Sally Susman visits a school in East Africa. Photo by: Pfizer

During my first visit to Uganda, I was surprised to see so much hope. A battalion of nurses led the charge at the clinic we visited. An HIV-positive woman I met was raising six grandchildren in her one-room home; her own children died of AIDS. She was optimistic because her grandson goes to school. Another girl who is HIV positive and abandoned by her family aspired to be a doctor. A man ran a hospital that was literally overflowing with people. He adopted 20 children. I asked him how they go on. He looked at me as if it were obvious and replied, “We have everything; hope, dignity and community.”

Much has been accomplished and the world has mobilized under the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. As head of corporate affairs at Pfizer, I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact our programs have on people in some of the most disadvantaged communities. I have seen newborns, children and their parents thriving thanks to programs like the Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, or the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

This September, the U.N. General Assembly is expected to adopt the sustainable development goals. These goals, which will help shape the international development agenda and provide direction for financing, will replace the MDGs that expire at the end of this year. The 17 SDGs include 169 targets to end poverty, improve the lives of the poor and promote equitable well-being around the world by 2030.

In short, the adoption of these goals is a statement from governments around the world on where they intend to focus their policies and funding, and a call to action for business, nongovernmental organizations, academia and citizens. The nearly three-year process to develop the SDGs has been unlike any other in U.N. history. It was inclusive of civil society, business and individuals. In fact, millions of people voiced their aspirations online.

This unprecedented engagement is important. The aspiration of the SDGs — what are also being referred to as the global goals — and the intent of governments are significant milestones, but it is unleashing the power of a caring human spirit that will bring the change we seek. Launching a 15-year global campaign will be no small task. The communications plan will require an innovative social movement that reaches people in the ways they receive their information.

While millions of people are already involved, there are billions of people who are disengaged or unaware that these global goals exist. How will we convince the man and woman on the street why they should care or take part in this global movement? The success of this communications plan should be measured, not on the volume of content distributed, but on how well we move the human heart to act.

How do we break through the complex processes and the multitude of players setting the agenda to get businesses and individuals engaged? As an individual and a business leader, what can I do to connect with people on a human level and inspire action because every individual matters? As usual, it is an effort requiring cooperation to listen to, inform and involve those wanting to lend a hand.

At Pfizer, we plan to start close to home. The congestion brought about by our physical proximity to the U.N.’s General Assembly and one of New York City’s most famous thoroughfares (42nd Street), is an opportunity to tell a story that inspires. Working with the United Nations Foundation, our windows will help get the word out about the SDGs and support a conversation we want to build on social media. I look forward to engaging my peers at other corporations and finding ways to help those involved in the SDGs process to come up with new ideas on involving the public.

If you are hopeful for what is possible and have a heart to take action, I ask you to get engaged and share what you learn. Provide support to organizations working to address the goals and, most importantly, use the power of the human heart in a movement that provides all people the hope, dignity and community to thrive.

Sustaining Development is a three-month online series exploring the post-2015 development agenda hosted by Devex in partnership with Chevron, FXB, Global Health Fellows Program II, Philips, Pfizer, UNIDO, U.N. Volunteers and the U.S. Council for International Business. We will look at the practical steps needed to move the sustainable development goals from concept to reality. Visit the campaign site and join the conversation using #SustainDev.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Sally Susman

    Sally Susman is executive vice president for corporate affairs at Pfizer, where she is a member of the executive leadership team and chairs the political action committee. She is also vice chair of the Pfizer Foundation. Susman directs Pfizer’s global communications and its public affairs activities, including high-level relations with governments. She also heads the firm’s corporate responsibility group.