SMALL FIRMS have become more significant in the effort to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) after the pandemic set back many of the gains of recent years, participants at the Sustainability Summit 2020 were told.

At the forum Thursday, United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) CEO and Executive Director Sanda Ojiambo said fallout from the pandemic hit small businesses hard, disrupting supply chains and business operations.

“COVID-19 has caused a humanitarian and economic crisis that threatens to push the global goals even further off track. MSMEs (micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises) are the businesses that have been the hardest hit by the pandemic (and) are feeling the squeeze,” Ms. Ojiambo said during the forum streamed online.

“We firmly believe that the SDGs can be achieved only with active support (and) leadership from these enterprises. That’s why the UNGC in every region has pivoted to help support MSMEs weather the current storm and position themselves for sustainable recovery,” she added.

She said the UNGC has also formed a Sustainable MSME program, which includes providing expertise to develop recovery and resiliency business strategies.

In the Philippines, 99% of businesses are MSMEs generating more than 5.5 million jobs. They also account for 62% of the workforce.

National Economic and Development Authority Undersecretary Rosemarie G. Edillon said at the forum that the pandemic has also forced small businesses to adopt more sustainable practices.

She said a deep review of current business policies, financing mechanisms and government practices is needed to address the ongoing crisis.

“It has been said that this pandemic has come about because of some unsustainable practices we have, whether in production or consumption… Once they emerge from the acute response to the COVID-19, MSMEs will benefit from the creation of a cohesive narrative for their recovery that mobilizes efforts across sectors,” she added.

To help businesses in the post-pandemic era, Ms. Edillon said the government’s plan is focused on five areas: health system improvement, food security, learning continuity, digital transformation and ecological integrity.

“These priorities also coincide with the global goals and their means of implementation and right now it’s too early to know whether the time-bound targets of the SDGs will be reset, but their principles remain useful in organizing a recovery strategy that combines growth, inclusion and sustainability,” she said.

In an October policy brief, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs estimated the goal of eliminating extreme poverty by 2030, one of the 17 SDGs, may no longer be possible because of the pandemic, even under the most optimistic scenario. — Beatrice M. Laforga