Business and the UN MDGs Post 2015 – Changing context: Business opportunity

By Sue Adkins, Business in the Community

Business and the UN MDGs Post 2015 – Changing context: Business opportunity

In less than 1000 days, the world is due to keep true to its promise to the deliver the UN Millennium Development Goals, (MDGs), the framework that almost 200 governments signed up to in 2000 to address the most pressing issues of the world’s poorest by 2015. Much has been achieved but there is still much to do.

The New Context

The new agenda for the MDGs Post 2015 is being set in a very different context from 2000. Previously business was not consulted in the development on the current MDGs framework. Acknowledged for their focus and brevity with goals covering extreme poverty and hunger, primary education, health and more, the MDGs have been widely accepted as playing a vital role in focussing efforts and resources to address major global challenges.

The context today is very different. Whilst characterised by marked contrast and the most pressing issues, Africa and Asia are also today providing some of the fastest growing economies and the greatest opportunities. The huge growth of Asian economies over the past 30 years has meant a complete shift in the economic landscape in recent decades whilst Africa is rising.

Transformational Partnerships

Today the role of business in addressing the Goals alongside that of government and civil society is widely acknowledged. Recognising this, and under the leadership of the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, business is being consulted on the new framework. This is a unique opportunity to contribute to the new ‘blueprint for action’ on the world’s most pressing issues. These complex, multifaceted challenges are beyond the capacity of a single country or company and require innovative solutions. Collaborative partnerships between government, civil society and business are vital. Such transformational partnerships are essential if together we to address these global challenges and accelerate the pace of change.

Leading global businesses recognise that they can play a key role in addressing these challenges, that there is a solid business case to do so. In order to reach scale and long term sustainability, core business approaches creating shared value, are recognised as critical. There are many examples demonstrating the effectiveness of such an approach as illustrated below.

Creating Shared Value Examples

MPesa mobile banking has revolutionised access to banking in Kenya and has been rolled out in Tanzania, Afghanistan, South Africa and India. In Sub-Saharan Africa with eighty percent of adults without bank accounts, MPesa is having both a significant social impact making basic banking money transfer services providing access to 1.6 million low-income consumers across 8 countries, and at the same time building the business.

Unilever’s hand washing programme focussed on helping to address the morbidity and mortality of children under 5, is delivered through public-private partnerships across Asia and Africa is another example of effective and innovative solutions, creating shared value. The results have been impressive having reached 119 million children in 15 countries to date, with a target of 1billlion by 2015.

GSK has continued to develop innovative partnerships through its numerous access to medicines programmes. The most recent examples are demonstrated through its partnership with Save the Children which aims to save over 1 million lives. Additionally, through its partnership with Vodafone and the Ministry of Health in Mozambique, GSK aims through innovative partnership to harness innovative mobile technology to help vaccinate more children against common infectious diseases in Africa.

Citi’s long-standing commitment to expand financial inclusion, has illustrated the importance of key partnerships, having formed a successful partnership with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). Under this partnership launched in 2006, Citi and OPIC have funded 29 microfinance institutions in 16 countries, directly reaching more than 330,000 local micro-entrepreneurs through small loans, approximately 84% of whom are women.

With this unique and vital debate on the MDGS Post 2015, Business in the Community, through its International Team, has been convening business to understand their views and encourage business to feed into the debate. Providing events, interviews and research, we have provided a variety of opportunities for business to engage in the discussion and continue to do so. Engaging a cross sector of businesses and synthesising findings, we have feed into the UN MDGs consultation processes and have provided input to the UN High Level Panel, co-chaired by Rt. Hon David Cameron, in Bali. We are also pleased to have collaborated with a number of leading international business networks to reinforce our belief that business has a critical role to play in the design and delivery of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Our Business in the Community research has focussed on two areas: the role of business in development and secondly on the business perspective on which particular issues should be incorporated into a new set of goals.

Key messages

From our research and engagement so far, the strongest messages are:

  • that business should be recognised for the positive role it can have on development issues through the skills and capabilities business bring to the agenda
  • That rather than two frameworks, the MDGs and potentially the Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), a key output from the Rio+20 debate, it is strongly felt there should be one framework, where environmental issues are an integral part of the agenda and not separate. In the language of the UN High Level Panel we need a “people-centred and planet-sensitive” approach.
  • Business felt that the key issues included health, nutrition, enterprise, education and skills
  • Apart from the objectives of the Goals, there was a great deal of focus on ‘Enablers’ of development, such as access to finance, access to technology, leveraging impact through supply chains and sustainable agriculture
  • Increasing corporate transparency through sustainability reporting and disclosure and accountability, was another key theme. For some this is considered a critical element of a Post 2015 development framework as it is felt it is critical for businesses to manage and be accountable fornegative development impacts.
  • Whilst economic growth and jobs are clearly a driving force behind lifting people out of poverty, some businesses commented that the strength of the MDGs was focussing minds on human development issues and that this should be continued in the Post 2015 framework.

It is clear that whilst there are a great number of successful business initiatives that address development issues, there are of course challenges. Scale is a significant issue which is thwarted without a financially sustainable business model. In addition, the role of business is not accepted in all quarters; there are questions on business legitimacy in contributing to development through ‘for profit’ business. Resistance from areas of civil society, governments and even sometimes businesses themselves remains and needs to be acknowledged and addressed.

For the first time the UN is reaching out to business to consult with them on this agenda. It is an invaluable opportunity for business to have a voice in the development of the post 2015 agenda; to contribute to this debate, to illustrate the value they add and to address the challenges. It is an ideal opportunity for business to engage with governments and civil society on the contribution of business to development, to increase awareness, understanding and support the development and delivery of the agenda and to address the needs of the poorest in our global communities.

To learn more about business and the UN MDGs Post 2015 development agenda or to contribute to the research and debate please see the links below:

Editor’s Note:

This blog was first published on Business In the Community’s blog and is reproduced with permission.

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