David Hallam (right), U.K. special envoy on post-2015 goals with Vasant Bunwaree (left), Mauritius minister of education. According to Hallam, both businesses and NGOs should be involved in crafting the post-MDG framework. Photo by: Commonwealth Secretariat / CC BY-NC-ND

Nonprofits need to engage more with the private sector in developing countries to raise awareness over the future sustainable development goals, according to the British aid agency’s focal point on the post-2015 agenda.

The U.K. Department for International Development wants both NGOs and businesses to be deeply involved in crafting the framework that will replace the current Millennium Development Goals, David Hallam, post-2015 director at DfID, told Devex on the sidelines of last week’s Bond Conference.

Unlike the MDGs, he explained, the SDGs would not seek to forge aid relationships, but partnerships.

Hallam argued that the British government does see a clear role for business in realizing the SDGs, although among many development professionals and part of the United Nations there was a lingering belief that big business was involved in “a lot of the bad things that happen in the world” and that the private sector needed to be brought to heel.

“The private sector exists,” he said. ”It is going to be the main source of jobs in the world, it is going to be a key actor in delivering services, and it is also going to need to be involved if we’re going to tackle some issues around corruption and transparency that lie at the heart of sustainable development.”

There is no other choice — “we need to involve it.”

“Let’s include the private sector, let’s recognize that there are some issues, but that there are actually some organizations, including multilaterals, that really do want to be a positive force in this,” the DfID official explained. “And let’s try and get them to be the models and find a way to encourage them to participate.”

Hallam recalled how British International Development Secretary Justine Greening had already begun engaging private sector organizations by hosting a briefing session in London’s business district in the summer, and the aid agency is now relying on the Whitehall & Industry Group — a charity that facilitates discussion between businesses, government and the nonprofit sector — to organize further briefing sessions.

“We’re reaching out and we have some good contacts,” he said. “One of the challenges is that there are a number of private sector organizations that are very closely involved, but it’s not that deep. We’d like to get more organizations aware of what’s going on and recognize there are opportunities and issues for them, because we want them to be a partner in it.”

Hallam noted that all sectors needed to get involved because the SDGs have such a broad agenda. But when it comes to NGOs engaging with business, he recommended they focus on firms in partner countries rather than British companies.

“[Development professions should] make sure indigenous industry, manufacturing and services and so on, are aware of the SDGs,” he said. “They should talk to their governments about what they want to see. It’s about that engagement, so that when governments come to [the U.N. in] New York next summer they’re arguing for the goals that will have the most relevance to what they’re trying to achieve.”

Dominic White, WWF UK’s head of international development policy, agreed with Hallam’s strategy, and suggested progress on the SDGs would involve organizations partnering with “private sector, corporate organizations that don’t necessarily have the best track record.”

“There are risks in that and we take a few hits as we do that. But we can also create some really good transformational change,” he said. “Working with some private sector interests is going to be part of the solution.”

Center for Economic and Social Rights Executive Director Ignacio Saiz however warned that some powerful businesses would seek to drive business interests in a way that did not converge with those of development.

He quoted research published by his organization and Christian Aid that suggested funding does not necessarily have to come from the private sector.

“We calculate $1.5 trillion could be generated in additional funding per year through fair and equitable taxation, reducing the need to scramble toward private finance,” he said.

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About the author

  • Gabriella Jóźwiak

    Gabriella Jóźwiak is an award-winning journalist based in London. Her work on issues and policies affecting children and young people in developing countries and the U.K. has been published in national newspapers and magazines. Having worked in-house for domestic and international development charities, Jóźwiak has a keen interest in organizational development, and has worked as a journalist in several countries across West Africa and South America.