Getting it right and making it happen

When starting Index Initiative back in 2015, the idea was to establish an incubator that would develop four, or perhaps five, new sustainability benchmarks. These benchmarks would formulate critical intersections between industries and the soon-to-be-announced Sustainable Development Goals. In sensing the initial buzz around the goals (the future we want!), we envisioned that the Global Goals could act as an ultimate North Star for each new benchmark. This idea was as exciting as it was daunting, as we had seen from other indices how hard it is to both get them right and make them happen.

Now, fast-forward two years. After many interviews, meetings and reports, we believed we had got a lot of things right, but the harsh reality was that we hadn’t made them happen. As always there are a ton of reasons why, and we found that a lot of those reasons boiled down to the fact that we were doing it all alone; not in splendid isolation – we had engaged with hundreds of people and incorporated much advice and input – but at the end of the day it was us, as a small team, driving this on our own. This made us realize that the scale and magnitude of the SDGs required us to take a completely novel approach: not only use the SDGs as our North Star, but also work in the spirit of the SDGs. This is fundamentally about partnership.

I am forever grateful for the Dutch government’s continued faith and support, which granted us a second chance to find this novel approach. This opportunity came through DFID who suggested we had a chat with Aviva, as they happened to be working on a very similar benchmarking idea. We had a call on a Monday and the following Friday we were on a flight to London, where we shook hands with Aviva and instantly clicked. Following on from this successful meeting, the UN Foundation and the Business & Sustainable Development Commission came on board.

We could have easily made the same mistake right then as we had done before. We could have dubbed ourselves the World Benchmarking Group or Foundation and soon found ourselves trapped in a corner, alone (with just a few more people this time). Instead, we went for the World Benchmarking Alliance. At the time, I don’t think anyone had a clear idea of what it would mean to be an alliance, but intuitively it felt right.

Fast forward another year and I think the decision to call it an alliance is the best decision we have made to date. The EAT Foundation and Inter-American Development Bank were among the first to join as allies. This was a huge thrill! And last week, barely three months since the launch of the global consultation in New York, we welcomed Oxfam as our 30th ally.

I am nevertheless very aware that being an alliance of diverse groups will not serve everyone and everything at once. Despite all of us feeling the pressure of the huge task the SDGs have placed upon us, we must continue to listen, to be patient and understanding of one another, and to accept compromises at times. Some might choose to leave again. Yet I’m convinced together is the only way we can build a lasting institution that can truly drive the essential and much needed corporate performance and accountability on the SDGs.

This, to me, is more urgent and exciting than ever before, and this time we might just get it right and succeed in making it happen.

Gerbrand Haverkamp
Executive Director, Index Initiative, WBA secretariat

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