Cole: Public-Private Sector Ventures Hold the Key for Sustainable Development in Nigeria


In 2014, the United Nations Development Programme created the UN Sustainable Development Fund to serve as a development cooperation mechanism to support sustainable development activities through integrated and multidimensional joint programmes. To achieve this, the SDG-F inaugurated the Private Sector Advisory Group in 2015 to facilitate the emergence of formidable platforms through which the SDG-F can partner with the private sector to achieve its goals across the globe.

The PSAG ship is set to berth in Nigeria – the first in Africa – as the Presidency and several private sector organisations seek to partner on ventures that will help the nation achieve the SDGs. The Executive Director and Co- Founder, Sahara Group (a member of SDGF’s Advisory Board), Tonye Cole, in this interview with Peter Uzoho, speaks on the PSAG in Nigeria and how it will inspire renewed public-private collaboration towards ensuring inclusive growth and development across the nation

What led to the introduction of the Private Sector Advisory Group (PSAG)?
Due to the numerous challenges faced by the United Nations during the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG-F) in New York inaugurated the Private Sector Advisory Group (PSAG) made up of 13 private sector organisations from across the world in April 2015 to support the SDG-F in coming up with sustainable solutions to identified global problems. The private sector was invited as a critical partner mainly because the UN had observed that in multiple countries across the world, many private companies had carried out very successful and thriving CSR projects with little or no involvement of the host governments.

Some of the key milestones achieved since the PSAG was introduced include: A workshop with various private sector organisations in Nigeria to create awareness on the SDG’s and the role of the private sector in the achievement of the goals; The launch/commencement of a flagship project between the UN SDG-F, Sahara Group and Kaduna State towards achieving certain SDG’s; The setup of a local PSAG in Nigeria with the role of coordinating public-private sector partnerships towards achieving the SDGs in Nigeria while also reporting same to the United Nations headquarters with the aim of improving the global SDG ratings of Nigeria.

How will the PSAG in Nigeria advance the quest for the SDGs?
The Private Sector Advisory Group in Nigeria will provide the PSAG Global with guidance and strategic support to achieve better development results in coordination with the private sector in Nigeria. It is expected that the Advisory Group will contribute in the identification of areas of common interest and promote the sustainability of global public goods with the primary objective of establishing productive public-private partnerships with the private sector, as well as offering suggestions for how to work more effectively with one another at the National level.

The PSAG will work closely with the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDGs (OSSAP SDG) in ensuring that the global goals are achieved in Nigeria. We strongly believe that the achievement of the PSAG objectives will not only improve the global SDG ranking of Nigeria, it will also improve the standard of living of numerous underprivileged Nigerians through the provision of sustainable solutions to basic problems.

The PSAG launch in Nigeria comes up on February 28, 2017 in Abuja. Who are the key partners driving the project in Nigeria to ensure effectiveness and sustainability?
I think the first point to note is that the involvement of the Presidency through the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDGs (OSSAP SDG) indicates the high premium placed on the initiative by the government. The key partners at this point include the following: Sahara Group, Growing Businesses foundation (GBF), Lagos Business School (LBS), British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF), Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), PricewaterhouseCoopers Ltd. (PwC) United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Unilever Nigeria, Airtel Nigeria, GT Bank, General electric (GE), Dangote Group and Channels Television. All partners, working in collaboration with the Presidency are confident that the event will lay a solid foundation for sustainable public-private partnerships in Nigeria as we continue the quest for achieving the SDGs.

We also intend to extend invitations to other committed and SDG driven organisations in a bid to have wider geographical and cross sectoral representation. We believe the formal inauguration of the PSAG in Nigeria will give impetus to ongoing and new initiatives that will be aimed at accelerating socio-economic growth and development. The focus of the PSAG will be to increase public-private sector participation through advocacy and awareness, promote the development of practical and effective business models, improve capacity building for stakeholders, midwife relevant dialogues between public and private stakeholders to provide alternative viewpoints and engagement opportunities and determine deserving recipients of public-private ventures and allocation of resources to projects that will promote inclusive economic growth.

Sahara Group as a member of the SDGF’s advisory board is one of the arrowheads of the PSAG in Nigeria. What does the project mean for Sahara?
We feel quite privileged to serve on the advisory board of the SDGF and treasure every activity and project we have been involved in across the globe. As a sustainability driven organisation, the project means a lot for Sahara. Through our various Personal and Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives implemented through Sahara Foundation, we have touched the lives of many beneficiaries and provided local solutions to global challenges in nine countries across the world where we operate.

Sahara is passionate about empowering people and providing opportunities for individuals, small businesses and communities to thrive and attain achievements beyond imagination. If we could record such great success on our own, imagine the success potential that could come into fruition when organisations with a common goal come together to work with the government. This is why we are passionate about the Private Sector Advisory Group which we believe is a step in the right direction towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Through this newly set up vehicle, Sahara Group will continue to serve as an anchor that brings various players together to for the benefit of Nigeria.

Are there structures in place to integrate the PSAG in Nigeria with similar organisations globally?
Yes, that is the plan. We have direct lines to the global PSAG with our local PSAG being a mirror of the global group. Nigeria being first to set up a local PSAG in Africa, will encourage other member organisations to establish local chapters in their respective countries. The ultimate aim of the local PSAG is to promote cross sectoral collaborations in a bid to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs. We expect that there will be a lot of collaborative efforts with the global PSAG to explore how global social issues can be solved locally.

Are there special requirements for corporate organisations or individuals seeking to be part of the PSAG in Nigeria?
The PSAG is open to other committed sustainability driven private sector organisations and business leaders of major companies from various industries across Nigeria. However, there are restrictions as to how many members that can be accommodated at every point in time.

Laudable projects like the PSAG sometimes receive mixed reactions as people tend to believe their usefulness will be short-lived. What makes the PSAG project one that people should embrace and support?
Given the level of enthusiasm and commitment of all the stakeholders to the vision of the project, I am confident that the PSAG has come to stay. With direction from the global PSAG as well as the support of sister groups in Africa and global development agencies, we can expect so much in terms of creativity, efficiency and sustainability. The support from the Presidency and Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDG’s will also drive the initiative and encourage more participation from other stakeholders. It is also important to note that the PSAG is strategically aimed at utilising SDG 17 (partnership) to drive the adoption and implementation of the SDGs. Hence, the cross sectoral and cross border partnerships are the strength of this group which make it different from others.

Sahara had as part of its 20th anniversary activities said that it would establish an extrapreneurship hub that is designed to provide opportunities for young entrepreneurs to develop their businesses. Can you give us an insight into what we should expect from the hub?
The Sahara Hub, is a technology powered convergence of youth and young adults to inspire innovation.

Through the extrapreneurship framework, Sahara will promote a common ground for shared expertise and capacity to help young entrepreneurs enhance their craft and businesses. This will ultimately enhance wealth creation and preservation. Over the next four years (2017- 2021), Sahara Foundation plans to directly impact 12,000,000 Nigerian youth and also create value through the identification, development and maintenance of relevant stakeholders through which beneficiaries can grow and sustain businesses. This will be achieved through skills acquisition training, mentoring and access to a network of committed stakeholders. The hub is expected to attract the most innovative entrepreneurial projects and connect them to the global village of social investors.

This platform will provide resource materials, inspire networking and collaboration on a mass scale for local, regional, national and global beneficiaries. The multiplier effect we are hoping to generate with the new model as young business owners are exposed to boundless opportunities that exist within the various hubs and our dedicated web portal where leading business individuals and organisations will be available to guide and link budding extrapreneurs. We are particularly excited about the fact that this is a sustainable approach to empowering youth and engendering economic growth and development.