Speech at the International Conference Public Private Partnerships for the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (en)
10 April 2018
Palais des Nations - Geneva
Good morning ladies and gentlemen,
I believe we should begin these three days of discussion around partnerships with one clear understanding and one unequivocal truth: partnerships are an extremely good thing!
No longer do we have to ponder IF there should be a partnership compact between the United Nations family and the business community. Now we need to shed a light on the collaboration that has worked over the last 73 years that the United Nations has been in existence, learn from what it has delivered, from what it lacks, to replicate and scale.
Isolationism is not a viable solution in 2018. The interdependence of countries, economies, value chains, production processes and of technology has made obsolete the notion that impact can be achieved going at it alone.
At the heart of the United Nations 2030 agenda is to leave no one behind. But to do so we need everyone to be playing a role.
The second ‘truth’ that I want to bring to you today is that we can do good and do business. Profit and philanthropy are not on the opposite sides of the scale. Smart partnerships can bring multiple wins for all involved: sometimes in the short term but increasingly in the medium and long term where efforts today can create opportunities for tomorrow.
The JIU report comes at a critical time in the life of the United Nations where we are rethinking how we deliver as One UN but facing the reality that the UN alone, nor with just its member states, can deliver on our shared compass of the 2030 Agenda.
We need the private sector, academia, support institutions, and yes, also individuals to build a compact of active partnerships if we are to lift everyone together.
I am pleased to see the similarities in what is recommended in the JIU report for scaling up and what the International Trade Centre (ITC) already does. The recognition that ITC, in collaboration with the UN System Staff College Knowledge Centre for Sustainable Development, should host a system wide platform to facilitate communication with micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) on the opportunities of the 2030 agenda- providing information and intelligence on access to funding, good practices, scalable interventions and opportunities to engage with UN operations- places MSMEs at the heart of this partnership debate.
And this is important. MSMEs are the very fabric of our economies. Not only do they employ the vast majority of people in all of our countries, but their role as incubators of innovation, inclusive growth and women’s economic empowerment are increasingly being recognized.
But this is not always a natural process. These MSMEs need support to build their competitiveness. They need trade and market intelligence to make market decisions that can lead to impact. They need opportunities to enter value chains as suppliers; and they need the partnership of larger companies to ensure their supply chains are transparent, green and clean.
At ITC working with MSMEs is our raison d’etre. In our over 50 years of experience we have found three main blueprints that have worked. The private sector as markets and as investors; the private sector as funder; the private sector as a provider of in-kind support.
Our work on Ethical Fashion in Kenya, Haiti, Mali, Pakistan or Vanuatu is one example of the private sector partnership premised on markets. We work to connect thousands of talented but marginalised artisans – the majority of them women – to international fashion companies. This is not charity. The quality of the inputs, the skilling of the entrepreneurs, and the reliability of the supply are core to this relationship. And the results we have seen are transformational. Incomes increasing ten fold, children receiving an education and generational job creation. The same can be said of our work in other sectors such as in agriculture – cocoa in Ghana, coffee in Rwanda or IT services in Bangladesh.
The private sector can also contribute towards the 2030 Agenda by investing in particular in the base of the pyramid. Not just because it is the right thing to do but also because it can help create tomorrow’s markets. This is what we are seeing when we help connect mid-size Indian investors to East African opportunities; or when we help de-risk private investments in women-owned SMEs.
The private sector partnership based on provision of funds is an often perceived as trickier. The UN has recognized that if we want to develop this kind of cooperation with the business community, a change- a modernization- in our procedures is necessary. I am pleased to see that this is a priority in the UN reform process and ITC itself has streamlined a number of its processes to ensure that we are an attractive partner for businesses to contribute to the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030. In our work on Trade for Sustainable Development we are working with a number of large businesses who have contributed funds to develop global public goods to support more sustainable value chains.
An area or collaboration which is increasing is partnership based on in-kind contributions, ranging from the provision of knowledge and expertise – such as with DHL, E-Bay, Maersk or Barclays - to shared advocacy on issues such as women’s economic empowerment or youth employment.
And when I talk of the private sector I should also refer to foundations, many of which collaborate with ITC in a win-win manner.
What is important to take from all of these examples- and the many more that form the basis of many of ITC’s interventions with our MSME clients- is that they are replicable and scalable.
The United Nations offers a brand. A well respected brand. We are neutral. Our focus is on eradicating poverty and building an inclusive and sustainable future for all. We can go places and do things that many others cannot. On the other hand the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.
ITC has recently developed and launched a small publication on our work with the private sector called ‘doing good while doing business’ which is available on our website and is being tweeted out as I speak.
This is our experience but it provides lessons and guidance for others who may want to replicate and build on our models.
The business community: global, regional, local; can bring expertise, innovation and opportunities that we may simply be unable to. In a period when we need to show results- when we should want to show the greatest impact- there is only one solution. A “compact of the willing” which remains faithful to the 2030 goals, which takes acceptable risks, which is willing to invest short term for medium to long term gains; and which recognizes that sometimes the race really is not always about the swift, but true impact can come from endurance.