UNDP engages 600 business leaders on important development challenges

27 Mar 2009

UNDP joins private sector leaders in Paris to explore links between Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and sustainable development

Paris - More than 600 executives from the private sector, international institutions, civil society organizations and high ranking civil servants joined UNDP at the 8th Annual Federe Conference in Paris on 25-26 March 2009 to explore ways to incorporate sustainability principles in their corporate social responsibility.  The 8th edition of the conference, organized by the Paris-based newspaper, Les Echos, and supported by UNDP, focused in particular on the central question "CSR, a lever to overcome the crisis?" and discussed issues such as the costs and the Return on Investment of sustainable development, CSR and local development, biodiversity and company strategy, firms and development, green economy and new regulations, responsible marketing, and responsible finance.

FEDERE is a French acronym for “European Forum for Sustainable Development and Responsible Business” (forum européen pour le développement durable et une entreprise responsable).

“UNDP works often with the private sector through forums like Federe to bring human and sustainable development to the center of discussions on Corporate Social Responsibility, “ said Cecile Molinier, Director of UNDP’s Geneva Liaison Office.  “Solutions to the world’s enormous challenges will only come through multi stakeholder partnerships, of which business – big and small – is an extremely important member.”

To support the growth of the private sector in developing countries, and leverage the potential economic growth has in alleviating poverty, UNDP offers strategies and tools for companies to expand beyond traditional business practices and bring in the world’s poor as partners in growth and wealth creation.

Ms. Molinier chaired a panel discussion with George Akiki of Cisco, Paul Hengeveld of Microsoft, Sahba Sobhani of UNDP’s Private Sector Division and Paul Carpentier director of the Pesinet, a small company that provides remote diagnostic solutions to rural health clinics in Africa.  The special session, titled "creating value for all: what partnerships and what contribution from the private sector?", explored how private companies can play a key role in fostering human development through both their CSR and in their core business activities.

Sahba Sobhani, who manages UNDP’s Growing Inclusive Markets initiative, said it would be understandable if the world questioned the role of the private sector in providing solutions to poverty, given that in the past year, “the private sector has destroyed a lot of the world’s wealth,” he said.

“Millions of people have lost their jobs, their savings and their homes as a result of a financial crisis caused in large measure by the private sector. The state has had to step in and protect firms and individuals from even greater loss. Hence, one may reasonably ask whether the private sector is still a good partner in the fight against poverty, and, consequently, whether we should continue with this initiative that works for inclusion of poor people into business models,” Sobhani said.

“The answer is an unequivocal yes. This crisis has shown that the global economy needs to be more inclusive, and that value creation cannot rely on the private sector in isolation. Cooperation between players from all sectors, private, public and civil, is necessary to create inclusive business models and sustainable markets.”

Sobhani added that the poor have a largely untapped potential for consumption, production, innovation, and entrepreneurial activity. “The more business models integrate and include the poor, the more likely companies successfully pursuing revenues will also help in fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals,” he said.

In his presentation, Sobhani highlighted five strategies that private businesses have implemented to successfully overcome the most common obstacles to doing business with the poor: 1) adapting products and services; 2)  investing in infrastructure or training to remove constraints; 3) leveraging the strengths of the poor to increase labour and management pool and expand local knowledge;  4) working with similarly-minded businesses, non-profit organizations or public service providers; and 5) engaging in policy dialogue with governments in order to overcome constraints.

UNDP Technical Advisor Mohand Cherifi, speaking at a roundtable that explored the role of the private sector at the local and regional levels where many partners are engaged in providing development solutions, said the role of business in providing solutions is not necessarily against its own self-interest. “In fact,” he added, “businesses that provide new and innovative solutions to new markets are usually the ones that succeed in the long term.”

Cherifi underlined the need, however, for the private sector to work in concert with the public sector. “An empowered, capable and resourced public sector is needed to ensure the necessary infrastructure and conducive regulatory framework that the private sector needs in order to function and grow,” he said.

Contact Information

For more information, contact Adam Rogers, Strategic Communications Adviser in Geneva; adam.rogers@undp.org; Tel.: 41-22 917 85 41; 917 85 42