Business, the MDGs and Beyond

By Sigrid Kaag, Assistant Secretary-General
and Assistant Administrator, UNDP

Business, the MDGs and Beyond

The world has made more gains against poverty in the last 50 years than in the last 500. Since 1990, over six hundred million people have been lifted out of poverty. The world is within reach of seeing every child enrolled in primary school, and many fewer lives are being lost to hunger and disease. The global population is healthier, wealthier and better educated than ever before.

Yet the global figures disguise the inconvenient truth that ending poverty is a vast and unfinished agenda. 22 per cent of the population of the developing world still lives under the US$1.25 a day, 925 million people were undernourished in 2010, and unemployment and inequality are rising in many places. The multiple crises that have gripped the world in recent years have also exacerbated these challenges.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, urged on the eve of this year’s UN General Assembly, that tackling today’s economic and political uncertainty requires a stronger global partnership. At an event that we co-hosted the same week (with Business Fights Poverty, Business Call to Action and others), this message of partnership was equally strong – with a recognition that the role of the private sector is far more clearly understood now than when the Millennium Development Goals were first adopted.

We have seen incredible innovation in recent years around inclusive business models that incorporate poor people as consumers, producers, employees and entrepreneurs – not as an afterthought, but front and centre in operations. There is a rich and growing set of examples of companies creating economic opportunities for low-income populations; providing affordable and durable renewable energy solutions for off-grid communities; sourcing from small and low-income producers; and providing reliable supplies of clean water, financial services and safe health products.

The Business Call to Action – a flagship initiative supported by UNDP – is one example of the power of private sector innovation. Member companies, to date, have collectively reached over 105 million people at the base of the pyramid with their products and services, generating over $1 billion dollars in revenue. Over the lifetime of BCtA member initiatives, with the current commitments, more than 79 million people will gain expanded access to energy, 74 million will experience improved health outcomes, and 40 million will gain access to financial services.

More of these non-traditional and innovative partnerships are needed to create long-term impact beyond the MDGs. And as we think about how we build on the MDGs after 2015, we must come together to define a shared set of goals that we can all play a role in delivering. Together with other UN development agencies, we are preparing a set of far-reaching consultations starting with more than 50 countries; a range of thematic global consultations; and an online consultation through An Open Working Group was agreed by the Rio+20 Conference to guide the development of the Sustainable Development Goals. And the Secretary-General recently announced the establishment of a High-Level Panel to advise him on the post-2015 development agenda. The Panel met again this week in London. More information on these processes can be found here.

Our objective at the end of the day is to use these various processes to help member states arrive at a unified set of concise, clear and measurable development goals that keep poverty reduction at their core and that are based on values of human rights, equality and sustainability. Based on this, a limited number of concrete and universal goals could be set that correspond to economic development, social development, environmental sustainability, and peace and security.

We realize that the world is a quite different place today compared to when the MDGs were agreed upon. Today there is a much greater realisation across the board that non-state actors, including the private sector, civil society and foundations, have a crucial role to play in driving many aspects of development.

Together, we can do more, to make sure that the world becomes more inclusive and prosperous, greener and more peaceful.

Editor’s Note:

This article is based on remarks made at “Business, the MDGs and Beyond” convened in New York on 25 September 2012 by the Business Call to Action, Business Fights Poverty, the Overseas Development Institute, UNDP and UN Global Compact.
The event audio, video and summary are available at

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