5 key actions for Professional Accountancy Organizations (PAOs) to Advance the SDGs

Stathis Gould, Adrian Lim | November 6, 2019 |

IFAC’s vision is that the accountancy profession is essential to strong, sustainable organizations, financial markets, and economies. Consequently, the accountancy profession has a crucial role in the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, as represented by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at sustaining people, planet and prosperity.

IFAC and its membership can do much to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs, as can the more than three million professional accountants across the globe. Competent accountants behaving with integrity provide society with reliable financial and non-financial information that underpins sustainable economic development. Accountants also facilitate economic activity, development, and decision making by government and business.

The SDGs provide a common framework of goals, targets and indicators for governments, business, and others to address systemic, interconnected development challenges such as poverty, inequality, climate change, and peace and justice.

Here are five key actions, and five relevant questions, for PAOs to consider as they work to advance the SDGs.

1. Lead by example by aligning strategy and plans to relevant SDGs

Key question: How can the SDGs be incorporated into strategies and plans?

PAOs can assess which SDGs (goals, targets and indicators) best represent their contribution to economic and societal outcomes. SDG indicators typically focus on measuring progress at a governmental level.

By providing professional certification, education and training, quality review, investigation and discipline, and enforcement of standards, as well as thought leadership and representation activities, PAOs can have significant influence on the SDGs.

In the upcoming review of its strategic plan, IFAC will look at how its strategy is directionally aligned to the SDGs, and will identify additional actions that can deepen this linkage.

The profession can have an influential impact on at least 9 of the 17 SDGs:

  • Reducing poverty
  • Quality education
  • Gender equality
  • Decent work and economic growth
  • Reduced inequalities
  • Responsible consumption & production
  • Climate action
  • Peace, justice and strong institutions, and
  • Partnerships for the goals.

The best starting point for PAOs is to focus on a few SDGs where the organization can make most impact through new or existing actions. Existing initiatives can have important links to the SDG agenda. For example, the accountancy profession in Zimbabwe is working to strengthen public sector capacity in order to support the government’s migration from cash to accrual accounting. Enhancing public sector financial reporting gives rise to better decision making, better use of public resources, enhanced public services, and – ultimately – increased trust in government.

PAOs can also contribute directly to the SDGs through their own operations, for example by

  • Championing diversity and inclusivity by walking the talk in terms of their governance and management teams
  • Reducing emissions arising from their operations and activities
  • Addressing inequalities in gender for those entering the profession and the PAO 

To demonstrate this direct contribution, PAOs can report on their activities related to the SDGs in their communications and integrated reporting.

2. Identify ways of supporting national development strategies and mobilizing action

Key question: How can PAOs support the planning and preparation of SDG-based national development strategies?

PAOs can have an important role in encouraging and enabling governments to drive the SDGs. To do this, they must ensure that the SDGs are incorporated into national planning and policy on sustainable development. This is particularly the case in countries where governments have been slow to develop adequate plans or have done so with remaining gaps that need to be addressed. Through their relationships and influence with governments and other institutions, PAOs can encourage action, momentum, and delivery.

Partnering with other civil societies, such as through the TAP Network, and participation in events such as the UN Civil Society Organization Forum, PAOs can come together with like-minded institutions to impact the dialogue.

To review progress on the SDGs, UN member states conduct regular voluntary national reviews (VNRs), which are country-led reviews of progress at the national and sub-national levels involving multiple stakeholders. VNRs aim to facilitate the sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned.

An example of a PAO engaging at the national level is the ICAEW. It participates in the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD), which is a national network of organizations established to drive action on the SDGs, calling for leadership from the Government supported by cross-sector action from businesses, charities and people to ensure the UK achieves the SDGs as quickly as possible. The group shares knowledge and uses a collective voice to influence behavior and inspire others. The ICAEW is one of nine organizations on the UKSSD Steering Group.

3. Champion and advocate for awareness for the SDGs

Key question: What are the most effective ways for a PAO to champion and advocate for the SDGs among members and students, and within the business community?

Many organizations and accountants are not aware of the SDGs and how they can be used as a frame of reference to ensure delivery of positive societal impacts. Every organization is influenced by or has influence on the SDGs. It is only by raising awareness and understanding that it is possible to consider how to contribute as an organization or individual.

PAOs can equip their members with tools for sustainable business practices, enabling them to respond to a range of sustainable development challenges with practical actions.

Examples

  • Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) lodged a submission to the Australian Senate Inquiry into the SDGs in which it noted the lack of awareness of the SDGs among the Australian business community. It also noted the important role of the Australian Government in communicating the value of the SDGs. Its submission highlighted the vital role of the accountancy profession in contributing to the achievement of the SDGs using the IFAC’s 2016 report, The 2030 agenda for sustainable development – a snapshot of the Accountancy profession’s contribution, as a basis of identifying the key roles in relation to mainstreaming, implementing and monitoring the SDGs. CA ANZ was also represented at the Australian SDGs 2018 Summit, convened by the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), Global Compact Network Australia (GCNA), Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Australia/Pacific, and the United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA), with support from the Australian Government.
  • A number of PAOs have provided thought leadership and guidance to their members and students setting out why the SDGs matter to professional accountants, and the role of the private sector in their delivery. These reports also provide insights on how business reporting can incorporate the SDGs (aligned to SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production):

4. Identify key stakeholders for collaboration and partnership

Key questions: With whom can the profession engage and partner to maximize impact on the SDGs?

Collaborating and partnering with key organizations provides a more impactful foundation for raising awareness and spurring action. Potential collaborators include SDG-driven institutions, such as the United Nations (e.g., Global Compact and Development Programme), and relevant business-facing organizations.

Examples:

  • Chartered Accountants Worldwide (CAW) has partnered with One Young World to unite the finance and business community to help achieve the SDGs and act as a force for change (see the PAIB Committee report: Understanding and Communicating Value). CAW has also come together as a grouping to consider the profession’s role in the SDGs.
  • The JICPA held a joint event with key partners including UN Global Compact, UN Development Program, Japan Securities Dealers Association and Japan Exchange Group.

Existing partnerships will also be relevant to a PAO’s contribution the SDGs. For example, PAOs are involved in strengthening other PAOs around the world, and often work with development institutions to help deliver a stronger profession. Stronger PAOs can contribute more proactively to better business, government and society.

5. Be Innovative!

Key question: How can PAOs develop new initiatives, or build on existing ones, to support the SDGs?

PAOs will be developing or undertaking innovative initiatives that have a societal impact and are directly relevant to meeting the SDGs. These include initiatives on financial literacy, sustainability, diversity, corruption, and anti-money laundering. PAOs can, and are, contributing to societal goals in various innovative ways.

Examples

  • Financial literacy (linked to SDG 4 on Education). An increasing number of PAOs have programs to develop financial literacy within society. Improving financial literacy is key to broadening access to financial services and entrepreneurship. CPA Canada, CA ANZ, and the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) have programs providing financial literacy education and information to society. The AICPA’s financial literacy initiatives include 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy. CPA Canada offers free financial education to various audiences, including children and seniors, with more than 1,200 community events across Canada each year to enhance the financial literacy of all Canadians.
  • Circular economy (linked to SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production). The Royal Netherlands Institute of Chartered Accountants (NBA) is part of a Community of Practice (CoP) collaboration between Circle Economy, Sustainable Finance Lab, ING, Allen & Overy, Eigen Haard, Alfa Accountants and Advisors, Madaster, Arcadis, Arup, and DOOR architecten, co-funded by Nederland Circulair. The CoP develops relevant, transferable tools to guide the development of circular economies, including guidance for accountants supporting a circular business model for mobile phones and buildings.

Issues and Insights

Stathis Gould

Deputy Director, Professional Accountants in Business, IFAC

Stathis Gould heads up the development of international services for professional accountants working in business and industry at IFAC. A key element of his work is developing thought leadership and guidance in support of finance professionals and their roles facilitating sustainable organizational performance. Before moving to IFAC, he was at the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) responsible for planning and overseeing a program of policy and research. Prior to serving the accountancy profession, Mr. Gould worked in various roles in the private and public sectors in the UK. See more by Stathis Gould

Adrian Lim

Technical Manager, Quality & Development, IFAC

Adrian Lim is a Technical Manager, Quality & Development, at IFAC, where he manages the Asia Pacific regional portfolio as part of the IFAC Member Compliance Program and supports the team’s membership and admissions processes.  See more by Adrian Lim

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