Tag Archives: sustainability

The Two Main Challenges Facing African Civil Society Organizations


The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit concluded last week and the delegations have returned home, but conversation about U.S. engagement with Africa still continues in DC. Two weeks ago, on the eve of the summit, CIPE and Freedom House initiated a dialogue on advancing political and economic freedom in Africa and on Wednesday, CIPE and the Society for International Development-Washington, DC Chapter concluded summit events with a discussion on African civil society and its sustainability by bringing together civil society practitioners. The discussion revolved around possible solutions to two main issues civil society is facing in the developing world: a dependency on donor funding and draconian laws restricting civil society.

The panelists included: Lars Benson, Senior Program Officer for Africa at CIPE, Jeremy Meadows, Senior Democracy Specialist for Bureau for Africa at USAID, and Natalie Ross, Program Officer for the Aga Khan Foundation, USA. The discussion was moderated by Richard O’Sullivan, co-chair for the SID-Washington Civil Society Workgroup.

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In Search of Transformational Leadership on Sustainability

A recent CEO study on sustainability conducted by the UN Global Compact and Accenture – the third one of its kind – reached out to more than 1,000 executives from 27 industries in 103 countries around the world, asking for their views on the past, present and future of sustainable business. This largest-ever CEO study on sustainability offered a mixed picture of global movement in the positive direction juxtaposed with the frustration over slow progress.

In the previous edition of this study, conducted in 2010, CEOs were optimistic that sustainability – understood as the active management of social, environmental, and governance issues as a part of core business – would soon become a norm embedded into operations of companies worldwide, with leadership on sustainability incentivized and rewarded. In 2013, 63 percent of CEOs still expect sustainability to transform their industry within five years and 76 percent believe that embedding sustainability into core business will drive revenue growth and new opportunities. However, the predominant feeling is that global business efforts on sustainability may have plateaued, and despite deeper awareness and commitment levels many business leaders deem the pace of change and the scale of impact insufficient.

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What’s New in CSR?

Participants on a panel at the BCLC event.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR), or corporate citizenship, is not a new concept. The idea that businesses should be responsible and engaged members of their communities, both locally and globally, has been around for quite some time. However, the understanding of what that means in practice and what the larger significance of good corporate citizenship is has evolved over time. Today it is more important today than ever before.

Recently, I had a chance to participate in two great events that explored this topic in depth: CSR: Business Solutions for Emerging Markets conference organized by the Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC) and Corporate Strategic Responsibility: What’s Next for CSR? organized by Partners for Democratic Change, together with the GE Foundation and the International Finance Corporation CommDev Office. They both attracted excellent speakers and active participants, asking key questions about what makes corporate citizenship successful and why it should be a key element of a company’s strategy.

These are the themes and new concepts that I took away:

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Building Sustainable Global Value Chains

Siemens is a leading supplier of technologies like wind turbines that help its customers reduce their environmental impact. (Photo: Wind Power Monthly)

As companies around the world strive to create sustainable value chains, they are paying increased attention to the operations and management practices of their suppliers, distributors, and partners. A recent joint research project of the American Society for Quality, the Corporate Responsibility Officers Association, and the Institute for Supply Management with Deloitte Consulting LLP took a closer look at what improves the effectiveness of sustainable value chains. The project gathered almost 1,000 responses from sustainable supply chain executives.

The responses measured how much a given management practice can increase an organization’s sustainable value chain effectiveness, as compared to respondents not adopting the practice. Not surprisingly, among the top 10 such management practices, the top five have to do with engagement, organizational culture, and incentives (percentages represent an increase in sustainable value chain effectiveness):

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Crossing the “Valley of Death:” Green Growth in Developing Countries

(Photo: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images)

Green growth brings various images to mind, from wind turbines to smart cars to solar panels. While these manifestations of green growth connote innovation, advanced technology, and expensive start-up costs, developing countries with limited means can also participate in and reap the benefits of green growth.

In essence, green growth is about making economic growth stable, efficient, and effective in the long-term by taking into account environmental and social factors. It is also about sustainability, and finding the intersection between public goals and profitable investments.

Businesses around the world have begun making green investments. For example, in Ghana, West Africa’s largest per capita consumer of charcoal, Toyota employs over 200 people to manufacture and sell more efficient cook stoves to 35,000 households, offsetting 15,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. In Bangladesh, WasteConcern, a social enterprise that converts roadside organic waste into agricultural compost, estimates that between 2001 and 2006 it created 986 jobs annually and generated $1.10 million USD in compost sales whilst providing an alternative to expensive foreign fertilizers.

Although inspirational, these examples of success are few and far between. However, exploring the opportunities in green growth gets at the questions of how to promote innovation in development, address access to energy, and create jobs.

Given the significance of these challenges, development agencies such as the World Bank are engaging the private and public sectors to address green growth challenges. For example, in 2011 infoDev, a partnership program in the Financial and Private Sector Development Network of the World Bank Group, worked with the Kenyan government to capitalize on Kenya’s tremendous entrepreneurial spirit to open the first Climate Innovation Center (CIC). The CIC aims to support local capacity, particularly in the private sector, to develop climate and clean energy solutions and promote local green innovation. Similar CIC’s are planned or opening in India, Ethiopia, South Africa, Morocco, Vietnam, and the Caribbean.

Even when donors are at their side, however, private sector businesses still face numerous obstacles in bringing a green product to market. Among those in the industry, this phenomenon is known as the “valley of death.”  Exhausting registration processes, lack of seed funding, poor manufacturing capacity, and unstable supplies of basic necessities such as electricity and clean water all jeopardize products on their way from inception to the marketplace.

In order for green growth to become a reality in developing countries, they must have institutions that support private sector development and innovation. Brookings Institution scholar Nathan Hultman argued at a recent event that these institutions include a healthy culture for entrepreneurship, accessible and low cost financing, and capacity building programs for people who do not have access to capital.

These are institutions that will build a better business environment for all private sector actors, not just those in green industries. Given the history of economic development, however, they require both time and political will to establish.

While all economic growth may not be green, new funding models, economic incentives, and good institutions can help countries build cultures of innovation; address economic, environmental, and social concerns; and capitalize on the tremendous entrepreneurial spirit that exists in emerging markets. The future of green growth holds great promise, and it presents significant opportunities for developing countries that are worth exploring.

Leadership by example for a region in change

Also available with subtitles in Arabic.

Given the tumultuous change and economic stagnation throughout the Middle East and North Africa, one might be tempted to ask, is corporate governance even relevant in the current environment? The answer is yes, and here’s why.

Corporate governance is intrinsically linked to the concerns being expressed by people throughout the MENA region because good corporate governance and good democratic governance both are based on the values of accountability, transparency, responsibility, and fairness. There is now a new opportunity to talk about these issues – and how to establish institutions that uphold these values – that was never possible before.

CIPE and the Global Corporate Governance Forum officially launched their new guidebook and video resource for corporate governance, Advancing Corporate Governance in the Middle East and North Africa: Stories and Solutions, at the Corporate Governance and Responsibility Forum in Amman, Jordan on June 12-14, 2011.

The conference gathered more than 100 practitioners and businesspeople from around the world and raised issues related to corporate governance, corporate social responsibility, and sustainability.

The driving force for the region’s popular uprisings is economic concerns, including unemployment and a low standard of living. Addressing these issues will require a dynamic private sector that will generate new job growth. To achieve the aspirations of the youth, it is essential to help develop stronger, more sustainable business, which depends on creating an environment where the private sector can flourish.

Implementing corporate governance is one important step in this direction – it will help companies attract investment, instill shareholder confidence, and improve productivity, and will also help rehabilitate the reputation of the business community in an environment where the private sector’s reputation is under attack. Corrupt crony capitalists associated with the ruling regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere have given the private sector and free markets a bad name.

Standing against corruption and demonstrating a commitment to corporate governance, transparency, and disclosure of conflicts of interest is an important way for businesses to generate trust and regain credibility that may have been lost.

Lofty democratic ideals will not motivate all business owners, but there are concrete benefits that corporate governance helps realize. CIPE and GCGF talked with companies around the region in order to gather success stories of how and why they made governance changes and what positive impact it had. The resulting guidebook presents real-world, practical examples that show how companies in the region overcame barriers and improved their governance practices in ways that benefited performance and growth.

The guide is intended to serve a real-world purpose: To provide assistance and motivation to directors, senior managers, regulators, and others as they try to improve existing corporate governance practices.

As governments increasingly look to the private sector to stimulate economic growth, the business community has a unique part to play in promoting values of accountability, fairness, and responsibility. This new role will help to advance democratic institutions and strengthen business ethics to the benefit of the public sector, the private sector, and society at large.