How a North Korean woman made us realize, that working with the SDGs is not an option, it is a requirement

Above Borders travel to rather unusual destinations including North Korea and Turkmenistan. Our mission is to create life time experiences for all travelers and local people who cross our way.

On our travels to North Korea, Turkmenistan or anywhere else in the world, we always want to interact with the local community. We want to meet university students, war heroes, professional acrobats, farmers and I could easily continue to explain about all the many different types of people we meet – the point is, that people from all around the world and their different cultures are the motivational drivers for us to run a travel company.

Every single person has a story to tell. These stories are exactly why we want to travel to different, unusual and isolated destinations – because these are the stories which are never being told or heard.


On my very first tour to North Korea, I was talking to a North Korean woman and I remember the conversation as if it was yesterday.
Like most people, I had the perception that North Korea would be all about brainwashed people walking in military parades and about nuclear weapons. I also expected that every topic of conversation would be about their supreme leader. As you probably have already guessed, I did learn that my (and everyone else’s) initial perception was very far from my experiences. Therefore, back to the woman whom I talked to.

It was the very last evening of my first tour, and my mind was already full of experiences and new impressions. It had been some intense days in one of the worlds most isolated countries. Luckily, the itinerary’s last happening was visiting the local beer bar. That is really something a young Danish student can relate to. Also, as previous experiences have shown, there is almost nothing that can connect people as sharing a beer. This was also the case in North Korea.

The woman whom I spoke to, was slightly older than me. Her name was Ms Kang. She was married and had a 5-year-old son. Ms Kang started asking me about my future and what dreams I had. She explained I was still so young. I could still see so much more of the world. I still had the possibility to make an impact, not only for me but also for the people around me.

Ms Kang then continued by talking about her own childhood. How she used to be a great swimmer, and how she, at a very young age, dreamed of becoming a professional. She even talked about how she once crossed the big river Taedonggang, which runs through the capital of North Korea, Pyongyang. Ms Kang explained, that at some point she realized that swimming would not be her career path. Instead, she started focusing on her academic studies, especially those involving numbers. She loved calculating, solve sudoku puzzles and all kinds of logical challenges. Therefore, she wanted to be an accountant. She studied hard for this every day. During her studies, her career did, however, take a different path. Ms Kang ended up being a tour guide. When asking her about why she explained that it was at some point being decided. I never really found out by whom it was decided though. Now, Ms Kang has another dream. She hopes that her son one day will be such a great swimmer so that they can cross the Taedonggang River together.

After this in-depth personal story, which was so far from what I would have expected to hear in North Korea, I realized that I and our future company did not only have the possibility to make an impact, as Ms Kang had explained – We have the responsibility to do so.

Dreams and hopes for the future are an essential part of happiness and a greater world, especially when they are achieved. But that is also where hard work plays a tremendous role.

That is why we work every day to understand and learn about the world. That is why we continuously improve our efforts so that we can also help achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. That is why we believe that communication and openness always beat isolation in the fight to promote peace and justice. That is why we create relations and understanding between people even in the most isolated countries. That is why I ordered two more beers, one for myself and one for Ms Kang.

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Business today is faced with enormous challenges, which are testing business models and forcing companies to adapt to survive. Business resilience to externalities is at the forefront of organisations and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) clearly reflect these challenges facing all players in the economy. Regardless of sector or geographical location, business is equally responsible for driving change and making a positive difference.

No one is better placed to do this than the startups because they begin with a blank piece of paper when formulating their business plans.

Businesses cannot continue to be successful and generate a sustainable profit if they fail to manage the risks and opportunities of their operating environment. The SDGs offer a possible US$ 12 trillion for businesses, which can only be realised if the 17 goals and the associated targets are achieved.

Generally, the accounting profession is committed to meet the increasing demand for measuring, reporting and providing assurance as to the SDGs gain traction and the goals are pursued. We know that trust in business is low and investors do not have sufficient confidence in the information reported on environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters. Specifically, the key issue is for the accounting profession to help investors direct the capital towards sustainable businesses by providing trust and to achieve ESG investment-grade data.

Without robust data and rigorous internal processes, companies will not have the ability to manage and mitigate the possible risks and to seize the opportunities.

The investors are increasingly demanding better and more reliable ESG information to allow them to make appropriate capital allocation decisions. Businesses that can demonstrate the integration of relevant ESGs into the wider business model, strategy and organisational processes can reduce their cost of capital.

The accounting profession has expertise in turning data into reliable information. However, without robust verifiable data, it is difficult for businesses to extract the meaningful and consistent information needed to explain to investors the benefits of embedding the SDGs within their business models.

To continue to improve resilience and build trust, businesses and the accounting profession need to work together to identify what constitutes relevant data needed to report reliably on ESGs. Furthermore, the data need to be verifiable and consistent. Businesses also need to determine what internal controls and governance processes are needed to ensure the reliability of ESG information provided to investors. For many businesses, establishing an appropriate control environment allows them to collect better quality and more reliable data, which are needed to provide trustworthy information on ESGs. Trust in this controlled environment and the information derived, as a result, is based on this robust process. The provision of appropriate assurance over this information will, in turn, contribute to a process whereby investors can obtain investor grade ESG information and begin to allocate capital to those businesses that are demonstrating their value and business resilience.

It is no longer a question of whether companies should report ESG information – the discussion has moved on to ensure that businesses understand the implications of ESG factors in value creation.

But where to begin and how to get started? FSR – Danish Auditors has together with Nasdaq Copenhagen and The Danish Finance Society, CFA Society Denmark, developed a set of ESG key figures including both definitions and methods.

The objective has been to harmonise and standardise the basic key figures for the benefit of the analysts, investors and the business community, including startups, which, as mentioned earlier, are in an ideal position to seize the opportunity to run their businesses responsibly and be transparent on what they do. Read about the key figures here.

Author: Charlotte Jepsen, CEO at FSR

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What do 2030 Builders do?

2030 Builders, is a digital innovation tool that is helping companies to independently innovate and impact with the SDGs.

Can you tell me about yourself and your business?
We developed a gamified tool which the companies can use in teams in any department, to understand how they can work with the SDGs and how they can discover their unique business potential within the SDGs.

Why did you start your business?
I co-founded 2030 Builders together with my sister because we both have a passion for making the world a better place. Our educational backgrounds are in business, me from CBS International Business and Politics with a minor in sustainability, and hers in Social Entrepreneurship and Management, with a speciality in Impact Investing. We combined our expertise, passion for sustainability, and desire to enact change, which resulted in the creation of our product that helps companies transition towards sustainable practices. 

Mia and Gabriela and sisters and founders of 2030 Builders

What have you achieved with the company so far?
We’ve launched our facilitated MVP in March, and right now we have a product ready for facilitation inside companies. We are still working on our software as a service version of our product which will empower companies to engage in the SDG impact play on their own. Our plan is to scale up and enable companies worldwide to innovate with sustainability goals, not only within Denmark. 

Why do you think sustainability is important?
Sustainability is important because it needs to become the norm. There’s a lot of buzz about it due to society feeling pressed by climate change, natural disasters, and the limited resources that we started finally to acknowledge. Because of the negative impact, people have made, both on the environment and society we now experience the pressure. Hopefully, we will transition, by 2030, to a society which, there is less talk about sustainability and how to become sustainable. This is because sustainability will be the norm. Everybody will only think in a sustainable manner when they do any action or business in their daily lives like designing a service or product. Changing the norm to be sustainability is not an option at this point.

How is your product or service sustainable?
When we started with the idea of creating something gamified we thought about doing something digital, and not just the board game in on cardboard. So the product is sustainable because it’s digital. It also takes into account how to how to use sustainability to the maximum. 

What makes it unique?
Our unique selling proposition is that our product is a fast track to sustainability. It’s enabling companies to do it internally rather than spend time on a consultant and wait for a solution. There’s no data disclosure necessary, and all work is done inside the company themselves since they know best. Another unique selling proposition is the unlimited possibilities it brings. It’s customizable in which a company can start working whichever goal they want and empower all its departments to choose what goals make the most sense for each team to act upon. There is an abundance of opportunities to find new ideas for products and services, and it’s up to the imagination of employees to discover them. 

How is your service connected to the SDGs and which ones?
Our overall mission taps into SDG 8 decent working economic growth, because we want to make economic growth more sustainable. And of course, decent work contributes to social sustainability. We empower companies to report on their sustainability practices so they can reflect on how to improve. We look into all of the goals and we try to simplify the process so that the companies can find it easy to identify which ones which goals are relevant for them, and which ones they should work towards. So we help facilitate the impact of the SDGs chosen by our clients choose to work with. But we are promoting all goals equally.

What are your next steps for making the company greener?
We are looking at how we can improve our inside practices. More sustainable doesn’t necessarily means mean greener, of course, right now we are a startup. And we have to print also for our iteration purposes, but we’re transitioning now to stone paper for our promotional materials and business cards, and everything that we printed out. In addition more sustainable will also mean monetizing more so we can actually pay to people that are working with us. Right now we have a lot of interns and we want them to feel both rewarded by the change we make in society and environment but also by remuneration. 

Do you have any tips for other companies to work with sustainability?
Work with us 🙂


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Can Accountants Save the World?

They probably can’t. But accountants can play an important role in your journey to becoming a sustainable business.

The SDGs are in a way a strategy for the world. The SDGs address the most urgent challenges to the world – global warming, climate change, scarce resources and unequal distribution, to mention a few – and they recognize the interconnectivity between production, consumption, the environment and economic growth.

With the SDGs, we have a lever for innovation and a framework for developing national action plans for sustainable production and consumption – in the form of a partnership between the private and public sector and civil society.

The beauty of the SDGs is that they are fit for purpose and enable us to label and communicate the impact of our behaviour on environment, climate, resources and prosperity.

The SDGs have created a momentum, a new sustainability movement across sectors and nations, and it is positive to see that Danish companies are picking up the SDGs pretty well, even though it is still early days with inconsistent reporting and no assurance.

Charlotte Jesper, CEO at FSR and Keynote Speaker at ED

The business and startup community play an important role – as does the accounting profession – in measuring, reporting and verifying data. There is a huge demand for consistent, reliable and verifiable data, which the profession should meet. Failure to address the goals are said to bring severe financial risks in every part of the world. A concerted effort to meet them, on the other hand, will be a key driver of economic growth.

So, I will urge all – both private and public actors, the old establishment and the aspiring startups – to work together to make Denmark the best at the sustainable business in 2030.

With a committed business community and an ambitious startup environment, we are well on our way. The accountants can verify that.

Author: Charlotte Jepsen, CEO at FSR

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The definition of this comes in many shapes and sizes. To me, and the company I work for, entrepreneurship has always been and still is an innate part of our culture. 20 years ago, Milestone Systems, today a global leader within open platform video management software, was itself a startup with a clear ambition to disrupt a conservative industry. And we believe we did disrupt it with our open platform approach. Our challenge today, is how we can continue to shape an entrepreneurial culture that we and our colleagues truly believe in, now that we’ve grown up and grown out of the startup phase? The culture changes for sure as it is formed by the many new people that have joined us. So how to keep the start-up mindset is the big question. Is it still the culture it used to be?


Jesper Just, VP Products at Milestone Systems and keynote speaker at CBS Entrepreneurial Day 2019

Not long ago, we decided to find out. We kicked off a company-wide review of our existing culture to understand the correlation between our values, behaviours and work processes. We identified a number of dilemmas to tackle as a growing company such as how to balance work and personal development. When things get busy, it is easy to forget to invest time in your personal development. The guiding principle to this that we follow is that “we want the development of our people to meet both individual and business needs to the greatest extent possible”.

Just one example of the dilemmas and corresponding guiding principles that we identified. Because dilemmas will arise when you transform from a freewheeling startup to a company of more than 800 people and 77 nationalities in 22 geographical locations. Looking ahead, we need to address these dilemmas and others to follow, as our company grows, and at the same time continue to nourish our entrepreneurial culture. It may not be an easy task but it’s possible. And it is who we are.

Another important aspect of our culture and our value system is responsibility. Both our responsibility for each other within the company and our responsibility for the technology we work with. Two years ago, Milestone Systems became a signatory to the Copenhagen Letter, a technology declaration to aspire to open and honest public conversation about the power of technology and how technology should enhance the quality of life. The letter says, among other things: “It is time to take responsibility for the world we are creating. Time to put humans before business.”. Today, the letter has been signed by more than 5,000 individuals. Finally, staying entrepreneurial also is about how we can continue to drive an innovative mindset. How we continue to nurture creativity, curiosity and courage. And doing so with a lean startup mindset. We disrupted our industry once. Flexing our innovation muscle will enable us to stay on the edge of innovation.

Not only technology companies need to step up and take responsibility, but all types of companies also do – including startups. Not only regarding what we produce but how we produce as will also be addressed at CBS Entrepreneurial Day 2019 when we discuss how entrepreneurs combine working with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals and running a thriving business.

Looking into our existing culture made us a whole lot wiser. We understood that the essential part of our entrepreneurial culture is still intact, it’s still what our employees feel and live every day. But we also learned that when growing up, we need to find an even finer balance between culture and the increased responsibility that comes with the society we live in today.

I look forward to discussing entrepreneurship, culture and growing up and out of the startup phase with you all at CBS Entrepreneurial Day on September 26. See you there!

Author: Jesper Just Jensen, VP Products at Milestone Systems

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Find your next job – Join CBS Entrepreneurial Day 2019!

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