What is the role of business in delivering on the post-2015 development goals? This was the question I was asked to address on a panel at the EU High-Level Conference on Education and Development on 23 May, aimed at strengthening the momentum for education as the foundation for a new international development framework.
The panel was moderated by Carol Bellamy, Chair of the Global Partnership for Education, and also included: Andris Piebalgs, EU Commissioner for Development; Joe Costello T.D., Minister of State for Trade and Development, Ireland; Im Sethy, Minister of Education, Youth and Sport, Cambodia; Serigne Mbaye Thiam, Minister of National Education, Senegal; Genwa Samhat, Youth Advocacy Group of the Global Education First Initiative; and Camilla Croso, President Global Campaign for Education.
It is remarkable how the international community’s perception of the private sector’s role in tackling the world’s biggest challenges has shifted in the past decade. Large companies once regarded as a source of ‘the problem’ are today widely accepted as part of ‘the solution’ to global development challenges in education, health, poverty, and the environment.
Equally, the business case for private sector engagement is stronger and more widely understood than ever before. As multinational companies look to emerging markets as sources of potential growth and opportunity, a longer-term investment in building stable operating environments, strong communities, and skilled workforces can be game-changing – helping to manage future costs and risks and to harness opportunities for innovation.
With a financing gap of $26 billion per year (identified by UNESCO) needed to achieve ‘Education for All’ goals by 2015, it’s not surprising that many are asking what business can bring to the table. But the conversation needs to re-focus on what business does best – which is investing, not financing. It is an important distinction, because investments imply returns, accountability, and sustainability.
Gone are the days when companies measured their returns only in terms of short-term profits. A 2011 article in the Harvard Business Review catapulted the principle of ‘shared value’ – defined by the authors as “creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges” – to the top of MBA curriculums and CEO agendas.
Today’s leading companies are increasingly delivering shared value by changing the way they do business – redefining supply chain productivity, leveraging their core expertise, and innovating and scaling commercially viable solutions that also deliver tangible social benefits. This is not to say that companies shouldn’t make philanthropic contributions. But a viable investment that delivers business value to shareholders will be much more sustainable, and therefore impactful, in the long term.
Pearson was the only company represented at the full-day conference, which brought together education and development ministers from EU Member States and developing countries, as well as experts from the non-governmental sector. Having a seat at the table shows how far we’ve come, but we still have a long way to go in ensuring that governments, civil society, and the private sector work collaboratively to solve the world’s biggest unmet needs.
Amanda Gardiner (@Amanda_Gardiner) is the Head of International Affairs at Pearson.
The official report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda was released on 30 May 2013.
This article was previously published on The Pearson Blog and is reproduced here with permission.