Achieving the SDGs With the Help of the SMEs

Throughout this unpredictable year, it’s been inspiring to see people coming together to address the needs of their neighbors, communities and countries. Every community has stories about friends picking up groceries for neighbors who are ill, businesses procuring personal protective equipment and other supplies for medical and essential workers to keep them safe, music and applause pouring out from open windows offering hope.

As our world continues to work through this pandemic, global stakeholders gathered last month for the U.N. General Assembly, because they understand that our connectedness — our ability to solve problems together — will help us emerge from the COVID-19 crisis successfully. 

The ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, launched in 2015, outlines 17 targeted Sustainable Development Goals that can be summed up by a call to action: “End poverty and set the world on a path of peace, prosperity and opportunity for all on a healthy planet.” It was known in 2015 that the path for reaching these goals would not be simple and that no institution could achieve them alone. In the same way communities of people support one another during this health crisis, achieving these goals will require the collective efforts of government, multilateral institutions, civil society and business to make the SDGs a reality.  

When the pandemic exposed the fragility of our society to global shocks, the private sector repeatedly offered innovative solutions. Companies like Gildan, Intradeco and Hansae tested fabric, reallocated manufacturing capacity and even opened new manufacturing facilities to quickly ramp up production of PPE for medical workers. 

Business can apply this same innovative, entrepreneurial approach to address other major challenges like the SDGs. Significant progress has been made, but as the U.N. and others have pointed out, a decade of action will be required in order to meet these goals. The effects of the health crisis have made them more urgent. For example, global gross domestic product is expected to dip to 5.2 percent this year, according to the World Bank

The private sector has contributed to these goals in a variety of ways, including by creating opportunities for employment and career advancement, delivering much-needed goods and services and providing financial and in-kind contributions to support the communities in which they operate. But it can do more, and in this decade of action, companies are stepping up.

Walmart has identified ways to help address several of the SDGsincluding Goal Eight: Decent Work and Economic Growth, Goal Ten: Reducing Inequality, and Goal One: No Poverty, particularly through our supply chain. Around the world, we work with small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) to supply stores locally and globally. As a result, Walmart is extremely dependent on SMEs. They are a critical component of the global business ecosystem and a contributor to global supply chains, employing over 80 percent of the workforce in many countries. Supporting this critical economic engine makes a significant contribution toward achieving the SDGs. 

In the United States, two-thirds of what we spend to buy products for our stores is grown, made and sourced in America. In Guatemala, we source from over 1,000 suppliers, the majority of which are SMEs. Oftentimes, our work with SMEs involves capacity-building: bringing them into the formal sector, integrating them into our supply chain, promoting economic opportunity, raising standards and reducing insecurity.

When SMEs succeed, our business at large succeeds and so do local economies. But the impact of firms like Walmart reaches beyond the local SMEs with whom we do business. For instance, when Walmart enters a new market, we work with municipalities to establish zoning and define property ownership, benefitting communities by creating markets for land and property, often for the first time. Our operations boost the tax base, create jobs and provide pathways for career advancement.

This model demonstrates the collective impact that can be made by empowering SMEs in markets worldwide, especially in the developing world, where SMEs and startups have been hit so hard by the pandemic. The private sector must collaborate with governments, multilateral institutions, and civil society to achieve the SDGs, and SMEs need be part of the equation. Together we can stimulate entire economies, help lift workers out of poverty and level the playing field in the workplace.  

This is a moment for rebuilding. As we enter this decade of action, we commit to ramping up our efforts to achieve the SDG goals as partners with SMEs, associates and customers. 


Judith McKenna is the president and chief executive officer of Walmart International, where she leads more than 6,000 retail stores and 700,000 associates across 26 countries. 

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