Business Call to Action has grown from 18 companies in 2008, to 226 today. Members, like India’s iKure, ensure low-income earners are included in their value chains to help improve lives while maintaining profit. Photo: iKure

 

On its 10th anniversary, Business Call to Action reflects on how the inclusive business landscape has changed over the past decade, and looks forward to what lies ahead.

A decade ago, Business Call to Action (BCtA) was launched with just 18 companies. During our inauguration, the then-prime minister of the UK Gordon Brown said; “Business Call to Action is a landmark opportunity for global business leaders to come together to develop new and innovative ways to spread growth, prosperity and opportunity across the world.”

Today, with 226 members spanning 70 countries, that statement is truer than ever.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have provided a framework to tackle the most complex and pressing challenges we face. For businesses they offer a comprehensive perspective on risks and opportunities. Leading companies understand and integrate the objective of contributing to viable and prosperous societies in which they can grow in the long term. Our survey on the State of Inclusive Business revealed that companies are increasingly seeing the value of aligning their strategies with the SDGs.

Recent evidence shows how societal value and business value are compatible--and in fact are better together. Our companies are testament to this, particularly those that have recommitted over the years. A study by Boston Consulting Group involving 300 companies across four sectors confirmed a positive link between responsible environmental, social and governance and a business’s bottom line.

Risks and benefits

The rapid march of technology means that many countries that were lagging have a real opportunity to more rapidly address development challenges. Artificial Intelligence in healthcare and agriculture has the potential to bring rapid change and to position businesses at the cutting edge of connectivity, affordability and accessibility. Digitalization can also encourage transparency, for instance blockchain can increase traceability, as well as providing space for transparency in business behaviour – including how companies source, operate, manage and treat their employees. But at the same time, new technology runs the risk of displacing large numbers of workers or creating further divides between the wealthy and the poor. Companies should commit to using technology to ensure its benefits reach those farthest behind.

But we are also faced with very real and urgent challenges in an environment of increased political and economic complexity. In terms of climate change, we now know that time is short – dramatic and comprehensive changes are needed to reverse or slow the catastrophic effects our  actions are having on the world, as starkly outlined in the recently published International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. Unless we move at an unprecedented scale and pace, there will be dramatic consequences, leaving millions more in poverty. One of the greatest barriers is a lack of political will. Latest information prepared for the COP24 summit in Poland shows that only 16 of the 197 signatories to The Paris Agreement are meeting their commitments.

It is precisely this intersection of risk and possibility that presents business with the imperative and opportunity to build an inclusive and sustainable economy that creates a prosperous society.

A daring call for action

The stakes are higher, therefore the call for action is more daring. It’s a call for:

Ambition: The economic system needs to be changed, and commitments from companies need to be highly ambitious in depth and scale. Companies will need to embrace the SDGs and the principles of universality, leaving no one behind; they will need to become advocates, influencing their peers and their industries.

Coherence: Companies can no longer aim for a net impact. Efforts have to be more concerted--positive impact must be integrated across their operations. For example, it's not sufficient to bring in valuable products and services to low-income communities if it's at the cost of labour rights, employee wellbeing, or means tax evasion. There needs to be coherence between what companies say and do; more importantly, there has to be consistency of behaviour, policies and procedures. This will be key to building high-trust relationships with the public and governments.

Results: At the heart of any inclusive business is its ability to positively affect those living at the base of the pyramid. But it’s not enough to just say you’re integrating this ideal into your value chain. It needs to be defined and measured through impact management, which in turn helps to drive, articulate and share those results, and build corporate credibility. To support companies, we have launched our Impact Lab, a free tool available to any company interested in measuring their SDG impact.

BCtA and its members have come a long way in the past 10 years and we're looking forward to further advancing inclusive business. In this spirit, we renew our call to action with our member companies, and across the inclusive business community, to use these models to leave no one behind and work towards a more sustainable global economy.

This blog was originally published in The Guardian.  

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