The lasting impact of 2020
2020 was a difficult year for everyone around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts will be felt throughout the decade ahead and have already ignited societal expectation towards business to take greater responsibility for people and planet. It is not without trepidation that we head into 2021 and whatever it has in store for us, but we, like many other organisations, are nevertheless relieved to leave 2020 behind. This annual report is an opportunity to pause and reflect on what last year brought and taught us, despite and in many cases because of the whirlwind of events that took place.
On a personal level, it was a year in which many of us had to deal with loss, hardship and anxiety, often without the support of colleagues, friends and family.
On a global level, 2020 should have kick-started the Decade of Action on the United Nation’s (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but was derailed by COVID-19 almost before the year had started. During this unprecedented crisis, the world lost 495 million jobs, saw an estimated 124 million people slip back into extreme poverty and approximately 137 million people become acutely food insecure. COVID-19 laid bare the deep-rooted flaws in our global system. The crisis is delivering the final blow to an economic model that is no longer sustainable – environmentally or socially.
Against this backdrop, the need for the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA), which is focused on driving the systemic transformation necessary to achieve the SDGs, has only increased. Our mission therefore remained our North Star and one of the few constants in an otherwise turbulent year. The other big constant was the trust, loyal support and flexibility offered by our donors, who collectively allowed us to adjust, experiment, continue to grow and focus on sustainable development impact.
As a result, and thanks to the resilience and dedication of our staff, Supervisory Board members and Allies, WBA as an organisation was by and large able to follow the themes we set out for 2020: scale first, depth later. We grew the organisation to 65 employees, expanded our funder base, increased the number of Allies to 180+ organisations and assessed 400+ companies. WBA is now in a very different place than it was at the beginning of 2020. While we are still a young organisation, our work is increasingly recognised by the business world, civil society as well as multilateral and government communities. This is reflected in the growth of the Alliance, our presence in key policy circles such as the European Union (EU) and UN and direct engagement with companies.
COVID-19 was not the only global emergency of 2020. Rather, the pandemic exposed the interlinkages between public health, social well-being and the environment, leaving no doubt that one cannot be addressed in isolation from the others. The ongoing climate and biodiversity crises were luckily not deprioritised, perhaps in part thanks to the pandemic and thanks to the complete narrative shift in how we address racial inequality. Black Lives Matter (BLM) as a movement put institutional racism and racial inequality centre stage. Although this crisis has been in the making for hundreds of years, it nevertheless shook the world. Like COVID-19, the BLM movement uncovered some of the deep-rooted flaws in our societies. While the movement was born out of police brutality against black people in the United States, it demanded attention for the way minorities across the globe are mistreated and continue to face an uphill battle for equal rights and opportunities.
2020 was defined by COVID-19 and BLM, but the climate and biodiversity crises continued to rise on the global agenda. It therefore became a year that posed serious questions and a need for reflection. This is true both for the companies we assess and for ourselves, as we take pride in being an organisation that is inclusive and aspirational and exists in service of the SDGs, the central promise of which is to leave no one behind.
This annual report lays out the most important developments, results and learnings we take with us as we enter 2021.
Gerbrand Haverkamp, Executive Director