Not everything that counts, can be counted

Vivienne Benson on the new seminar series from the Institute of Development Studies

Not everything that counts
can be counted

‘Not everything that counts, can be counted’ is the sentiment of Stephen Kenzie, Manager of the UK Secretariat of the UN Global Compact (UNGC). This point may be contested by many of our economist team members here in the Globalisation Team at the Institute of Development Studies, but he provided a compelling argument all the same. He argued that thousands of businesses have signed up to the UNGC, and there is anecdotal evidence that demonstrates their behaviour change and positive impact on development, but this kind of evidence is not necessarily quantifiable.

Reaching the Standard

Kenzie introduced the first of this series of IDS Business and Development seminars, Reaching the Standard: The Business of Measuring and Assessing Impact, by considering the impact of the UN Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate citizenship initiative. The UNGC has 6,953 business participants in 135 countries, that have all agreed to commit to the principles of the UNGC.

There are a multitude of Global Initiatives designed to encourage businesses to behave ethically and sustainably, such as the UN Global Compact and the Ethical Trade Initiative. In our seminar series we are asking practitioners and academics to consider whether such schemes ultimately lead to private sector organisations having a positive impact on development. And more importantly, how can we measure and assess this impact?

United Nations Global Compact

As part of the commitment made by a company’s CEO when signing up to the UNGC they have to produce a Communications on Progress (COP) report annually. The COP report should detail the intentions and progress of the company in alignment with the UNGC core principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. To date this is the only tangible way to assess the impact of a company if they have signed up to the initiative, but as Kenzie argued, it forces the company to be transparent, and encourages its stakeholders to hold them to account.

The next seminar ‘Company approaches and donor approaches to tracking results’ on 25 September will be presented by Caroline Ashley, Director, Business Innovation Facility. Throughout September, October and November, there will also be speakers from the Acumen Fund, Old Mutual Plc, and experts on Fairtradeand labour standards. So, as the question of measuring impact still looms large, this series will endeavour to consider and redress these big challenges.

The Business and Development Seminars take place at the Institute of Development Studies, Brighton, UK and are open to everyone to attend. If you are interested in hearing any of the seminars in the previous series, the audios and interviews with speakers are on the IDS website. Please contact Vivienne Bensonfor further information.

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