The Business Call to Action (BCtA) held this year’s Annual Event on September 19th in New York City, in conjunction with the United Nations Global Compact Leaders Summit, and in advance of the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. The Event convened close to 150 people—including representatives from BCtA member and non-member companies, development and civil society partners—to celebrate the coming of age of inclusive businesses around the world. While creating a space for learning and sharing of best practices between BCtA members and their peers, the event also showcased BCtA’s work in strengthening the enabling environment for inclusive business through public-private collaboration and dialogue with national governments and business stakeholders in key countries, such as Kenya and the Philippines.
Since BCtA’s founding, 82 companies worldwide have responded to the Business Call to Action with concrete inclusive business initiatives as commitments. BCtA initiatives operate across 44 low and middle-income countries. Over 45% of BCtA’s members are headquartered in middle- to low-income countries. Its member companies are a diverse group, varying in ownership models, and industries.
This year’s 24 new members hail from Brazil, France, India, Japan, the Netherlands, the Philippines, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, and the United States. Over the lifetime of the new member’s initiatives—the longest of which will finish in 2022—, these BCtA member companies have collectively committed to:
- Secure employment for 1.8 million people in 12 middle and low-income countries;
- Improve healthcare outcomes of 12 million people;
- Provide vocational training and capacity building opportunities to 3 million people;
- Serve 2.5 million people with access to financial services;
- Improve the nutritional outcomes of 1.2 million people; and
- Assist 40 thousand farmers to improve their agricultural yields.
In her keynote address, Sigrid Kaag, Assistant Secretary-General, Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy of UNDP highlighted the progress on the inclusive business around the world:
“Inclusive business is gaining momentum. When emerging market corporations from Brazil, India and Turkey stand alongside corporations from Sweden, Japan and the United States to be united in their pursuit of corporate and social impact, we know that BCtA and UNDP are at the forefront of leading change,” she said.
Lessons from the Frontier
The opening panel, “Inclusive Business: Lessons from the Frontier”, featured high-level representatives from Turkish internet giant TTNET, Japanese retailing conglomerate MUJI, Indian social enterprise Drishtee, and Netherlands-based retail company IKEA. Moderated by Chris Jurgens (Division Chief of the Global Partnership Division of USAID), this panel served as a platform for dialogue and knowledge exchange on approaches that companies are using to create more inclusive business practices within their business lines and how such models have worked to meet development challenges. The companies shared insight on innovations in the supply chain that include the poor and discussed challenges and solutions to inclusive business in their perspective economies.
Additional sessions focused on inclusive business and financial services, women producers and nutrition. Representing the great advancements that have been made towards financial inclusion of the poor around the world were speakers from Santander Brazil, FINO PayTech, and Standard Chartered. In a concurrent session, DSM, Ajinomoto and L’Occitane discussed their work with women in the supply chain of their core businesses, and the impacts this has created at the family, household and community level. DSM and Ajinomoto also discussed how their collaboration in Ghana has led to a successful inclusive business initiative focused on improving the nutritional outcomes of young children and mothers.
During these sessions, each company showcased their BCtA initiative, emphasizing how they have overcome challenges in the markets of the poor and created social impact, while creating economic profit. Discussions touched on a range of issues relevant to the diverse companies represented, including how companies measure their social impact; how they think about return on investment for inclusive initiatives; how to identify local suppliers that meet the companies’ quality standards; and how technology can be used to amplify companies’ impact in developing markets.
Strengthening Inclusive Business Ecosystems
The second plenary panel, “Country-Level Action: Catalyzing Public-Private Partnerships for Inclusive Business”, featured public sector leaders from Kenya and the Philippines. Recognizing that public-private partnerships at the country level play a vital role in enabling effective inclusive business initiatives, speakers Rapa Lopa, Executive Director of the Philippines Business for Social Progress (PBSP) and Patrick Obath of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) emphasized the need for a supportive regulatory environment and active contributors from all sectors to amplify the impact of inclusive businesses. By supporting the governments of these countries and working with public-private organizations such as KEPSA and PBSP, BCtA seeks to mainstream the principles of inclusive business into policy and action.
Over the next few years, BCtA plans to continue to maintain its global footprint while deepening its reach and impact in particular countries where BCtA can play a more catalytic role. This includes fostering member clusters in sectors and themes to allow BCtA to better deliver services and content that are directly relevant to members, and to contribute more meaningfully to company-driven collective action discussions with policy-makers to further in their quest for more inclusive business practices.
This year’s Business Call to Action Annual Event presented a unique opportunity to celebrate accomplishments of BCtA members that collectively demonstrate ways in which companies are finding innovative means to create new, sustainable revenue streams by engaging low-income people as consumers, producers, suppliers, and distributors in their core business operations. Inclusive business is no longer a phenomenon on the periphery, but front and center in multinationals, SMEs and public agencies in developed countries, emerging markets and in the least developed countries.