Business Alliance Embraces SDGs as “Common Framework” for Inclusiveness
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Business Call to Action (BCtA) held its 2016 Annual Forum on the sidelines of the 71st UN General Assembly (UNGA), with a focus on “inclusive business” and how it can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

BCtA launched two publications during the Forum: a joint report and toolkit to guide companies toward sustainable practices, produced with Deloitte and the UN Development Programme (UNDP); and a joint report produced with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) on measuring business' contributions to the SDGs.

business_call_to_action22 September 2016: Business Call to Action (BCtA) held its 2016 Annual Forum on the sidelines of the 71st UN General Assembly (UNGA), with a focus on “inclusive business” and how it can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). BCtA launched two publications during the Forum: a joint report and toolkit to guide companies toward sustainable practices, produced with Deloitte and the UN Development Programme (UNDP); and a joint report produced with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) on measuring business’ contributions to the SDGs.

BCtA is a multilateral alliance among donor governments and UNDP, which hosts the Secretariat. Its member companies apply inclusive business models to engage people at the “base of the economic pyramid” (BoP) as consumers, producers, suppliers and distributors of goods and services, to contribute to development.

The seventh annual Forum, which convened on 22 September 2016, in New York, US, gathered leaders from BCtA member companies, and officials from governments, donors, the UN and civil society. Paula Pelaez, head of BCtA, highlighted the new commitments to inclusive business objectives that had been made by BCtA members in the past year. Magdy Martinez-Soliman, UNDP, called on businesses to demonstrate that social good and sound business go hand-in-hand, and that their core processes facilitate the creation of an inclusive economy.

Keynote speaker Jayanth Bhuvaraghan, Essilor, reported that over US$200 billion is lost each year in productivity due to uncorrected vision problems, making vision screening and accessible care a precondition for the SDGs’ achievement. He underscored the need for scalable business models that are financially sustainable, and adapting these models to meet the needs of different consumers. By tapping into business potential in BoP markets, said Bhuvaraghan, businesses can develop a loyal consumer base, sowing the seeds for long-term growth.

In a panel discussion on ‘Greater impact and scale for the SDGs,’ held in partnership with Business Fights Poverty, moderator Laura Gitman, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), said the SDGs provide a blueprint to help businesses coordinate their work for sustainability. Panelists emphasized the SDGs as an opportunity for companies to benefit low-income communities through their core businesses. To achieve local production and distribution, they noted the need for an enabling policy environment, and mitigating the risks of supply limitations and restrictive regulations. Speakers also: said companies can mainstream sustainability at the senior-management level by basing executive compensation on non-financial objectives; and supported measurement of social as well as economic impacts.

In a panel on ‘Supporting inclusive business through multi-stakeholder action,’ moderated by Marcos Neto, UNDP, speakers agreed that the SDGs are transforming the idea of partnerships, from “opportunistic financial arrangements” into multi-sector collaborations focused on common objectives and shared values. They said transparency is a building block of sustained partnership. In order to earn trust, said panelists, companies must collect data on operations in each country to demonstrate concrete social, environmental and economic impacts.

At a breakout session on guiding companies toward sustainability, Sahba Sobhani, UNDP, highlighted the joint report and toolkit from BCtA, Deloitte and UNDP, titled ‘Uncharted Waters: Blending Value and Values for Social Impact Through the SDGs.’ W. Robert de Jongh, Deloitte, argued that inclusive business has reached a “tipping point” and is changing the way business is done. At the same time, he said, the SDGs are creating a common framework for business action.

Speakers also highlighted lessons on “maturing” toward inclusive business practices, citing multinational pharmaceutical company Novartis’ strategy to bring health-seeking behavior and health care to BoP markets; off-grid energy company BuffaloGrid’s innovative response to rural people’s energy needs; and health-monitoring company Dimagi’s customizable technology platform. The panelists agreed that scaling up business while serving the BoP takes patience and perseverance, cannot be undertaken in isolation, and requires continually assessing impacts and adapting business models to meet customers’ needs profitably. While start-ups face challenges as new entrants, established businesses must often disrupt their industries from within.

Finally, BCtA and GRI presented findings from their joint report, titled ‘Measuring Impact: How Business Accelerates the Sustainable Development Goals.’ Members of the publication team said the report takes a “first look” at how private sector measurement and reporting can help achieve the SDGs. Based on consultations with businesses, the report shows that: “business” is not a homogenous group, and SMEs in particular need capacity building to measure and report on sustainability; policies can encourage greater monitoring and measuring of business’ impact on sustainability issues; and businesses can form partnerships to support measuring and reporting of their impacts.

Based on consultations with governments, the publication team reported that data on companies’ SDG contributions can help governments shape development plans and strategies, including to incentivize greater progress where Goals are being “left behind.” They added that governments’ own statistical data will not be adequate to fully measure all SDG indicators in every country, and that most countries consulted for the report have a mechanism to interact with businesses on SDG reporting, or are currently establishing such a mechanism.

In a panel discussion moderated by Pelaez, Anuj Mehra, Mahindra Rural Housing Finance Ltd., said his company provides home loans to people in villages and rural areas in India. Part of the loan process is updating land records to reflect current ownership, which Mehra said might be the company’s “biggest social impact.” He said the company studies its impacts on SDGs 1, 3, 5, 6 and 11, and has found that a healthy home reduces hospital visits for the family (SDG 3), and that women are increasingly co-borrowers (SDG 5). Mehra said Mahindra will use the findings in its branding and business strategy, underscoring that measurement and reporting can be in a company’s self-interest. Christian Jahn, Inclusive Business Action Network (IBAN) Executive Director, echoed that reporting can create value for a company, beyond just complying with regulations.

Punjanit Leagnavar, GRI, reported that when companies in Colombia report on their impacts, six of the top ten issues they report on relate to SDG 8 (Decent work and economic growth). She suggested that governments can use such information to help align private sector reporting with national priorities. Leagnavar also said governments need “contextualized data,” and that a framework like GRI can aggregate data to provide context for each country or region.

Alexis Geaneotes, International Finance Corporation (IFC), said IFC is working to map project-level indicators to the SDGs, and then to tie them to the World Bank Group’s goals of poverty eradication and shared prosperity. She said IFC’s results monitoring framework: covers social, environmental and financial impacts; provides the estimated income level of clients’ markets, to increase their reach in BoP markets; and, through a third party evaluator, uses “insight tools” are used to understand BoP markets more broadly, such as how they view their relationship with the company and what products they need.

In the interactive discussion, participants commented on the need to: ensure that companies report on impacts rather than efforts; and ensure that government priorities, not just business opportunities, are driving business’ contributions on the SDGs. [BCtA Press Release on Annual Forum] [BCtA Forum] [Uncharted Waters Report] [Measuring Impact Report] [GRI Press Release] [IISD RS Guest Article by GRI] [Guardian News on Measuring Impact Report] [Guardian News on BCtA Forum] [IISD RS Sources]


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