BFP: What do you do?
AG: I lead outreach efforts for the Business Call to Action (BCtA), an initiative that challenges companies to develop business models that offer the potential for both commercial success and development impact. I act as the interface with companies on the BCtA: persuading them to join; supporting them through the application process; and providing feedback on the development and implementation of their initiatives.
Although I am based at UNDP headquarters in New York, the BCtA is actually a multistakeholder initiative supported by 8 different organisations (UNDP is one). My role also involves managing relations with partners and helping ensure that their strategic priorities are met as far as possible in our direction-setting and outreach to companies.
BFP: What is the best part about your job?
AG: There are many good parts. To start, I get to speak regularly to some incredibly innovative companies about the new business models they are developing, the impacts they hope to achieve in underserved markets, and the opportunities and challenges they face in implementation. It’s invigorating to have a bird’s eye view of the sea-change that is taking place with regard to perceptions of the private sector’s role in development. And I love having access to individuals who are at the forefront of this change, driving innovation within their companies.
I also enjoy the chance to be entrepreneurial about how BCtA adds value to its member companies. Working together as a small team, we are always brainstorming about new ways to support our members in their inclusive business efforts. This may be through the establishment of new relationships – for example, we recently started linking our members to researchers from leading business schools. Or it may be through the use of new technologies – in the last few months, we have reached new audiences by featuring BCtA companies in our emergent webinar series.
BFP: What has been your greatest challenge?
AG: Even though business is now widely recognized as having a role in to play in development, it still sometimes feels as if the ‘inclusive business’ or ‘shared value’ space is really a very small world. Just getting the message out – that companies can often have some of the most sustainable development impacts by leveraging and adapting their core business models for underserved markets – can be difficult. Sometimes companies just don’t get it, or think it’s too complicated and resource-intensive. Other times they may understand and implement it, but don’t want to talk about their initiatives for competitive reasons or because the coupling of ‘profit-seeking’ with ‘development’ is met with resistance by certain stakeholders.
What complicates matters is that when I first reach out to a company I am often put in touch with a CSR or public affairs representative, who may or may not be fully informed about the core business/development agenda and could be coming to the discussion with a social investment or philanthropy perspective. I often have to remind myself that this is not a well-understood space – even within some of the companies and development institutions that champion inclusive business!
BFP: What advice can you give others wanting to implement similar initiatives?
AG: Go for it! We need more champions for inclusive business, and more recognition for some of the amazing models that companies have already developed. That said, I would caution that you need a lot of patience – it can take a long time for a company expressing an interest in inclusive business to actually move to being able to implement a program (or, in our case, announce an initiative). In addition, the time it takes isn’t always in sync with the expectations of other stakeholders, which can be difficult to manage. We try to maintain frequent and open communication with our BCtA partners in order to ensure that expectations are realistic on all sides and that robust systems are in place to measure and relay progress. Finally, I do think that companies are sometimes struck by initiative fatigue, and so our model is to try and leverage established networks and initiatives instead of replicating what already exists. We find we are able to achieve quite a bit more when we collaborate with other institutions that are paving the way in this field!
BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where should they start?
AG: I don’t think there is an ideal background – your route can be very indirect (I started in music!). I do think certain core skills are essential though: you need to believe very passionately that inclusive business is something worth pursuing, as you are likely to meet many people who are not convinced that business should be involved in development, and at times it can feel like you’re hitting a brick wall. Being able to speak the language is important – both the business language and the development language – so that you can reach people on both sides of the conversation effectively. But you should also be able to listen, to earn people’s trust and form strong relationships in an area where there is still misunderstanding and sometimes even suspicion. Lastly, it helps to be able to think on your feet and ad lib on the many occasions when you’ll be asked tough questions!
BFP: Finally, what do you hope to get out of being part of this community?
AG: For me BFP is the Facebook of the business/development community. I value the social aspect of the network in particular. It gives me the opportunity to meet like-minded professionals and make new contacts. It enables me to see who the movers and shakers are, the people I should try to connect with if I want to stay up to date with latest thinking and developments in this field. I also feel that it provides a ready-made professional support network that I can access should I ever need it (though to date I’ve not used it). There are other sites out there but I think BFP is the best gathering place for interested individuals. The large network of practitioners is its greatest asset.
Thank you to Petter Matthews for taking the time to do this interview.
Read previous Member of the Week interviews here.