A Sustainable Future But Also Trillions of Dollars of Opportunity


Co-hosts Mustafa Alrawi and Edie Lush of Global GoalsCast discuss the Sustainable Development Goals which are large-scale, ambitious and inspiring. They are also changing the way we seek out investment opportunities as we move to meet this defined future with over $12 trillion up for grabs for the private sector according to the UNDP.

The podcast was produced as part of The National’s Future Forum initiative which over the next year will examine how advancements in technology and societal developments will impact our future, and also coincides with The National’s tenth anniversary.


Weekly, from The National’s newsroom in Abu Dhabi, the Business Extra podcast provides insight and additional analysis on the biggest business, economic and finance stories affecting us here as well as the wider region and the world. Find us on Apple Podcasts as well as our website thenational.ae. Follow on twitter and all social media channels.

The National was founded in 2008, setting a new standard for quality journalism in the Middle East. 

Each day The National reaches an influential, English-speaking audience to deliver the latest in news, business, arts, culture, lifestyle and sports, while leading the region in analytical content and commentary.

Featured Guests

Mustafa Alrawi

Mustafa Alrawi, a British national of Iraqi descent, is the current Business Editor of Abu Dhabi-based The National newspaper. A journalist and editor with sixteen years of experience in the UK and the Middle East, Mustafa is an expert in business and finance. His work has been published in The Guardian, The Independent, Lebanon’s Daily Star and Esquire Middle East. He has also consulted for UAE and GCC clients across a number of sectors including banking & finance, real estate, oil & gas, telecoms, technology and the environment. He is an accomplished public speaker and a published novelist.

Mona Hammami

Mona Hammami is a senior director at the Office of Strategic Affairs, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court. Her role includes analyzing social and economic developments, globally and locally, and drafting publications and white papers to influence policy making. Prior to joining the Crown Prince Court, she was a lead associate at Booz & Company as part of the public sector practice team focusing on a wide range of issues including: social and labor policies, macroeconomic policy, governance frameworks, organizational restructuring, agriculture policy reform, and structuring Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). 

Reuben Abraham

Dr. Reuben Abraham is CEO and Senior Fellow at IDFC Institute, a think/do tank set up by India’s largest infrastructure finance company. He is also on IDFC Institute’s Executive Council. IDFC Institute’s focus is on the political, economic, and spatial causes and consequences of, and obstacles to, India’s ongoing transformation from a low income, state led economy to a market based democracy, a journey many emerging markets share. He is also a non-resident scholar at the Urbanization Project at New York University’s Stern School of Business. 


Speaker 1: 00:00:01 You are listening to a podcast from the National.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:00:05 A future where poverty and hunger have ended, there is gender equality, we have taken action on climate change, clean and affordable energy is available to all. Does that seem far fetched? Well, we we’re already transforming our world and by 2030 these dreams will become a reality if we can meet the 17 goals set by 193 countries. The sustainable development goals are ambitious and inspiring. They’re also changing the way we seek out investment opportunities as we move to meet this defined future. You’re listening to a special episode of the business extra podcast in partnership with Global GoalsCast weekly from the nationals newsroom in Abu Dhabi. We provide insight and additional analysis on the biggest business, economic and finance stories affecting us here as well as the wider region and the world. I’m Mustafa Alwari, assistant editor in chief. For this episode, I’m delighted to say that my cohost is Global GoalCast’s, Edie Lush, a British American journalist, author, the executive editor of Hub Culture, and a communications trainer and MC. Edie, welcome.

Edie Lush: 00:01:11 Thank you very much for having me. I’m loving it here.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:01:13 It’s fantastic. It’s been fun, hasn’t it?

Edie Lush: 00:01:15 It has been fun. I love Abu Dhabi, I might move!

Mustafa Alwari: 00:01:18 Well, we would love to have you here permanently. I promise you that. You’d be our permanent cohost. But you are here not just to do this podcast, which of course we’re delighted to have you, but also because the national hosted it’s future forum in Abu Dhabi, which was a gathering of thought leaders to look at what the future might look like as a result of the rapidly changing world in which we live in. And it was really interesting, wasn’t it?

Edie Lush: 00:01:41 I thought it was amazing. So looking at how cities are going to change, how architecture needs to change, how the brain matters and how brain health actually changes. And I loved your panel that you did with Olivier Oullier and Cori Lathan, I thought that was incredible to think about the fact that in fact one out of three of us at some point will experience some kind of depression. Yet we now have the tools to monitor brain health. And that’s incredibly important if you think about for business actually for business productivity, for how people live, how environments work. I think it was incredibly interesting.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:02:20 And we’re moving to a world where wellbeing is as important as wealth, as important as, you know, our actual, lifestyles that we live. And the fact of the matter is, is that the brain, according to Cori and Olivier is being ignored most of the time. When was the last time you went for a checkup at your doctor? And he said, let me scan your brain.

Edie Lush: 00:02:41 I know. Or even, and how would they do that? That’s what I think is so interesting and actually with technology, you know, you’re holding it in your hand to help you with your script notes. It’s like you are carrying around these computers. You know, we’re the first, on the Global GoalsCast, we’d like to say that we’re the first generation that can solve extreme poverty. We’re the last that can solve climate change. And we’re also the first to be walking around with these computers in our pockets, these mobile phones and everything that we do on our podcast, and I’m sure a lot to do with yours is talking about how technology helps shape the future.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:03:14 Yeah. The panel was actually titled the future of human enhancement. And I guess in one way the smart phone has already enhanced us even though it’s not physically attached, although it looks like it might be.

Edie Lush: 00:03:26 Exactly. I think it’s attached to some of my kids’ hands, that’s for sure.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:03:29 Well the way they scream when you try and get the iPad often, that’s for sure. But Edie maybe you can tell some of our regular listeners a little bit about Global GoalsCast and what the platform’s about.

Edie Lush: 00:03:40 Sure. So the Global GoalsCast is a podcast about the sustainable development goals. So we tell the stories behind these ambitious goals, you know, cause they’re a bit weird. There’s 17 of them, there’s 160, or 169 I think targets for all of the goals. There are things like really big concepts, getting rid of poverty, educating everyone, solving climate change, keeping the oceans clean and healthy, making sustainable cities, making sustainable agriculture. So what we do is tell the stories of the people who are doing that. So one of the things that our first guest today talked about actually at the future forum was the fact that migration is going to be a continued fact of the matter. A fact for all of us as we go into the future. And in fact if migrants were counted as a country, they’d be something like the fifth largest country. So we broke that kind of big fact. And what does that actually mean down into a story about a young girl crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico to the United States for economic opportunity. That’s what her parents wanted. But when you think about what does that mean? What does economic opportunity means? Well, it means that they set up a photo business. It means that she went to an incredible school in Austin, Texas, and she’s now a female software engineer at Google. And that is what we all want, right? We all want more female software engineers and that is part of our future. The future that everyone dreams about. And it turns out that she’s actually a dreamer. She’s DACA, so she’s an undocumented student and her career is still up in the air. And you find out in this episode of the podcast that she’s going to be fine. Google has said, well, you can go to Canada if you want to. You can go back to Mexico. And she did that. She said, well, my business Spanish isn’t actually that good. So she, but she will be fine. There’s opportunity for her. The people who will lose out on it are the states so the United States, my home country, because they’re the ones losing that software talent.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:05:43 It’s fascinating to get behind, as you said, these sort of, which can seem on paper quite broad and undefinable goals like partnerships is number 17, which you know, we all want, but to get to the people that this is impacting and like you said, we’ll talk about this with our without guests, Mona Hammami and also Reuben Abraham. But the fact of the matter is that these goals are about raising the quality of life everywhere around the world. As I alluded to earlier, these goals were set not by a think tank or by the UN or by one country, but by 193 countries around the world. You see, I mean, you, you’ve been telling me it was crowdsourced.

Edie Lush: 00:06:21 Yeah. It’s like it’s an enormous crowdsourcing experiment. So countries have done this with their laws and this was the idea to make the to do list for the entire world by the entire world. So this is the world that people from 193 countries, millions of people, it’s the world that they want to see. And that’s what’s so great about them. And that’s why, you know, they’re not the United Nations sustainable development goals. These are not goals that have been imposed by the west to the east or the north to the south. They are goals that everyone has come up with together. And they, what they do mean is that they’re like a measuring stick. My cohost Claudia Romo Edelman likes to say they’re a measuring stick that we can hold our governments to account. And so, you know, just to take the, you know, another one of the goals that we looked at. So educating girls, we know that it’s a really good idea and we know that you increase your health, healthcare, you increase a lot of things, a lot of things get better when you educate girls. So we took the story of two girls who got educated, one from Mexico who actually came to the states, another one from India and what it, and it turned out that she was, the girl from India was able to stay in school because she was given a uniform, which is incredible. But then when you look at it and you dig out, dig it a little bit more, it’s not just the uniform, it’s that the teachers were there to keep her in school everyday. That there was actually a bathroom there that she could go to the bathroom, that somebody was there to help her get into university. Actually, when you compare that to the opportunities that the girl that we spoke to in the states had, she had so much more, you know, when the Internet went down at her house because they couldn’t pay the electricity bill, one of the teachers picked her up and took her to school to use the Internet. She was actually able to use the internet at McDonald’s a couple times when it had gone at her house. Now there was no internet in the story of Priti from India and when we talked to her teachers and some people around her, one of the things that they said is that, you know, no one ever asked her what her dream was. She didn’t, when they asked her. Finally, when the girls, the people came to give her the uniform, she didn’t have a dream. That wasn’t sort of part of what her life was working towards. Whereas in the states it was a very different thing. So the whole thing is that it takes a million tiny steps to help people stay on track long enough until they can figure out their lives and take all of them.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:08:46 And you know, this conversation that we’re having today and we’ll be having with our guests shortly, is about understanding that there are a lot of people thinking about what it means to achieve the SDGs and how not only can that improve the quality of life for people around the world, but also how it improves the way we do business. I mean, we’ve learned a lot in the last decade. You know, I say this a lot that we kind of, have a different take on capitalism now of what it needs to be, like, It’s evolving, it’s changing. And these 17 goals, I mean, nothing is controversial in any of these if you take climate change out of it, right? It’s difficult to remove that one. But let’s say we take the heat out of it and say leave climate change to one side, but the other 16, is there anything controversial in any of them that any normal, rational, business mind or investor wouldn’t say that’s going to improve my business, that’s going to improve my profits, that’s going to improve, you know, the way I live in the way my people live and the people I love live, right?

Edie Lush: 00:09:44 So I would say, actually I would, I don’t think you can leave climate change out first of all because I think that none of the other goals matter if we don’t solve climate change. So I mentioned before, we’re the last generation to be able to solve climate change. We’ve looked at in the green mini series, the fact about the Arctic ice sheets melting. We’re already seeing some island communities that we look at losing their land. There are people are losing their homes. The fact of the matter is that we’re seeing more extreme weather and something like 99% of climate, of scientists agree that climate change is real and that it’s happening and we’ve got to do something about it. And the fact is if we go past that two degree mark of warming for the earth, it’s not going to be a place that anyone of us recognized. Now in terms of, you know, whether they’re controversial, I think it’s actually really interesting to think about, the fact that this represents a huge business opportunity. You mentioned at the start there, it’s a $12 trillion opportunity. Now, you know, the message that I hear coming from businesses who kind of drunk the koolaid already is that actually there it’s incredible. And it’s not about CSR. It’s about totally changing your mindset. And the fact is that the mindset that worked before or we all thought possibly worked, actually doesn’t work it’s resulted in polarization of voters in places like the United States, the United Kingdom, other places in Europe. It’s resulted in people not being treated very well, people not getting educated, it’s just not a world that we want to live in. So what I love about some of the work that some very smart people, much smarter than I am have done in this is that there are areas in which with investment you can make an incredible amount of money. And that’s the whole point. It’s the whole point is making profit with purpose. And just be specific. This $12 trillion that you referred to food and agriculture, cities, energy and materials and health and wellbeing. So if you actually include all the other goals within the other 13 goals you could be talking about gains of two to three times that $12 trillion.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:12:03 More from this special episode of business extra in partnership with Global GoalsCast in just a moment. But first allow me to tell you about The Nationals other podcasts: ‘Beyond the Headlines’ takes a deeper dive into the biggest news from the week with a distinct middle eastern point of view and ‘Extra Time’ from our esteemed sports desk is the best place to chat about the English premier league and more. Subscribe to all these shows on Apple Podcasts or find us as always at thenational.ae

Mustafa Alwari: 00:12:32 You’re listening to the business extra podcast. I’m Mustafa Alwari. This is a special edition about the sustainable development goals. Of course with me is my co-host for this special edition Edie Lush from Global GoalsCast and also joining us in the studio, we’re very happy to say is Mona Hammami a senior director at the Crown Prince Court in Abu Dhabi. Welcome.

Mona Hammami: 00:12:50 Thanks Mustafa for having me.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:12:52 It’s good to have you here. Obviously we’re focusing on the sustainable development goals. What they mean, why are they important, but perhaps you can lend us a little bit of a regional perspective. Do people really think about what these mean here in this region from the UAE and the wider Middle East?

Mona Hammami: 00:13:09 Thanks for the question. I mean, I think it’s a very important one. I mean maybe I could start off with giving you a bit of a background in the sense that the SDGs are coming out of the MDGs, which traditionally has been very much focused on the developing countries perspective. And as such, the UAE’s thinking about these schools has always been from a donor perspective rather than from a country that has to sort of try and meet some of those targets. I think with the SDGs there’s a bit of that shift where you’re starting to think not just as a donor about it and actually a country where you have to, you know, commit to some of these targets. But from a regional perspective, I think many of these goals are extremely relevant. Many of them we’re very far from reaching. From a UAE perspective I think the ones that we tend, there is a bit of a focus on some more internally than others. So for instance, education will always be relevant to all this part of the world at different levels. So if you look at the rest of the MENA you might be talking about sort of accessibility to education, you know, gender differences and what have you. When you come to the UAE you’re talking about sort of how can I achieve better results and better quality. So it’s different layers of where you are on the SDGs but they are very relevant. In some cases we champion certain SDGs globally so for instance gender empowerment is one of the biggest things that we try to push forward but also things on our investments in renewables on climate and what have you become very relevant. And I think there is now also a tie up of fury foreign aid to some of those SDG goals, which also makes them, you know, part of your bigger plan. So in that sense they’re part of the agenda. They’re part of it both locally and globally. Although locally I feel like it’s just part of your nature of day to day policy. It’s not an explicit sort of like I’m going to meet these targets as I go by. These are sort of issues that as a government you deal with regularly and that’s why the SDGs are much more comprehensive. So any government, whether you like it or not, will just have to deal with it.

Edie Lush: 00:15:10 So from a foreign aid perspective, which are the SDGs that you focus on?

Mona Hammami: 00:15:15 I think the main ones are gender empowerment is a big one. We also see that there is a commitment to education and I think an underlying one, which is not an explicit SDG, but infrastructure is one that supports

Edie Lush: 00:15:27 It’s part of sustainable cities.

Mona Hammami: 00:15:29 Exactly. I mean, it’s part of sustainable cities, it’s part of access to water. It’s part of like, you know, accessibility to no hunger and resources and what have you. So it’s underlying much of the work that is being done and there’s ones that are, so those are part of the pure foreign aid strategy. But then there’s, a lot more philanthropy work that happens outside that which focuses global health is one of our major priorities. As you, as you recall from the MDGs, I mean the global health goal used to also have malaria, HIV and tuberculosis as sort of their three main ones. We’re big champions of malaria. We were major contributors to roll back malaria and actually sit on this board. So from the advocacy side, it’s a big deal for us. But also, the UAE has been a super key player in the eradication of some diseases. Polio being one that we championed til the end.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:16:21 I wonder is it relevant to talk about the tension that exists and not necessarily just about sustainable development goals, but in general in this region between the private and the public sectors and the roles that they take on? We’ve talked a lot today about the opportunity that there might be for the private sector and certainly the governments here on message when it comes to these goals in general, it seems pretty logical. They’re trying to improve the quality of the life of their people in this region. It’s developing region, but how do we get the private sector to take on the kind of extensive role that we need them to do to kind of help meet these goals specifically, right? And not just what the private sector is doing, which is trying to grow and make money essentially.

Mona Hammami: 00:17:06 Yeah. I think also, this is probably the hardest question that is not just specific to this part of the world, but I think it’s a global problem in the context of, before I talk about the region, maybe I talk about the UAE specifically and the context of the UAE, the presence of the private sector is in general as an economy is not a large one. So you really are looking at a highly driven public sector sort of economies where you have government and semi-government driving most of it. So there’s a very thin line between what is private, what is public. And in fact, we have an exception at the OACD where UAE philanthropy counts as UAE eight. Because that sort of distinction is a hard one. That doesn’t mean that there is no role for the private, it’s just the private is a bit smaller in that sense and I think what we’re seeing in general is sort of this cocreation of impact and I probably think much of what I’m saying applies more on the global level because the private sector is highly more developed, but really what you want to move towards is a change in the thought, I mean I talk often about that the 2.5 trillion gap that needs to be filled on a yearly basis for the SDGs will have to come highly from a private sort of site. I think the issue is how do you move the private sector from thinking in the context of CSR to actually embedding much of these practices into our day to day sort of work. That is really where the most of the impact is going to come. It’s not going to come from you doing CSR programs because those will always remain smaller in size. We’ve seen the philanthropy sector grow tremendously. I mean the Gates Foundation is the largest investor on the health side, much bigger than most governments, but it’s an exception, right? Again, you need sort of more innovation. We’re looking at now new types of partnerships such as social impact bonds. We’re looking at structured finance type of models. So there’s a lot of innovation in that sphere. It’s still new, but I think it will only come from those partnerships because I think the hardest part for private sector is taking on risks in many of these emerging markets. And without the government partnership it’s impossible to see that. So it’s going to be not one side or the other providing the money, but it’s actually these new innovative partnerships that would be formed. I also think that there’s room for non traditional types of finance. So when you often think about the private sector, we think of corporate and I, you know, I talked a bit about philanthropy and we talk about different types of philanthropy. You know, there’s the institutional side like foundations, but there’s also now the use of technology for crowdfunding and potentially directing so there’s a lot of platforms that now try to pull money into certain outcomes. I actually am a big advocate of the role of things like remittances, which if done collectively can create, you know, things like Jasper, a bond or securitization often can be used to build infrastructure. They tend to be much more targeted. So there’s a lot of flows that you’re looking at that are being under utilized broader than the corporate side if done well, could be amazing, sort of, in transforming the outcomes.

Edie Lush: 00:20:21 I think it’s really interesting what you mentioned there. And just to be clear, there’s a $6 trillion amount of money that needs to be invested every year to achieve the sustainable development goals. And there’s a 1.5, $1-1.5 trillion gap, which you mentioned blended finances is part of that, government partnerships with the private sector. We have seen huge investment and interest in green bonds actually more than expected in the states. I’m interested in. Do you see, and you mentioned in fact, you sort of took the words out of my mouth, that this can’t be a CSR thing, it can’t. It has to be incorporated into how businesses do, just do their business because we can’t kick the can down the road and hope that somebody else is going to clean up the oceans and you know, do something about the forest. Do you see a movement among the people that you meet with you talk to that doing things sustainably is seen as more than CSR. That is just how we’re going to do business.

Mona Hammami: 00:21:18 I have, but it’s not at the scale you want however you see it. I think it’s a very good, it’s an amazing question actually, but it’s also a tough one too. It’s not a black or white. So what you’ve seen is some of the large companies, Unilever is always sort of the example that is given for integrating, you know, things down into their business. But also what they’re doing is trying to capture all 17 SDGs. I mean, no one expects you to do everything. And as a corporate in one because you have to be focused on the business that you, your best, you know, that’s of your core business and then you do whatever is needed in it. The issue that we seen is from some of the surveys, I mean I think there’s, there’s PWC and both Mckinsey have done surveys on that front is businesses are only see the relevance of SDGs. They understand the potential of the markets that they’re going into and as such, this is important for them to invest to. However they only care about particular SDGs. So it’s very clear that the economic one is a big one for them. It opens up markets and some others, you know, make it up to the top. But Oceans for instance, is one that is not on anybody’s radar. Right? They’re just not going to invest in, it’s not part of their core business. It doesn’t affect them directly. So I think it’s important to realize that they just cannot fill the entire gap and they cannot do everything because incentives are just not there. So if you’re playing on the corporate model, you still have to, yes, you expect them to be the good global citizen, but it also has to be relevant to what they do. So I think to answer you basically, I think we’re seeing some of it, we’re seeing it more, we see more traction on some SDGs than others. It’s how do you sort of, you know, create those partners that I talked about to create more impact on the ones that are less thought of. I mean, I think the planet ones are, I think the climate one is on everybody’s radar now, but the other ones are sort of less likely to get traction, you know. The circular economy idea for instance, is a harder one to sort of push for. So there’s some of these things that you need to figure out how to do this.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:23:22 It’s interesting that the leadership is thinking about it in this region. It’s interesting that the private sector is even thinking about it. I mean you talk about Unilever, I mean they’ve got a big presence in the Middle East, so that’s going to have an effect. It’s going to have an impact on people’s minds and thoughts. And I wonder how much of this is about becoming more socially conscious, more socially responsible as people and as degeneration changes, we talk about it being such a young population proportionally in this region and in the UAE of course there’s a lot of young people as well that if they hear about the SDGs, if they hear about these important goals that we’re trying to work towards, they might become more natural as we develop and as we move on and in the future that these things become ingrained without having to have a list of 17 things that we have to think of.

Mona Hammami: 00:24:07 Absolutely. And I think you can already see that in terms of the types of enterprises that you are seeing, there are more socially conscious enterprises. So you’re already seeing that trend then I think. I think we often talk about the fact that this is the digital revolution, but the power of technology in meeting much of that is also with the new millennial sort of being super tech savvy will be a game changer.

Edie Lush: 00:24:30 I’m interested in what you said about investing in women and having gender equality be one of the goals that you’re passionate about. It’s also a huge economic opportunity. I mean, it has the potential to add trillions to the, to the global GDP. And I wonder how that plays out here in this region.

Mona Hammami: 00:24:52 I mean, I think this is whether the SDGs exists or not I think this is one of the core problems of this part of the world. In fact, the MENA region has the lowest participation rates globally of women in the labor force. So I think what we’re looking at is quite an interesting paradox because the region does, is also an exceptional one on enrollment in terms of education. So females are highly, have high accessibility. I mean with the exceptions of the very LDCs sort of this part of the world have high access to education, it just doesn’t translate into the labor force where really much of the economic value is coming through. I think we’re starting to see a lot of reforms. I think Saudi opening up, that’s a big one. But with all other ones, we’re seeing a bit of that reform the tricky part is, is this will take time and I think what you eventually need to find is the hardest part is sort of changes in regulation and legislations, which tend to be a big problem. So things like maternity leave, ability to travel on your own without a chaperone, which is a big problem in some parts of this world. So these are things that are still stickier to change. But I think eventually we will get there and much parts of the Levant that’s not an option. I mean, people will have to work because, you know, it’s not enough to have just the men at work. So you have a lot of tradeoffs, but it’s the regulatory part of it I think is at the heart of the problem. The cultural side obviously it’s starting to evolve with the opening up and these younger girls are much more open so I’m less worried about that side. But I think the legislative side of it is a bit trickier. And how do you use it smartly? I mean the Nordics are the best example of how they, they’ve done quotas for instance on boards or others allow women to be also when you move up the value chain, how you can get there. But it’s still a problem and it’s one that we are very conscious about. I think it will remain one of the hardest and trickiest ones and it’s harder to change people’s mindsets.

Edie Lush: 00:27:04 Takes time.

Mona Hammami: 00:27:05 Yeah.

Edie Lush: 00:27:06 And it takes time everywhere, right? I mean we heard in the forum yesterday that there’s more men named John running S&P 1500 companies than there are women as CEOs of S&P 1500 companies.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:27:19 And that’s not just because John is a very popular name.

Edie Lush: 00:27:22 No

Mona Hammami: 00:27:22 It’s just that women are just not out there.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:27:25 Absolutely. And the data is there that shows that, you know, the boards that have a high proportion of women, those companies tend to do better. And it’s actually very obvious if you broaden out your catchment areas, take the most talented people, regardless of gender, your company’s probably going to do better. But I guess Mona as you were saying, it takes time. And if we come back to the UAE and the wider Middle East, culture is changing, traditions are changing sometimes out of necessity sometimes because we realize it’s the right thing to do. So, you know, I don’t want, I don’t want this to be kind of a hopeless conversation, you know, about, well, we’re never gonna make it. We’re making progress. Right. Can you tell us that at least?

Mona Hammami: 00:28:07 No absolutely. I mean I’m a big champion off sort of the whole woman cause, but I feel like, you know, as a female, as an Arab female growing. Gender was never an issue for me in sort of achieving anything that I’ve ever wanted. And I’d like to think that this is an example of many girls around there. So I’m very hopeful on that front.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:28:29 Yeah. And there’s been other progress in other areas as well. For example, clean energy, solar energy, you know, alternative forms of energy has become a big focus in the Middle East. Talk about Saudi Arabia. Massive program. The UAE of course has been pioneering in this. And then we think about the push for electric vehicles and we have to remember that this region is one of the world’s largest producers of hydrocarbons, yet they’re also trying to be one of the world’s leaders in alternative forms of energy. So that’s almost a contradiction sometimes we can forget because we used to hearing the message here all the time. This is actually not normal, right? To be able to say, we want to lead on something that we’re not naturally, you know, the leaders in let’s say.

Mona Hammami: 00:29:17 Absolutely. But I think also it’s I mean this is spot on, but it also shows you, it’s also an interesting leadership. I mean in the UAE in 2009 his highness made that remark that and then he made it later on in a more sort of public speech. But basically his point was I would be celebrating when the last barrel of oil sort of sails. That does sort of, clearly, even before thinking of shade and sort of technological innovations that are going to happen that just oil is not going to be the future. Right. It has to be other things. So our investment in other aspects of it was very important. The renewable side was, and you’ll see a lot of it is, happens on both fronts. So nuclear is for more internal. So our targets on reducing our power generation to have around 25% of our power comes from nuclear is a big deal. But with renewables, it’s not just internally, it’s sort of investing highly in renewable energy outside too. So that’s sort of our gift for the world. And that I think is an exception from a place that is very much known for hydrocarbons. I mean you can easily live off the oil. I mean we’re also some of the cheapest places of producing oil, so we don’t really need to invest in much. But that was sort of the vision, the understanding that this is, you know, a world that’s evolving very fast and you need to be ahead of everybody else.

Edie Lush: 00:30:40 It’s also a huge opportunity. I mean there’s a potential $12 trillion in market opportunities that’s just in four of the sustainable development goals around food and agriculture, cities, energy and materials you’re mentioning there and health and wellbeing. So there’s money to be made, for the businesses who are doing it right. I’m interested in how much in terms of energy efficiency, energy storage, how much are those part of what the Crown Prince is looking at as well?

Mona Hammami: 00:31:11 I think this is one of the areas that, we talked about gender being a challenge. I think this is one that probably is a much easier fix, but is a current struggle, we are not the most energy efficient sort of places, but you’re starting to see huge reforms, on for instance, how you build buildings and sort of the green codes around building them. So there’s a huge movement on some parts of the spectrum, but I think there’s a bit more gains to be done. The transportation remains one where we are highly dependent still on, you know, oil and gas, which you need to sort of cut down on. But I think we’ve done improvements on that. It remains a challenge and I think not just for us, but for many of the emerging markets, you know, China is very well known to grow very inefficiently too. So, but you know, given our size, we don’t really like show up on the sort of the global scene because we’re just a bit smaller. But on a per capita basis, it is actually quite a concern. So that’s something high up on the, if you want, on the agenda. We haven’t yet, resolved all issues, but there’s clearly a mandate around it. And you’ve seen so many of the reforms around that.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:32:25 I’m somebody who, I believe in capitalism and I think it works ultimately because most other things don’t. But also there’s a feeling of being kind of, it can’t just be a zero sum game no matter what other people are trying to tell us these days. And it seems like sometimes people think that development goals and other goals similar to it, somehow are contradictory to wealth creation, are contradictory to, you know, the good things of capitalism. However, I think what we’ve learned in the last 10 years has been that without thinking about society, without thinking of wellbeing, without thinking of quality of living, that capitalism is a waste of time. And I wonder how much there’s an education to be made to the private sector, to individuals, to governments that are pursuing goals like the SDGs doesn’t mean somehow that you’re saying, well, we’re going to be throwing money away or going to be throwing wealth away or going to be throwing, you know, our development away.

Mona Hammami: 00:33:22 Absolutely. And this is sort of this whole growing spectrum of, you know, impact investment and sort of the double bottom line that you could still achieve, you know, financial goals while creating both social, it’s actually a triple bottom line, both social and environmental sort of outcomes. So we’re seeing a growth and that is such a huge market. I mean there’s now amazing hedge funds that are just investing only in that front. It’s still a new sort of spectrum. But even if you think just from a profit perspective, I mean there’s a huge market for infrastructure in many of these spaces. We talk about cities. I mean, you were talking about the generation of, if you look at China from 19, mid-1980s to 2001 just the housing stock they’ve built is the size of the Netherlands, right? That’s how much you’re looking at India and China adding up. And there’s a huge infrastructure part to it that’s just profit. I mean that’s just investment in the new profit that you can be made out of it. But then if you look at other sectors that you mentioned, you know, on the renewables, on sort of health on education, this is where you’d be achieving the triple bottom line. Right? And that’s I think the mindset that now we’re going into and some companies have done, especially consumer driven companies have invested highly in that. So they’re also aware that for them to achieve the financial side, they have to remove some of the hurdles which are social in nature. So, you know, you have to have access to clean water, you have to have healthy people that would become your consumers on the middle income class. Right? So there is that sense. Some are driven more by altruistic reason than others, but everybody realizes that, you know, the money’s just not going to come on its own. It actually has to be an investment on the social side too. But also, as you mentioned before, I mean the younger generation is genuinely driven by actually a better life, right? I mean, socially, much more sustainable life. With technology and AI, we’re also looking at the dramatic change in our understanding of what work is and what jobs are. And there’s discussion now on this intersection between AI and longevity that people will spend most of their life maybe just doing community type of stuff, right? They’re not going to be like, you know, going to work the same way we’ve actually thought about that. So there’s a change in the way we see things. And I think corporates understand that and we’re already seeing an evolution in that front.

Edie Lush: 00:35:42 And are you seeing the investment community here in the region also interested in investing in a socially responsible manner?

Mona Hammami: 00:35:50 I mean, again, most of my understanding from, from our side at least and a lot of it is public investment, which is sort of private too. There is a bit of that, but I’ve seen global movements, you know, there’s, I think particularly in cases of Latin America and some parts of Europe, we’ve seen the creation of some very interesting type of funds that are just completely run on the premise that we only invest in things that are looking at triple bottom line. But here, I mean in general as I mentioned to you, a lot of the investments we’ve done in renewables and others, I mean whether that’s a conscious decision to actually do on those sort of impact investment or not is another question. But we’ve seen some of that definitely happen. I think there is a bit more interest now in, and I think this also a global one and thinking of like how can I ride the wave of technology, how can I invest in technological breakthroughs that I think is a major driver of investment, which on its own has social impacts. But I don’t think you still find this pure interest in I want to invest in things related to the ocean. I want to invest in things related to that is less apparent to me.

Edie Lush: 00:36:53 Mona, can you give us three facts that you, that we can give to our listeners to take away to impress their mother-in-law with at Sunday lunch?

Mona Hammami: 00:37:01 Great. So I think the first one close to my heart is the gender stuff. So it will take 217 years on a global front to fill the gender gap. And I’m gonna cheat and actually say there’s another one on gender that I want to put in there. But basically, you know, estimates show that if you were to sort of mimic the best performing country in your region in terms of participation of women, you’d be adding 12 trillion to the global economy if women participate in the labor force. The second one I think is one really about, we’re living in a planet that is just losing most of its resources. So one, if we stay on the same pace that we are on and you know, by 2050 we need three planets earth to actually fulfill our requirements, but 50% of our population are going to be in water stressed areas. And I think perhaps the last one for me might be a bit more on the importance of thinking about climate change. I mean climate change is destroying your habitat in every sense of it, but also the implications are that one of the largest generating economic opportunities, which is the ocean and it’s the eighth largest actually in the world will actually be depleted. But more importantly that the ice sheets around the world which source most of the water are melting and the world, as you can see, it will cease to exist because if the Antarctic melts down, 60 meters of water is the increase in sea level that’s completely unprecedented and will wipe out humanity as we know it.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:38:36 So very optimistic. Thank you. Thank you.

Mona Hammami: 00:38:40 Sorry. Yeah, I mean you have to believe that this is dramatic for you to actually have some action.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:38:45 I think that the thing is, you should be informed. So you know, the somebody who’s listening to this might be a little bit like Whoa, but the fact is be informed. Understand why you need to do things and then make your choices. Absolutely don’t run away from the facts.

Edie Lush: 00:39:01 Yeah. And do you have any actions that people can take if people say cause it is overwhelming and the stakes are really high. So are there things that you tell people, if I care about this stuff, what can I do to make a difference? Like specific actions?

Mona Hammami: 00:39:14 I mean I think on an individual level is once for one, just educating yourself about what these are actually what the SDGs are. But I think it starts at the individual level. The way you conduct your life, the way you try to think about from a sustainability element, how much water do I use, how, you know, how do I treat the environment around me? These are simple things, but also trying to support, you know, more education on health outcomes around the world. These are sort of simple things that you can do. I think at a much more macro level for governments and private sector. It’s time that they think and see that there’s a mutual benefit for everybody to just have the SDGs there. So thinking in a much more integrated manner about how you can solve these problems is actually very good for their own balance sheets, mostly for the private sector.

Edie Lush: 00:39:59 Great. Thank you.

Mona Hammami: 00:40:00 Thanks

Mustafa Alwari: 00:40:02 Mona Hammami from Crown Prince Court in Abu Dhabi. Thank you so much for being with us.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:40:05 Thank you so much for having me.

Speaker 5: 00:40:09 [inaudible]

Ban Ki-moon: 00:40:09 We can no longer afford to burn our way to prosperity we have to transform our economies and seize the opportunities of low carbon future. There is no plan B because there is no planet B.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:40:33 That was former UN secretary General Ban Ki-moon explaining why it’s important to have sustainable development goals, why they matter. And a very famous quote from him in fact about that there is no plan B because there is no planet B gives me goosebumps that one every time. Edie Lush is with me, my cohost for this special episode. Edie, how you doing?

Edie Lush: 00:40:56 I’m doing very well. It’s great to be here.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:40:58 It’s good. It’s been a good conversation so far about the goals and I’m happy to say that joining us in the studio now is our next guest, Reuben Abraham, who is the CEO of the IDF Institute. Thanks for joining us in Abu Dhabi Reuben.

Reuben Abraham: 00:41:11 Thank you very much for having me.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:41:13 It’s good. So, the sustainable development goals in general, something that you’re across, but in particular your area of expertise is cities and urbanization.

Reuben Abraham: 00:41:24 That’s right.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:41:24 And there’s a lot of criss cross between the SDGs and cities, is that right?

Reuben Abraham: 00:41:30 Right. So just to step back a second, I mean, there’s two things that I want to focus on. The first is the fact that we need to move from technical commentary to political commentary, which is the sustainable development goals typically tend to be a set of technical statements that actually do not resolve how it actually plays out on the ground, which is where the politics kicks in. So you need to move from why questions and what questions to how questions. Right? And the how is where you will see the impact of political economy on all of this. Now there is an SDG which is SDG 11, which is devoted entirely to the urban question. But the point that I’m trying to make is a larger one, which is that all the SDGs are actually connected to cities in some formal fashion because no matter which SDG you’re talking about, whether you’re talking about poverty, you’re talking about water, all of these will have a spatial dimension to it. ie where is this going to play out? And my contention is that most of this is going to play out in cities mostly because cities have become the most important center for human activity.

Edie Lush: 00:42:37 And you had some great facts the other day at the future forum where I originally met you about Tokyo being bigger than Canada. Is that right?

Reuben Abraham: 00:42:47 That’s right. So from a GDP perspective, you know, people don’t quite understand just how big cities are. So the fact of the matter is that greater Tokyo at about $1.7 trillion of PPP dollars 2014 is actually bigger than Canada, is bigger than Australia, bigger than Spain, bigger than Turkey. Similarly in New York is bigger than most countries that you can think of. So, cities are, so the top 10 cities of the world all have a GDP of over $500 billion, which basically means all of them are bigger than Sweden. So that is the size of cities. So and that’s why it’s critical to think about cities. There’s two other things to keep in mind. One is that when you look at global GDP, about 80% plus, if not 85% of it actually gets created in urban environment, urban environments. The other thing to note here is that, now, Richard, Florida, a scholar at NYU has actually pointed to the fact that about 70% of global GDP actually gets produced in just 40 urban regions. And what do you mean by urban regions? You mean these agglomerations of, these are polycentric sort of areas. So the biggest of it all is the eastern seaboard of the United States, which goes from Boston to Washington, Silicon Valley, the Pearl River Delta, Shanghai, Pudong. And then you’ve got a bunch in India and these are all regions that individually these regions have GDP of over a hundred billion dollars. So these, of these, only about 40 of them produce 70% of global GDP.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:44:20 Is this the problem here, just as I understand, this unbelievable insight because it really makes you think of the world map in a different way when you think about it in cities, but is the issue there then cities are very difficult to change things in. Is this the problem? Is that rural areas are a lot easier? Is that what we’re trying, the point. So when you’re aiming for these goals, that it’s very hard to get into a city and fix things bit by bit. Is that what it is?

Reuben Abraham: 00:44:46 So, so not necessarily it is more to do with the fact that city. And so let me just give you one other set of facts here, which is that, so most of the urbanization process in the developed world is done. So if you look at UN figures and UN projections on this going forward, over the next 40 years, it’s expected that about 2.5 to 2.6 billion people will move to urban areas in developing countries and about 170 million people will move in developed countries, right? So that’s the magnitude of difference between what’s about to happen. So in this process, what is going to happen is that we’re basically going to move from being a primarily rural species to being a primarily urban species. And that is a one time thing. I mean, you’re not going to reverse it. So in 2008, the world actually crossed an important threshold, which was to become 50% urban. We are going to become closer to 70, 80% urban in the next couple of decades. All of it is going to happen in developing countries. Now that is where the problem, that’s where it gets sticky, which is that the urban environments in these countries are not in any form or fashion starting with governance prepared to actually absorb what’s coming its way. So that’s where this, the way we think about it, we need to actually take into account the fact that a lot of these people, places are just unprepared. So what does one do about it?

Edie Lush: 00:46:09 So, well tell me one of the things that you mentioned the other day that I thought was incredible was that India was going to overtake the UK in fact in terms of GDP as well as France in the next couple of years. Is that right?

Reuben Abraham: 00:46:21 Not in a couple of years in the next couple of months.

Edie Lush: 00:46:22 Next couple of months. Okay. All right. Send me an email when it does. So I know, but tell me as we see this urbanization as we see as you look at urbanization in India. What are the things that you see going wrong?

Reuben Abraham: 00:46:36 Yup. So, you know, I’m glad you brought up India because I think you need to get into the drastic political complex idea. You need to get into the granular detail. So part of the problem is that, because of the structure of politics, urbanization was never recognized as either important or something that suddenly not something that needed to be encouraged. Right? So people, because people don’t understand the value of cities, people don’t understand the fact that cities are where jobs are created, all of that stuff. So cities are primarily labor markets, right? I mean, that’s really, the three of us may live in cities because we like to live in cities with beautiful buildings. But that’s not the reason why most people live in cities. They’re there for jobs. So that’s just the unromantic truth about cities. So in the Indian context, what happens is that there is a definitional problem. So in the definitional context there is no global definition of what constitutes urban. So people just make up whatever definition they want of urban. So in the Indian context, all areas are deemed to be rural unless the state decides it’s urban. And that is basically an independent decision taken by state governments with no underlined logic. So if you use that measure, which is that you need to be governed by an urban local body, India is 26% urban. Now there was an attempt to have a standardized definition and the standardized definition of the three part definition again, which tends to be onerous. So one part of it is population. The other part of it is density of population. And then the third, which is the onerous bit, which is that 75% of the male working population has to be in non agricultural pursuit. Now you see why this is complicated because it has nothing to say about women. It has nothing to say about seasonal migration, a whole bunch of these things. So the question to really ask here is can we simplify the definition and what happens if you simplify the definition? So if you simplify the definition, suddenly the numbers jump from 30% or 26% depending on which of these you’re looking to about 47% or if you relax the threshold further, it will jump to 65% now if you just take the two definitions used by the government, which is 26% and 31% keep in mind in a country like India, that’s 55 million people, that’s 55 million people who are living in areas that are urban, that are treated like rural, like they’re rural, right? And I’m saying it’s much worse than that. So what does this actually end up looking like? So we’ve actually, we’ve actually seen areas, we’ve actually identified villages with over 50,000 people in it.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:49:14 But they’re called villages.

Reuben Abraham: 00:49:15 They’re called villages because they don’t meet one of the thresholds. And typically it will be the trade threshold that it doesn’t meet. What is the implication of this? The implication of this is that if you’re a, so if you’re an urban local government, you are actually expected to provide a certain number of services. So it includes emergency services, fire services, waste management, health care, a whole bunch of these things. If you’re a village, because the assumption is your population is actually at a very low threshold. You don’t have to provide any of these services.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:49:45 And I guess there’s an incentive to not become an urban area.

Reuben Abraham: 00:49:48 Exactly. So that is one, one part of the problem you have hit exactly on the perverse incentive on top of which you look at the fiscal piece of this, which is what are the budgetary outlay look like? And the budgetary outlay is being used by a narrative of urban that is caught in some past. So in a country like India, 85% of the budget goes to rural areas. 15% goes to urban areas. Now what incentive does any rural area have to actually, because not only will they have to spend money, but they will also lose money.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:50:19 Can I flip this on its head? Which is that’s the governance issue and that’s about the incentive or non incentive for the governments make these changes. But these days a lot of things are being led by the consumer. By the citizen, by the people on the ground. Surely they just naturally want the things that are listed in the 17 SDGs, like access to clean water, better access to energy, education, gender equality. So if they, if these people want it, eventually won’t that be the incentive?

Reuben Abraham: 00:50:48 So it might eventually be the incentive. So that becomes a bottom up political change, right? I mean that’s really what you’re sort of hinting at. But if you look at, for instance, New York University along with UN habitat did this thing called the atlas of urban expansion. It’s 200 cities they have been just watching 200 cities over time and looking to see what happens in these cities. So the first thing that stands out is, all 200 cities are expanding, right? And they’re not, and they’re not densifying, they’re expanding

Edie Lush: 00:51:18 Geographically, all becoming Los Angeles it just goes on forever.

Reuben Abraham: 00:51:20 Even if it’s not Los Angeles, but it’s basically becoming sprawls, right of some form or fashion. So that’s your first order problem. The second order problem is once you go into these sprawls, you run into overlapping jurisdictions because you’ve got an administrative boundary that does not actually, that does not coincide in any form or fashion with the way the city is expanding. You see what I’m saying? So the administrative, you know, just hypothetically think about it administrative boundary will go east to west and the city will grow north to south, right? Because the city is obeying economic principle it’s not obeying an administrative principal it’s the market’s.

Edie Lush: 00:52:00 Just then starting to merge with another.

Reuben Abraham: 00:52:02 It’s merging with a whole other city and so on and so forth. So one of the, so one of the reasons why you know, geospatial data and satellite data is actually useful is you’re able to observe some of this from the sky. Again, let’s look at a hypothetical experiment here. So if we take two villages, and let’s give each of them a population of 4,900 each, which basically means neither village has met your criteria to be called urban. Now flip to the sky and watch these two villages and you find they’ve grown into each other, right? So you effectively have a town of 10,000 people that has been treated as a village because on an excel spreadsheet it actually looks like two villages that don’t meet the threshold. So what does that mean in terms of infrastructure challenges? So the first order problem is overlapping jurisdictions, right? Who is responsible for providing a service here? So for instance, if you take the case of a city like Mumbai, the rail system is basically provided by the central government. The bus system is the local government. You want intermodal transportation, right? How are you going to do this? Roads are maintained by one department, maintenance by somebody else. There’s a whole bunch of municipal or agencies within the city. How are you going to sort this out?

Mustafa Alwari: 00:53:17 Is the answer the private sector by any chance?

Reuben Abraham: 00:53:20 No, I don’t. So obviously the private sector has a role to play, but I don’t think you can wish the state away, you know? I mean ultimately with the private sector to operate, you need a very strong state. You can, argue about what the size of the state needs to be. And I would argue for a narrow state, but you need the fundamental institutional mechanisms of the state that actually allowed the market to flourish.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:53:40 I mean, does it, I mean does Uber and the likes of Uber come in and fill the transport gap, for example, in these areas that have so many jurisdictional issues that they can’t get that integrated transport system.

Reuben Abraham: 00:53:51 So Uber made do the last mile of the transport problem, but the actual mass carrying piece of this, especially in the developing countries with mega cities, I mean Uber is not going to solve the problems or Lagos or Bombay, the population is too big. You need mass transit. But to make mass transit work, all these overlapping jurisdiction issues, et Cetera, need to be thrashed out.

Edie Lush: 00:54:14 So tell us, give us some, we need some hope, right Mustafa we need, where do you see some good news? Where are you seeing places working together? Where is technology helping to solve some of these issues?

Reuben Abraham: 00:54:24 I mean there are some new principals that are emerging. I mean, so first of all, we need to, I think we need to have a completely new sort of lens on urban and understand a bit of what is going on, which is labor markets. They are expanding. You can’t stop urbanization, right? I mean, China tried to with the Hukou system didn’t work. So what is the hope that a democracy is actually going to be able to pull it off. So you can’t stop it. So number one, accept it as a given, it is happening. People want to live in cities. That’s number one. Number two, it is actually useful for all the GDP reasons that I said because you know, that’s where productivity is. That’s where people can increase their, that improve their lives, be more productive, et cetera, et cetera. So I think cities, we need to, first of all in the narrative, cities need to become important, right? That’s one piece of it. The other thing is, you know, there are new principles like metropolitan governance that are emerging, which is again, we think beyond just the city. And think of the Metropolitan Region and have a metropolitan region authority, which actually supersedes the level of the cities, which actually gives you an organization at a sort of one level above which is capable of banging heads together to get things done to get service delivery done and so on and so forth. So there is a bunch of these kinds of new design principles of cities that are emerging, which I think could potentially be super useful. What might the changes look like? I think, the first is that I think a lot of political parties are going to realize that the urban vote precisely because of the way it’s queued is unspoken, right? I mean, so who moves to, so you can argue all you want about whether a city is 10,000 people or 50,000 people or what have you. But the bottom line is if a person has moved from point A to point B, it is very likely that that move has happened because I want to improve my life. Right? That person is aspirational, but that is why he is, he or she is moved to a city. I think there is that entire urban vote that has not been spoken for so some day political parties because of a set of these reasons, will actually understand that there is a vote here that is unspoken for right. That’s number one. So Prime Minister Modi in India, the messaging in 2014 was to this particular class of people who are aspirational, number one. Number two as we just discussed earlier, reform from below, which is you know ultimately you want the services that the SDGs are talking about, et cetera. And ultimately when you don’t have the provision, people are going to protest. Now in a lot of places that’s exactly what happened. Columbia, Brazil, all of these places in times of crisis is whether reform has happened because of protest from below and then don’t rule out the judicial route. Right? I mean there’s nothing that actually stops you from going to the courts to try and fix the system. Now, all of this said, we mustn’t also forget the fact that even if we fix all of these, we still have a state capability problem, right? Overnight if I can solve for all the problems that I just told you about and I say we are going to have high quality municipal governance, who’s going to staff it, right? Precisely because of the neglect of these third arms of government, they’ve all atrophied, right? I mean there’s no capability there. There’s no technical competence there. All of those things. So simultaneously with everything else we are doing, we also have to work on building state capability at the city level.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:57:40 Well, I mean the question I have then is, because you obviously got a lot of insight into this and particularly in developing markets in emerging markets where the force of urbanization is more powerful than anything else, right? But we also have a kind of collective will where that have come up with the SDGs that have, you know, these sort of, as Edie was saying earlier, crowdsourcing from 193 countries of saying, you know, these are the things we want. So at some point they have to intersect. I imagine, I mean, the power of urbanization, the more city sort of space we have, the more these people will require those services. And ultimately it seems that at least on a very local level, these servers will have to be provided, which ultimately are going to mean there’s more education, there’s more sanitation, there is more access to energy.

Edie Lush: 00:58:33 Education.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:58:35 Education. Yeah, absolutely. Healthcare, all of that stuff. However, if there’s nobody monitoring this at a metropolitan level or whatever you call it, then we probably have the urgency on climate action, resources that, you know, I think this is the urgency here is that we might get there on a lot of these goals anyway, naturally.

Reuben Abraham: 00:58:57 Correct.

Mustafa Alwari: 00:58:58 But if we don’t have the right regulation and people governing this, then it’s the kind of other things that takes regulation and laws to make sure don’t happen. Right. That’s really the urgency here to kind of deal with this.

Reuben Abraham: 00:59:12 So I don’t think the urgency is necessarily on the part of the SDGs. I think the urgency is from the part of the fact that the planet is urbanizing at a supremely fast rate. And most of these places that are getting urbanized are not prepared for it. So have the SDGs been crowdsourced? Yeah, from elites.

Edie Lush: 00:59:28 Well they were crowdsourced from all the countries. So they were crowdsourcing 193 countries.

Reuben Abraham: 00:59:34 Absolutely, but from the elites, I mean who have you out, who have you basically spoken to in a country like India, it’s the elites. I’m saying you haven’t really spoken to people on the ground. It’s so

Mustafa Alwari: 00:59:43 But are they like, I mean, you know, we don’t know the exact ins and outs of who was questioned, but it’s unlikely that anybody who isn’t elite is going to say, no, I don’t want education.

Reuben Abraham: 00:59:53 No, absolutely not, I’m just saying that that is like a motherhood and apple pie statement. You need to talk about how it’s going to get executed on the ground. It’s very easy to make a statement. Sure. How, what is the process of execution on this actually going to look like? I think that’s the bit that we need to basically focus on. And because the spatial dimension of this is going to more than likely be urban, we have to. And as you said, I mean some of these problems are just fixing themselves. So for instance, a good example of this would be what is the upside of urbanization, right? I mean the upside of urbanization is that carbon footprints dropped dramatically, right? The minute you move into a high density environment, your carbon footprint drops. So if you look at the United States, I mean you should not be surprised that New York City actually has the lowest carbon footprint of any major city in the US because 80% of New Yorkers don’t own any cars.

Edie Lush: 01:00:44 And they walk everywhere.

Reuben Abraham: 01:00:45 They walk everywhere. So there are ways in which these problems solve themselves without, you know, so the larger problem that I’m trying to get at is this business of where’s this going to be located and how do you actually solve the problem. So how do you go from idea to execution? And that seems to be the bit that nobody wants to necessarily talk about.

Edie Lush: 01:01:06 So can you give us an example, cause you talked about the areas of metropolitan governance being one, thinking about people as voters is another issue and then using the judiciary, you mentioned that Modi had appealed to this new class of people or this class of people in 2014 where else, can you give me an example where you see some of these things being put to use?

Reuben Abraham: 01:01:27 So in Italy for instance, there was something called the Delrio reforms in I think it was 2014 which basically where the under Renzi’s government actually provided the financial incentive. So the problem was that there’s a lot of sort of small municipalities that are all subscale, right? And at subscale, you’re not capable of providing the sort of, the services that people require. So the question was, can I actually get them to start? What are the incentives I can put into place to almost force them to start working with each other? So when they start working with each other, they form a larger administrative unit, you’re able to provide services at scale that you’re not able to provide when you’re working these atomized municipalities. So that’s one of the things that happened in Italy in 2014. This examples like this that you will see around the world, but I think we need to have precisely because everything that I said about urban comes as news to you. It comes as news to most people.

Edie Lush: 01:02:28 Right.

Reuben Abraham: 01:02:28 And so that’s the reason why we need to start focusing because it’s urgent, it’s immediate and it’s a 40 year window, right? I mean, that’s all you have.

Mustafa Alwari: 01:02:38 And why is it a 40 year window?

Reuben Abraham: 01:02:39 Because by then the estimation is that everybody becomes urban anyways.

Mustafa Alwari: 01:02:43 So in 40 years time, we’re all going to be city dwellers.

Reuben Abraham: 01:02:46 There’ll be an approximately 70, 80%.

Mustafa Alwari: 01:02:48 Even if the spreadsheet doesn’t say it, in reality we’ll all be living.

Reuben Abraham: 01:02:51 Yes, yes, exactly. I mean, you may not. Yeah, exactly. Even if the numbers don’t show it. I mean, you know, you look at the satellite imagery, all of that, it just shows that people are just moving.

Mustafa Alwari: 01:02:59 And it is sort of, I feel like when you say it, it’s the facts and news in the sense that it’s, wow. Yeah. When you say it in those metrics, it seems also, we knew this though, right? I think if you said that everybody is looking for a better life, well not everybody, but a lot of people are looking for a better life, so they seek out where the jobs are, a lot of the employment are in urban areas. So, so many people come to the UAE, for example, for work, myself included and we stay here for the lifestyle and other things, other soft things. But the thing that brings us here, so it’s kind of news, but obvious at the same time. But we don’t articulate it. And why don’t we articulate it? Is this sort of like, is there any shame about sort of this urbanization?

Reuben Abraham: 01:03:40 There’s definitely a romance of the rural, which is a global phenomenon. I mean this goes back to Toro in the US used to Romanticize rural areas. I mean Gandhi in India. I mean in fact in India we are certainly fighting the legacy of Ghandi because he articulated the notion of India as a republic of villages, which is true when he made the statement, but he wasn’t obviously seeing the flow of how things work. So if you just look at, again the data on this, I mean, so for 1800 years, whatever number you want to pick the world, is it about 2% of it? Right? So if you look at the numbers in about 1800 about 2-3% of the world is urban. By 2008 it’s 50% of the world is urban. So everything has gone into this hockey stick mode. So similarly there were 14 cities in 1900 with a population of over a million. Today? I mean there’s staggering numbers of cities with over a million people, there’s probably over 500 cities with over a million people. So no matter which of these numbers you look, they go into a hockey stick. But the narrative has not caught up. And the narrative is consistently this romance of the rural, which you know and maybe this is controversial, but people who romanticize villages typically share two things in common. They are wealthy and they live in cities.

Mustafa Alwari: 01:05:00 Agreed. I love the idea of going to live in the middle of nowhere, but I’ll never actually do it for more than a holiday.

Reuben Abraham: 01:05:06 Exactly. Yeah. Don’t conflate one’s holiday requirements with what one’s living requirements look like. You know what I mean? The great man who wrote our Constitution of India who actually went after Mr Ghandi in a fairly furious fashion because he actually grew up in a village as opposed to Mr Ghandi who grew up in cities.

Edie Lush: 01:05:28 Right.

Reuben Abraham: 01:05:29 It’s very easy to make a case for villages when you haven’t actually experienced what it’s like and what it’s like to be in a village, in a developing country.

Mustafa Alwari: 01:05:38 Sure.

Reuben Abraham: 01:05:39 It’s not fun. And by the way, the other problem that we have is most outsiders, so let’s say if you were to come into say a city like Bombay, you will see the slumps, right? And so that sort of creates a sort of image in your mind about the urban environment. Guess what you don’t see. What you don’t see is where people have escaped from to go live in that slum. Right? We have no visibility.

Mustafa Alwari: 01:06:09 You can’t, it’s impossible to see it.

Reuben Abraham: 01:06:11 Exactly. Because if we actually knew both circumstances, we’d realize why so many millions of people actually prefer to live in a slum. They are actually voting with their feet to go live in a slum.

Edie Lush: 01:06:25 So, because this is actually two podcasts in one in the Global GoalsCast, we always give our listeners three facts to take away to look smart to their mother-in-law and three actions that they can take if they’re interested. So, Reuben, what are yours?

Reuben Abraham: 01:06:42 So the first would be the centrality of cities. As I said, I mean, cities are massive. Cities are larger than countries. Many cities are larger than countries and so there’s no avoiding them. And we need to appreciate and understand the fact that cities are important and they are with us and they are here to stay on the planet is urbanizing. And in that process of organization, it actually allows us a window to solve problems because by concentrating people in places, it actually allows you to solve problems rather than solve problems all over the place. It actually allows you to concentrate problem solving. Think of, and I think this is an important point to make vis-a-vis, planning tools and so on, which is that cities, are really labor markets. People move to cities because they need jobs. So to that extent, and especially in developing countries, what really matters is housing and transit, right? So besides obviously the economics, which is you want a place of work, you want a place to stay and you want a reasonable way to get from your place of work to your place of stay. And that can be answered differently depending on where you are. So for instance, proximity can be defined as temporal proximity or spatial proximity. So you can walk to work or you can have mass transit that gets you to work in 15 minutes, no matter where you stay, which is the Hong Kong model. And the third thing to sort of look at is this growth of regional corridors, which is a now a big global phenomenon. It’s not just the Boston Washington corridor but that thing is beginning to emerge everywhere you look. So in India you’ve got the greater New Delhi region, you’ve got Mumbai, Pune, you’ve got Chennai, Bangalore, all of these are sort of emerging as corridors. So having a strategy that actually is regional in nature would actually help. Another fact to just highlight the importance of spatial density is in Manhattan, five zip codes between 41st street and 59th street have 600,000 jobs paying on average $100,000 each. I think that fact gives you everything you wanted to know about the centrality of cities and why people want to live in cities. And in terms of solutions, the first is obviously just that, which is like, you know, we need to have a model of governance that can, that enables us to rescale and is fit for form in terms of you’re addressing the regional nature of the problem rather than some other problem that we were supposed to solve decades ago. Right? The reality has changed. So the model of governance needs to adjust accordingly. Second, I think we need to change the narrative because this notion of cities being bad, cities being a terrible thing and you know, we all need to escape to rural areas. I think we need to change that narrative. It is a luxury to escape the city or to live in a rural area, it’s not, you know, I mean, so we must not kid ourselves about what cities mean to most people on the planet. The third thing is mobilization and state capacity. So, a lot of the poor outcomes around cities that you actually see today is, was the consequence of special interest, mobilization and lobbying. So the reason why Los Angeles became a car centric city is not because Los Angeles was always a car centric city, but was lobbying that got Los Angeles to where it is. So there’s no reason for us to believe that we can’t use the SDGs as a rallying call to mobilize in the reverse direction and make our cities more livable, more sustainable and so on and so forth. But the last thing I just want to leave here is as policymakers, we have to have to have to not take our attention away from the fact that state capacity matters. Building the capability of the state to address these issues, especially at the regional and city level, really, really matter. They have atrophied over time. We need to rebuild it

Edie Lush: 01:10:24 And there’s actually one more action you can take, which is that Reuben, you’ve contributed a chapter to a new Brookings book on the global goals called “Summits to Solutions”. Tell me about your chapter.

Reuben Abraham: 01:10:35 Well, the chapter that my coauthor Pritika Hingorani and I’ve written is called “rescaling government for an urban future”, which pretty much touches on all the issues that we have discussed today.

Mustafa Alwari: 01:10:45 Reuben Abraham, CEO of the IDFC institute. Thanks so much for coming in, sharing your thoughts and time with us. Been wonderful to have you.

Reuben Abraham: 01:10:51 Thank you very much for having me.

Mustafa Alwari: 01:10:53 You’ve been listening to a special edition of the business extra podcast about the sustainable development goals in partnership with Global GoalsCast. My cohost for this episode has been Edie Lush. Edie, thanks for being here. It’s been great to have you. I hope you found it as fascinating and enjoyable as I have.

Edie Lush: 01:11:09 I’ve loved it. I loved the future forum yesterday and I’ve loved doing the podcast with you here today and I hope it is the first of many.

Mustafa Alwari: 01:11:15 In Charlotte. As we say in Abu Dhabi and Charlotte, you’ll visit us again and we’ll get a chance to talk more about sustainable development goals and other important issues. If you tell our listeners a little bit about how they can hear more content from Global GoalsCast.

Edie Lush: 01:11:30 So we are on apple podcasts or wherever you listen, and we also invite you to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. The handle is @globalgoalscast.

Mustafa Alwari: 01:11:41 And as usual you can get our fuller coverage at thenational.ae. All our podcasts are available as well on apple podcast. We hope you’ve enjoyed this collaborative and special edition of the business extra podcast and do join us again.