How can we achieve maximum impact on the UN SDGs?

In September, Angels of Impact Co-Founder Laina Raveendran Greene was invited to speak at the Markplus ASEAN Marketing Summit in Jakarta. She spoke about how we can achieve maximum sustainable impact on many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) by focusing on three key ones.

There are altogether 17 Sustainable Development Goals, agreed to by 193 countries agreed to the promise to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. 17 goals may seem overwhelming, nevertheless, Angels of Impact believes that focusing on 3 key UN SDG could actually serve as key levers for maximum impact on the others.

The 3 key goals are SDG #1 No Poverty; SDG #5 Gender Equality and SDG #12 Responsible Consumption and Production. The 3 SDGs are closely linked with the other SDGs, and hence focusing on them could offer maximum impact towards many of the other sustainable development overall.

UNSDG #1: No Poverty

Poverty has far-reaching effects beyond just the lack of money. If someone is poor, he/she and their family suffers from malnutrition, lack of education, poor health, shorter life expectancy and, most of all, it robs people of human dignity. It is no wonder that “no poverty” is Goal #1 of the UN SDGs. The UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the precursor to the SDGs and while they have achieved the goal to reduce extreme poverty, that is not enough. Poverty as defined by the MDGs was defined as living on less than $1.25/ day. Today, this definition of poverty is unrealistic as standards of living have risen fast and even an income of $3/day or $5/day leads to living in poverty.

Why is this important? Because many of the other UN SDGs such as peace, deforestation, corruption, slow economic growth, and health are all tied to poverty. Those goals cannot be solved without addressing their root cause. In any case, it is unconscionable that half of the world continues to live in poverty and eradicating poverty should be at the core of all sustainability efforts.

To end poverty, however, we need take a holistic approach. We should also ask ourselves how we are perpetuating poverty. For example, we need to start questioning the supply chain of the goods and services we consume. Do we stop to ask ourselves how we managed to get that shirt at such as good price? When we don’t ask such questions, we are perpetuating the industry’s ability to exploit the poor. This is where UN SDG #12 Responsible Consumption and Production comes in.

To end poverty, we also need to see how else we are perpetuating poverty. The award-winning film Poverty Inc helps us see how the traditional model of development aid or charity model, has actually perpetuated poverty. We need to look at new ways to solve poverty. Angels of Impact book “Sustainable Impact: How women are key to ending poverty” shows how the poor should be seen as partners, and not mere passive beneficiaries. Great innovations have come from the poor themselves and we need new approaches to leverage the drive and innovations of the poor to sustainably end poverty.

SDG #1 links back to numerous other SDGs and thus ending poverty should be our top priority. When we eradicate poverty, we are able to achieve other SDGs such as #8 Decent Work and Economic Growth, #11 Sustainable Cities and Communities, #15 Life on Land and #16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

We can’t have sustainable cities without sustainable villages since poor people migrate to cities for jobs causing slums and other problems in the cities. We can’t have food security unless small-holder farmers who grow our food don’t abandon farming and move to cities since they no longer can make a living from farming. Even if you build schools to help with education, if families are forced to leave villages for work in cities then the schools become useless. Health centers could be there but families working hard to make a living, they won’t have time or money to visit a doctor. So ending poverty has to go hand in hand with other efforts to succeed.

UNSDG #5: Gender Equality

According to data from the Census Bureau in the United States, more than one in seven women live in poverty today. UN data shows that the majority of the poor in developing countries are women. If we want to end poverty, then we need to focus on women.

Women tend to be locked out of socio-economic opportunities through a phenomenon termed the feminization of poverty. The feminization of poverty, occurs because women are the invisible infrastructure in many societies — they are the ones who have to walk for miles to collect water, look after the young and old as well as carry out subsistence farming. Therefore, they usually do not have the chance to take advantage of efforts to eliminate poverty when they do appear. According to Oxfam, 75% of women in Asia work in the informal sector, without access to benefits such as sick pay, maternity leave or pensions. They also carry out the majority of unpaid care work, which is often unrecognised by countries.

We need to focus on women if we want to tackle poverty. By taking care of women, we are also able to help the entire community. The 2010 UNDP report states that income in the hands of the mothers has a greater effect on child’s health, nutrition and education than income that is controlled by the father. Data shows that women reinvest 70–90% of their income into their families and communities as opposed to men who reinvest only 30–50%. Thus by focusing on women, we achieve many other goals such as SDGs #2 No Hunger, #3 Good Health and Well Being, #4 Quality Education, #6 Clean water and sanitation, #8 Decent work and Economic Growth, to name a few.

Besides being the majority of victims of poverty, women are also able to do more with less money and are thus great investments. Research published by Forbes has also shown that women entrepreneurs bring in 20% more revenue with 50% less money as compared to their male counterparts. In many emerging markets, \women make up the majority of micro-entrepreneurs. Many have graduated beyond micro-enterprises to become small and medium enterprises. There is great promise that women are key to ending poverty — it’s time we start investing in them.

“The 21st century is the century of women” -Muhtar Kent, Chairman and former CEO of Coca Cola.

UNSDG #12: Responsible Consumption and Production

As stated earlier, for a fully holistic look at how we are perpetuating poverty, responsible production and consumption must be tackled.

In his book “Creating a World without Poverty”, Professor Muhammad Yunus showcased the concept of social businesses, which focus on social impact over pure profit maximization. An example of some efforts include Grameen Shakti providing solar rural electrification and Grameen Danone, which provides children in rural Bangladesh with nutrients they need.

Another example of responsible production, is the B Corp Movement which certifies companies that use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. Even Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group states “The brands that will thrive in the coming years are the ones that have a purpose beyond profit”

Interestingly, small and medium enterprises headed by women in emerging countries, are at the cutting edge of such new forms of business involved in responsible production while helping to end poverty. If we supported the efforts of these women lead social enterprises we make the maximum impact on achieving many of the UN SDGs. So we should all be asking ourselves, what can we do to support them.

Here are some examples:


Krakakoa, founded by Sabrina Mutaspo, is a bean-to-bar chocolate maker from Indonesia. Its mission is to make delicious chocolate made from 100% Indonesian cocoa beans, bought from smallholder farmers at a higher price than the fair trade minimum. Krakakoa trains and equips its partner farmers with the tools and knowledge to improve cocoa bean quality, increase income, and combat pests through sustainable and organic farming methods.


TORAJAMELO, founded by former banker Dinny Jusuf, ends the cycle of poverty and violence suffered by indigenous women in Indonesia by creating a market for their exquisite traditional weaving. TORAJAMELO creates high-quality, fun and functional fashion and gifts made from hand-woven textiles produced by indigenous women weavers and put together by skilled poor women in towns. Since 2008 TORAJAMELO has transformed the lives of over 1,000 women weavers.


JAVARA, founded by Helianti Hilman, is one of Indonesia’s leading purveyors of artisanal food products. JAVARA works across the agricultural value chains from production to distribution in order to preserve biodiversity and bring community-based organic products to broader markets.

By doing this, they also help farmers move up the value chain and get necessary income to get out of poverty.

These are just some examples of women entrepreneurs that use sustainable means to promote responsible production. Through this, they also help achieve many of the other UN SDGs such as #11 Sustainable Cities and Communities,#13 Climate Action and #15 Life on Land. What is currently needed are also more conscious consumers for UN SDG #12 Responsible Production and Consumption to thrive.

Given these key observations, Angels of Impact has decided to focus on these 3 UN SDGS, #1 No Poverty, #5 Gender Equality and #12 Responsible Production and Consumption as we feel these three UN SDGs, are levers for the greatest impact on all the UN SDGs. We propose it is the path to successfully achieving these goals. Focus on women, and promote conscious production and consumption as a more sustainable way to eradicate poverty, and many of the other goals have a better chance to succeed too.

In achieving the MDGs, the world has already proven that if we work together in unity, we can move mountains. If we are to systematically eradicate poverty for good, then we must continue to build partnerships to make this a reality. And this is SDG #17 Partnerships for the Goals.

For more insights, read Sustainable Impact: Creating a World without Poverty

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