New commission aims to further business engagement on SDGs

By Adva Saldinger 22 January 2016

From left to right: International Trade Union Confederation General Secretary Sharan Burrow, Unilever CEO Paul Polman and French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development Laurent Fabius. Photo by: Valeriano Di Domenico / World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA

Can another group aimed at demonstrating the role of business in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals actually make a difference?

A new commission launched Thursday at the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, Switzerland, is planning to prove that a new platform can indeed break down the SDGs and demonstrate that business case. And it seems it may be poised to have a real impact, not least because it’s the latest organizing effort by Unilever CEO Paul Polman, who has proven he can bring together impressive groups of actors.

Indeed, just last month Polman brought business leaders together to make commitments on climate, and while the other SDGs might not offer as clear an impact on the bottom line, he believes that more and more companies are recognizing the business case for poverty alleviation. The commission is another tool to further spread knowledge and action, he said in a press conference Thursday.

The Global Commission on Business and Sustainable Development aims to look for ways to simplify the complex development agenda, translate what it means for business and look at how to develop new business models and creative ways of financing to allow business to take advantage of the opportunities. It will do so in large part through research and convening dialogues with diverse stakeholders.

While some business leaders are skeptical, Polman is convinced engagement on poverty alleviation is not a choice. To him, he said at that press conference, it’s simple: if a business doesn’t step up it will not continue to function, but if it does there is an enormous opportunity.

How big? Polman ran down some statistics to demonstrate potential scale — gender equality could unlock $37 trillion in value, universal energy access will unlock $18 billion and there is $90 trillion in the need for sustainable cities.

“This market we call development is really billions striving for a better life — this is the frontier for business in coming years,” he said, speaking alongside Mark Malloch-Brown, co-chair of the commission.

The commission seems to be a unifying effort — many of the organizations working to bridge the gap between business and international development, including the United Nations Global Compact and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, are represented.

Others on the commission include Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, John Danilovich, the secretary general of the International Chamber of Commerce, Mo Ibrahim, founder of Celtel and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Bob Collymore, CEO of Safaricom, Donald Kaberuka, former president of the African Development Bank, Arif Naqvi, the founder and group chief executive of The Abraaj Group, and Ken Frazier, the CEO of Merck & Co.

Will the new Global Commission on Business and Sustainable Development demonstrate real impact? Have your say by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

Adva Saldinger@AdvaSal

As a Devex Impact associate editor, Adva leads coverage of the intersection of business and international development. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, she enjoys exploring the role the private sector and private capital play in development. Previously, she has worked as a reporter at newspapers in both the U.S. and South Africa. Most recently, she has been ghostwriting a memoir for a former child slave and NGO founder in Ghana.

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