The nexus between effective leadership, innovation and resilience, and progress on SDG 9 (which focuses on “industry, innovation and infrastructure”) could not be more important.
Why? Because we are living in turbulent times in which leaders must navigate a much more chaotic landscape than perhaps we have ever faced as a globe before because:
- Climate disasters are rising dramatically with extreme social and biodiversity reverberations and impacts.
- Global geopolitical tectonic shifts are accelerating and impacting everything we do – from the Ukraine War to US/China relations and from international trade to supply chain management.
- Internal democratic political polarization which is worsening in significant portions of the democratic world (the US, several EU nations, and several younger at-risk democracies) affects the ability to get important things done; and
- The future of capitalism continues to evolve into something quite different from shareholder primacy to multi-stakeholder pressures and engagement as well as a focus on circular economy and regeneration.
Add to those trends the opening up of Pandora’s box of tech innovation via the likes of generative AI (and in the future, quantum, and other technologies) and we have a turbocharged environment with deep, unexpected, and even existential risks. But we have the opposite as well: deep, unexpected, life-changing opportunities.
And that’s where SDG 9 comes in. Let’s turn to understanding where we are on this SDG first and then to some themes and actions that leaders should consider to accelerate progress against the 2030 SDGs.
Level-setting on SDG 9
What is SDG 9?
Let’s start by level-setting on what Sustainable Development Goal 9 is - SDG 9 is known as “Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure”. Its longer definition is to “build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation”. We will look at each of these elements below but first, let’s look at how the UN and other key players and partners measure progress on SDG #9.
How does SDG #9 get measured?
As the Table below shows, SDG #9 consists of eight targets and 12 indicators associated with the targets. The first five targets are “outcome” targets and the next three are “implementation” targets.
Sustainable Development Goal 9: Industry, innovation, and infrastructure
|Eight targets||12 indicators|
|1. Develop sustainable resilient and inclusive infrastructures||
|2. Promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization||
|3. Increase access to financial services and markets||
|4. Upgrade all industries and infrastructure for sustainability||
|5. Enhance research and upgrade industrial technologies||
|6. Facilitate sustainable infrastructure development for developing countries||
|7. Support domestic technology development and industrial diversification||
|8. Universal access to information and communications technology||
The 2022 SDG 9 report – results and takeaways
Source: United Nations
In its 2023 SDG Report, the UN underscored the following key themes regarding SDG #9:
- On the global manufacturing front:
- Growth slowed from 7.4% in 2021 to 3.3% in 2022
- With the causes identified as inflation, energy price shocks, supply chain disruptions and global economic deceleration
- On the energy-related CO2 emissions, despite all the talk and some action, the globe reached a record high of 36.8 billion metric tons in 2022
- On manufacturing value as a percent of GDP, less developed countries are unlikely to meet their 2030 target of 24.2%. In 2015, manufacturing as the actual percent of GDP was 12.1% and in 2022 (estimated) it was 14.0 which is proportionately much lower than what is needed to achieve the 2030 targeted 24.2%.
- Regionally, medium-high and high-technology grew strongly in some regions (in Europe and North America at a rate of 47.7% of manufacturing as a percent of GDP and in East Asia at 47.1%) but not so much in less developed regions like Sub-Saharan Africa where it grew at only 21.7%.
- 95% of the world has mobile broadband access but when it comes to coverage Sub Saharan Africa only has 82% coverage and Oceania 68%.
These 2022 outcomes show several significant takeaways from SDG 9 throughout this year:
- There has been a hit to global prosperity coming from a variety of global megatrends – from climate to war which will make a smooth road to 2030 even harder
- There is a significant disparity between the developed and developing world on manufacturing as a component of GDP and it’s very unlikely that the 24.2% target will be achieved by 2030.
- Energy-related emissions are far from being on target and at alarming levels if we are to stick to 1.5C degrees.
- On innovation and technology, to put it bluntly – the rich are getting richer and the poor while making some improvements continue to struggle heartily
The bottom line is this: there is a serious gap between where we are and where SDG 9 needs to be at this halfway point looking toward 2030.
The next section of this article provides some ideas on how business, government and social leaders can make progress on all things industry, innovation, and infrastructure over the next 6 years despite these heavy headwinds.
SDG 9 2030 leadership blueprint
If we look at the three components of SDG 9 more closely, we can see that the UN and its partners mean it to be about more than just economic progress. Indeed, it is about:
- How to promote inclusive and sustainable industrial leadership
- How to spark and integrate innovation
- How to build resilience
Below I offer my take on things we can do as leaders – whether governmental, business, or social – to move forward on these goals in a time of turbulence:
Promoting inclusive and sustainable industrial leadership
This starts with leadership itself. In each of our businesses, in each of our social or communal organizations, at each of our political levels – local, state, regional, national, and international – we, as stakeholders, need to focus harder and faster on choosing the right people to lead us – people who:
- Are emotionally intelligent
- Understand the current global and local challenges
- Know who their key stakeholders are and engage them
- Choose a diverse and inclusive leadership team
- Deploy performance metrics tied to relevant SDGs from the very top of the organization throughout all of its corners
Sparking and integrating innovation
Each business needs to understand that they are a technology company – whether they think they are or not – and act accordingly. To wit:
- Every business from SMEs to the largest multinationals incorporates a lesser or greater degree of responsible technology – those that don’t pay attention to the world around them and the fact that tech infuses everything we do will lose (market share, competitiveness, social impact). Those that develop thoughtful responsible tech will gain stakeholder respect and usage.
- Every government must create strong incentives for tech innovation while providing the regulatory guardrails needed to protect the public and the vulnerable.
- Society and community leaders – like academics, NGOs and think tanks – need to keep helping us understand the risks and the opportunities of new tech by deploying important data-driven studies and analyses to help us make the right decisions.
Building organizational resilience
I will conclude with an exhortation to leaders of organizations – public, private, and social – to build inner organizational resilience. This means getting your own house in order to survive and thrive in our turbulent times. I have researched, written, and practiced extensively on this subject, and am pleased to offer the following model of the “Virtuous organizational resilience lifecycle” which contains 8 key components, one supporting the other, and the 3 most important and foundational ones being:
- Lean-in governance and leadership
- Empowering a culture of integrity
- Stakeholder emotional intelligence
Below is a graphic from Gloom to Boom: How Leaders Transform Risk into Resilience and Value (Routledge 2020) that describes the Virtuous Resilience Lifecycle components and key actors that make it possible within an organization.
Source: Gloom to Boom: How Leaders Transform Risk into Resilience and Value (Routledge 2020)
Achieving the goals of SDG 9 by 2030 clearly presents a steep uphill challenge fraught with known and unknown global, regional, and local trends and megatrends, risks, and opportunities.
Just because something is difficult shouldn’t stop us from attacking it smartly, consistently, in a whole of society, all-hands-on-deck manner.
There will always be naysayers and bad players, but it always does take a global village to get important things done. Now more than ever. Those of us with our sleeves already rolled up should recruit others to act accordingly and march forward together post haste to save this planet, an action at a time, and many actions knitted together over time.
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