ESCAP chief outlines the pathways for taking India to the next level

Speaking in New Delhi, Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), said that considerable progress had been achieved by India on many fronts, but much more needed to be done if India was to achieve the Millennium Development Goals*. Dr. Heyzer was a special guest speaker at a roundtable, entitled “Taking India to the level” and organized by The Economist. Among the speakers were several senior government ministers and around a dozen business leaders from India and abroad.

Dr. Heyzer praised India for its progress in areas such as reducing poverty; improving literacy; expanding access to drinking water and providing improved sanitation. However, she pointed out that these achievements are tempered by the fact that India ’s impressive economic growth had left a significant proportion of its population untouched. “Robust economic growth has not always been translated into inclusive economic and social development” she noted.

Dr. Heyzer identified four “imbalances” which needed to be addressed if India was to progress to the next level. These are: economic imbalances such as the widening gap in per capita incoming between the richest and the poorest states; social imbalances such as those caused by rapidly rising inequalities and social grievances along the lines of ethnicity, religion and class; ecological imbalances such as the pressure on natural resources caused by India’s economic growth; and lastly, empathy imbalances where some in bureaucracies are insensitive in their delivering of basic services to the poor, failing to respond to their needs and entitlements. The effective delivery of basic services to the poor would improve development dramatically at almost zero marginal cost.

Dr. Heyzer noted that action along three pathways was required to take India to the next level. Firstly, focused action was required by using the Millennium Development Goals as a framework for development. Secondly, it was essential to take action to address the economic, social, ecological and empathy imbalances in to ensure inclusive and sustainable development. She pointed out that this was not a issue that could be addressed by governments alone, and highlighted the important role played by partnerships between the public sector, the private sector and the investment community as well as non-governmental organizations in addressing these imbalances.

She outlined the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and public private partnerships for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and ensuring inclusive development. She stressed that CSR should not be seen as merely an ethical issue, but also as being economically wise thing to do. “Over the past few years we have seen that more and more investment communities around the world have come to recognize that taking greater responsibility and contributing towards sustainable development and poverty reduction is essential to secure their own future,” ESCAP’s Executive Secretary said.

Dr. Heyzer said India ’s business community can tackle many of the country’s economic and social imbalances by developing strategies to address them as part of their core business competencies. She cited the examples of the engineering industry addressing hunger by developing low-cost efficient water pumps and energy courses, and the health industry addressing hunger through health and nutrition extension services.

Quoting the proposition that “the true business of business lies outside the business”, Dr. Heyzer said that “CSR is not only the right thing to do; it is also good business practice and a smart thing to do.”

Dr. Heyzer is on an official visit to India during which she will launch on 27 March ESCAP’s Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2008 .

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* The eight MDGs – which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015 – form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s governments.