SDG 4: Education: The Foundation for Every Nation

Jasmine Salsabila Balqis; Daffa Pradipta; Kristen O'Mara; Octavio Escobar Paniagua; Rodrigo Coello De Portugal Magallon; and Jesus Cabero Fuertes


Just as our team, comprised of six students, are working towards a common goal, the twenty-six AIM2Flourish companies assigned to us, are working towards the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Number Four: Quality Education. The purpose of these 17 goals are to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity (Sustainable Development Goals, 2022). Education plays a large role in creating global sustainability and our team is fortunate to be going to well-regarded schools, such as Universidad de Navarra, IPMI International Business School, and the University of Guelph. Pursuing post-secondary education puts us at an advantage over well-over half of the world’s population and as a result, we should be equipped with the skills to find a job post-graduation and contribute to the world economy (OECD, 2022).

However, this is not the case for most. The lack of proper education around the globe is saddening and leads to a vicious cycle, which has been identified by many organizations who are hoping to make a change. Whether implementing education as a primary or secondary goal in their business model, these companies realize the injustices and are working towards a better tomorrow. Our team believes that education is a privilege, but that it should be a right. Therefore, this SDG is about expanding the definition of education, taking it out of a classroom setting and applying it to all skills and interests and making it accessible for everyone.

Similarly, the United Nations defines SDG Four as to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (Goal 4, 2022). The report, “Shaping the Future We Want”, begins with a quote from Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO (2012) saying, “Education is the most powerful path to sustainability. Economic and technological solutions, political regulations or financial incentives are not enough. We need a fundamental change in the way we think and act” (Creech & Buckle, 2014). The report goes on to say that “Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) prepares people of all walks of life to plan for, cope with, and find solutions for issues that threaten the sustainability of our planet” (Creech & Buckle, 2014). As demonstrated in the twenty-six AIM2Flourish stories, these businesses seek out vulnerable members in their community, to provide them with an opportunity they may not have gotten otherwise. With a global goal of improving education, the steps these businesses are making towards accessibility are significant and have the power to inspire others to do the same. With education having such a broad scope, the opportunities are endless. The term “success” needs to be reframed to reflect sustainability and throughout this paper, we define this as “flourishing”.

Description and comparison of the innovations

Russell M. Nelson said, “Education is the difference between wishing you could help other people and being able to help them” (Holm, 2013). This is a theme between the twenty-six AIM2Flourish company stories our group looked into; it goes to show that in a world suffering from inequality within and among countries, those who are fortunate can make a difference. Through these individual stories, we learned the impact these businesses were having on their communities by breaking down barriers and making education more accessible. While working independently of each other, these companies are working toward SDG Four, which ensures inclusivity and equitable education and lifelong learning opportunities for all (Goal 4, 2022). The key here is “lifelong learning”, as many of these businesses go beyond education in a classroom and look at bringing awareness to sustainability, teaching people new skills, or simply helping them understand their bodies better.

These AIM2Flourish stories demonstrate how integrated the SDGs are, as while they are hoping to solve one issue, they are contributing to others as well. For instance, improved education (Goal Four) works to reduce gender inequalities (Goal Ten) and inequalities as a whole, and it also helps promote decent and economic growth in communities (Goal Eight). We can also see less common connections that vary based on the business innovation, such as with Veriphy. This plant-based cosmetics company targets the goals related to protecting the planet, such as clean water and sanitation (Goal Six), life below water (Goal 14), and life on land (Goal 15). However, they satisfy the quality education goal by supporting and promoting women in STEM (See Appendix A).

Looking back at Nelson’s quote, these stories stem from a person who noticed an area in their community that they could improve and took action. These actions had a ripple effect, as they created more people capable of change. While all these businesses are unique, a common element is that they help disadvantaged members of their community. There is a level of commitment of the companies or organizations to create projects regarding an improvement in education and social work. Some of these examples include integrating women in fields like programming and computer science through education courses, which is the case of Laboratoria and Veriphy, or by offering online education to children whose access to education is scarce, as is in the case of Kytabu. As well as offering quality education, these stories focused on offering education in a sustainable mindset as well. By making a profound impact on their community, they are what our group believes to be a ‘Flourishing Business’. This can further be defined as an organization whose workers’ values align with those of the business, that provides fair wages, and yet is able to remain successful. In this case, success is not simply measured by profit, but by using the triple bottom line or the 5Ps of Sustainable Development: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnership.

With a common attribute of these companies being dedicated to access to well-being and education, this falls under People. A good example of this is the Clarity Initiative, whose diverse team focuses on providing inclusive, high-quality, and financially accessible coaching for everyone, including their employees (See Appendix A). This and so many other businesses appeal to minorities, as business owners have recognized the injustices and are trying to do the right thing. Therefore, the main focus of these companies was on the People sector, as the improvement in education provided by them is focused on improving people’s lives according to their unique needs. This can be clearly seen when comparing Kaspersky to Kytabu, as they approach the goal from different angles (See Appendix A). Next, Planet looks at goals six, 12, 13, 14 and 15, and of our stories, SDG 12 was the most common. We saw examples of responsible consumption and production in Veriphy, as mentioned above, but also in Textbooks for Change, a company that provides developing countries with access to affordable textbooks. “This business model of donation, reselling and recycling offers benefits to society and to the environment simultaneously” (See Appendix A). This was true for many of the businesses we looked at.

Moreover, Prosperity looks at SDGs eight to eleven, of which eight is primarily followed. In order to make a difference in these communities, a team has to be assembled. By providing decent work, there are benefits to the economy and to those employed. The social impact is covered when there is fulfilment in their role and with the social causes these organizations work on, there is a great sense of accomplishment. While very few of the stories assigned touch on SDG Four, which deals with Peace, an important aspect that brings the world together is education. This helps lessen the divide and bring awareness to what other communities are going through. Lastly, Partnership looks at the participation of all countries, all stakeholders, and all people. As we can see by the businesses all over the world embarking on these journeys, it is evident they are working towards the same goal.

Therefore, when looking for a common theory that describes these businesses, the Stakeholder Theory is fitting. “This theory advances the notion that organizations that take particularly good care of a broad group of their stakeholders (i.e., customers, suppliers, employees, communities) will function more effectively and create more value” (Harrison, 2013). A similarity between these businesses is that the owner was inspired in their life’s journey and devised a plan to address what they had seen. With passion as a motivator, they built their organization in their eyes, hiring the right staff members, oftentimes those who did not have many opportunities. This creates a strong foundation as everyone in the organization has understanding and compassion for their fellow employees, suppliers, and customers. A primary example of stakeholder theory, and this is evident in so many of the stories, is East Bali Cashews. Founded in 2012, Aaron Fishman, a healthcare volunteer in East Bali saw an opportunity to create a social venture that would bring livelihood and educational opportunities to the community (See Appendix A). This created jobs both for those processing the cashews and for the farmers. The Farmer Extension Programs are the stakeholder theory in action, as they provide support for their suppliers by educating them and supplementing income during off-seasons (See Appendix A).

On the other hand, we can see differences between the stories read, as some prioritize education as their primary goal, whereas, others have it as a secondary benefit. Another difference we noted is that flourishing businesses do not have to be sustainable in the traditional “green” way. For example, Drive on My Own enables people with disabilities to feel more connected to the world around them (See Appendix A) Getting more people on the road increases carbon emissions in the atmosphere, however, its purpose goes beyond that and tries to create sustainable cities and communities (See Appendix A).

Overall, the common elements of these stories were not about sharing all the same goals but rather working toward increasing accessibility and improving the education for the people who need it the most, in a way, solving a need in their community. As such, it is beneficial that these businesses are different. If they had all followed the same business model, there would be many social issues or social groups not being addressed. Even though these organizations range in size and scope, through these diverse business innovations, we are able to see a positive difference in our world and get us a step closer to achieving these goals by 2030.

Critical Reflection

In this section, we will uncover how our team learns, our findings and the impact on our lives. During our first meeting, we discussed our understanding of SDGs, provided examples of business in a sustainable world, and personally defined what a flourishing business is. According to our team, the SDGs are a call to action for a more sustainable development world. The goal of these SDGs are to reduce inequality, create better opportunities, and create partnerships between developing and developed countries. Of course, this also aims to make a better world and build a better future for the next generation. There are many ways to support SDG activities, one of which is having a business that has an impact on its surroundings, such as a business that focuses on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which is undoubtedly necessary for the road toward a sustainable world. What needs to be considered, in our opinion, is encouragement from the government for businesses to be sustainable, but a balance needs to be found between profit and sustainability. We hope that many businesses will be successful and have the title of a “flourishing business”, where the industry has financial return and is helping the communities around.

Next, we talked about what makes a business flourish? One definition given is that we need to pursue a comprehensive approach that merges passion, profit, and purpose in a harmonious manner. We were given many examples of businesses flourishing. Starting from an application created by a father after being inspired by his disabled child; a hotel business, Hotel con Corazón, was built by a husband and wife in an area in Spain aiming to generate income value and increase the area’s popularity for tourists to visit and reinvesting the revenue from the hotel to schools in the area. As mentioned previously, we were tasked with expanding our knowledge on SDG Four, education.

Apart from education, we also found that social work played a role in some of the flourishing businesses we got to analyze. From this, our group realized that all the companies in the papers that we have read could relate to different theories, we looked at Institutional Theory, Agency Theory, and Stakeholder Theory. Starting with Institutional theory, which is an approach to understanding organizations and management practices as the product of social rather than economic pressures (Suddaby, 2013). At first, we found this theory to be well-suited, however, we later learned that the central assumption is that organizations improve their odds of survival by conforming to commonly held expectations of what a successful institution should be (Suddaby, 2013). This was not the case as these companies were not being performative but deeply cared about the social issue they were working towards. After that, we discussed Agency Theory, which is used to apply a contractual framework to a vast array of situations in which one party, referred to as the principal, utilizes the services of another party—referred to as the agent (Kessler, 2013). Our group again found this to be too transactional. The last theory we considered was Stakeholder Theory, it is “a view of capitalism that stresses the interconnected relationships between a business and its customers, suppliers, employees, investors, communities and others who have a stake in the organization” (About, 2018). Based on the level of care for the people within the organization and whom it served, this was a common element we found.

Through reading these inspiring stories centred around SDG Four, our group’s point of view shifted from believing operating a successful business meant having to choose between “getting a lot of profit” or “having a social impact”. We learned that by combining the two, one can have a flourishing business. This was exemplified in many of the AIM2Flourish stories that demonstrated that when businesses support and help create a better world for the future, people will do the same.

These stories also made our group feel that it is essential to support a business that has a good impact on the community, as this will foster a better world today and in the future. This highlighted the importance of the SDGs and demonstrated that we too could work towards these goals. Of course, in the future, we will implement what we have learned both from the story and also from the results of discussions with each team member. Working with such a diverse team created opportunities for interesting discussions and new perspectives, which led us all to have an open mind. While we may not remember the individual stories, the UN’s SDGs are ingrained in our minds. Now, we will be able to share these outstanding lessons with others, starting from the closest people such as parents, family, and friends and then going to a broader level, such as social media. This can reach many people and can even reach remote areas such as the small communities these businesses help. And there is so much more left to do.

Many things have changed after doing this assignment, as evidenced by the post-test sustainability mindset survey compared to the initial sustainability mindset survey given at the start of the semester. Previously, our eco-literacy, emotional intelligence, and other ways of thinking were in need of improvement. After engaging in discussions, reading stories from AIM2Flourish, and reflecting on our own lives, a lot has changed as now we feel we have a good understanding of the aspect of the Sustainability Mindset being assessed. This can also be seen from the graph, as it became balanced as the semester progressed.

In addition, we learned many things starting from the way we did the project, discussions between team members, and also the stories we had read and analyzed. Doing this assignment is a new experience, mainly because we are doing this task at a different time and place. Discussing and producing the same answer from six other people is usually not an easy thing, coupled with the differences in time and culture of our three countries, Indonesia, Canada, and Spain. But this difficulty was not a recurring theme in our group because we worked together well and surprisingly, we did not find much difference in the way of thinking even though we are from three different countries! Everything discussed became much more manageable and as expected we are extremely grateful to have the opportunity to work with this group.

Lessons Learned
Throughout the collaboration, as a team, we felt really comfortable with one another from the beginning despite our cultural differences and the peculiar form of interactions we had. Our first form of interaction was in the opening session of the program where we were separated into groups via Zoom.

At first, we were all hesitant to speak due to nerves and the awkwardness of meeting new people from other parts of the world through a video camera. Once the first person spoke, we all started to let go of that fear and began to interact more effortlessly with each other. During this first session, we were given a task to choose an animal that would represent the group. After much deliberation and getting to know each other, we agreed to name the wolf as our group animal. We got to this conclusion since wolves are apex predators and their pack is like a family, which is how we felt after conversing about our different cultural backgrounds and connecting with all the members of the group, a wolf pack. This sense of unity has accompanied us from beginning to end. Additionally, we exchanged phone numbers and created a WhatsApp group where we could discuss, with more ease, the weekly assignments and the organization/division of the final reflection. Knowing we had weekly assignments we considered two modes of communication to organize the meetings and information that had to be turned in. We felt that the suggested one by the professors, emails, would not be effective enough for us to have constant feedback on our work and to schedule meetings since emails are not checked as often as WhatsApp. After the first session the WhatsApp group became a constant form of communication, it surpassed its purpose of just serving as an accessible form of communication as we started talking to one another on a more personal level.

Throughout the assignments and the online meetings we used, as previously mentioned, WhatsApp to communicate and divide our parts. For the first two meetings we kept each other informed on the topics to discuss during them, later we divided the essay during the third meeting and prepared each part individually; sort of a divide and conquer strategy since we all had multiple assignments during the weeks that followed. We found this strategy to be the most efficient for us, given the simplicity of dividing the work and later meeting to put together the final reflection and make it coherent. We also strategized the division of work and made it so the students from the same university could collaborate in their specific part of the final reflection since it would make it easier for them to work together given the time difference and scheduling problems that rose from other workloads. Furthermore, we utilized Google Docs to proofread, as a team, the final reflection once we all finished our respective parts.

We should also mention the fact that there were some difficulties involved. Most of the problems we encountered revolved around the issue of time zones and each one’s personal agenda. In order to cope with this, we established all our meetings at the same time on Fridays, so group members could organize their schedules around this issue. Nonetheless, it is truly mesmerizing that we are living in a time where students from opposite sides of the globe are able to collaborate and work towards the same goal.

The overall experience of this assignment was enriching for all of us. We got to expand our knowledge of different cultures as well as teach others about our culture. Moreover, we connected with one another more than what we expected at the beginning of the assignment. As we live in a globalized society, our generation is more interconnected with one another than previous generations. We discovered that, regardless of the distance between the group members, we were all very similar in our expressions and knowledge of pop culture making it easier to relate to each group member. We found it fascinating and mind-blowing that, as a result of the pandemic and quarantine, we were all experiencing the same phenomenon and that we all were doing similar activities to cope with the stress and boredom that came with it. Once we covered all the topics due during the meetings, we stayed an additional 15-20 minutes talking to one another about their day or any other relevant information we wanted to share with the group. We made conversation with one another to strengthen the relationship of the group. The wolf pack will forever be embedded in our memories as something we are proud to be part of.

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Appendix A
AIM2Flourish Stories Addressed

Title URL Business Name
A Budding Idea: Plant-Based Cosmetics Veriphy Skincare
Programando para el Futuro Laboratoria
Making Quality Education Accessible to Everyone Kytabu
Empowered people, empower people Clarity Initiative
Developing Security Awareness Learning Journey for Everyone Kapersky
Helping the World Book by Book Textbooks for Change
From a Humble Village A Globally Responsible Company was Born East Bali Cashews
On My Own Drive On My Own
Impact Hotel for the Socially Conscious Traveler Hotel con Corazón


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Critical Reflections on Innovative Flourishing Businesses in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals Copyright © 2022 by Jasmine Salsabila Balqis; Daffa Pradipta; Kristen O'Mara; Octavio Escobar Paniagua; Rodrigo Coello De Portugal Magallon; and Jesus Cabero Fuertes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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