UNICEF: ‘Working with corporations is helping us make real progress toward sustainable development goals. Here’s how’

April 7, 2023, 10:59 AM UTC
Volunteers organize activities for children from the war-torn cities of southern Ukraine at the UNICEF Office in Odessa, Ukraine on Feb. 7.
Jose Colon - Anadolu Agency - Getty Images

We have seven years left to meet the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. On the heels of the World Economic Forum and the first UN water conference in almost 50 years, corporations and organizations around the world are expected to refresh their SDG commitments–and to apply more ambition and urgency to them than ever.

At UNICEF, we have worked with companies around the world to invest in a safer, more sustainable world for children by focusing on the SDGs. And I’ve seen firsthand what makes the biggest and most immediate impact.

The secret? Partnering with an organization that’s already steeped in the SDGs and dedicated to accelerating progress toward them.

Think of it like learning a new language or training for a marathon. Sure, you can do it on your own, but by working with a partner with longstanding expertise you’ll reach your destination more quickly and with more confidence.

The same goes for an organization like UNICEF. Through decades of partnerships with the private sector in hundreds of territories, we’ve been able to do far more to strengthen the systems that protect children and their families than we’d have been able to do on our own.

Here are three examples of how our partnerships to advance the SDGs have delivered impact at scale. They demonstrate how investing in scalable solutions for children today will result in stronger, more resilient communities tomorrow.

Improving mental health and well-being for millions of  young people

While mental health is an important accelerator across all SDGs, one goal, SDG3 is dedicated to ensuring “healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.”

However, COVID-19 has unfortunately challenged our ability to meet this goal as well as our other 2030 deadlines for children and youth.

The good news? The pandemic also led the private sector and business leaders to rapidly recognize the importance of mental well-being for the survival, growth, and development of young people–and for their customers and employees in their role as parents and caregivers.

Even before the pandemic, young people were carrying the burden of unaddressed mental health issues, with one in seven experiencing mental disorders worldwide, and half of all mental disorders beginning by the age of 14.

One organization alone cannot address the need to accelerate progress on this front. Rather, what we need is the kind of collective action we’ve seen with the Global Coalition for Youth Mental Well-being–a UNICEF-hosted initiative launched with the support of Z Zurich Foundation.

The coalition seeks to address the increasing global burden of mental health conditions in youth by offering a global platform for investment and action on mental well-being. Strategic members include Jo Malone London, Spotify, and Zurich Insurance Group, alongside Z Zurich Foundation.  

Together, our aim is to strengthen the social and emotional skills and the supportive and nurturing environments for the mental health and well-being of 30 million young people in 30 countries by 2030, delivering impact at scale and helping achieve the SDGs.

Mapping school connectivity to give children information, opportunity, and choice

Not all of our partnerships focus on one SDG. Most cover several, as has been the case with Ericsson. We’ve come together to help map school connectivity around the world.

Mapping the internet connectivity landscape for schools and their surrounding communities is a critical first step toward providing every child with access to digital learning opportunities. This joint effort is part of the Giga initiative. Launched in 2019 and led by UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union, Giga aims to connect every school in the world to the internet.

With the support of Ericsson and other partners, over 2 million school locations across 136 countries have now been mapped. Ericsson’s financial and in-kind support has contributed to Giga’s achievement in connecting an initial 5,500 schools and over 2 million students across four continents.

Turning luxury products into fundraising vehicles to help children survive and thrive

A creative partnership with Louis Vuitton is raising funds to support UNICEF’s efforts to reach children, especially in emergencies. A uniquely designed product, the Silver Lockit–symbolizing protection, care, and a commitment to help children–was created and made available in Louis Vuitton stores worldwide and online. Louis Vuitton also encouraged its staff members, partners, and clients to make direct donations to UNICEF throughout the year.

UNICEF and Pandora are also turning baubles into big action on SDG3. As part of a three-year global partnership, Pandora launched a series of products in support of UNICEF for its “Charms for change” initiative, sold at stores across 100 countries. The funds we are raising with Pandora go towards UNICEF programs on education, gender equality, rights awareness, personal empowerment, and civic engagement, as well as UNICEF’s core work to help children around the world survive and thrive.

The partnership, support, and trust in UNICEF that each of these organizations has shown have been invaluable in our work to achieve the SDGs.

We believe deeply that a better future–the one promised by the SDGs–is still possible. And we know, without a shadow of a doubt, that investing in children is a prerequisite for that future.

With consumers expecting accountability from corporations on their SDG commitments, public-private partnerships are an invaluable way to prove what’s possible when hope turns into collaboration.

Carla Haddad Mardini is the director of the private sector fundraising and partnerships division at UNICEF.

The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

More must-read commentary published by Fortune:

Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.

Read More

Great ResignationClimate ChangeLeadershipInflationUkraine Invasion