The coming year is an important one for global development. I thought I’d offer a thought on the topic from the perspective of social enterprise and the role of the private sector in addressing poverty and its attendant conditions.
The Millennium Development Goals were adopted in 2000 under the United Nations auspices with a 15 year horizon, to 2015. It’s time for the development experts and constituencies to consider a new set of goals, often referred to as the Sustainable Development Goals initiative, to take us to 2030 and beyond.
The eight MDGs were ambitious goals, but nevertheless much progress has in fact been made. Most notably, the number of people living in “extreme” poverty has been significantly reduced, and other goals related to the conditions of poverty such as education, maternal health and women’s empowerment have also seen significant progress. An often cited statistic is that extreme poverty has been cut in half over the past 25 years, a remarkable indicator of progress against the suffering of poverty.
While progress is of course to be celebrated, there is too much work yet to be done to consider extreme poverty a thing of the past. Much of the reduction in people living in extreme poverty comes from China, with far less improvement seen in other regions, such as Sub-Saharan Africa and large regions of India. Too many people continue to live, and die, in conditions that are, to use the words of Bill Gates in a recent essay for The Economist, “morally unacceptable”.
Here are some suggestions as the debate advances on the next set of goals.
First, continue to invest in the important work being done to further advance the original MDGs, especially the goals of reducing extreme poverty and preventable child death.
Second, develop a clear system of measurement and accountability based on advances since 2000 in social impact measurement and evaluation.
Third, develop a quantifiable goal for private sector engagement in accountable and transparent development so that business can be an active partner with governments and NGOs.
And finally, address the growing gap between rich and poor with a tangible goal speaking to the importance of reducing inequality in income and wealth to achieve sustainable economic growth for all.
Social enterprises can and should play an important role in these suggested initiatives. The past 15 years have not only seen progress in global development but also the rise of social enterprise and social entrepreneurship focused on achieving sustainable development goals deploying the tools and incentives of business.
As we move into this new era of global development with an actively engaged social enterprise sector as a partner with the traditional development institutions, I’m reminded of Robert F. Kennedy’s words during his 1968 campaign for the presidency:
“To ignore the potential contribution of private enterprise is to fight the war on poverty with a single platoon, while great armies are left to stand aside.”