I have the pleasure of publishing some thoughts from the Lead Consultant/CEO, ThistlePraxis Consulting; Ini Onuk. She shares insight on this increasingly popular phenomenon and her vision for a continent-wide platform to discuss Sustainable Development.


Sustainable Development: Expanding Economic Opportunities for Public – Private Synergy; the theme for this year’s Africa CEO Roundtable and Conference on Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility (AR-CSR™), where Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland – the mother of Sustainable Development will be giving the Keynote Address. The year 2012 marks two specially significant milestones in sustainable development: the 20th anniversary of the United Nations’ Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and the 25th anniversary of the Brundtland Report, Our Common Future. How far have we come since the concept of sustainable development was elevated to the global policy agenda?

Truth is – we have not come far enough. The recent—and ongoing—financial crisis has made room for a dramatic and challenging backdrop to the Rio+20 Summit to be held in June 2012. The February 2012 UN report by the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability, Resilient People, Resilient Planet, clearly points to actions governments should take at Rio+20. Of particular importance in this regard is the role the private sector should and will play.

Over the past 30 years, the concept of sustainability has evolved to reflect perspectives of both the public and private sectors.  A public policy perspective would define sustainability as the satisfaction of basic economic, social, and security needs now and in the future without undermining the natural resource base and environmental quality on which life depends. From a business perspective, the goal of sustainability is to increase long-term shareholder and social value, while decreasing industry’s use of materials and reducing negative impacts on the environment.

There is no question that governments continue to be essential for development. They provide critical services for their populations, such as healthcare, education, infrastructure, and social safety nets, although this can still be argued, particularly in Africa. They also create the enabling environment for the private sector by ensuring property rights and contract enforcement, security, and macroeconomic stability, as well as the proper regulatory framework.

That the private sector is an important player in sustainable global development is no longer a question. The private sector is and must be a source of growth and opportunity that will allow people to improve their lives. The private sector is critical in providing new ideas in the fight to end global poverty by partnering with traditional development players such as national aid agencies and NGOs, leveraging supply chains to create economic opportunity for the world’s poorest people, and incorporating social responsibility into their business practices.

While the public sector can create a sound basis for development and a good environment for investment, the private sector will generate the vast majority of jobs, help improve public services, and ultimately provide most of the tax revenues that the public sector needs.

Lester Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute, speaks of an ambitious roadmap called Plan B, an alternative to Plan A, because “business as usual isn’t an option any longer.” Let’s not do business as usual. Most of the efforts of businesses have been concentrated in traditional philanthropic or charitable models: building schools and health clinics or supporting cultural and artistic organizations. Though valuable and perhaps necessary, this model is more window-dressing than a substantive or sustainable contribution to the lives of the poor. Because it lies outside the traditional business model, the benefits are measured in intangibles—such as reputation, risk reduction and license to operate— rather than the bottom line. It represents mainly short term, unquantifiable and unaccountable financial contributions. And commitments can come and go with changes in the business climate or management.

As the world prepares for the Rio+20 Conference in Rio de Janeiro and Africa prepares for the AR-CSR™ 2012 in Calabar, Cross River State, there is no doubt that these are opportunities and platforms to help create a new kind of roadmap for society – one that clearly marks the way forward for achieving sustainable development within the next generation, focusing on the role of the private sector.

The private sector, particularly the management of large local and multinational companies, need to make a much more serious commitment to capturing the opportunities—by researching bottom-of-the-pyramid markets, by advancing standards of sustainability and public trust and by thinking creatively about linking with other businesses locally or abroad for mutual benefit. Governments, from both developing and developed countries, can facilitate this, and international development institutions can assist them.

Let’s innovate some more as you join us at the AR-CSR™ 2012.

Image via CSRwire

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