Helen Clark: Accelerating Progress towards the MDGs through Inclusive Business

21 Sep 2010

Statement by Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme

At the side event on “Accelerating Progress towards the MDGs through Inclusive Business"

I congratulate the organizers and sponsors of this landmark event, which focuses on accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goals through inclusive business.

That this event is taking place today on the margins of the MDG Summit confirms that business has an important role to play in supporting MDG achievement, that in many cases it has been playing that role to good effect, and that it can play a vital role in reaching the MDGs by 2015.

In this room are captains of industry who will share their own experiences of what businesses can do to advance development. Others are here to learn how they too can engage in inclusive business models which support wealth creation and human development to everyone’s benefit.

I thank you all for participating in this dialogue, and for the commitment you are showing to the MDGs through your attendance today. 

When the MDGs were launched at the beginning of the new millennium, it was a time of hope. Leaders came to the Summit then from around the world united in their desire to build a better future for all the world’s peoples.

The eight MDGs were then, and still are, the most comprehensive and universally agreed development goals. They set out to tackle poverty across its many dimensions.

They are about eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; empowering women; increasing access to the essential services of education, healthcare, clean water, and sanitation; reducing the incidence of specified deadly diseases; protecting the environment; and forging strong global partnerships for development.

For the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, the MDGs are time-bound and specific commitments which would bring hugely beneficial change to their lives.

When world leaders signed up to the Goals, they knew that development was everyone’s business.

In our interconnected world, the dividing line between “their” problems and “our” problems is getting ever thinner, if it exists at all. If our neighbours are poor and struggling, our prospects are affected too.

A decade after the MDGs were launched, we can see that the focused effort to achieve them has yielded results – although progress has been uneven across the goals, and across and within regions and nations.

The MDG scorecard to date shows that the developing world is on track to meet the target of halving, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty. This is in no small part due to the remarkable progress of China in lifting hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty between 1990 and 2005.

But many countries have seen insufficient progress in reducing poverty to meet this Goal.

Advances have been made in getting children into school. Enrollment in primary education reached 89 per cent in the developing world by 2008. But the pace of progress is not yet fast enough to ensure that all girls and boys complete a full course of primary schooling by 2015 as MDG Two envisaged. Concerted action could see this goal achieved.

There has been progress towards gender parity in education. This is so important, as the education of girls is not only their right, but also yields some of the highest returns of all development investments.

In recent years, new challenges have emerged. First the food and fuel crises and then the global recession have been felt sharply around the globe. The same applies to major events related to climate change and other natural disasters, such as the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the monsoon floods in Pakistan, and drought in the eastern Sahel.

Sadly, it is all too often those least responsible for causing the problems who have suffered the brunt of the impacts, and have the least resilience to deal with them.

Failure to meet many of the MDGs cannot be blamed on the world lacking the resources and know-how to do so. There is a wide range of proven policies which, adapted to national context, can ensure progress - where there are strong political leadership and partnerships, an absence of conflict, sufficient capacity, and adequate and predictable funding to implement them.

The question before us at the MDG Summit is : how can we accelerate progress over the next five years to meet the MDGs, despite the many obstacles in the way?

UNDP’s answer to that question highlights eight areas where priority action is needed.

They include: supporting country-led development; fostering inclusive economic growth; improving opportunities for women and girls; targeting investments in health, education, and energy access; scaling up social protection programmes; enabling effective domestic resource mobilization and allocation; and urging donors to honour the Official Development Assistance commitments they have made.

In many of these areas it is not just action from governments, development practitioners, and civil society which is needed. There are clear roles for the private sector too.

Businesses are engines of growth, and have the potential to help improve the lives of people through their investments and activities.

In recent years UNDP has been working with the private sector to realize that potential by going beyond philanthropy and traditional corporate social responsibility - critical as these are to support development.

Our “Growing Inclusive Markets” initiative encourages companies to explore new opportunities which make ending poverty part of their daily business. It shows how including the poor in their strategies is not just good for businesses; it is good for the world’s poor too.

A new report prepared by this Initiative,“The MDGs: Everyone’s Business”, provides many examples of local and international companies which have successfully integrated the poor into their business models to create wealth, spur growth, and spark social change, thereby helping achieve the MDGs.

There are businesses which have created opportunities for local communities by purchasing goods and services from them, thus generating employment and ensuring regular income. There are businesses which have invested in developing the potential of their workforce, small suppliers, and distributors through training and quality assurance.

And there are businesses which have adapted their products and services for low-income customers, boosting access to better and more affordable nutrition, health, energy, finance, housing, and information. Moreover, under-served communities have been given the chance to develop small businesses and generate income by selling and servicing these products.

Through the Business Call to Action launched by UNDP and other partners in 2008, leading companies from around the world have made commitments to contribute towards the MDGs through adopting such pro-poor business models.

As a result of commitments made, over ten million people will be given access to affordable IT, finance, health care, and agricultural goods and services. Nearly 40,000 sustainable jobs are being created and hundreds of thousands of farmers across Africa and India are benefiting from enhanced productivity and increased incomes.

New commitments to the Business Call to Action in 2010 include those of Anglo American, which is supporting small businesses in mining communities in South Africa and Latin America, and linking them to their supply chain. Their commitments are showing how extractive industries can invest in job creation and stimulate enterprise development in local communities.

Other new commitments include Ballarpur Industries, a paper production company in India, which will integrate 5,000 small farmers into their supply chain by supporting them to grow pulp-wood on previously degraded lands. The farmers’ incomes are expected to grow in the coming five years.

Waterhealth International joined the Business Call to Action this year with a five year commitment to provide safe drinking water to over 750,000 villagers in Bangladesh through community-run, low cost water centres.

And Lifespring Hospital is helping to bridge the much needed gap in adequate maternal care by providing quality, low-cost services to women in India. Their commitment aims to increase maternal health care services for 82,000 women in the coming five years.

These are just a few examples of how private sector companies are speaking loudly with their actions in support of the MDGs, and using their strengths to capture new markets and improve poor people’s lives at the same time.

It is my hope that other companies will be inspired by these and other examples, and join in the global effort to meet the MDGs by 2015.

Meeting the MDGs has undoubtedly become harder in this era of multiple crises. But while the task is harder, it’s not impossible.

In these tough times, we need to make the most of scarce resources. We need to promote what works, and replicate proven interventions. We need stronger global partnerships to speed up MDG progress.

We have seen how partnerships between public, private, and not-for-profit actors can increase the distribution of anti-malarial bed nets, the availability of anti-retroviral drugs for people living with HIV/AIDS, and connect millions of people in developing countries to banking systems though mobile phones.

Such partnerships have involved some of you present in this room, and I applaud your efforts.

They also remind us that we really can overcome development challenges, including in some of the world’s most challenging circumstances, if we work together.

The MDGs matter to all of us. I wish you well in your endeavours to help meet them.