Written by Nathasha De Alwis
02 Dec, 2017 | 11:57 am
Hot money, sloppy matrix. Human synergistic. Exponential technologies, blockchain, value vectors, gamification. Convergence of mega trends.
Linear and circular economies. Uncommon collaborations. Triple bottom line. Corporate responsibility, a force for good and good for business.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
That is a tiny, condensed verbal mash-up taken from the sixth Responsible Business Forum on Sustainable Development, which took place this week in Singapore. News 1st attended the event as a part of Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development.
Forty countries, 900 people, amongst whom were the great and the good from the world of the UN, business community, NGOs and academics. The mission was to share ideas and provide tangible solutions for accelerating action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The superbly designed, simplistic symbols representing the 17 goals were to be seen everywhere in the impressive Marina Bay Sands Expo and convention centre.
Simple goals! Well yes, and no, as the language, often intangible concepts and seemingly intractable obstacles discussed, demonstrated. It would appear the beautiful, simple 17 goal symbols disguise the complexity of the path towards 2030.
Businesses need to move from linear to circular economies – recover and regenerate products and materials. Simple. Now, this is where it gets complicated. The governments need to provide the infrastructure to facilitate that process in a transparent way, this will inspire consumers to play their part in the cycle.
It doesn’t require human synergistics to change people’s behaviour patterns, it requires trust acquired through transparency. To quote Masagos Zulkifli– Minister for Environment and Water Resources, Singapore, in his opening address, being transparent is the first step. Government, business and civil community must work together.
A number of corporations at the Forum demonstrated how the co-dependent communities and supply chains to their businesses are part of the solution not the problem. Corporate responsibility is a force for good and good for business.
In realising that support for the impoverished, small cocoa farmer through the Cocoa Doctor scheme, MARS not only lifts the farmer out of poverty, providing a sustainable livelihood for the farmer and his family for generations to come, but also ensures increased sustainable productivity for MARS. Ehab Abouoaf, MARS President Africa, Asia and Middle East spoke of the founder’s belief that all stakeholders in the supply chain must succeed for MARS to succeed.
To achieve this Abouoaf spoke of uncommon collaborations. These would include not just the smallholders, others in the value chain, but competitors within the industry with a shared desire to improve food safety and increase yield. He remarked that success is not just about making money, rather it is an equation made up of a healthy planet + thriving people + capital = a healthy triple bottom line, a beautifully simple way forward.
So how to achieve this when it is commonly believed that culture eats strategy for breakfast. A good line delivered by the moderator Malcolm Preston, Global Leader Sustainability, Price Waterhouse Coopers. In response one panelist, Adoracion Navarro, Under Secretary for Regional Development NEDA Philippines suggested one solution, business recalibrate strategy with culture to arrive at a win win situation. The increase in the Islamic financing business in the Philippines was a case in point.
The ‘Life On Land’ session focused on how conservationists work with the local communities in and around delicate eco systems. The conservation strategy can only succeed if there is dialogue with the local community to understand their needs and include that into the solution, be it logging, mining or wildlife tourism.
Vinayagan Dharmarajah – Regional Director for Asia Birdlife International spoke of a project in Sumatra which combines conservation and community needs for sustainable land management. The team engage with communities, including them into the process, providing jobs, identifying common problems thereby making the communities the solution not the problem.
Brad Sanders – Head of Conservation for APRIL Group, a pulp and paper manufacturer, not an industry one would automatically equate with forest restoration, spoke of exactly that. The production / protection model in Riau Province Sumatra, Indonesia required APRIL to gain the trust and acceptance of the communities. In this way the production finances the protection of the forest area, ensuring a sustainable future for the communities, the delicate eco system and the business. Simple!
It was no surprise that money was at the heart of discussions. UNDP has calculated that a staggering 37.5 trillion US dollars will be required to achieve the SDGs by 2030. It is not money that can be funded by the UN, individual businesses, Banks, NGOs or governments alone, so all speakers in all discussions reiterated there must be a massive pivot towards the private sector.
However, there are numerous pitfalls. Quoting the Chief Executive of a major multi national corporation, Karl H Richter, Head of Research and Knowledge UN Social Impact Fund said there is hot money chasing some very sloppy matrix and there is a big risk of free riders. The long-term asset owners, pension funds, multi national banks, have the money. What is required is solid data to support the case for major infrastructure projects, making them highly bankable.
The data to work the matrix is there too. We learned the staggering fact that more data has been created in the past two years than in the entire previous history of human race. Talk of exponential technologies, blockchains, use of value vectors, gamification just added into the mix. It is to be hoped all this should straighten up sloppy matrix and allow the hot money to flow in the right direction.
A frequently voiced plea heard in the various sessions, was aimed at all governments. For this pivot towards to the private sector to happen, businesses need assurances from governments that short and long term policies are aligned with the SDGs. There must be equality, peace, justice and strong institutions, quality of life, sustainable cities and communities, and so it goes through all 17 goals.
In an interview with News 1st, Hoaliang Xu, Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations and Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and Pacific, re-iterated that private capital will make or break a country’s effort to achieve the goals but there needs to be a political consensus to focus on the issues. That is proving to be the single most complicated factor in what is the simple framework provided by the SDGs.
At which point I conclude with the role media has to play in all of this. At the end of the forum News 1st spoke to the facilitator of the 6th Responsible Business Form On Sustainable Development, Malcolm Preston of PWC. He emphasized that it is our responsibility to tell the truth and tell it straight and if we don’t, we the Media are culpable.
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