The Sustainable Development Goals have laid out an ambitious agenda for transforming development, to ensure that it is both environmentally sustainable, and equitable – sharply reducing poverty and improving living conditions for all people around the world.

Amira Abi Khalil has owned and operated her brick and stone trading company since 1997. UN Women/Joe Saade

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which provide the vast majority of jobs in developing countries, and a significant share in industrialized countries as well, have a key role to play in achieving the SDGs’ ambitious vision. The choices they make as they grow, and the extent to which diverse entrepreneurs are able to thrive, will help determine whether tomorrow’s economy is greener, more inclusive and more equitable, or more destructive both to the planet and the social fabric.

The brief begins by placing this gap in the context of three decades of debate about sustainable development and, in parallel, the growing recognition of gender inequality and efforts to address it. We then present the business case for explicitly and systematically addressing gender in SMEs, as well as several practical suggestions for how to do so, both within SMEs and in policy-making.

Women, equally with men, can and should play a major role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and building a green, equitable and prosperous economy. By fully engaging and empowering the female half of the global talent pool, we can both accelerate the sustainability transition, and help ensure that no one is left behind.