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Straight talk on global development

Talal Abu-Ghazaleh is on a mission — bring private-sector metrics and standards to the U.N.’s Social Impact Finance (UNSIF), a fund founded in 2016 to coax capital towards the 2030 Agenda.

He has a blunt message about the Sustainable Development Goals: Inside the U.N., the Goals are not treated with the gravity they deserve, and this puts them at risk for failure.

Take the word “sustainable,” which he finds an empty term. “We have a very serious problem in the world, and that serious problem cannot be achieved by creating buzzwords that make everybody feel happy,” Abu-Ghazeleh told Next City in an interview.

He thinks “sustainable goals” sets too low a bar and would prefer the U.N. to aim for “progress goals,” with social-impact indicators that are reported, watched and announced daily, like stocks.

“We had Millennium Development Goals and we failed in achieving them,” he says, suggesting that failure should be seen as a warning about the viability of the SDG Goals.

Abu-Ghazeleh, the founder of a global professional- and education-services company who sits on the UNSIF advisory board, also thinks public agencies need to rethink how they work with the private sector to win financing for the 2030 Agenda.

“Governments think of the business community as a party you can call on as you wish and when you wish,” he says. “We are partners when we are decision-makers equally.”

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