Ending Poverty through Partnership

By Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever

Ending Poverty through Partnership

Back in 2000, the international community took the unprecedented step of setting itself some ambitious goals to tackle world poverty. With only a few years left to meet these Millennium Development Goals, much has been achieved but much remains to be done. While it is right that we do everything in our power to ensure that as many of those goals can be met by the original deadline of 2015 -we still have some 1,000 days to make a difference- we must also start to explore what the Post-2015 development framework will look like.

I was honoured to be asked by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to join the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Framework, set up last September to advise him on what a new set of goals might look like. Along with Betty Maina, the CEO of Kenya’s Association of Manufacturers, and the other Panel members, I have been keen to ensure appropriate emphasis is placed on the important role business can play in shaping and delivering the new framework.

We have met three times – in New York, London, Monrovia and, most recently, in Bali. We will deliver our final report to the UN Secretary General by the end of May. Along with a range of complementary processes underway, including the intergovernmental Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals and an extensive country-level consultation process being led by UNDP, our report will play a role in shaping what I hope will be an ambitious agenda.

One of the key strengths of the MDGs is their simplicity, their clarity and their measurability. The Post-2015 Agenda should also propose a set of goals which are few in number, easy to understand and measurable. It is just as important that each goal should be accompanied by a clear recommendation indicating who is responsible for delivering it and how. Any new framework should go beyond a mere set of priorities to become a clear plan of action for the world.

So what should the new framework focus on? The vision of the High-Level Panel is that poverty can be eradicated in our time. It is an inspiring vision, and one that I believe should remain at the heart of what we are trying to achieve. This means building on the big social targets (such as hunger, water, health and education) set out in the original MDGs. At the same time, the framework must recognise that the best way of bringing people out of poverty is through economic development – which in turns requires governments creating the right conditions for business to flourish. We should promote and strengthen transparency, anti-corruption efforts, participation, and accountability in government action. There should be a clear recognition of (and a target reflecting) the importance of addressing the jobs agenda, and this in turn means supporting the development of SMEs.

Alongside a strong focus on poverty, we must also address the questions of inequality – weaving it as a thread that runs throughout all goal areas – education, nutrition, healthcare, and so on.. Extreme poverty can only be eradicated if we respect the earth’s planetary boundaries. Food and water shortages, energy scarcity and climate change hit the poorest first, and hardest. If we don’t repect the environmental boundaries in which we live, we risk many of the past and future gains on poverty being reversed.

Throughout the Panel’s conversations in London, Monrovia and Bali we have all put an emphasis not just on WHAT the Post 2015 goals should look like but HOW they will be delivered.

When we have spoken about “the HOW” the idea of Public Private Partnerships has often been raised.

As members of Business Fights Poverty will recognise, many of the challenges which face us – food security, water scarcity, health, sanitation, education – are so complex and multi-dimensional that it is impossible for any one country or company, how ever large, to tackle them alone.

We are all finding that to deliver the right results at both scale and speed we have to build coalitions and work collaboratively.

The problem is that partnerships are very easy to talk about in concept but hard to make work in practice.

Success requires:

  • Real clarity of purpose – all partners must be wholly committed to the objectives.
  • It requires leadership – on the side of both government and business.
  • It requires resources – people have to be willing to pool their money and talents.
  • Finally it requires infinite patience.

But rather than partnerships being a standalone goal, as it was in the original MDGs, I believe they should be considered as an enabler of each target.

We’ve put together a short video that presents some examples of the best partnerships to try and convey the ambition, scale and impact that partnerships are already having in the world. The film also highlights some newer ones with big ambitions. Examples include: Sustainable Energy for All; The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation; Scaling Up Nutrition; Every Woman, Every Child; Grow Africa; Lifebuoy in Indonesia; 2030 Water Resources Group; Tropical Forest Alliance; MPesa telephone banking in Kenya; and Coca-Cola’s distribution networks in Africa.

We have the opportunity in the coming months to set out an ambitious agenda for making this world a better place. But perhaps even more importantly, we have the responsibility to be bold about forming new coalitions to deliver on this vision.

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3 Responses

  1. Dear Paul

    I am delighted that you have opened this discussion to this forum and, through it, I am sure you will stimulate a lot of debate.

    I would like to suggest that as a first step, a mindset change – away from “addressing poverty” and into “creating widely-held wealth” would be most important. 

    Secondly the power-house of most wealthy economies is the SME sector and while infrastructure is incredibly important, wealth in our life time needs to come through the employment that SMEs can create. So I would suggest a nodal development strategy working out from commercial hubs be they cities, towns or villages must be part of your initiative. SMEs can create the wealth that would pay for schools and clinics and there are some excellent examples of work being done in this area, which could be replicated quite easily, if we work collaboratively.

    After many years working in Advertising and Marketing and bowing down to the God of “Competitive Advantage”, my work with the Diaspora in the UK and through that my growing knowledge of development issues, suggest that Competitive Advantage is not entirely relevant in Africa as a method of introducing developed world business models. I coined the expression “Collaborative Advantage”, which I define as the commercial benefit of working together to exploit the opportunities of creating sustainable businesses in the developing world

    Finally, I would like to emphasise that there is a huge role for the Diaspora, who with greater knowledge, expertise and experience, along with access to technology and funding have an incredibly important role to play. It is one that world leaders have been very slow to recognise. It is also important to emphasise that  they act as individuals and operate in highly fragmented communities, so some brain power should be spent on bringing them in to play a leading role in business development and capacity building.

    Our work at the British African Business Alliance is all about empowering Africans in UK and Brits in Africa to look again at how they can create wealth and share knowledge by applying what is available, often on their doorsteps.

    I hope you find these comments helpful and I would welcome the opportunity to discuss them further with you and your team.

    Kind regards

    David Smith

    Chairman, British African Business Alliance

  2. Paul/David

    I like the Collaborative Advantage concept but it needs a face. Reading through the thinking of the team that Paul represents one forms that need to isolate the various metrics that define poverty in finance, nutrition and health and the creation of an avenue to achieve the same through sharing of knowledge among those most affected by the lack of these critical focus in addressing poverty.

    While as David mentions having a wealth creation focus is important, it is critical that we address the framework within which wealth can be created or harnessed by tapping the knowledge resources that so abundantly rests with those that do not know how they can use them to support wealth creation by those negatively affected by lacking the same.

    My work involves creating organizational vehicles around what people do in a value chain focus see http://apf-kenya.ning.com/profile/KiringaiKamau where I have profiled most of the thoughts that I think can help shape the thinking. From the framework that I promote, I have come to the conclusion that there is no way of creating wealth or addressing poverty if the inclusive model that David calls collaborative advantage and is epitomized by the case studies that are demonstrated in the videos at the bottom of Paul’s posting without integrating the value chain which I reproduce here for the purpose of making it usable where agriculture is the driving force, and it happens to be in most of rural Africa…I have formed the view that if the communities and those that support them can invest in a value chain agribusiness that exploits the potential business outcome of what this model can generate if investment in a collaborative way or through contribution in kind by knowledge or products can channel productive resources to create the potential of business fighting poverty through inclusive engagement

  3. Thank you Paul,

    I do agree with you David,

    I will borrow with permission, the two phrases used by my good friends, that I have come to love.

    1, Connecting is not enough!

    As David has highlighted, Effective partneships need effective collaboration and , beyond discussing strategies, albeit, on line, to go on and forge actions on the ground to ensure the goals are agreed and implimented and Results be the driving factors. Again defining success in the (SMART) manner and working towards it. What would success look to us in our fight?

    David and I have worked on developing the concept of ”African Villages” in the diaspora, a periodic physical meeting opportunity locally, say monthly, where the local stakeholders can engage, widen the catchment and involvement and work towards feasible and sustainable results.What drives my ambition is to see the power of such collaborations or partnerships develop such that the major cooporations can work hand in hand and in support of SME, and create aspirations both ways, even if just in particpation. We often facilitate activities in support of the work in Africa, and it touches me that the diapora or individuals that hail from the said regions are no engaged, whereas they woulkd be the key stake holders.

    2. Making Unity an action! I was attracted to this pharse for the common rhetoric that we ought to unite, form partnership. In brief I believe we ought to make this the core action plan, always going to ”what ought we to do” to realise the goals,

    I strongly believe that the model of regular local meetings and supported by the regional or international Major organisations, holds a key to the two ideas above, that would make significant advancements in our fight. 

    The mojor corporations may be the commanders in battles, the SMEs and Diaspora are the infantry in winning this fight.

    Charles Okwalinga

    The New African Villages, London

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