When Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever, accepted the C.K. Prahalad Global Sustainability Leadership Award it was a warning shot to businesses everywhere. He pointed to the swift government change in Egpyt as a result of collective social action. Polman said a similar fate could fall to businesses that did not operate responsibly. Not only has Unilever committed to a Sustainable Living Plan, but as part of the Consumer Goods Forum the largest retailers and manufacturers in the world have made ground breaking commitments to reduce their environmental footprint and improve social conditions in the countries they operate in, including a recent commitment to help achieve zero net deforestation by 2020.
Customers increasingly want to buy products and services from companies they are proud to patronize. To build shareholder value and “do good” as part of one’s core business operations is no longer a false dichotomy.
So how does a company do well and do good as part of their core business operations? The best solutions often are forged by combinations of businesses, their suppliers and distributors, governments, donors, local organizations and non-profits with deep social and environment expertise. It is through dialougue, deep listening and problem-solving that partnerships are formed and development challenges are tackled.
USAID has a long history of working with businesses around the world. In the past decade, we have done over 1,600 partnerships. These partnerships often began as social responsibility for business. Centered in the philanthropic or community affairs part of companies, they weren’t always connected to the profit and loss part of the business. Improvements for the world’s poor were real but they didn’t always provide lasting infrastructure to help eradicate poverty.
Lately, we’ve begun to see a change and, with that, an opportunity. With so much growth of new markets in the developing world, companies are seeking ways to partner more strategically. They are coming to government agencies like USAID seeking partnerships that create win-wins for communities, governments and businesses alike; profitable business growth that steps more lightly on the earth. They want to know how to create solutions that leverage more than money, how could to use their expertise to help drive development outcomes, and how to put in place good stewardship and governance policies to create a level playing field.
With all this demand for information, we decided to use technology to learn together in real-time. We are partnering with Devex, which operates the world’s largest development industry network, connecting 500,000 professionals and thousands of donors, companies and NGOs, to create a new platform to start and share this conversation. Called Devex Impact, this platform will connect professionals at the intersection of business and global development with the practical information they need to make an impact. Together, USAID and Devex hope to transform global development through market-based activities from public-private partnerships to supply chain sustainability to strategic corporate philanthropy.
There’s a big opportunity in emerging market countries – a chance to do business successfully and improve lives. Companies get it. Development organizations get it. But neither of us will accomplish everything that needs to be done if we don’t work together. At USAID, we realized we needed to go where the conversation is so we could talk and listen. Only then will we find new and creative solutions to make sustainable development work. We hope you’ll join us and I look forward to a great dialogue at Devex Impact.