A healthcare worker from a BCtA member organisation in rural India. Photograph: Subrata Biswas/Business Call to Action

BCtA at 10: Inclusivity for All in an Ambitious New Call to Action

By Paula Pelaez, Head, Business Call to Action

On the milestone of its 10th anniversary, Business Call to Action reflects on how the inclusive business landscape has changed over the past decade, and looks forward to what lies ahead

A decade ago, Business Call to Action (BCtA) was launched with just 18 companies at the helm. During our inauguration, then-prime minister of the UK Gordon Brown said: “Business Call to Action is a landmark opportunity for global business leaders to come together to develop new and innovative ways to spread growth, prosperity and opportunity across the world.”

Today, with 226 members spanning 70 countries, that statement is truer than ever. New ideas and innovation continue to drive our members’ efforts to reach further and achieve greater impact, all the while striving towards enhancing company value and profit.

The difference between now and then, however, is that there is a different state of play. On the one hand, the sustainable development goals (SDGs) provide a common framework for all stakeholders to help us tackle the most complex and pressing challenges of our time. For businesses specifically, they offer a comprehensive perspective on risks and opportunities to their businesses today and the near future. More so, leading companies understand and integrate the objective of contributing to viable and prosperous societies, in which they can grow in the long-term, into their strategies, operations, products and services. Our recent survey, carried out in partnership with insights and strategy consultancy GlobeScan, on the State of Inclusive Business revealed that companies are increasingly seeing the value of aligning their strategies with the SDGs.

A more robust body of evidence now exists around how societal value and business value are compatible – and in fact better together. Our companies are testament to this, particularly those that have recommitted over the years, having achieved their original commitments, as they scale their inclusive businesses. A recent study by Boston Consulting Group involving 300 companies globally across four sectors confirmed a positive link between responsible environmental, social and governance (ESG) business practices and a business’s bottom line.

Additionally, the rapid march of technology means that many countries and regions that were lagging behind have a real opportunity to more rapidly address development challenges than ever before through the integration of inclusive business models and digitalisation. An example is the use of artificial intelligence in healthcare and agriculture to bring rapid changes to current practices and position them at the cutting edge of connectivity, affordability and accessibility. Digitalisation can also be a driver of transparency, for instance through blockchain to increase traceability, as well as providing space for transparency in business behaviour – including how companies source, operate, manage, treat employees, market and dispose of goods and services – which is now accessible to a much broader spectrum of stakeholders. But at the same time, new technology runs the risk of displacing large numbers of workers or creating further divides between the wealthy and the poor. Companies should commit to using technology responsibly to help ensure its benefits reach those furthest behind.

On the other hand, we are faced with very real and urgent challenges in an environment of increased political and economic complexity. In terms of climate change, we now know that time is short – dramatic and comprehensive changes are needed in order to reverse or slow the catastrophic effects our current practices are having on our world, as starkly outlined in the recently published IPCC report. Unless we manage a transition at an unprecedented scale and pace, there will be dramatic consequences for society at all levels, leaving millions more in poverty. Worryingly, one of the greatest barriers to this is a lack of political will. Latest information prepared for the COP24 summit in Poland shows almost none (only 16 out of 197) of the signatory countries of the Paris agreement are meeting their commitments.

In addition, despite progress made on reducing poverty over the past decade, we have seen rising inequality globally, with the average income of the richest 10% of the population about nine times that of the poorest 10%, according to OECD statistics.

It is precisely this intersection of risk and possibilities that presents business with the imperative and opportunity to act – to build an inclusive and sustainable economy that creates a prosperous society where business can thrive.

Looking ahead, the stakes are higher, therefore the call for action is more daring – it’s a call for:

  • Ambition: The current economic system needs to be changed, and to do so, commitments from companies need to be highly ambitious in both depth and scale, and in relation to the context in which they operate. To drive positive transformations in their business models, companies will need to embrace the SDGs and the principles of universality, leaving no one behind; they will need to become advocates, influencing their peers and their industries.
  • Coherence: Companies can no longer aim for a net impact. Rather, efforts have to be more concerted – positive impact must be integrated across their operations. For example, it is not sufficient to bring in valuable products and services to low-income communities if it is at the cost of labour rights, employee wellbeing or tax evasion. There needs to be coherence between what companies say and do; more importantly, there has to be consistency across the company’s behaviour, policies and procedures AND its products and services, ensuring they all contribute positively to the SDGs. This will become a key driver to improve and build high-trusting relationships with the public and governments, thus acting as an accelerator for multi-stakeholder collective action.
  • Results: At the heart of any inclusive business is its ability to positively impact those living at the base of the pyramid (BoP). But it’s not enough to just say you’re integrating the BoP into your value chain – this needs to be defined and measured through impact management, which in turn helps to drive, articulate and share those results, building corporate credibility. To support companies to do this better, we have launched our online Impact Lab, a free tool available to any company interested in measuring their SDG impact.

Good governance that can lead ambition, coherence and performance will be at the heart of this call for action and transformation.

In the past 10 years, BCtA and its members have come a long way. Turning to the future, we are looking forward to working with our members, partners and others to further advance the field of inclusive business. In this spirit, we renew our call to action with our member companies, and across the inclusive business community more broadly, to leverage these models to “leave no one behind” and work towards building a more sustainable and inclusive global economy.

Editor’s Note:

This article was previously published on The Guardian and is reproduced with permission.

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