How can we unlock the power of business to address global poverty?

The BITC International Award, supported by Unilever, recognises and celebrates businesses that can demonstrate positive impact against one or more of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

More and more businesses recognise that it is in their long-term interest to invest in building safe, secure societies. Global challenges are a driver of innovation and new market opportunities in developing countries. If your business has customers, core business, supply chains or supports projects in developing countries, then the MDGs are important to you.

We would like to know your views on how business can contribute to the MDGs.

1. How can helping to address the MDGs contribute to business growth and development?

2. What can businesses do to reduce the vulnerability of women, men and children in developing countries?

3. How can businesses use innovation in their markets, services, products, programmes, and employees etc. to transform communities?

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CARE’s work pays particular regard to the position of women and girls, due to their widespread marginalisation and the positive development impact of investment in women and girls. However, we find that companies we work with and we speak to, struggle to understand gender issues and how to deal with them. Companies must therefore:

  • significantly improve their analysis of gender issues,
  • establish policies which take women into proper account,
  • change structures to ensure the progress of women and
  • report on a gender disaggregated basis

Business has a critical role to play in supporting education. This is the foundation stone to enable economic growth. IBM's Corporate Responsibility programmes directly help build core skills for literacy, science and early education, working with government to train teachers and provide appropriate learning materials.


Teachers Try Science:

Reading Companion:

Gerry - we agree that focusing resources for girls and women in essential . Across IBM we run regular workshops for girls to help them engage with STEM subjects - where many new job opportunities exist and are emerging. Here's an example of a programme this summer

Inside IBM we operate several groups fro women to develop their expertise - the Women in Technology Group is one of these and we are connecting them through our schools programme Teachers TryScience to be role models for girls

Hello and thank you for the invitation to join this interesting discussion... reading Gerry's and Celia's comments I find two issues that we are constantly trying to tackle through our programmes in SABMiller... Gerry talks about marginalisation and the positive impact of investing on women... this is extremely relevant as only through enabling and lowering the barriers for women to be able to fully participate in the markets, will we untap their huge potential for positive change... Celia talks about education and especially access to education and skill development. This is key if we want to remove barriers and guarantee sustainable development.

There is a huge opportunity for big businesses to enable both the removal of barriers and skill development for small businesses, especially if these are part of the value chain. In SABMiller, we have been working to integrate both smallholder and commercial farmers in its supply chains in numerous African markets and in India and we have also recently launched a retailer programme in Latin America, 4e Camino al Progreso Through this programme, we will reach 40,000 small retailers in six countries in Latin America and help them improve not only their businesses but also their communities.

Supporting local people to develop ad grow local business is key to giving economic independence and access to resources like healthcare IBM partnered with the IFC - International Finance Corporation on the SME Toolkit platform that has tools for entrepreneurs to grow their business. SME Toolkit:

One of our Corporate Service Corps volunteer teams use the SME Toolkit in Morocco to help women's coopertives operated through Tangier Med Foundation for Human Development

Read about it here

Welcome to this live discussion! As with previous discussions, we are joined by a great panel to share their thoughts in this written discussion forum. Today we're looking at how can we unlock the power of business to address global poverty.

Let's begin with the first question:

Q1. How can helping to address the MDGs contribute to business growth and development?

I believe we should think of a mutually reinforcing relationship where addressing the MDGs contributes to business growth and business growth contributes to the achievement of the MDGs. Addressing pressing issues like extreme poverty and hunger, gender inequality, health care issues and environmental sustainability will help us unlock the potential of millions around the world

This is very true also for Allen & Overy. As a global law firm we rely on the skills and expertise of our people as they are our key assets. Internationally we focus on supporting both primary and secondary education as well as enabling young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to understand and succeed in careers in business. We also look to support others on access to education through our philanthropy. Access to education is a key strand in our global foundation's programmes.

For a pharmaceutical company such as GSK, we can play a central role in addressing the health related MDGs through our core business. Our business model needs be tailored to ensure access to medicines and healthcare which is good for society and good for GSK. Our work in the least developed countries is focussed on ensuring our medicines are accessible to those who most need them. We have done this through a variety of means such as cutting prices to no more than 25% of the price in Europe, and reinvesting 20% of profits generated to suppoort developing health infrastructure by training frontline health workers

How can adressing MDGs contribute to Business growth? a Quote from Ex WBCSD president Bjorn Stigson: "Business can not succeed in societies that fail". So contributing to positive development and more inclusive economic growth will open up business opportunities. Especially targeted interventions which a address MDGs through market based approaches will create business opportunities, examples are many - BOP ventures whereby big business like Unilever, SAB, Vodacom are addressing real consumer needs at the BOP which contribute to the MDGs think on mobile banking, hygiene (soap), micro - insurance, fortified foods & nutrition. Offcourse improving MDG 1, halving poverty increases consumer acquisition power which will stimulate aggregate demand and contribute to business turnover.

I agree. Through our partnership with AfriKids in Ghana with have been looking at how to expand access to finance for women entrepreneurs. Historically AfriKids has supported 500 women a year the aim is now to take this to 10,000. Business has a vital role to play in this. In our case this means coming in to provide all the legal advice needed to access the finance for the programme and get the agreement of local regulators. This an example of how legal skills can assist, but there is a role to play too for a wider range of businesses.

Ceceila I This is great - I posted a note about the SME Toolkit that these small businesses might find valuable - it has multiple country versions

Through the BITC International Award we have had the privilege to see many programmes that have contributed to business growth and development. Innovation drive, identification of new products, services and markets can fuel growth. The challenge is to ensure that these are sustainable.

Today is UN Universal Children's Day, innovation in the education sphere is key to accelerating progress toward the MDGs.

I completely agree with the quote you mention Rik. This is why businesses should look at the opportunities for capacity building and enabling development across their value chains and in the communities where they operate. Business models that facilitate inclusion of impoverished people into value chains can open up a route for them to enter the formal sector and can significantly contribute to meeting the MDG goals.

Through their core business operations and value chains, companies drive economic growth by procuring and adding value to raw materials and services, developing technology, investing in equipment and infrastructure, creating jobs, and training their employees

Hi Panel,

Francis from Save the Children here. I'm interested in how different businesses have operationalised an approach that maximises their impact on poverty. SAB Miller have quite an interesting experience in ranking - and incentivising- its different businesses in terms of sustainability performance and making this a point of internal competition. Do others have similar examples?


It is also important that we work with developing countries to assist them in helping to achieve this. One of our key programmes for a number of years has been working in Rwanda to help the country make the most of the investment it has been receiving. Through advising pro bono and offering training to judges, lawyers and the government we have been able to help Rwanda in creating a better legal structure that helps it deliver on its Poverty Reduction Strategy and Vision 2020 Goals.

Let's move on to question 2:

Q2. What can businesses do to reduce the vulnerability of women, men and children in developing countries?

Definitely cecilia, I think that more and more businesses look at the impact effects on MDG and poverty of their business models and see it as part of their integrated sustainability reporting. However short term profit performance / quarter figures are still driving the reward systems of many companies I believe. Do business have reward systems in place for sustainability achievements and also looking at the long term? Who are front runners in this and where can companies learn from each other - see remark by Francis