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By Dave Prescott

The private sector, both multi-national and national, turned out in force for a dedicated Business Forum at the second High Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) in Nairobi last week.

The Forum was convened and hosted by TPI along with a group of partners including the ICC, the UN Global Compact and its local Kenyan Network, Business Call to Action and the Kenya Private Sector Alliance.

Around 150 company representatives along with 40 people from government, NGOs, and international agencies participated actively in a rich series of panel discussions and debates covering a range of issues from corruption to inclusive business; from the relevance to companies of development cooperation principles, to how to systematically scale up the engagement of business as a partner in development.

TPI’s Executive Director, Darian Stibbe, said of the Forum, “We were delighted with the both the turnout and the level of interaction and participation that led to some really interesting discussions. Having Business physically present and well represented at the HLM was hugely important. Not only did it help to send a message that business is an essential actor and a willing partner in sustainable development, the face-to-face interaction helps to humanize business, challenge negative stereotypes and reduce fear of engagement with companies. It will also help to ensure that the GPEDC takes business fully into account as it develops in its next phase.

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-> View the slide show

Opening

img_9685-charlotteThe tone was set with a video produced by Project Everyone, setting out the challenge and the prize of delivering the Sustainable Development Goals in 2030, and demonstrated the power of strong communication in raising awareness of, and achieving buy-in towards, the SDGs.

In recognition of the spirit of collaboration across sectors, the day was formally opened by the Chair of the Development Assistance Committee (the main forum for major donor countries) representing the development community, and the CEO of the Kenya Private Sector Association representing business.

Collective Action Against Corruption

“Corruption is the single biggest obstacle to achieving the SDGs”

The UN Global Compact’s Africa Chief, Olajobi Makinwa moderated the first panel exploring the role of business in combating corruption. A powerful point was made about the multiple corruption risks arising from the huge sums being mobilised to implement climate action. Responsible business has much useful experience to share in combating corruption, which adds to the cost of doing business as well as damaging national economies. And collective action of business with governments and  NGOs is essential to tackle systemic corruption.

Engaging business as a partner in development

“Everyone’s talking about win-win collaboration, but it’s not going to just happen. We need to make a concerted and systematic effort to make it happen.”

TPI led a session on what it will take to scale business engagement as a partner in development. The distinction was made between business as a development actor, contributing to the SDGs through its core business processes, and business as a development partner, consciously leveraging its leadership, its value chain and other assets in collaboration with others in order to maximise its contribution to development alongside its own business value.

TPI’s Roadmap, developed for the first HLM in Mexico in 2014, was used as a loose framework for the different levels of action required to scale up collaboration: engaging business in setting development priorities, creating mechanisms to catalyse collaboration, and building institutional readiness and individual competencies to partner effectively.

The session included input from the Swedish International Development Agency and their experiences of working with a network of leading Swedish companies to catalyse action on sustainable development, both in Sweden, and through their missions. It also heard from Diageo talking of their experiences partnering in their supply chain to ensure the supply chain’s sustainability both environmentally and socio-economically: “if the farmers who supply us aren’t able to make a profit, they won’t stay as suppliers”.

The need to break down silos was reinforced – both across sectors and even within the private sector where it is relatively unusual for two companies from different industry sectors to share experience despite suffering similar challenges. The session heard the experiences of the Chairman of the Zambia Business In Development Facility (ZBIDF) a platform which brings multiple industry sectors together with government, NGOs and the UN  to innovate and support the development of new partnerships. Particularly in the early days, the platform focused on building a more ‘partnering conducive environment’ through dialogue, through innovation labs and through partnership skills training.

The discussion led to the potential role of the GPEDC, where the main recommendation was to get down to country level and support platforms and other mechanisms that are working to make partnerships happen on the ground.

Business and development cooperation principles

“We need to have more evaluation on partnerships and their impact on development… and on businesses as well!”

The session looked at the relevance and applicability to the private sector of the Development Cooperation Principles, which include country ownership, transparency, inclusive partnership and a focus on results. Should business be required to sign up to the principles if they are to be a partner in development?

Contributors included the UK Department for International Development, the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), and the UN Global Compact. It was noted that many companies already commit themselves to various principles – perhaps most notably the UN guiding principles on business and human rights.

Any company adhering to the UN principles would find little to object to in the development cooperation principles, though they are more relevant to some parts of the private sector than others. For example, large consultancies responsible for multi-million dollar aid projects may be particularly accountable to these principles. In any case – ETI pointed out – simply agreeing to such high-level principles is unlikely to increase accountability without ongoing independent monitoring of performance, and potentially penalties for non-compliance.

Showcase: Business Partnership Action for Sustainable Development

A showcase of activity followed from three companies, GSMA (new mobile models for the SDGs), Diageo (sustainable development at Diageo) and Green Energy and Biofuel (access to energy). This ‘TED-talk’ style format involved five minutes with five slides and five minutes for questions. It underscored how companies of all sizes increasingly and intuitively understand that the SDGs represent ‘the economic opportunity of a lifetime’ and are already making great strides towards realizing that opportunity.

Supporting inclusive business

“If  we (companies) are expected to become more inclusive, we can’t do it alone.”

Finally, the discussion turned to inclusive businesses, in a session moderated by the UNDP-hosted initiative, Business Call to Action. An inclusive business is a commercially sustainable business that benefits low-income communities through inclusion in its value chain. Inclusive businesses can provide low-cost goods and services, or deliberately target the poor or vulnerable as suppliers, distributors or employees.

The session reinforced that while the number and quality of inclusive business is growing, it can take several years for these enterprises to demonstrate impact (eight years, in the case of two of the featured companies BioLoo and Africaqua). More support could be given by multilateral development banks to accelerate promising inclusive business activities through underused instruments such as risk mitigation mechanisms.

Closing

Finally, participants were honoured to hear closing remarks from Dr Mikhisa Kituyi, secretary general of UNCTAD. Dr Kituyi, among other points, urged on the audience the critical importance of well-functioning tax collection and management regimes. Such infrastructure will be essential given the increasing focus on domestic resource mobilisation required to achieve the SDGs. Responsible companies can, and are, lobbying for well-functioning tax regimes that can ensure a level playing-field. The raising of this challenging issue was a fitting end to the day’s debate about the role of business as a partner in development.

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Julia Gilbert

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