By: Business Call to Action
Since its launch, the aim of Business Call to Action (BCtA) has been to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by encouraging the role of the private sector in development and to strengthen the strategic and economic opportunities that come from serving low-income communities.
And how BCtA has grown since 2008, when it came into being as part of the UN Development Programme (UNDP). From 18 founding member companies, who vowed to leverage their global reach and resources to generate wealth and jobs throughout the developing world, to more than 270 operating in 72 countries, with inclusive business models engaging low-income populations.
These companies offer solutions to development challenges and empower vulnerable communities through business models and innovations as diverse as last-mile telehealth services, women’s digital skills development, climate-smart agriculture technologies, solar-powered rural connectivity and accessible financial products for millions.
Development solutions through business
BCtA’s years of identifying innovative, commercially sustainable, impact-focused inclusive business models has resulted in a repository of tried-and-true business solutions for tackling poverty and advancing development objectives.
This carefully curated membership network represents tangible impact, scalable solutions and action on the ground, serving as examples for the role of responsible businesses in development.
And these business solutions have had results. Over the five years from 2015 to 2020, through almost 300 reports submitted by BCtA members, we get a clear picture of this journey, intertwining developmental impact and commercial success.
Almost 700 million low-income individuals have been reached through products and services designed by the BCtA network for the base of the pyramid markets. The commercially viability of inclusive businesses today is no longer a question – only 1% of businesses in the BCtA network reported being commercially unsustainable in 2019, compared with 17% in 2015.
Moreover, almost 70% of the inclusive businesses in the network identify as SMEs, and created the highest number of direct jobs, with more than 750,000, as compared with the multinational and large national corporations in BCtA’s network. When combined with all companies in the network, more than 2.5 million direct jobs were created over the last five years, and 35 million low-income individuals saw increased productivity or revenue generating activities in their lives. SMEs also invested the most in training employees, compared with large national and multinational corporations, at almost $25m (£18.75m) in the last five years.
It’s not just the numbers that speak, BCtA businesses have been recognised over the years. As recipients of the Oslo Business for Peace award, selected by Nobel prize Laureates in Peace and Economics, three BCtA company companies, CorpoCampo, GiftedMom and Coffee for Peace, have been acknowledged as being business worthy and creating economic value, and value for society. Our women-led businesses, too, have won accolades for their models: Olga Yaneth, the founder of the Colombian company Bancalimentos, received an honourable mention from the country’s Cafam award for Women in recognition of her work with low-income rural communities; and Sara Saeed, the co-founder of Sehat Kahani, a Pakistani telehealth company, was recognised for innovative healthcare delivery and service in the Rolex Awards for Enterprise.
Articulating impact to help businesses grow
Beyond its portfolio of business solutions, BCtA is host to practical tools that help companies, business accelerators and investors understand and enhance the impact of their business activities or portfolio on the SDGs.
Building on its years of work in impact measurement and management with companies globally, BCtA launched the Impact Lab, a publicly available tool in an effort to streamline impact management under a recognised set of global standards, allowing companies to understand linkages between business and the SDGs.
Having provided hands-on training, mentorship and guidance to more than 40 companies since 2015, BCtA has expanded its offer in impact measurement and management. BCtA created an impact measurement and management service offer with training for impact accelerators, impact investors and early-stage enterprises. Since the launch of this service, more than 225 trainings have been conducted over the last 15 months alone.
Business innovation and national priorities
At a time when no country in the world is on track to meet the SDGs by 2030 and Covid-19 has hindered the achievement of these goals, the importance of innovative, inclusive and resilient development solutions cannot be overstated, and the need for collaboration with the private sector in creating and delivering such solutions is more acute than ever.
Despite the proven record of business in development, the continued proliferation of inclusive business relies on there being sufficient financing and an appropriate policy environment.
Embedded within the lead development organisation of the United Nations, which works to eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities while protecting the planet and support governments to deliver on the SDGs, BCtA has access to UNDP country offices and their respective government partners in 170 countries.
BCtA will continue to leverage its position within the UNDP and the UN system, and align the solutions its member network offers to assist governments in innovation processes that can help fill existing and emerging development gaps. This will start with access to health services and internet connectivity, two sectors that proved essential as Covid-19 affected all segments of society, and where many BCtA companies offer replicable, scalable solutions.
With the added strain on health systems, innovative solutions for healthcare delivery were rapidly needed this year. These included the AI-based triage, point of care screening and mobile clinics offered by Sevamob in India, which reaches last-mile communities in an efficient, affordable manner, and supports over-burdened national healthcare systems.
Similarly lack of access to the internet exacerbated vulnerabilities in already underserved populations reinforcing the need for equitable access to ICT infrastructure. Here the BCtA company BLUETOWN provides low-cost, solar powered solutions that can easily reach low-income communities in semi-urban and rural settings – and which take only a few days to set up – removing cumbersome infrastructure demands as seen with traditional internet provision.
With a roster of such solutions existing in its network, BCtA supports governments in deploying them through an inclusive innovation process, thereby serving increasingly poor populations in shrinking fiscal space while mitigating risks inherent in innovation.
At the same time, when it comes to existing engagement at the national level, BCtA, through its focus country model, has continued its work with governments. In Colombia, it developed a tool with the National Planning Department of Colombia, the Global Reporting Initiative and UNDP, which has also received the support of the Swedish embassy in Colombia. The SDG Corporate Tracker Colombia measures the country’s private sector progress towards achieving the SDGs by 2030. This tool standardises the measurement of the contribution of the business sector and is aligned with the country’s national priorities as stated in the voluntary National Reviews.
Harnessing years of knowledge of business solutions in development, BCtA will work to facilitate the development of public good and business knowhow in the recovery from Covid-19 and to continue addressing development challenges.
The coming years for BCtA will seek to connect inclusive business models with the global development community, align business activities with country priorities, foster learning through its community of practice and look to become stronger on the ground – while adding to BCtA’s already extensive work in policy advocacy.
Looking ahead, BCtA with member networks will continue support for businesses thriving in low-income markets while tackling poverty and inequality.