Unleashing Inclusive Business for the SDGs

By Zarin Zeba Khan, Communication and Advocacy Advisor, SNV and Wasef Mustafa Kazi, Event Coordinator, SNV

Unleashing Inclusive Business for the SDGs

On 5th June 2016, Business Call to Action (BCtA), in cooperation with The Partnering Initiative (TPI), SNV Netherlands Development Organization, UNDP Bangladesh and Business Fights Poverty hosted an exclusive invite-only event introducing Inclusive Business in Bangladesh to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals – a part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The primary objective of the event was to bring together and sensitize the Bangladesh government and private sector to the humanitarian developments, profitable opportunities and of the global platforms and international support systems surrounding Inclusive Business. Attendees included the Minister of Planning of the Bangladesh Government, private sector representatives of companies from various business sectors such as BRAC, Square Pharmaceuticals, Swisscontact Katalyst, DirectFresh, Lal-Teer, Mott MacDonald and Rahimafrooz to name a few.

The event provided key insights into how the private sector can be a key partner to the Bangladesh government in achieving the SDGs through Inclusive Business models, and identify challenges, incentives and proper practices for the growth of Inclusive Business in Bangladesh. Since Bangladesh is one of the leading developing nations in the world with a remarkable reduction in poverty since the 1990s in both the urban and rural areas, the country is ripe for Inclusive Business opportunities and especially regarding the BoP population, where more than 15 million people have moved out of poverty since 1992.

Each sector began a discourse of an in-depth critical analysis on Inclusive Business, guided by their respective facilitators for each individual sector. After 20 minutes of discussion, each sector chose their own representative to put forward their thoughts and ideas of Inclusive Business implementation. This interactive activity fostered constructive thinking to explore Inclusive Business opportunities within specific sectors.

During the event’s Interactive Breakout Session, the representatives from the different sectors – readymade garments, food and agriculture, healthcare, energy and infrastructure and IT – discussed possible Inclusive Business implementation within their sectors and in their current business models, i.e. especially by engaging the BoP population in the value chain, adapting existing products/services’ sourcing models to cater to the BoP population, innovating on ways to leverage existing models for bigger social impact, as well as challenges and limitations within these specific sectors. The discussion within the different sectors revealed that Bangladesh still has a long way to go in overcoming obstacles especially when it comes to infrastructure, geographical and business policy and logistical obstructions which, if not properly dealt with, would hinder the implementation and development of Inclusive Business.

The readymade garments sector, which is the most profitable private sector venture in Bangladesh, related that a recent study suggested 95% of female RMG workers use dirty rags or rejected fabrics during their menstruation, while 20% remain absent due to illnesses related to menstrual hygiene and the economic loss due to absenteeism is estimated to be around $2.5 million per annum. SRHR products and services should be integrated into the garment industry value chain – such is the case that there is an improper management of menstruation, low use of family planning methods, and low accessibility to antenatal and postnatal care services for mothers. Moreover, the Dhaka-Chittagong highway, on which 80% of the country’s exports and imports are carried out, is in quite a derelict state. The RMG representatives reflected on how this obstacle could actually transform into a business opportunity. If a few surrounding factory owners improve the road condition, or set up power plants to support the business, they would directly contribute to SDG 9 ‘Innovation and Infrastructure’. They shared the belief that the government needs to provide support and incentives so that the RMG owners themselves take up an initiative which would benefit business growth while contributing to the SDGs simultaneously. This fact also reflected on to the discussion of policies surrounding Inclusive Business.

The renewable energy sector discussed the fact that at the policy level, renewable energy has been prioritized but progress in the level of implementation has been slow. The government should provide incentives and benefits to companies to establish more environmentally friendly power plants. The renewable round team shared viewpoint on that there is a limitation in the number of local experts on technology and innovation relating to renewable energy and infrastructure, and much external help will be needed. Also, new changes in the energy and infrastructure sector require massive investments, while the market is mostly dominated by one or two major corporations. The other sectors also shared ideas and challenges related to growth and scalability for inclusive business models within their individual sectors, the detailed framework of which is presented in the official report.

Bangladesh has maintained an impressive track record on growth and development, as the economy has grown at nearly 6% per year in the past decade, while human development maximized along with economic growth. Now with the successful inauguration and future implementation of Inclusive Business models, the government believes that Bangladesh can further enhance the quality of life for her BoP populations and become a noteworthy contributor of the Sustainable Development Goals. As proposed by the government, only by mutual cooperation and engagement with the private sector can the SDGs be achieved, as the implementation of Inclusive Business models within the private sector will be the most effective tool in achieving SDGs and improving the standard of living among the BoP population. Furthermore, the government also expressed their intention to adapt and innovate on policies supporting Inclusive Business in Bangladesh, as well as to provide incentives for sectors utilizing Inclusive Business models.

The event was prepared keeping positive intentions and the possibility of a bright future in mind, and the show of appreciation and enthusiasm from both the government and the private sector companies not only reinforced the purpose of the event, but also provided the framework and structure for Inclusive Business and development in Bangladesh to move forward in the coming years.

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