Joel Roxburgh: The trusted voice on (corporate) sustainability

Joel Roxburgh, head of sustainability at Vodafone. Photo by: personal collection

In the United Kingdom and beyond, Joel Roxburgh is one of the most trusted voices on sustainability. He leads the social responsibility department of telecommunications giant Vodafone and has appeared as speaker at major conferences such as Green Strategy 2011 and the 10th Annual Responsible Business Summit.

Roxburgh is one of today’s most influential development leaders under 40 in London. He and his peers have inspired change that transcends borders.

Devex is recognizing 40 of these young London-based trailblazers in international development. They are social entrepreneurs, government leaders, development consultants, business innovators, advocates, development researchers, nonprofit executives, philanthropists and investors.

We asked Roxburgh about his leadership and vision for development cooperation in the years to come. Here’s what he said:

How have you managed to integrate “sustainability” into Vodafone’s corporate culture?

There have been two main factors that have helped integrate sustainability into Vodafone’s corporate culture. The first is distributing leadership for key elements of sustainability into the various business functions, making it the “day job” of leaders in supply chain, product development and technology. This has allowed us to move faster and further than we otherwise would have in each of these areas.

The second is by making the business case for sustainability and building it into the broader business strategy. This helped to create focus — linking energy efficiency and green technology to cost reduction, and mHealth and mAgriculture to our data services and emerging markets objectives — and engaged the lines of business into delivering on our goals.

How has your background in improving business processes helped you build successful cross-sector partnerships?

There are a lot of parallels between business improvement and sustainability, although they aren’t always obvious to everyone. Successful business improvement is really about inspiring people to see the potential in the organization, motivating them to believe that they can make a difference, and then focusing them and their partners to work together and deliver on common goals.

These same factors apply to building successful cross-sector partnerships in sustainability — starting with a shared vision of what could be accomplished together, inspiring people that it is possible and establishing a contract of trust between the parties, and then committing resources and building concrete plans to make it a reality.

What can governments and aid groups do to engage the private sector better in global development initiatives?

In my experience, private sector organizations engage most effectively when there is a clear commercial opportunity. To leverage this, governments should focus on establishing the right long-term incentives, focus and infrastructure to encourage development, whilst building lasting private sector partnerships to deliver development initiatives on the ground.

Aid groups, on the other hand, typically have deep links into the local communities but may lack the operational knowledge to deliver development initiatives in an efficient and effective way. Aid groups would particularly benefit from contracting to the private sector to deliver development initiatives at scale, whilst ensuring that they deliver shared value.

Read more about the Devex 40 Under 40 International Development Leaders in London.

About the author

  • Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.