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Friday, September 02, 2005

New report highlights private sector role in Millennium Development Goals

By John Paul

WBCSD member companies have a combined annual turnover of more than 5 trillion USD, and their products and services touch the lives of about 2.5 billion people every day. Imagine the possibilities if even a portion of this business energy is harnessed to transform the lives of the world's poorest people.

This premise forms the basis for Business for Development, a new WBCSD report that makes the business case for sustainable development by illustrating how the private sector is taking an active role in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Business and development are two sides of the same coin, explains WBCSD President Bj?rn Stigson. "Business cannot succeed in societies that fail. Likewise, where and whenever business is stifled, societies fail to thrive."

Business solutions accelerate the pace of development efforts considerably, says the report. A growing number of companies are investing in new business ideas that have clear development benefits, especially in terms of creating opportunities for people. These ideas include designing products and services that address specific needs of the poor, increasing sourcing from local suppliers and involving low-income communities in the delivery of innovative products and services.

SC Johnson in Kenya, GrupoNueva in Guatemala, Rabobank and Unilever in Indonesia are all working to boost the competitiveness of local low-income farmers, significantly improving their livelihoods. France's electricity utility, EDF, is providing affordable solar energy to villagers in Morocco, too remote to be connected to the national grid. Procter & Gamble has developed a low-cost product that purifies drinking water where no source is available.

Increasingly policy makers realize the potential of market forces in encouraging economic development and its benefits. NGOs are also becoming more and more active in working with companies to identify needs, communicate with low-income communities, distribute products in remote areas, and even collect revenues. As UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said:

"It is the absence of broad-based business activity, not its presence, that condemns much of humanity to suffering. Indeed, what is utopian is the notion that poverty can be overcome without the active engagement of business."

The Millennium Development Goals represent a huge challenge and it is becoming increasingly clear that governments and civil society will not be able to deliver on their commitments without the participation of business. The private sector has shown that it can contribute business solutions to development challenges - and that companies have the appetite and the capacity to deliver much more of this.

However, business does not operate in a vacuum. Capital shuns high-risk countries. It is up to governments to create a stable investment climate through steady, long-term commitment, action and coherent strategies that intimately involve the private sector as well as civil society. The Business for Development publication provides a useful starting point.

Business for Development will be released at the WBCSD's Development Dialogue event, to be held in New York on September 14, 2005. This invitation-only event is a chance for government officials and representatives of WBCSD member companies to discuss private sector participation in the Millennium Development Goals, as the United Nations World Summit provides little scope for this. The report will be available the same day on the WBCSD website.

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