U.S. President Barack Obama speaks with Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, president of the sixty-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly at the high-level meeting on Libya during the U.N. summit in New York. Photo by: Eskinder Debebe / UN

The takeaway from a week of frenzied meetings in New York this week is unmistakable: The role of traditional donors in international development is shifting quickly. Social businesses, impact investors and public-private partnerships are driving this aid revolution. The international community should support local change agents.

“What is good for society has to be good for business and what is good for business has to be good for society,” said Indra Nooyi, CEO and chairwoman of PepsiCo, at the annual Clinton Global Initiative gathering.

Across town, at the Social Good Summit, Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus challenged tomorrow’s global leaders to pick one development challenge and find a business solution.

At the “Women: Inspiration and Enterprise” Symposium and elsewhere, social entrepreneurs and corporate philanthropists hammered home the message that empowering the masses is key to affecting change.

Indeed, there must have been as many tweets sent as there were hands shaken and partnership deals sealed. Among the social media activists were a group of first ladies from Africa and beyond, who lobbied for women’s cancer care on the fringes of a groundbreaking U.N. high-level meeting on noncommunicable diseases.

Meanwhile, at the U.N. General Assembly, the quest by Palestinians to achieve statehood came to a head. Then again, attention shifted in the proverbial New York minute.

I spoke with Generation Y entrepreneurs about their efforts to encourage students and inventors around the world to find sustainable solutions to development challenges. They scoffed at the notion that traditional donors could achieve what they may.

Funding was on everyone’s mind — especially at CGI, where NGOs and inventors working in clean energy, maternal health and other fields sought that crucial investment to scale up operations. At business forums in the Empire State Building and elsewhere, Hollywood celebrities and hedge fund managers were sought-after partners. There were no rose-colored glasses, however: Wall Street’s influence on international development was seen critically, albeit ripe with opportunity.

What does a development-boosting, sustainable business model look like?, Gro Harlem Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway, asked in a revealing moment at CGI. But there wasn’t any time to answer, because, as she said, “We have somebody coming very soon …”

That somebody was U.S. President Barack Obama, who proceeded to talk about his efforts to cut the U.S. deficit and reduce domestic unemployment.

“If the economy isn’t growing, if Americans aren’t getting back to work,” he said, “it becomes that much harder for us to sustain the critical development assistance and partnerships to help all the development strategies you care about dearly across the world.”

Now more than ever, economic growth and job creation in the developing world depends on the ability of rich nations to budget wisely and create jobs at home.

Amy Lieberman contributed reporting.

About the author

  • Rolf Rosenkranz

    Rolf Rosenkranz oversees a talented team of in-house journalists, correspondents and guest contributors located around the globe. Since joining Devex in early 2008, Rolf has been instrumental in growing its fledgling news operation into the leading online source for global development news and analysis. Previously, Rolf was managing editor at Inside Health Policy, a subscription-based news service in Washington. He has reported from Africa for the Johannesburg-based Star and its publisher, Independent News & Media, as well as the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, a German daily.

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