A Week of Inspiration and Insight at the Business Fights Poverty Global Summit 2021

By Annabel Beales, Writer, Business Fights Poverty

It was inspiring to witness the extent of our collective energy and expertise at the Business Fights Poverty Global Summit 2021. This five-day event, held from 21-25th June, brought together over 80 speakers with more than 1000 registered participants to celebrate the successes of our members; share insights and lessons learned; and build our resilience.

It was inspiring to witness the extent of our collective energy and expertise at the Business Fights Poverty Global Summit 2021. This five-day event, held from 21-25th June, brought together over 80 speakers with more than 1000 registered participants to celebrate the successes of our members; share insights and lessons learned; and build our resilience.

The richness of the discussions was undoubtedly due to the generous contributions of people from across many different countries, sectors and perspectives.

One thing I’m particularly proud of is the progress we are making in opening up our platform to a diversity of voices: this year, 75% of our speakers are women, 50% from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, and close to 50% from the Global South. We’re committed to continuing to improve with each event we do.”

Zahid Torres-Rahman, Founder, Business Fights Poverty


Keep reading for a round-up of each day’s activities, and to find out how to access the week’s insights through our free digital pass.

Monday – Leadership

Our day on Leadership explored how businesses can embed social and climate innovation to rebuild better. During the Fireside Chat, Jane Nelson, Director, Corporate Responsibility Initiative, Harvard Kennedy School in conversation with Rebecca Marmot, Chief Sustainability Officer at Unilever and her South Asia Supply Chain colleague, Ansu Archana, helpfully framed the three levels of leadership that are necessary: the individual level of skills and mindsets that initiate change; the institutional level, to embed change; and interactive and collaborative leadership that drives systemic change.

At a time when businesses are increasingly expected to take a leadership role on societal issues, our webinar explored the drivers and challenges of values-led action, and shared practical examples of businesses taking action on COVID-19 and climate change. Ruth Mhlanga, Oxfam, emphasised that dealing with underlying causes requires companies to integrate solutions into their core business practices.

Over 200 people participated in our online written discussion exploring how business can take a lead by creating the structures and culture necessary to unleash innovation as a force for good in their everyday business activities.

Tuesday – Gender

Day 2 provided insights into how business is tackling gender-based violence (GBV), and increasing access to e-commerce for women entrepreneurs. Yvette Torres-Rahman, Founder, Business Fights Poverty, held a Fireside Chat with Yash Ranga, Stakeholder Engagement Partner, Sustainability Lead, Jaipur Rugs Foundation and Achi Devi, Weaver Designer, Jaipur Rugs, on their personal experiences of the impact of COVID-19 and how women can be supported during these difficult times.

Our first webinar expanded on a recent IFC study into company responses to GBV. We heard how depression, shame and anxiety frequently impact on the working lives of those who have experienced GBV, and how company action can mitigate the personal and business impacts, particularly in countries where community or government support is limited.

Our second webinar explored the potential for e-commerce to transform the lives of women entrepreneurs, particularly in Africa which – as Jumoke Jagun-Dukonmu,  Regional Director, Eastern Africa, IFC advised – has the fastest growing e-commerce market anywhere in the world. The session explored why digital inclusion matters for women-owned enterprises; why women are disproportionately excluded from advances in digital technology, and how businesses can ensure that women’s voices are heard when designing the digital environment.

Wednesday – Livelihoods

Our Fireside Chat with Constantino Gajardo, Country Manager, CODESPA Philippines and Mónica Gil-Casares, Research and Social Innovation Director, CODESPA Foundation, set the scene on business as a crucial partner in securing livelihoods for the poorest communities.

One priority action is for businesses to pay a living wage. Our webinar put forward the business and societal case: low pay is connected to human rights abuses, low productivity and reputational risk, whereas promoting social justice within our own organisations is the foundation for ensuring resilient and inclusive economies.

Our online written discussion focused on enhancing the livelihoods of women smallholder farmers, highlighting the challenges in overcoming barriers of gender inequality and discrimination, and sharing examples of bottom-up cross-sector collaborations which are improving the prospects of women farmers, their families and communities.

Thursday – Climate Justice

Climate change is not only a future risk, but also a worsening reality. In our fireside chat, we heard from Marike de Pena about how farmers in the Caribbean are already experiencing the impacts. Marike stressed the importance of learning from those who bear the brunt of climate change when designing adaptations.

Similarly, our webinar on Business and Climate Justice explored how we can put people at the heart of efforts to respond to climate change, working holistically to scale solutions that connect social and environmental issues. Lisa Manley, Vice President, Sustainability, Mars, challenged us all: “let’s all be silo busters and work hard to bring environmental and social silos together… and to be advocates for the most vulnerable”.

One particular challenge in working in this holistic way is to find new ways of measuring and accounting for social, environmental and commercial value together. Our written discussion examined the business case for a combined approach to measuring value. Participants shared their experiences of grappling with the inevitable trade-offs as well as sharing examples of promising partnerships and initiatives.

Friday – Partnership

During the COVID-19 pandemic, cross-sectoral partnerships have mobilised resources and innovated solutions at a breath-taking rate. On the last day of the conference, we asked what can be learned from emergent forms of partnership, and how they can help with other pressing challenges. The Fireside Chat with Helga Flores Trejo, Vice President, Global Public Affairs International Organizations, Bayer and Andrea Acerbi, Head of Social Innovation & Corporate Giving, Bayer, highlighted how companies are responding to the rising expectation that companies make a significant contribution towards tackling global challenges.

Our webinar on Tackling the Pandemic: From Rapid Response to Prevention discussed the private sectors’ role in rapid partnerships, from ensuring access to emergency oxygen-related supplies to building vaccine literacy and access, as well as strengthening the resilience of health systems and communities.

Similar themes also arose in our webinar on Business Partnerships to Strengthen Food Systems. Etienne Labonde of the UN World Food Programme reminded us that although there is enough food to feed the entire planet, more than 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. Our panellists agreed that the task before us is to share solutions that are showing promise to bring them to scale through long-term, trust-based partnerships.


Personal and Professional Development

Alongside these in-depth discussions, the Global Summit included opportunities for personal reflection and learning. We were joined by musician Matteo Crocetti who started each day with a song to inspire. Each day closed with our interactive coaching sessions, in which renowned business coach Marcus Druen and holistic therapist Ruth Clark guided participants in building personal resilience as we work to rebuild better.

Our learning zone included free online training modules by Pearson, for example in sustainable futures, organisations environmental management and innovation; humanitarian response, discovering your entrepreneurial potential and building professional and emotional resilience. Besides this, we showcased practical “how-to videos”, action toolkits, reports, and podcasts by Business Fights Poverty and contributors across our network.

Relive the Week

We are thrilled to be able to offer, courtesy of Pearson, a free digital pass for the week, where you can catch up on full recordings of all the live events as well as accessing the written discussions, summary reports of each session, and our curated library of learning resources. Please register here to discover more.

Join Us for Our Next Event 

We are delighted to be hosting the Standard Chartered virtual Futuremakers Forum 2021 13th-15th July to unleash the potential of young people to succeed in the future world of work. Register now to be part of the conversation!


We are grateful to our event partners Unilever and Pearson; to IFC, Bayer, Mars, Oxfam, Cargill and Crown Agents for co-hosting specific sessions; as well as to Harvard Kennedy School Corporate Responsibility Initiative, our excellent panellists and to all who joined us at the event. 

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