How to Take Donor Partnerships with Business to the Next Level of Scale and Impact?

By Richard Gilbert, Challenge Director, Business Fights Poverty

Business Fights Poverty is partnering with the UK Department for International Development (DFID) on a recently-launched Challenge which asks what more can international donors do to increase business’ contribution to the SDGs?

It is now generally acknowledged that the additional $2.5 trillion annual investment in developing countries needed to achieve the Global Goals cannot be delivered without the active engagement of the private sector.  All sectors with a stake in the Global Goals, including governments, development organisations, business and civil society are therefore increasingly focused on unlocking the potential of business to drive more inclusive and sustainable economic growth, job creation, investment and innovation. 

International development partners, like DFID, are working with governments in emerging and frontier economies to create strong enabling environments for business that are key to attracting more private investment.  They are also employing new tools and instruments to partner with large companies, individually and collectively, to help them be more proactive agents in achieving the Global Goals by scaling their positive impacts, and by taking responsibility for minimising their negative impacts, often working alongside national governments and civil society.

While partnerships between government donors and large companies vary considerably in approach and scope, from sharing risks to pooling resources, exchanging knowledge and know-how, at their core is a growing recognition of the urgent need to work together to tackle big global challenges like poverty, inequality and climate change. 

DFID for example has focused its support and engagement with business around four broad areas.  First, DFID invests directly in job creating businesses in Africa and South Asia through CDC.  Its £4.3 billion portfolio is invested in companies across a diverse range of sectors including financial services, infrastructure, food and agriculture, construction and manufacturing.  Second, by fostering inclusive business partnerships, DFID helps to catalyse and scale inclusive business models that increase access to essential products and services for the poor and create decent jobs and economic opportunities along the value chain and in communities.

Third, DFID supports companies and investors to do business responsibly and transparently, by promoting responsible business practices, including respect for human rights and the environment, by enabling better measurement and reporting of business impact to enhance accountability and transparency, and by helping companies to reduce manufacturing pollution in developing countries.

Finally, DFID is helping to remove barriers to doing business and to improve the enabling environment, for example, by supporting UK SMEs doing business in frontier markets to avoid bribery and corruption risks and by boosting investment in jobs and infrastructure in Africa by leveraging public finance to mobilise more private capital.

Examples of innovative business–donor partnerships are growing, but what is less clear is which models work and which do not, which have the most impact, where gaps in business engagement persist and what are the greatest areas of business need and opportunity, which donors can help to support and scale.

To help answer these questions, DFID is working with Business Fights Poverty to better understand how international donors can help catalyse action by large companies to scale their contribution to the SDGs, with the results helping to inform the development of DFID’s next generation of responsible and inclusive business programming that can leverage business partnerships to achieve greater scale and impact to help deliver the SDGs.

Through a process of research and engagement with companies and experts, the Challenge will seek to identify:

  • Where we are currently seeing the most impactful and replicable results from donor partnerships with large companies, what are some good examples, and what we are learning about what companies really need and value from donors.
  • How business needs and opportunities are evolving and what new gaps are emerging that donors can help to address – in general and more specifically in terms of supporting individual businesses and industries/sectors to implement  responsible business practices and inclusive business models.
  • The issue areas that are most challenging for large companies when seeking to scale inclusive business models and embed responsible business practices, and specific sustainable development issues that should be prioritised for collaboration.

If you are interested in contributing to this Challenge, please contact: Richard Gilbert 

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