Inclusive Business Priorities for the New Year

By the Staff of CARE International UK

Inclusive Business Priorities for the New Year

The close of 2013 brings with it the inevitable series of lists of the best and worst of the year. It’s good to reflect on deeds past, but this list takes a different approach: it describes what these lists should say a year from now.

Six business specialists from across CARE International answered the question: “What is your vision for inclusive business in 2014?” They identified 6 ambitious but achievable milestones for the new year that could change the future of inclusive business.

1. Banks become financial inclusion leaders

2.5 billion people currently lack access to formal financial services. 2014 can be the year this changes.

This global challenge requires global solutions. Financial inclusion can enable poverty reduction, social equality and economic growth of the next generation. The unbanked represent a potential pool of customers who are saving $145bn a year.

CARE, alongside our partners Barclays and Plan, is working to promote a new international Charter to gather support for the principle of responsibly linking millions of informal savings groups around the world to formal financial institutions. We are aiming to build a powerful global Alliance of 100 leading organisations by 2015, who share the Charter’s vision and principles. And we want to secure commitments from corporate leaders to develop and roll out new savings products for poor communities in the developing world. Finally, we want to use this Alliance to call for universal financial inclusion to be included in any post-2015 UN development framework. The proposed Charter will be discussed at the World Economic Forum at Davos at the end of this month.

Alice Allan, Head of Advocacy, CARE International UK

2. Business contributes to an equitable and sustainable food system that feeds everyone

With the world population set to reach more than 9 billion by 2050, business cannot continue as usual. Particularly in the food and agriculture sector, businesses will deploy their capabilities to support equitable and sustainable food systems at scale. For instance, in Bangladesh, CARE is working with more than 30,000 producers and the second-largest milk processing company in the country to double production and improve household and industry returns on dairy. Examples like this will provide workable templates so that businesses can create shared values that empower small-holder farmers, and women in particular, as consumers, entrepreneurs and workers while also providing opportunities for business to grow its bottom line and enhance its licence to operate. We hope 2014 will see more commitment and accountability from many more businesses.

By Laté Lawson-Lartego, Director Economic Development & Knowledge Management, Food and Nutrition Team, CARE USA

3. Women’s empowerment moves from buzzword to reality

The narrative supporting more inclusive and empowered societies is increasingly attracting interest, commitment and action from the private sector. The United Nation’s recent Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEP) have galvanised further pledges of support for the issues affecting women’s empowerment, from a range of industry groups. In India, CARE is leading an initiative to increase enrolment of domestic companies in the WEP from 3 to 30 by 2015, a goal we are confident of meeting. Multi-national corporations such as Walmart, Coca-Cola and Diageo have each launched long-term initiatives, aimed at making positive changes for women in society. There is much rhetoric in support of such debates but can 2014 be the year when rhetoric transforms into real action on the ground, and real change to the lives of vulnerable and marginalised women impacted directly and indirectly by the operations and investments made by the private sector around the world?

Tim Bishop, Regional Private Sector Specialist, CARE International UK

4. Major global companies commit to living wages in their supply chains

The responsibility of companies to ensure living wages along their supply chains has been discussed for many years, but recent advances have made 2014 the year in which a number of the leading companies will commit to ensuring living wages are actually paid. These recent advances include better tools for how companies can understand and address living wages, the increasing commitment to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the growing evidence that paying living wages will not have a major negative impact on the finances of MNCs, and the commitment of substantial numbers of consumers to ethical products. 2013 saw H&M point the way in its commitment to pay living wages by 2018. 2014 should see many other major players follow its example.

Gerry Boyle, Senior Policy Adviser, Private Sector Engagement, CARE International UK

5. Companies recognise the business value of investing in people

Dramatic industrial accidents in the Bangladesh garment sector in 2013 threw stark light on the issue of workers’ health and safety and ignited a debate on the best way to build standards in the industry. Though at heart a rights-based issue, the debate has also brought forth increasing evidence of the connection between the wellbeing of workers and the success of individual businesses and national economies. The World Bank and the International Finance Corporation have both published data explicitly testifying to this link. Especially in Asia where economic activities are largely labour intensive, investment in people, i.e. suppliers and workers, is of essence to higher productivity and efficiency of businesses. As CARE’s work in the garment sector demonstrates, the improved productivity of employees depends on their level of skills, efficiency, morale and ownership of work. We hope 2014 will bring greater realisation of the long-term returns to business from investment in the capacity and wellbeing of people.

Rubaba Anwar, Technical Manager, Program Design and Learning, CARE Bangladesh

6. Inclusive business takes a final step away from charity

The evidence in favour of inclusive business isn’t just rhetoric any more. 2013 saw landmark publications which added substantially to the body of research on the financial return for social business. CARE contributed to the discussion by detailing the business case for inclusive agriculture and financial literacy and by demonstrating that empowering workers offered a 1:26 return on investment. Despite this, corporate philanthropy remains far more prevalent than work which truly changes how businesses operate or what products or services they offer. Will 2014 be the year when the case for inclusive business moves from briefings to the board room, and companies begin to act at scale on this emerging opportunity?

Alexa Roscoe, Private Sector Advisor, CARE International UK

Editor’s Note:

This blog was previously published on CARE Insights

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