Accounting for Sustainability: The South African Case Study

Chantyl Mulder | January 10, 2020 |

Business is changing. Traditionally companies have been primarily interested in the bottom line, but with the global rise in focus towards sustainability, business leaders have turned their focus away from a sole fixation on financial performance to one that encompasses progress on an environmental, social and governance front.

This is a direct result of the influence of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the global “north star”. At their heart, these goals commit all of us, as citizens of the world, to leave no-one behind as we move into an era in which even the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society are looked after. By pledging to uphold this vision, world leaders have committed to adequately and collaboratively address the full range of complex social and economic-development issues facing people around the world.

IT IS UP TO EACH OF US TO PLAY OUR PART

Despite a 25-year young democracy that remains hampered by the ghosts of our marginalized past, South Africa has leapt at the opportunities presented by the SDGs.

Indeed, as an active participant in the drafting of, and the first signatory in, the adoption by the General Assembly (GA), of the SDGs, our country committed to working together to establish and implement the world’s most comprehensive social security policy regime, to build on the impressive gains that we as a country have already made in grappling with the stubborn challenges of unemployment, inequality and poverty.

It was a move so prolific that studies show nine out of ten South African business leaders have begun shifting the purpose of their business beyond the pursuit of profits and wealth to that of creating a positive impact on society.

The accountancy profession in South Africa prides itself on being a critical player in creating value. The profession has always contributed its time, and other resources, to projects focused on making South Africa and the world better.

This very notion is entrenched in not only country’s constitution but also in that of our profession. Indeed, our stated purpose of ‘responsible leadership’ acts as a continuous challenge for us as accountants to understand that our work has an impact that extends beyond business.

Even before the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, the accountancy profession in this country recognized that collective action is required to maximize our efforts. Through work that begun in the late 90s and early 2000s, our profession has been recognized and seen its models replicated as viable and successful models for a variety of projects that contribute towards the SDGs. These projects include, but are not limited to:

  • The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants’ (SAICA) Thuthuka Bursary Fund, which Government is using as a model for its solution for South Africa’s tertiary education funding crisis.
  • SAICA’s school governing body programme, which is used by the public sector as part of a solution for South Africa’s youth unemployment crisis.
  • SAICA Enterprise Development’s unique financial excellence model, which drives economic growth, innovation and job creation through small, medium and micro enterprise (SMME) development.

Yet it is not just these major projects that are making an impact. Our members, whether in their professional or personal capacity, are also playing a crucial role in delivering solutions that relate to all 17 SDGs.

THE SDGs REPRESENT A MASSIVE CULTURAL SHIFT IN ROLES ACCOUNTANTS PLAY

In this year’s SDG snapshot report, SAICA has illustrated the very clear and positive impact of our profession’s SDG story with the aim of enabling further learning, implementation and the creation of new partnerships.

The report illustrates not just the unique challenges posed by the SDGs on both a global and local front, but also celebrates the unique contributions of individuals and companies as they pertain to the global goals.

Indeed, the stories contained in the report are examples of how South Africa’s accounting profession is living its purpose every day through projects run by SAICA, corporate firms and individual members. They are a testament of how, little by little, the profession is helping bring the SDGs to fruition through the collective response of our members to the very real national and global challenges of poverty, inequality and societal degradation.

Yet our report goes beyond even this.

Through the voluntary contributions of our members, we have also been able to extract key learnings that will help us to build the momentum required across sectors.

It is notable, for example, that quality education, as well as the eradication of poverty and inequality were cited as the top three concerns among both our individual member and company responses. This is no surprise when you consider that these areas are the key priorities that South Africa needs to focus on if we are to move our country forward to greatness.

This is significant as it illustrates clearly how our profession is accelerating the achievement of our country’s specific SDG challenges by collaboratively honing efforts into concrete action.

As SAICA, we are encouraged by our profession’s commitment to the SDGs. However, the commitment and actions of individuals alone is not enough to see us deliver on the SDGs.

MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE

Despite tremendous progress that many countries have made in a number of key areas over the past four years, global progress is slow.

Our most vulnerable people and countries continue to suffer. Indeed, the UN reveals that the global response to the SDGs has not been ambitious enough and as a result, at the current pace, we are still not on track to meet all 17 goals by 2030.

The South African situation is even more dire.

According to the recent Sustainable Development Goals Report, South Africa currently ranks 113 out of 162 countries measured on the global SDG index. While our country index score of 61.5% is 14.3% higher than regional average, there are a multitude of roadblocks standing in the way of being on track to achieve the specific Goals in our country by 2030

Yet, as Goal 17 outlines, it is the partnerships-based approach underpinned by collective actions that will truly see us reach the targets set in the 2030 Agenda.

We should not see it as a discrete set of issues that need to be ‘managed’. Rather, we need to use the SDGs as a lens through which to identify the risks and opportunities that affect our ability to continue to add value to our planet and to our fellow people.

SAICA hopes that this year’s report will continue to unite the profession on both a local and global front to deepen the understanding of the challenges, opportunities and dynamics that our profession can contribute and leverage in order to accelerate and prioritize the delivery of the SDGs.

After all, it is up to all of us to get involved in creating a more inclusive, more sustainable planet.

Download SAICA’s full 2019 Report on South Africa’s Accounting Profession & The UN SDGs here.

 

Chantyl Mulder

Executive Director, SAICA

Chantyl Mulder joined SAICA in 1999 to head up the Education and Training division which was newly set up after the education and training of CAs moved from the IRBA to SAICA. Chantyl is also the Chairman of the AAT(SA). She is a former CUT Council member and is currently a WSU Council member and chair of the Finance Committee as well as a member of The Technical Working Group which advises the Human Resource development Council, chaired by the Deputy President, on human resource development in South Africa - which is a ministerial appointment.

 

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