As the UK prepares to host this year’s G8 summit of the – supposedly – developed nations next month, it is worthwhile to pause and reflect on what has been achieved (or not) on the international development and aid agenda, which has been one of the major discussion points of these meetings.
The Washington D.C. based Center for Strategic and International Studies recently released a report outlining that “Private-sector led, broad-based economic growth is the transformational force in development”. And The Economist had a whole special report on ‘Emerging Africa’ highlighting the sustained economic growth in most of the continent over past decade with huge positive development outcomes.
Well, I don’t necessarily believe that only via the private sector will we see an end to poverty. It is not an either/or, rather a multiple approach that is needed to progress on all fronts regarding sustainable development to end poverty and hunger.
We here at Cafédirect, with a clear mission to “…champion the passionate work of smallholder growers, delivering great-tasting hot drinks to improve livelihoods, whilst pioneering new better ways of doing business.”, surely are proud to have been part of this success story over past 22 years. Trade-not-aid always has been our driving force, but in a way that puts people & planet firmly next to profits.
So, mission accomplished then? Well, unfortunately not quite yet!
• Whilst many businesses have come around by now to embrace sustainability issues in their overall strategies and contribute to socio-economic development in Africa, Latin America, Asia, this does not necessarily extend to changes in trade and labour practices…we need local people and communities to be more empowered in their business dealings…to be a partner versus a mere supplier of raw materials or labour. We need the right institutions, legal framework and support mechanisms, like training and knowledge transfer, in place in the emerging markets so that people can excel in their potentials and move up the value-ladder. Call it empowerment/ fairness/ trade justice etc. …in the end it is more than merely adhering to codes of conduct and/or product certifications.
• Big increase of inequality: the world’s richest person might come from Mexico but his fellow coffee smallholder compatriots in Chiapas/ Southern Mexico still struggle to make a decent living and have to cope with severe challenges to their livelihoods.
• In all emerging markets across Latin America, Africa and Asia, inequality is deepening especially with a huge divide between urban and rural populations. But also vulnerable groups like women, disabled people, ethnic communities, are not part of the success story necessarily and don’t reap as much of the benefits as other groups. This will only deepen the social divide and potentially lead to severe conflicts and tensions in societies worldwide, jeopardising any progress made so far.
• And then there are new massive challenges looming ahead: given that 70% of the world’s poor are farmers and live in rural areas the topic of climate change becomes ever more urgent to tackle. How will these people be able to adapt to the negative impacts already felt in their communities? And what do we – governments, societies and businesses in Europe, North America and Asia – have to do so we radically reduce our GHG emissions in order to avoid further damage to the planet and its people.
No doubt that economic development is important and has delivered tangible results worldwide in tackling poverty. But if this is not coupled with social and environmental progress at the same time it will only lead to more problems in the future. Emerging market countries can’t just farm, build, and manufacture their way out of poverty under same paradigm that we have applied erroneously over past two centuries.
We need to move from:
o top-down and controlled environments towards a participatory and bottom-up approach
o an attitude around myself/me/ my world towards harnessing the power of us
o merely managing risks to building more resilience for our communities & businesses
o a linear & insulated thinking towards a system based approach
o metrics & bean counting to creating real values & share them fairly
Above all it requires us to move from a triple –bottom line concept around people, planet, and profit towards a fourth dimension: people, planet, profit & prosperity.