Many companies, like those who attended the recent event in New York (watch the video below) on “A New Global Partnership with Business”, are actively thinking about their role in helping deliver the Post-2015 sustainable development agenda. And that contribution is huge. In his speech to the General Assembly, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, recognized that:
Success also requires more from the private sector. Business needs the space to do what it does best: create jobs and innovate. But business must be carried out ethically and responsibly, with full regard for the environment. At last week’s Global Compact summit, thousands of business leaders pledged to do more to align their operations with UN goals. The United Nations must continue to strengthen its capacity to work not only with business and finance, but also with civil society and the philanthropic community.
I believe that a big opportunity for us through the Post-2015 process is to inspire more businesses to engage – beyond a relatively small number of international companies. Much is already being achieved on the ground by business – both small and large, and often without the people within them being fully aware of their development impact, let alone the discussions going on right now around what should replace the Millennium Development Goals when they expire in 2015.
To harness the full power of this business energy will require the language of inspiration. The “do no harm” agenda is important – we have to have accountability and most progressive companies would agree strongly with that. But if that is the dominant part of the debate around the role of business, then we are missing a huge opportunity to engage business in an exciting way.
Three points stood out for me during the discussions last week.
First, we must encourage businesses to better understand, and then do what they can to enhance, their development impact. Like other companies, we have conducted several studies to measure our own impact. More practical, cost-effective tools are needed so that many more businesses can better understand the huge impact they can have.
Second, there appears to be a growing consensus around the fact that we need one set of international development goals – covering social, economic and environmental impact. To be able to contribute to development and ensure that we end poverty within our generation, we must ensure we develop in an environmentally sustainable way. For us, understanding issues like the nexus between the water, food and energy are vitally important.
And third, we need to get better at working with each other – both with our peer companies, and with others in the wider development community. We recently launched a partnership with IDB to in Latin America that will support 42,000 small retailers (watch a video about the partnership here). We are also a part of Grow Africa which brings together a wide cross-section of business, government and civil society to drive transformational change in agriculture.
Harnessing the potential contribution of business will require more partnership. The report just launched in New York offers an insight into what we mean by partnership and, drawing on 15 case studies, lessons for how to make them work. Partnerships can be complex and frustrating, but at the same time rigorous, focused partnerships embedded at the national level offer the best opportunity for delivering whatever emerges as the Post-2015 development framework.