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Today, the greatest potential for sustainable development is in Africa, where demand is growing and Global Goals business opportunities remain relatively untapped. Many African countries have burgeoning populations with improving education levels and a growing middle class. There are more mouths to feed, urban housing to be built, and power and infrastructure bottlenecks to be resolved. At the same time, Africans are also vulnerable to droughts, poor agricultural yields, an over-reliance on base commodities and global trade, and armed conflict. Together, this means a huge market opportunity for sustainable development for business.

African business leaders and entrepreneurs can unlock over US$1.1 trillion in business savings and revenue and more than 85 million jobs if they pursue sustainable business models. Such opportunities are compelling not only for these private sector gains, but for their social impact too. Pursuing more access of affordable housing could create over 13 million jobs in Africa, while risk pooling for community health insurance could offer US$150 billion in new value alone from scaling access to better healthcare.

These prizes and how to capture them took centre stage at two February events in Nairobi to launch the African Better Business, Better World summary report, hosted by Safaricom and Intellecap.

The Business and Sustainable Development Commission’s Better Business, Better World report was first launched in January 2017 ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos. It shows how sustainable business models aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals could open economic opportunities across 60 “hot spots” worth up to US$12 trillion and increase employment by up to 380 million jobs by 2030. More than half of the total value of the opportunities is in developing countries.

Safaricom’s Better Business, Better World conference, held on 23 February, brought together business leaders to build support for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) —17 objectives to eliminate poverty, improve education and health outcomes, create better jobs and tackle our key environmental challenges by 2030.

Kenya’s top mobile network operator, Safaricom has been a leader in integrating the SDGs into its business model. Safaricom has created innovations that remove obstacles to financial inclusion through its mobile banking platform M-PESA, and increasing sustainable energy access through M-KOPA. Much can be credited to the vision of its CEO Bob Collymore, a member of the Business and Sustainable Development Commission.

“Africa has a real opportunity to lead the way in doing better business for a better world. As a Commission, we have found that across the continent, there is potential for inclusive, green growth and development which remains untapped,” said Mr. Collymore in the conference’s announcement. “We stand on the cusp of possibilities and we must seize the opportunity now. As the report shows, there have been in the last few years, a demonstration of the possibility of leapfrogging development through new technologies and the Internet to bring development in transformative ways that also promote purpose.”

African business leaders and entrepreneurs are already bringing such new solutions to social and environmental problems in remarkable ways. In Nigeria, ColdHubs provides farmers in Nigeria with chilled storage rooms at food markets and farms to extend the shelf-life of perishable foods from 2 to 21 days. How does the company do this? Farmers buy crates in modular, solar-powered walk-in cold rooms through a flexible pay-as-you-go subscription for US$0.50 a day per crate. By reducing post-harvest loss by 80%, small farmers can raise their income by 25% from selling a larger portion of crops.

Such market successes in agriculture, and others in energy, urban services, and health offer inspiration for others to join in. On 23-24 February, the Sankalp Africa Summit, hosted by Intellecap, highlighted the important role African entrepreneurs play in advancing sustainable development on the continent. The Sankalp Forum brings together an audience of more than 1,000 people, including entrepreneurs, investors, corporations, governments, and funders to facilitate learning and collaborate around sustainable development and inclusive investment.

A key message of the report is that digital solutions and entrepreneurs will be critical to unlocking many of these new opportunities. “We need young entrepreneurs to reimagine solutions that would allow business to participate in joining government to solve issues of poverty and hunger that the SDGs seek to address,” said Vineet Rai, founder, Aavishkaar-Intellecap Group and a member of the Business Commission. “Sankalp Forum and Intellecap are bringing together the best young entrepreneurs from Africa and Asia to find new ideas and solutions that aim to deliver on the ambitious opportunity that the Better Business, Better World report outlines as US$12 trillion.”

At the Better Business, Better World conference, Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, Chair of the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, saw encouraging signals from the gathered African entrepreneurs and innovators. “The world is seeing increasingly that African companies are models for what can be achieved with ingenuity and innovation as they solve difficult social challenges. They are not wedded to old solutions, so here in Kenya we see digital innovators delivering banking, energy and health solutions. The speed of innovation and adoption is astonishing.”

To read the global findings of the full report, visit report.businesscommission.org.