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Besides the moral imperative, investing in disaster risk reduction helps businesses reduce losses by enhancing political and market stability. UN Photo/Logan Abassi


As frequently volatile storms, floods and droughts indicate, the impact of both climate change and natural hazard risks is growing. Addressing these challenges, and ensuring that countries are able to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), requires strong partnerships and more investment from the private sector in risk-informed, sustainable development.

Yet, understanding the role of the private sector within the development sphere is a continual challenge. It is not always clear how to combine sustainable, risk-informed development with a commercial agenda. This lack of clarity played out during a recent meeting with Portek, an international port operating company, at a public/private sector conference in Geneva. During the meeting, we discussed ways to overcome the perceived dichotomy of contributing to the SDGs while ensuring Portek maintained a profitable business model.

To meet both objectives, I suggested that Portek could diversify its investment portfolio by supporting port operations in countries that are highly prone to natural hazards, or it could conclude an agreement with a national government to conduct surge response support activities at a port in the event of a disaster. An approach such as this would allow Portek to generate a profit while contributing to risk-informed development.

Bridging this divide between private sector interest in meeting the SDGs and the reality that corporations need to sustain profitable businesses, is exactly where UNDP’s role comes in to play. UNDP has the ability to build partnerships between the UN, the private sector, national governments and other international agencies.

These partnerships can harness capital and expertise from the private sector to find solutions to development challenges in a way that is both feasible for the private sector and appropriate for each country’s national context. A recent analysis highlighted in the report, UNDP and the Private Sector, shows how the private sector is engaged in supporting countries with expertise, capital, innovation and technology.

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Uthira attends a 'Get Airports Ready for Disaster' training in Almaty, Kazahkstan. GARD is a public-private partnership to build the capacities of airport authorities to effectively and efficiently handle disaster response. UNDP photo

One example of this is the project I manage on airport preparedness with Deutsche Post DHL (DPDHL) in the area of disaster risk reduction. For me, Get Airports Ready for Disaster (GARD) is an innovative public-private partnership that demonstrates clearly how private sector engagement is beneficial to risk-informed development and the achievement of the SDGs. Through the partnership, DPDHL provides their expertise in logistics to build the capacities of airport authorities to effectively and efficiently handle disaster response coordination.

UNDP implements this project with our coordination and technical expertise in disaster risk reduction, and the national airport authorities utilize their knowledge of their airports and their technical skills to develop a surge response action plan. All three partners together bring different skills and value to the project, making it a success.

The private sector already has incentives and initiatives in place to support country governments in achieving the SDGs. Investing in development helps the private sector reduce their business losses as development gains start to offset political and market instability. Working towards the achievement of the SDGs is an added value because it contributes to the private sector’s corporate social responsibility commitments. For the UN, engaging with the private sector is an essential part of mobilizing both finances and expertise for risk-informed, sustainable development.

The SDGs present an opportunity for the private sector to work with the public sector in order to devise sustainable, profitable and mutually beneficial solutions to development challenges. Examples such as GARD, and the burgeoning relationship with Portek, demonstrate that these partnerships are possible and full of potential.

Uthira Ravikumar is a Preparedness Programme Analyst with the Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction cluster at UNDP. Follow her on Twitter: @UthiraRavikumar

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