Harnessing the power of business for development impact: towards the fourth generation
By Simon Maxwell, Senior Research Associate, Overseas Development Institute, and Chair of the 2009 Event Series, "Harnessing the Power of Business for Development Impact". Here Simon shares his reflections on the Series. The Series was organised by the ODI, the UK Department for International Development, and Business Action for Africa. The final event in the series is on Tuesday 13 October (click here to register).
Download Simon's full paper here.
What have we learned as we come to the end of this very successful meeting series? And what’s next?
Speakers and participants have made an inspiring and convincing case that:
• There are strong synergies between business and development – in other words, that there are ways of doing business that benefit local communities and national economies, that are also good for business profitability and sustainability.
• Such benefits can be measured, using a mixture of quantitative and qualitative measures.
• Governments and donors have a role to play in kick-starting and incentivising best practice.
In addition, however, the meetings have shown that:
• Scaling up remains a major challenge.
And, to my mind:
• The debate could benefit from stronger connections to other development topics.
The evidence that there are strong synergies has come from the business community and organisations that support business, with endorsement from NGOs and Governments. Speakers have come from sectors as diverse as natural resource extraction, travel, retail, telecommunications, and finance, working in a variety of country contexts, including fragile states and conflict-affected environments. Most businesses represented have been international, although with strong links to local enterprises.
Can we, collectively, do more? As a thought experiment, I would suggest starting not with business and what it can or should do differently, but with development needs and how business can meet them. This leads me to suggest that business will be judged by how well it contributes to innovation and transformational change.
The first generation of business engagement in development mainly consisted of social investment under the heading of CSR, the second with the acknowledgement of minimum labour standards and other norms embodied in the UN Global Compact. The third generation has seen companies engage in new ways with supply chains especially, but also with customers and other stakeholders. The fourth generation will see the private sector helping to solve the next wave of development challenges: climate change, urbanisation, demographic change and the challenge of managing a new globalisation.
Post written for Business Fights Poverty by Simon Maxwell, Senior Research Associate at the Overseas Development Institute.