As the year winds down, the time left to reach the social and economic improvement targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) shortens to just two years. While we made progress on these goals, stubborn challenges remain. Talks about what the post-2015 agenda should look like to tackle these challenges have already begun.
John Fallon, Chief Executive of International Education at Pearson, was one of many senior representatives from the private sector, development organizations, NGOs, and academia to meet at an event during the UN General Assembly week in September to discuss the role for business in developing and delivering a new development framework to replace the MDGs.
“In defining a role for business in development, my starting point is to ask the questions: What are the biggest, most urgent problems facing our global community – all 7 billion and more of us – and how can business help to solve them?,” said Fallon.
Fallon goes on to explain that businesses, in his experience, will engage and contribute if it sees a development goal worth striving for. Many have come to realize that there cannot be a viable future without healthy, sustainable communities. In recognition of this shared dependency, the private sector has become a major partner in the global battle to improve health, tackle poverty, and bring opportunities to a much wider group of people.
What’s business got to do with it?
So far, there have been early attempts to devise a development framework for businesses to succeed the MDGs. For example, Save the Children published a policy brief earlier this month outlining a three-point plan for business engagement. The goal of this framework is to ensure businesses understand how they can have a transformative impact, rather than simply devising targets and trying to fulfill them without thinking why. In other words, to do more than an act of CSR.
1) Measures to ensure all firms apply a ‘do no harm’ approach to their core business.
This would mean evaluating and disclosing social impacts of their products (e.g., breast milk substitutes) and practices (such as labour standards or tax strategies), as well as indirect impacts (such as their environmental footprint). We should not underestimate the challenge of reaching this baseline, but the potential benefits are transformative.
2) Shaping core business strategies to contribute to development goals.
If a firm takes the next step and orients its business strategy towards creating products and services that improve the lives of the poorest, it can have a greater impact. If this approach becomes the norm across the sector, the impact increases dramatically.
3) Advocating for change at the national and global level.
If firms advocate for political leadership and legislation that underpins this shared value approach, the potential game-changing effect increases. Aviva’s leadership on corporate transparency at the Rio+20 summit is one example.
Vision for post-2015
Speaking about his familiarity with MDG 2, which is to ensure that all children, regardless of gender, have access to primary schooling, Fallon believes the greatest strength of this goal is its simplicity. Undoubtedly, enrollment rates in the world’s poorest countries have improved over the years. Yet its simplicity is also its weakness. Just because enrollment rates have increased doesn’t mean the children are actually learning. Therefore, he argues that the next iteration of development goals in 2015 would need to retain their simplicity, but make them more specific and focused on outcomes. His answer to MDGs related to education post-2015 would be to focus on early childhood development, basic literacy and numeracy by the end of primary school, and better post primary educational opportunities.
As we move forward to the next set of goals, two things are for sure. British prime minister David Cameron, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who were named the co-chairs of a high-level panel by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon to advise him on the post-2015 agenda, make it clear that 1) the agenda must build upon the MDG achievements and 2) the goal is still to end world poverty.
“There is more progress to be made between now and 2015, but we are clear the next stage should be aiming to eradicate absolute poverty in our world,” said Prime Minister David Cameron.
“That is something politicians have been talking about for a while, but for the first time I believe this generation really has the opportunity to do it.”
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