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Business leaders call for greater involvement and partnerships to help achieve Millennium Goals
Report says business can and must be involved

28 January 2006 - Davos, Switzerland

Business leaders have called for a greater role in the fight to reduce poverty and speed progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). A new report (2MB) from the World Economic Forum released today calls for business expertise and skills to be more broadly applied in partnerships to tackle world problems.

In meetings here this week, business leaders defined strategies for expanding private-sector partnerships with government, agency and non-profit groups to address health, education and hunger in developing countries.

The Forum released a new report today outlining high-leverage ways in which companies can apply their skills to the problems of hunger, malaria and basic education. The report, “Harnessing Private Sector Capabilities to Meet Public Needs,” includes examples of over 40 companies engaged in high-impact work on these three issues.

“Companies have skills and capabilities that can be applied to development,” said Richard Samans, Managing Director of the World Economic Forum. “Often these capabilities turn out to be more valuable than simply writing a cheque. This report takes a first step towards mapping out the ways in which core capabilities of specific industries can help meet development needs.”

Business and public leaders met Thursday with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to discuss private-sector strategies for reducing hunger in Africa. “Business is joining the fight against hunger, through a wider strategic action plan,” said Antony Burgmans, Chairman of Unilever, who co-chaired the meeting. Participants discussed applying business skills and innovation to help small-scale farmers grow and sell more food, through supply chain improvements, the training of entrepreneurs and investments in higher education. The Forum report points to promising efforts by agribusinesses to get improved seeds and fertilizer into hungry regions; by food retailers to provide training and guaranteed markets to farmers; and by food manufacturers to fortify staple foods with key micronutrients.

John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, noted that information technology firms have teamed up with governments, school administrators, local and global companies and NGOs to develop new curricula, train teachers and provide IT infrastructure to schools in poor regions. Cisco Systems has helped lead successful efforts by companies and public partners to improve education systems in Jordan, the Palestinian Territories and Rajasthan, India, through the World Economic Forum’s Global Education Initiative.

"The Internet and education can provide equal and greater access to opportunities for individuals, communities and nations," Chambers said. "An effective educational system is critical for economic growth and the development of a thriving private sector, and success in improving global education can only be achieved through strong public-private partnerships, the co-application of core competencies and resources, and sustained investment." Chambers and other CEOs are discussing broadening their efforts to other countries in meetings undertaken at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, through the Forum’s Global Education Initiative.

At the Forum’s Global Health Initiative meeting, over 50 CEOs met to discuss business strategies for addressing malaria and other diseases. These include not only expanding the market reach of anti-malarial drugs, bednets and diagnostic tests by their manufacturers, but also innovative efforts by companies in malaria-endemic areas to reduce the impact of the disease on a community scale. Exxon-Mobil distributes subsidized bednets to pregnant women through its filling stations in Africa, and BHP Billiton works in partnership with the governments of Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland to reduce the malaria burden around its mining operations in Southern Africa.

According to John Clarkeson, Chairman of the Boston Consulting Group, companies are increasingly perceiving the value of engaging in such efforts. “In the case of malaria, the business case for companies to get involved in malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment can include business considerations like saving on employee health costs or developing new markets. But it can also include less-tangible factors such as enhancing reputation or strengthening community relations.”

Governments and public agencies are increasingly seeking collaboration with companies to help improve and expand development programmes. “The MDGs will not be reached without active private sector engagement,” said Kemal Dervis, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme.

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The World Economic Forum is an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging leaders in partnerships to shape global, regional and industry agendas.

Incorporated as a foundation in 1971, and based in Geneva, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum is impartial and not-for-profit; it is tied to no political, partisan or national interests. (www.weforum.org)

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Last updated: 28 January 2006
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