The 2030 agenda has created great hope in many quarters. And as the world looks today, the last thing we can afford are more broken promises, especially promises made to children and youth.

So we have to have the courage to be transparent about our successes and failures and to hold ourselves and each other accountable. This will make us more credible and make us more partnerships-ready. We also need to dare to give children and young people tools and technology to hold all of us accountable.

Plan International’s annual State of the Worlds Girls Report is now being transformed into a partnership platform holding the world to account for promises made to girls under the SDGs

I look forward to working with all of you to make the Sustainable Development Goals as well as child rights and business principles a reality for everyone – leaving no one behind.

Thank you.