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28 February 2018
Private Sector’s Role in Achieving the Global Goals
By Farah Faroul, UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee

On February 23rd, the first-afternoon breakout session of the Global Engagement Summit took place at the United Nations General Assembly Hall and focused on the timely topic of the “Private Sector’s Role in the Global Goals”. Donna Rosa, President of the UNA-USA Northern New Jersey Chapter, moderated the panel discussion with Natalie Africa, Senior Director,  UN Every Woman Every Child Initiative; Jennifer Ann Ragland, Senior Director, Government and Stakeholder Relations, Coca-Cola; and Tim McCollum, Co-Founder of Madecasse.

Panelist Remarks

Ms. Natalie Africa, Senior Director, of Every Woman Every Child initiative, created by the United Nations Foundation highlighted her over the past four years working with this movement. Companies worldwide are mobilized for global health and encouraged to take “business as unusual action” in order to make a difference in women’s and children’s health. The program focuses mostly on Sustainable Development Goal 3 aimed at reducing maternal and child mortality. Participating companies use their business models and technologies such as mobile phones, financing, and medicines to reach the most underserved people. Ms. Africa submitted that global health is an issue that has rarely been driven by donors and multilateral aid. Hence, the engagement of industry is a new approach. She further pointed out that foreign aid to the developing world was nearly $160 billion in 2016. By contrast, direct investment to the developing world from the private sector was $1.6 trillion, an amount that is closer to the funds needed to implement the SDGs. As such, engaging the private sector in implementing the SDGs is an effective approach.

Ms. Jennifer Ann Ragland, Senior Director, Government and Stakeholder Relations of Coca-Cola informed participants that the company has been involved in international development since its partnership was established with the American Red Cross in 1917. The SDGs present an important framework for sustainability and their implementation will create millions of jobs, including “green jobs.” Coca-Cola has launched its “New World” program in partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to help increase access to clean water. Creation of the program was based on the Coca-Cola’s My World survey results and is currently active in 19 countries within Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The program focuses on clean water, women empowerment, responsible consumption and economic growth. Coca-Cola has mapped all 17 SDGs to their sustainable priorities and annually report on progress made in achieving target objectives.

Mr. Tim McCollum is Co-Founder of Madecasse, a Brooklyn-based company that produces chocolate in Madagascar. He served in the Peace Corps in Madagascar for two years and worked in marketing at American Express for six years. His Peace Corps experience taught him about grassroots-level international development and his career at American Express taught him a top-down approach to running a business. He sought a way to combine that experience to find a good balance between the corporate world and the developing world to solve social problems through business solutions.

The discussion included questions from the moderator, Ms. Rosa, about the panelist’s biggest successes and challenges.

Moderator:  What is your organization’s proudest achievement for the SDGs?

Mr. McCollum’s company employs 85 farmers who have seen their income rise by 60%. The company has also built water wells for communities in Madagascar. He recalled that, two months ago, one of the farmers said that he wants his cooperative to grow and become a beacon for the rest of Madagascar. In a short period of time, the number of farmers in the cooperative has gone from 20 to 60, and their wage has increased from $2 to $5 a day, thus tripling in size and farmer’s salary. The farmer’s testimony was a big inspiration for him to continue his work in Madagascar.

Ms. Ragland submitted that Coca-Cola has made tremendous progress in women’s empowerment, both internally and externally. Internally, Coca-Cola is focused on developing the female talent pipeline. For example, over 25% of their executive board are women, which is great by Corporate 100 standards. Externally, Coca-Cola started a “5By20” initiative targeting 5 million women by 2020. It seeks to empower everyone from agricultural producers to retailers by providing access to training and financing. For instance, they have conducted specialized training for farmers in Haiti and given them access to financing to grow their businesses.

Ms. Africa recalled the work that the UN Every Woman Every Child Initiative has accomplished in Northeast Kenya, where six local counties had the highest maternal mortality rate. Through a public-private partnership with the Kenyan government, Kenyan private companies such as Safaricom, and several NGOs, including the Red Cross, the initiative has transformed the health of women and children by reducing the level of maternal mortality rate. With the use of technology from the private sector, diagnoses are sent to doctors in Mombasa and Nairobi to treat patients in Northeast Kenya.

Moderator: What is the biggest misconception of the private sector’s role in achieving the SDGs?

Ms. Ragland stated that the biggest misconception is that the private sector is only a funding source for achieving the SDGs. She noted that they also share knowledge for implementing the SDGs. For instance, Coca-Cola has partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID to use Coca-Cola’s marketing expertise to help develop medicines to advance global health.  

Ms. Africa stated that there are misconceptions regarding policymaking being different from running a business, and where companies feel that they have to do something huge to make a difference. She stated that “everyone big and small can make a difference.” For instance, a small company can make a difference by positive treatment of their female employees and by providing paid parental leave.

Mr. McCollum submitted that the private sector is made up of mostly small and medium-sized enterprises. He mentioned that the biggest misconception is that making a profit and having a social impact are binary. He stated that the best businesses do both in equal measure. He also observed that there now is a much narrower line between NGOs and the private sector. He stated that both sectors are doing almost the same thing but go about it differently.

Audience Q&A

Ms. Africa encouraged the audience to teach the SDGs in their communities. Companies can also make a difference through their environmental impact or by providing parental leave for women employees. They should take incremental steps when implementing the SDGs to avoid being overwhelmed by trying to achieve everything at once. In response to a question about how to implement the SDGs in countries where women face gender inequality, Ms. Africa emphasized that the SDGs are interrelated and that women need to be involved. For example, to achieve global health (SDG3), we need educated women (SDG4) to be involved, which is hard to achieve if there is no gender equality (SDG5).  

In response to a question regarding companies balancing making a profit and making a difference, Mr. McCollum submitted that companies do not have to choose between the two. He mentioned that for the past 10,000 years, companies had one bottom line: making a profit. However, social trends in the 1990s led companies to have two bottom lines: profit and people. In the past 15 years, the new trend for companies is three bottom lines: profit, planet, and people.

Mr. McCollum is focused on SDG8 to help bring jobs to people. Jobs lead to economic growth which will lower poverty rate (SDG1), end hunger (SDG2), and possibly improve access to health care (SDG3) for people. He stated that economic growth is achieved in two steps: 1) give a living wage to people through a first job, which then 2) gives a sense of hope to people in poor communities because if you do well at your first job, it will lead to a better job in the future.

Ms. Ragland noted that companies see sustainability from a risk perspective. For instance, cost savings are accrued by companies when carbon emissions are reduced. By operating in nearly 200 communities, Coca-Cola is local to many communities and their license to operate in these communities is at risk if they were to ignore the SDGs. She further submitted that people not only work for a paycheck but also want to be part of a company that holds positive values. Thus, Coca-Cola invests in women by helping them grow their businesses, which ultimately helps Coca-Cola as well. Inclusive diversity and women empowerment are core values for Coca-Cola.

Ms. Donna Rosa informed the audience that with 66% of local businesses being engaged in the SDGs, Asia Pacific is the first region that is the most engaged in the SDGs, and Europe is the second. She submitted that companies do a lot better when they realize that they have a social responsibility. She also mentioned that consumers also have a role to play in achieving the SDGs because they buy what companies sell; if they do not buy, the companies will go out of business. Thus, we all vote with our wallet.

In closing, Ms. Rosa thanked the panelists and encouraged participants to make a difference in their own local communities.