The Role of the Private Sector in Global Development Paradoxes

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The Role of the Private Sector in Global Development Paradoxes

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - 9:45am

by Alicia Bonner Ness, Communications Manager

In 2000, the world committed to address the major challenges restricting global prosperity in the next 15 years at the Millennium Summit of the United Nations, with the launch of the Millennium Development Goals. In 2012, the UN published an MDG Goals Report which assessed the progress towards achieving those goals and the gaps that remain to be closed before 2015. Among the goals assessed, four issues rise above the rest as most critical to global development – water, food security, disease, and unemployment. Though significant strides have been made, much remains to be done.

Fortunately, the private sector is in a position to support accelerated growth.  Global corporations have the unique ability to support social progress while also achieving high levels of business performance and innovation.  International Corporate Volunteerism (ICV) is one way in which some of the world’s largest companies, like PepsiCo, John Deere, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Pfizer, Intel, and SAP, are finding innovative approaches to work within new markets, while developing a generation of leaders who understand the complexity of these challenges.

Water: Access

According to the UN MDG 2012 report, over 2 billion people gained access to improved drinking water between 1990 and 2010, due in large part to organizations like charity: water, Water for People, and Safe Water Network and the UN-approved mandate for access to clean water and sanitation as a human right.  Yet, rural areas still predominantly lack access to safe water and 2.5 billion of the world’s population still lack access to basic sanitation facilities. Furthermore, many communities around the world that have achieved access to water still struggle with effective clean water management.

Food and beverage companies can be well-positioned to help rural communities on a variety of important issues including the management of water resources.  One example is PepsiCo, who has been recognized for its comprehensive approach to water stewardship and its PepsiCorps program, in which employees volunteer their skills in emerging markets.  Projects often address water-related issues, offering future leaders of the company insight into the realities of lack of access to clean water, while engaging them in developing practical solutions.  Recently in rural India, for example, PepsiCo volunteers helped develop rainwater harvesting systems – an approach to storing rainwater in a desert area plagued by increasing water scarcity.  The team of eight volunteers worked with the local organization, Bhoruka Charitable Trust, to recommend approaches in innovation and technology and practices to scale the rainwater harvesting system across the rest of the drought-ridden region. 

While these types of project are exciting, no single organization or corporation can address the difficult and complex challenge of access to clean water and sanitation.  Overcoming obstacles to universal water access by 2015 will necessitate collaboration among the private sector, international organizations, and NGOs in creative and sustainable ways.

Hunger: Food Security

According to the 2012 MDG Report, hunger still remains a staunch global challenge.  More than 850 million—that’s 15.5% —of the world’s population is living in hunger, and malnutrition persists, especially among young children. Many aid programs of the 1990s encouraged imported food products as a solution to world hunger, often disrupting natural trends in domestic agricultural production. Though these often destructive practices have for the most part been abandoned, the world skill lacks a sustainable model that will support future food security for the world’s hungry.

At their annual meeting this January, the World Economic Forum published A New Vision for Agriculture, a report championing small-holder farmers as “change-agents” and “catalysts.” Recently, businesses like John Deere have begun to support this way of thinking. By providing training and equipment to communities of local farmers in India, Thailand, and the United States, John Deere is contributing to sustainable local agriculture.  Through its Inspiring Leadership program, John Deere offers highly talented employees the opportunity to gain exposure to environmental, cultural, and business realities within their own supply chain through volunteering.  At the same time, the program affords local farmers unprecedented access to professional approaches to challenges that result from living in the fast-changing landscape of an emerging market.  Many agree this type of private sector engagement is the only viable way to overcome world hunger.

Disease: Health

The world has made definitive progress toward addressing HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. With the help of The Global Fund, people all across the globe are now empowered to send malaria-prevention nets for just $10 and according to Malawi’s President Ellen Sirleaf, malaria deaths in Africa have been reduced by 33% over the past decade. Yet, many health challenges go unanswered. Yet maternal mortality remains an insurmountable challenge in many countries and the UN failed to meet its goal of universal access to retroviral treatment for those suffering from HIV/AIDS by 2010. Furthermore, while the incidences of tuberculosis and malaria continue to fall, the diseases still persist around the world.

Pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline are all well-positioned to accelerate the achievement of the MDGs by 2015 and have begun to use skills-based volunteering programs to do so. Merck’s new initiative, Merck for Mothers, which seeks to address the issue of maternal mortality, is also linked to Merck’s corporate volunteering program. Merck’s corporate volunteers serve for three-months, embedded with organizations around the world, many of them dedicated to maternal health.

Pfizer’s Global Health Fellows (GHF) program is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Since launching, 317 Fellows have worked in over 40 countries. To date, Fellows have completed an estimated 325,000 hours of skills-based volunteerism with local partners throughout the developing world.  According to one partner organization, Cary Kimble, the Associate Vice President of Development of Project HOPE, a GHF partner, “These members of Pfizer helped improve Project HOPE’s monitoring and evaluation systems and our health education curricula and materials. They helped us measure and validate the impact of our work and develop business and marketing plans, allowing us to reach more people, more effectively.”  

According to Caroline Roan, President of the Pfizer Foundation and Vice President of CSR, “The GHF program demonstrates Pfizer’s commitment to promoting access, quality and efficiency of health services for the world’s neediest people.  It offers clear evidence that by coordinating our efforts and partnering with other stakeholders, the impact of our effort is magnified and we all benefit.”  These efforts have the potential to dramatically expedite the way local communities in the hardest to reach places approach issues of health and disease.

Unemployment: Technology + Entrepreneurship

According to the MDG 2012 report, the number of people living on less than $1.25 per day fell from over 2 billion to less than 1.4 billion between 1990 and 2008. Yet, in 2011, vulnerable employment accounted for 58% of employment worldwide, down only slightly from 67% in 1991. Many economic strategists have realized that one effective solution to global unemployment is to create more enterprises, fueling a growing focus on supporting entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprises in the developing world.

Even in the United States, entrepreneurship, especially social entrepreneurship, has become a rising trend. Discussions of lean process, iterative learning, and validation, once reserved for Toyota engineers, are now ubiquitous in discussions of corporate management.  Indeed, evolutions in technology, long known to drive economic growth and expansion, are best cultivated through new enterprise. Robust, multi-year commitments from corporations like SAP that support entrepreneurship and technological innovation can do a great deal to support more diverse livelihood opportunities around the world.

Technology, long known to increase economic productivity, is central to the world of Intel’s Education Service Corps (IESC). IESC supports Intel’s commitment to improve education through access to technology, directly increasing the future employability of the youth they reach, which will be better prepared to meet the demand for technically capable labor in frontier markets.

All of the corporations mentioned here have embraced International Corporate Volunteerism as a unique and effective way to support progress on each of these global challenges. Global pro bono programs make it possible for high potential employees and leading executives at John Deere, PepsiCo, SAP, Merck, IBM, Pfizer, and GlaxoSmithKline to contribute directly to capacity-building on the ground. In many cases, few assets are as valuable as expertise and time. 

The popularity of ICV continues to grow. Join us to see what’s next!

To learn more about ICV and its impact, we welcome you to join this April 11 and 12 at the 4th Annual International Corporate Volunteerism Conference in Washington, D.C.  Exploring the theme of “Responsible Leadership: The Future of Corporate Engagement in Global Development,” these and other companies will join public sector leaders like World Vision and Devex to share their experience in this growing practice.


Alicia Bonner Ness 
Communications Manager
Alicia Bonner Ness (@AliciaBNess) is the Communications Manager at CDC Development Solutions where she seeks to amplify the stories and impact of skills-based volunteerism and enterprise development around the globe. She is the editor of the online magazine New Global Citizen.

Keywords: Responsible Business & Employee Engagement | CDC Development Solutions | Global Development | Health | ICV Conference | International Corporate Volunteering | Millennium Development Goals | Social Impact & Volunteering | food security | private sector | water