SDGs and the economy

From Civil society Scotland Wiki

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Rethinking the economy through the lens of the Sustainable Development Goals

This article has been started by Ruchir Shah and Katherine Trebeck to outline how the Sustainable Development Goals could be used to change the way we think and configure our economy globally and at home.

These are initial thoughts we are working through with you. Please be bold, dive in and edit it!

What is the economy?[edit | edit source]

Different ways in which the economy is understood, seen and used:

  • Means to allocate scarce resources? Food, clothes, earning a living.
  • A market(s)? An arena for competition and collaboration
  • Businesses and sharp suits - used as a proxy for power (dominance and aggression).
  • Creating and exchanging - sharing economy - which happens in many places including in the home
  • Positioned as an a priori - a given truth that can't be challenged
  • Employment, jobs and identity - "it's all about jobs, stupid", this is who I am.
  • Small businesses, family businesses, business community
  • The whole thing is split into the economy, the public sector and charities - dividing lines are drawn
  • The economy is GDP = Gross Domestic Product and to grow is to be good

Who is the economy configured for?[edit | edit source]

Currently Framed within SDGs
Key Entities Businesses and corporations


people with purchasing power



People (all of them)


Future generations

Purpose Economy as a goal in and of itself Economy as a means towards an end
Outcomes Growth in GDP as the measure of success

Finding another planet before this one goes

Inequality, environmental destruction (climate change and species lost)

Precarious livelihoods

Exhaustion and survival


Redistribution and sticking plasters


Technology as saviour

No-one is left behind


Circular systems and sustainability

Social safety net / foundation

Businesses as a vehicle for a better society


Prevention and pre-distribution (better words?)

Justice (social, economic, environmental)

Technology as enabler

Methods Trickle down

Decisions made top-down

Market value is king

Environment as a 'natural' commodity

Collateral damage e.g. Pollution and externalities

Co-operative and mutual support

Decisions made collaboratively

Market as a connector

Levelling of power

Economic democracy (define)

Social impact and Economy

Who's responsibility for making the economy work for society?[edit | edit source]

Purpose of [democratic] government[edit | edit source]

  • To maintain integrity of the economic system, and soften any transitions
  • To police the economic system, make sure businesses and individuals play by the rules and pay their dues
  • To identify, anticipate and address emerging gaps in the economic system e.g. skills shortages, regulation of new business models, adapting to changing technologies
  • To identify externalities of business e.g. pollution ; traffic jams and assess their impact and regulate them

Purpose of business[edit | edit source]

  • To transform natural resources into commodities
  • To create jobs. But why would businesses create jobs unless they really have to? It's a cost, taxable!
  • To pioneer alternative business models that prioritise social responsibility e.g. mutuals, co-operatives, community interest companies

Purpose of civil society[edit | edit source]

  • Civil society - instrumental to securing accountability of those with power in the economic system
  • Advocacy in visioning the kind of economy that works for people and environment e.g. green economy
  • Building awareness and empowering those marginalised by the economic system
  • Piloting and testing change within the economic system
  • Seek to design equality into the whole system

How is this responsibility currently organised?[edit | edit source]

The Fraser of Allander Institute listed 16 strategies across the Scottish government and its agencies:

  • Economic Strategy
  • Digital Strategy
  • Energy Strategy
  • Circular Economy Strategy
  • Climate Change Plan
  • Trade and Investment Strategy
  • Labour Market Strategy
  • Social Enterprise Strategy
  • Hydro Nation Strategy
  • Strategy Action Plan for Women in Enterprise
  • Manufacturing Action Plan
  • Youth Employment Strategy
  • Innovation Action Plan
  • National Islands Plan
  • Agenda for Cities
  • Arctic Strategy

How can the SDGs reframe our economic strategy?[edit | edit source]

Theory of change[edit | edit source]

Picking and choosing vs holistic.

How does leave "no-one behind" avoid reductionist approach - holistic offer of SDGs?

SDGs work best when looked as a whole - rather than pick and mix smorgasboard

Principles and direction of travel > clear outcome

Systems change is hard to map - too many influencing factors

Operationalising[edit | edit source]

  • Picking clusters of SDGs and matching these to skill sets
  • But maintaining the links between these
  • Finding the way to keep the SDGs holistic is an ongoing challenge

Case study box:[edit | edit source]

Applying holistic approach to Participatory Budgeting as an example.

Applying holistic approach to tackling unemployment - The sustainable development goals (SDGs) present a strong framework through which to frame employability debates. For example quality education (SDG 4) should prepare young people for work, decent work (SDG 8) should give people a strong voice good working conditions and opportunities of progression. Work should also enable people to live free from poverty (SDG 1) and promote good health and wellbeing (SDG 3). Thinking of employability in terms of the rights of individuals in this way, in addition to promoting economic growth (SDG 8), creates a positive framework though which to frame the idea of inclusive growth – and, indeed, an inclusive labour market. (Ref: Ruth Boyle, SCVO)

Questions[edit | edit source]

  • What are the implications for funding models?
  • What are the implications for Public Sector Procurement if they have to consider SDGs rather than cost and quality?
  • Can the public pound have much more impact and social good if it enables SDGs?