The recent spread of COVID-19 has once again drawn attention to the unsustainability of modern society. As the pandemic has spread, economic activity has shrunk, resulting in a domino effect of employee layoffs and corporate bankruptcies. A host of related issues have also been identified, such as widening income and education disparities, discrimination against people with COVID-19, and gender-based violence. We have also witnessed that those who bear the brunt of these effects are also often the most vulnerable groups in society and include single mothers and temporary workers.
So what should we do now? The answer is clear. Now is the time to rebuild our society with the SDGs as our guide. In fact, the challenges we face today—dealing with infectious diseases, developing vaccines and other therapies, building infrastructure both physical and digital, eliminating discrimination, and eradicating poverty—are all clearly outlined in the goals of the SDGs. The COVID-19 pandemic is, in part, the price we pay for postponing solutions to these longstanding challenges, and we cannot afford to put off dealing with these issues any longer.
The SDGs represent a common blueprint for the future, adopted by all 193 UN member states. Despite differences in opinion and methodology, the world's ultimate goal remains the same: the faster we respond to the SDGs, the faster they can become a source of growth for every country and company on the planet. Now that the SDGs have gained a certain level of recognition, five years after their initial adoption, the next challenge is how to turn them into actionable ways forward.
The xSDG Laboratory, a research laboratory and research consortium he founded three years ago, conducts research and carries out projects with local and national governments and corporate partners like MUJI, Rakuten, and more than 20 other companies. His lab's "SDGs Action List for Companies," released in June, is a translation of the SDGs into actionable steps that can be used as a tool for corporate evaluation by local governments and financial institutions. Additionally, this fall, he plans to publish a set of Post-COVID SDGs, which set out how the SDGs should be interpreted in the future.
Prof. Kanie believes the significance and role of academic institutions lie in their ability to present various indicators and methodologies in a neutral and objective way. "Our students and younger people, in general, are a powerful force in achieving the SDGs, with their flexible mindsets and ability to take action. Their positive 'can-do' attitude is the epitome of the SDG mentality, and they don't make excuses for why things can't get done," he says. "In the future, we hope to expand our activities to include more integrated activities where students at Keio's affiliated schools can learn about the SDGs alongside university students."
*All affiliations and titles are those at the time of publishing.
*This article originally appeared in the 2020 autumn edition (No. 308) of Juku.