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How Facebook accelerates progress toward the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

Arielle Gross Samuels, head of global business strategy and engagement at Facebook, discusses the company’s commitment to the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals in the wake of COVID-19.

Arielle Gross Samuels, Head of Global Business Strategy and Engagement, Facebook

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent the global mandate from the United Nations (U.N.) to secure a better future for everyone by 2030. From ending poverty and hunger (SDG 1 and SDG 2) to fighting for gender equality (SDG 5) and climate change (SDG 13), the SDGs are, as the U.N. puts it, a “call for action by all countries—poor, rich and middle-income—to promote prosperity while protecting the planet.”

At stake is the economic fate and well-being of all people and nations, especially against a backdrop of an ongoing global pandemic. Achieving the SDGs, the U.N. projects, would result in a transformational $12 trillion yield of market opportunities, and create 380 million new jobs. Of critical importance to making meaningful progress is Sustainable Development Goal 8: “sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.”

People all over the world were already facing dire circumstances before COVID-19. Now that businesses have been shuttered, and people have been mandated to stay home (if they have a home), the global economic outlook seems more uncertain, and the goals of SDG 8 are that much more critical.

To help gauge the growing impact of COVID-19 on the global economy, and especially the world’s small and medium sized businesses (SMBs), Facebook partnered with the OECD and the World Bank to publish the first iteration of the Global State of Small Business Report, which made clear, among a survey of 30,000 small business leaders across more than 50 countries, that:

  • More than 25% of SMBs were closed between January and May, and more than 50% in some countries;
  • 33% of operating SMBs reported a reduction in their workforce; and
  • Nearly 67% of operating SMBs reported sales were down compared to the same period last year—in many cases, significantly so.

In total, the U.N. estimated that COVID-19 caused the equivalent of 400 million job losses in the second quarter of 2020—a loss so staggering it’s difficult to contemplate. If the goals of SDG 8 are ever to be realized, governments, civil society groups, and business will each have a role to play in the ongoing recovery.

As a technology-driven company with a global imprint, Facebook can be a critical tool to helping businesses stay a vibrant force in their communities. In addition to offering a platform for people to connect directly with businesses of interest to them, Facebook’s ads platform also makes it possible for small businesses—in a privacy-protected way—to advertise to relevant audiences, in much the same way previously only available to larger advertisers with deeper pockets. Many businesses rely on advertising to grow, and cannot afford to buy broad-based ads. Facebook’s platform makes advertising more personalized, along with providing scaled tools at no additional cost, helping to unlock business growth for more than 180 million small businesses and 9 million advertisers around the world.

In particular, Facebook is helping achieve the goals of SDG 8 in two key ways: economic productivity and business equality. When the future of business is more accessible, barriers of entry will collapse, and greater economic productivity will be achieved by anyone who wants to turn a good idea into a great opportunity.

Improving economic productivity

There are many variables to address the issue of improving economic productivity, and two key areas Facebook is focusing on, in service to SDG 8, are connectivity to the internet and scaled educational access.

Ensuring digital access for all

Because you can’t access the benefits of the digital economy if you can’t access the internet, over the years, Facebook has invested in both the infrastructure and corporate partnerships necessary to bring people online.

For example, Facebook recently commissioned three reports that examined the economic impact of its connectivity investments in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and Latin America. The reports estimated that these programs would generate more than $200 billion in economic growth over the next five years.

Free educational resources 

Facebook is committed to improving access to free educational resources—a critical lever to upskilling in the workforce. Facebook offers a range of programs, like TechPrep, a free website aimed at helping young people learn to code and find coding jobs, and Elevate, a program offering free training in digital business skills, like setting up an online presence and creating marketing materials, with a focus on diverse communities. Facebook also recently announced giving 100,000 scholarships to Black students working toward digital skills certifications, through the Facebook Blueprint program.

Equality in business

To make lofty ambitions more concrete, and to track progress toward achieving them, each of the SDGs are subdivided into a series of targets and indicators. SDG 8, for example, includes:

Target 8.5. By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value

The benefits of economic growth—as SDG 8 recognizes—must be shared equally, by all. For our part: Facebook is engaged in a number of efforts to improve access to liquidity for diverse businesses, helping address youth unemployment, and striving to eliminate the gender gap in business.

Boosting liquidity to diverse businesses

In response to the devastating toll that COVID-19 took on business owners all over the world, Facebook committed $100 million in grant funding to 30,000 small businesses globally, with a $20 million carve-out to eligible minority- and women-owned businesses. Additionally, given the outsized devastation that COVID-19 had on Black communities, Facebook made a $100 million grant funding commitment to serve Black-owned businesses, Black creators, and nonprofits serving the Black community in the U.S.—all part of a broader effort toward a $1.1 billion goal to spend with diverse suppliers.

Addressing youth unemployment

As SDG 8, Target 8.6 recognizes, young people and their employment prospects are a critical aspect of the entire world’s economic success.

To this end, Facebook has partnered with 20 other companies supporting the Global Alliance for YOUth—an organization founded by Nestlé that helps young people around the world earn the necessary skills to thrive in the world of work. Their immediate goal: help 15 million young people build digital and STEM career skills by 2022.

Eliminating the gender gap

Even before the pandemic, women were earning about 20% less than men on average. According to U.N. Women, at the rate that the current gender pay gap is increasing in 2020, it could take 70 years to reach gender parity. Improving the economic lot of women around the world is an imperative—economic progress depends wholly on it. According to a study by the Mckinsey Global Institute, advancing gender equality in the workplace would contribute $12 trillion to the global economy by 2025.

For our part, Facebook has made an ongoing commitment to support the growth of women entrepreneurs. Through our She Means Business program, we’ve helped women entrepreneurs make valuable connections, share advice, and grow their businesses together. Since we launched the program in 2016, we’ve trained more than 500,000 women in 48 markets around the world.

Facebook is also working with the U.N. to close the “gender data gap”—and shed light on how policies and programs are affecting women’s economic livelihood and empowerment. Taking steps to make sure that all data shared will be anonymized and aggregated, we’ll be working throughout 2020 to help academics and civil society groups understand how to best help women participate in the evolving, global economy—and where gaps in access to information inhibit that participation.

For so many businesses all over the world, things were already hard before the emergence of COVID-19. Although the Sustainable Development Goals were drafted before the present pandemic, COVID-19 has only emphasized their importance—particularly SDG 8. It’s imperative for the private and public sector to accelerate progress around the SDGs, to build a better future for generations to come.

Facebook will continue to play a role in helping businesses thrive, through advancements in economic productivity and business equality. Global connectivity has great promise, and Facebook remains committed to ensuring its benefits are shared by everyone.

To learn more about Facebook’s commitment to Sustainable Development Goals, tune in to our Facebook at the United Nations General Assembly virtual event series, kicking off September 21.