Easing Poverty Can Be Good for Business
Monday, March 8, 2010
At the World Economic Forum in Davos recently, a diminutive figure in a brightly coloured suit could be seen stalking the hallowed halls of business and finance, casting fear into the most imposing of corporate leaders, albeit with easy smiles and endless diplomatic charm.
Barbara Stocking, the first female director of Oxfam, is on a mission to persuade business to assist in the charity’s goal of improving the lives of the poor. “People want to see me for one of two reasons: they fear what Oxfam might do to them if they don’t [or], in the best case, they realise we have mutual interests on development and poverty and can really work together,” she says.
Ms Stocking believes that the private sector’s ultimate object of making money is aligned with improving the lives of people in poverty, and she says that there is a “major opportunity” for wealth creation. “Poor people are in trade. They are not in employment in big services, [but they] are selling their own produce. Once you understand that, you start seeing how the private sector can engage with poor people.”
For too long, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) did not talk to business, she says. Now, the charity is making an effort to speak the language of business. Ms Stocking, a former NHS official, says that she has learnt the meaning of “patient capital”.
She sees a big change away from the notion of corporate social responsibility, which she says is often treated as an add-on. Instead, companies are addressing how to carry out their core business in emerging markets. “It is fine and terrific building schools or putting in a health centre. But people have moved on,” she says