Responsible Investor

A 15 years long agenda

Is it possible to measure the effective impact of innovative social policies in changing societies?

A report released by the United Nations attempts to combine the challenges of the Millennium with the outcomes of innovative policies designed to shape societies over the next 15 years.


Since 2011, Bolsa Verde, a programme launched in Brazil under President Dilma aimed at fostering social inclusion within the poorest fringes of society, has been providing incentives for the management and conservation of ecosystems: improving living standards and economic revenues, promoting environmental education, supporting professional trainings and fostering social participation. Bolsa Verde has been designed to target those whose livelihoods derive from agricultural and forest products, demanding in return the adoption of an environmentally friendly lifestyle, particularly sensitive towards the issues of resource depletion and deforestation. About 213.000 families are considered as potentially eligible for the Programme. On December 2015, roughly 74,500 families had received the monthly incentive of 300 Reais, a considerable amount for the targeted households.

According to the United Nations Research Institute For Social Development, Bolsa Verde is one of the few governmental programmes that attempt to combine social policy, poverty reduction strategies and environmental awareness.


The Report (Policy Innovations. Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Transformative Change) attempts to clarify whether there is the possibility of measuring the impact of innovative policies designed for the betterment of society. The Report is also focused on transitional realities, comprising a high degree of economic development but still facing several global threats: security issues, economic difficulties, environmental degradation and inadequate service delivery. The Report is thus fundamentally concerned with understanding if the new Sustainable Development Goals of the Agenda 2030 will positively impact societies by fostering their betterment.


The 2015-2030 Agenda


On September 2015, the International Community subscribed the so-called 2030 Agenda, officially committing for the next 15 years to foster regional, national and global ‘sustainable’ policies. The Agenda sets out 17 Sustainable Development Goals, naturally following the 8 objectives of the Millennium Developmental Goals embraced in 2000. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seem to be more ambitious than their predecessors: not only for being more numerous but also, and most importantly, for providing a new outlook aimed at going beyond generic and scattered interventions to foster social integration in the attempt of dealing with the means rather than with the ends. Effectively, as the UNRISD Report highlights, this seems to be the most efficient process in face of global challenges and endemic risks.


The intent is that of going beyond the deficiencies of the MDGs, and through transformative change - in economics, environment and society - engender processes of empowerment without leaving anyone behind. Within the theoretical debate on development, this approach embodies a turning point as it shifts the attention from a sectorial approach onto a more embedded one, whereby technological innovation plays a pivotal role only if employed in a socially cautious manner. But, has such theoretical evolution been adopted in practice? What characteristics, asks the Report, does the 2030 Agenda needs to develop in order to keep the promise of incentivising transformative change through the merging of the fields of economics, societal studies and environmental research?

According to the research, the first step ought to be directed towards the sharing of those innovative ideas that reflect a common interest in addressing complex issues spanning across the whole globe. The Report claims that it is only through addressing the causes and not the symptoms that the poverty trap can be disrupted, inequalities reduced and environmental degradation arrested.


Another example is the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), an Indian labour law granting a minimum of 100 days of paid employment for rural households: a 100 days dedicated towards environmental conservation, natural resource management, health issues associated with water security and soil conservation and enhancement. Since 2005, the MGNREGA has constantly provided a livelihood to millions of families, including roughly 30% of rural households. Nevertheless, both the Brazilian and the Indian cases have been subjected to scrutiny and criticisms: for instance, difficulties have emerged in monitoring the possibility of accessing resources, in designating ecologically sensitive areas in the case of Brazil, and in granting employment founds to the right groups in the case of India.