Using Business Skills to Solve Social Ills

We believe the role of the private sector, too often overlooked in international development, is critical -- even indispensable -- to speeding up progress on the Millennium Development Goals.
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When the world's leaders gather in New York next week at a special summit on achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, the United Nations will call on the global community to accelerate progress over the next five years.

The MDGs require governments -- in partnership with business, NGOs, faith-based groups and other stakeholders in civil society -- to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria and other infectious diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development, all by 2015.

We believe the role of the private sector, too often overlooked in international development, is critical -- even indispensable -- to speeding up progress on the MDGs. Some companies are already engaged, but many more can and will join the MDG effort. By aligning their business objectives and social investments with the MDG targets, corporations large and small can help move millions out of poverty.

While the eight MDGs are interdependent, all depend on the success of Goal 1 (eradicating extreme poverty and hunger) and Goal 8 (forging a global partnership for development).

Without achieving MDG 1 -- which focuses on poverty alleviation through growth and economic development and on improved nutrition -- we simply won't have the rise in incomes needed to have a long-term sustainable impact. This is arguably the most important business of business.

The rise of public-private partnerships (PPPs) shows what can be done when business collaborates creatively with other stakeholders to solve social problems -- using business skills to solve social ills.

The GAVI Alliance, established in 2000, exemplifies the creative potential of such partnerships in its work to achieve MDG 4 for child health -- a two-thirds reduction in the number of deaths in children under the age of five by 2015. Governments, private sector philanthropies such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the financial community, vaccine manufacturers, research and technical institutes, civil society organizations and multilateral organizations combine efforts to accelerate access to existing vaccines, introduce new technology and strengthen health systems in 72 developing nations to prevent millions of deaths from vaccine-preventable illnesses worldwide.

Central to GAVI's strategies are innovative financing mechanisms such as advance market commitments, in which donor money is used to guarantee a market for vaccine companies if they undertake development of vaccines for poor countries, or if the companies agree to build extra capacity to supply those markets with an existing vaccine.

How did GAVI actually achieve success? It leveraged the market capabilities of corporations. It created incentives for research, development and new vaccines at a time when there was little commercial interest in vaccines for development. And it experimented with new means of creating markets for new technologies for the poor.

The same principles that contributed to the success of GAVI can be applied to many of the other MDGs. By doing so and taking the resulting programs to scale, we would see much more rapid progress across a broad front.

It's been striking to see how, once the British government and the UN Development Programme issued their Business Call to Action in support of the MDGs, the response was extraordinarily positive among many diverse companies. The response was not only from senior management: even more impressive are the efforts by employees on the front lines in many of the countries facing the greatest MDG challenges. They recognize that the same core business capabilities that create profits can also advance social goals such as the MDGs. This co-creation of value sparks creativity and passion at all levels in the private sector to do even more to help achieve the MDGs.

The ultimate test of the UN Summit's success will be to re-energize efforts to achieve MDG 8 -- a commitment to build a more secure and prosperous world through partnerships for global development. No single sector alone can fight poverty, hunger and disease, but the private sector can and should join forces with governments and other civil society stakeholders to bring hope and help to the world's poorest people.

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