BFP Exclusive Interview: New 'Center for Private Sector in Development' Opens its Doors for Business

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Background:

The UNDP Istanbul International Center for Private Sector in Development (IICPSD) was established as a result of a partnership agreement signed by the Government of the Republic of Turkey and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It was inaugurated by UNDP Administrator Ms. Helen Clark in March 2011 and will become fully operational in the coming months.

We interviewed Sahba Sobhani, Manager of the Growing Inclusive Markets Initiative at UNDP:

BFP: In Administrator Helen Clark’s speech in March announcing the Centre, she says it “will serve as a centre of excellence for how to engage the private sector in development and how to enhance its impact.” Can you elaborate a little bit further on what that means?

SS: The Center will engage the private sector constructively in supporting global and local efforts to address development challenges. There are three main ways in which the private sector can engage in development: through social investments and philanthropic contributions; through public advocacy and policy dialogue; and through core business operations and value chains. By conducting and disseminating research on private sector contributions to development, by building the capacity of private sector actors, by sharing best practices and encouraging their replication, by forging strategic partnerships between the private sector, governments, civil society and development actors…. the Center will be able to enhance the great impact the private sector can have on development.

BFP: How did UNDP arrive at the idea to create a Center like this?

SS: The idea of creating such a Center did not arise by chance. It builds on years of previous partnerships between UNDP and private sector actors at the global and local levels as part of the Growing Sustainable Business Initiative, among others, and on research conducted through the Growing Inclusive Markets (GIM) Initiative. The decision to create such a Center to catalyze and support business contributions to development results came from broad internal and external consultations. This includes talks with more than 25 leading institutions in the private sector / development space, with whom we have worked, as well as positive experiences from UNDP’s other global centers of excellence, such as the International Policy Center for Inclusive Growth in Brasilia or the Drylands Development Centre in Nairobi.

BFP: Tell us about the region and about how Turkey was chosen as a partner for the Center.

SS: Building on its attractive geographical location—at the crossroads of Europe and Asia– its substantial experience in assisting countries in the region, its potential to become a pivotal country of South-South cooperation, and its dynamic private sector, Turkey has expressed a strong willingness to participate in the engagement of the private sector in development. Besides, UNDP Turkey has a track record of private sector partnerships, having implemented nearly 27 private sector projects with 17 partners since 2005.

Turkey—and Istanbul in particular, which has become a hub for international operations—was therefore a natural location for the Center. Even though ideally located to serve the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa, the IICPSD will have a global reach in accordance with its mandate.

BFP: Can you give us a few examples of initiatives / projects the Center is supporting or will support?

SS: In its first two years of operations, the Center will engage in a number of projects including disaster-proof low-cost housing, inclusive procurement, government-to-person cash transfers, and climate change financing, to name but a few. The Center will start operations in the MENA region, especially in Egypt and Tunisia. In response to current challenges, it will work in collaboration with the Turkish and French governments with the objective to foster greater inclusion of the youth, especially from vulnerable groups, into the job and housing markets, by building a global public-private partnership platform with leading firms and other relevant public, private and civil society actors, combined with relevant studies and capacity building efforts.

BFP: Private sector partnerships have been all the buzz in the development community lately for a variety of reasons (including the prospect of budget cuts to aid). But what are some of the unique obstacles you’ve seen in working with the private sector as opposed to working with NGOs?

SS: Notwithstanding some very successful projects implemented in partnership with the private sector—some of which have been of significant size (for instance with Coca-Cola, IKEA, Chevron, Microsoft and DHL)—UNDP as a publicly-funded development agency, does face some challenges in working with the private sector, especially with regards to blending public money with private sector investments. Furthermore, the timing under which development actors usually operate tends to be longer than the fast pace that typically characterizes business processes. Partnering with the private sector is therefore a mutual learning process that is not without its challenges. But the impact that the private sector can have on development, of which there are many successful examples, is worth all the efforts.

For more information about the Centre and to learn about UNDP’s Growing Inclusive Markets programme, please visit: http://www.growinginclusivemarkets.org/

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