Paula Lucci | September 28th 2012 | @GlobalMkts
The UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are due to expire in 2015. Agreed by world leaders in 2000, they were intended to help speed up progress on issues like education, health and the eradication of poverty in some of the world's poorest countries.
Results have been mixed, with three of eight targets met but others still way off-track. A great deal of attention is therefore being paid to making as much progress as possible before the 2015 deadline. Still, with only three years left to run, many in the development community have started thinking about whether the existing goals could be improved. I think one of the top priorities should be getting businesses more involved this time round.
There are three main reasons. The first is that, at its core, development is about generating investment and creating jobs. Bringing the very actors that can help deliver these objectives into the process could help speed their growth and spread opportunity to those most in need.
The way businesses operate matters for development too. Paying taxes and a decent wage or avoiding environmental damage can go a long way in helping to meet development goals. By bringing the private sector closer to the development debate, governments and aid organisations can increase their influence over the way businesses choose to behave.
A bigger role for business should also come as recognition for the fact that many have been much more active in development work over recent years. There are now a number of initiatives where businesses have teamed up with philanthropists, NGOs, donors or governments to tackle complex development problems, while meeting their commercial objectives. Examples include using supply chains to train and employ local entrepreneurs (while securing a source of reliable suppliers) and deploying business R&D capacity to come up with affordable products that target low-income consumers (while developing new markets).
In principle, therefore, the idea of partnership working is a good one; businesses bring skills and R&D capacity, NGOs and governments their knowledge of local conditions. Of course, this doesn't mean everything is straightforward. The big difficulty is finding cases of impact at scale. So far, there are only a few of these, with most coming in the field of health. That's a real challenge, but, if anything, it's another reason to bring businesses closer to the process. Doing so will surely help us find ways to increase their impact.
At the ODI, we've been working up some ideas on how to get businesses more involved in development going forward. As a minimum, those companies willing to do so could express their views on a new development framework and explain what they would need from other actors to maximise their contribution to the goals, particularly those related to investment and jobs. Going further, a new framework could lock in delivery commitments, encouraging different actors to collaborate to deliver, if possible at scale, against specific goals. Finally, businesses could improve the measurement of their own contribution with a set of standardised and workable performance indicators, ideally integrated to their financial reporting.
Introducing the Millennium Development Goals was ambitious and delivering them has proven more challenging than some had hoped, but they have certainly been worthwhile. Successors will be needed, but it would be naive to think that governments and NGOs can make real progress on their own. Alongside other partners, if we are serious about accelerating development, then the private sector must also come on board.
Economist Conferences' Africa Summit takes place on February 5th, 2013. Click here for more information on topics and speakers.