What is the role of business in achieving development goals post-2015?

By Clare Melford, CEO, International Business Leaders Forum

What is the role of business in achieving development goals post-2015?

In the period since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were established business has made a considerable impact on poverty reduction. In the second edition of ‘Business and the MDGs: A Framework for Action’, published in 2008, IBLF identified the three spheres of influence though which the positive impacts of business occur: core business, community investment and engagement in public policy.

One of the many ways business has contributed to the MDGs is by work to create an enabling environment, by which we mean one that roots out corruption. Responsible business practice, which is essential if business is to contribute to positive development outcomes, must include effective anti-corruption and bribery compliance systems consistent with the tenth UNGC Principle. The $1 trillion a year corruption ‘industry’ disproportionately affects the world’s poorest who often have to pay bribes for everyday services. Collaborative cross-sector action such as IBLF’s work in Russia, India and China are building strong groups of people from business, government and civil society who are taking real steps to reduce corruption.

While great examples, these initiatives are not enough and there is plenty of work to do to get more of the private sector engaged. We need to apply the maxim of ‘think global, act local’ with local cross-sector networks that can leverage the full force of the private sector to the maximum advantage of the poor and under-served.

We need a concerted effort to communicate the business case for sustainable development and engage more companies. We also need much more widespread support to help them partner with the other sectors that are vital as implementing, intermediary, capacity-building or knowledge partners.

There remains the serious challenge of how to make cross-sector collaboration happen systematically, at much greater scale and with much greater effectiveness. This doesn’t occur by accident – it takes active brokering. By working together in effective partnerships, trust will be developed and confidence will be built. Basic partnering principles must be established up front, especially equity, transparency and mutual benefit. Without these principles, partnerships fail.

We have identified three things that need to happen:

Firstly, the development of a global network of highly-skilled, brokering or intermediary organisations or hubs which are capable of bringing together the different sectors and facilitating robust, effective partnerships much more systematically. We propose that MDG8, arguably the least effective of the MDGs in terms of outcomes, be re-invented with a specific remit to establish in all developing countries an effective, performance managed local network brokered to focus on specific, measurable, locally relevant targets which are identified priorities for all sectors of society in that country – including business. This will draw in more companies because of the local relevance, and will ensure the effort is focused on the relevant issues.

Secondly, collaboration competencies need to become like financial competencies: a standard part of every MBA, every masters in international development, every organisation’s professional training.

Thirdly, our companies and institutions need to be internally more ‘fit to partner’ to have the leadership, strategy, incentives, systems and capacities to be a good partner.

There is widespread consensus about the need for cross-sector partnerships. Now a concerted effort is needed on all sides to turn the rhetoric into reality: to drive, widespread, effective transformational partnership at country, regional and global levels.

Editor’s Note:

This blog was first published on the International Business Leaders Forum blog and is reproduced with permission.

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