Values-Driven Partnerships for 2025 and Beyond

Public Affairs Asia, Singapore, 23 October 2013

Keynote Speech as Prepared for Delivery by Dr. Noeleen Heyzer,
Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Executive Secretary of
the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and Special Advisor of the United Nations Secretary-General for Timor-Leste

Public Affairs Asia, Sharing Values Asia - Partnership for Growth Conference
Closing Plenary: “Partnership in 2025”
Singapore, 23 October 2013

Madame Moderator,
Fellow panellists,
Distinguished participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction

It was the Irish poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde, who gave us my favourite definition of a cynic: someone who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.

I am definitely not cynical about partnerships for growth. Your first two plenary sessions today have already explored aspects of shared value, and some practical opportunities for better engagement. I would like, however, to focus my remarks on both value and values – and to suggest a concrete vision for values-driven partnerships in the next decade.

Allow me to begin by expanding the narrative of this discussion, which was described in some of the event documents as looking to “meet the fundamental needs of business, whilst addressing those of government and civil society”.

That sounds deeply familiar. Private enterprise, government, and civil society are three very important groups – but they are also the same three groups which have always dominated discussions about value and partnerships for growth. We even coined the term public-private partnerships, or PPP, to represent these relationships.

Missing from this equation however, or at least obscured by it, are two other, very important, P’s. If we are serious about developing better, more sustainable models of business, public policy, and partnership, it is time to focus our energies and attention on the missing P’s – people and planet.

Economic power has shifted, inequality is rising in rich and poor countries alike, and new technologies and global threats have shaped a world where cross-boundary concerns and cooperation have become ever-more critical.

This changed world demands a new vision, a different approach, and more responsive partnerships for global development. It requires rethinking and rebalancing, in which economic growth, social justice, and environmental stewardship are integrated, equally important, and mutually reinforcing.

In other words, as we move towards the post-2015 future, centered on sustainable development, our partnerships for shared value must also be driven by the shared values of inclusivity, sustainability, and resilience.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Greater Business Value Through Sustainable Development

The United Nations values our partnerships with the private sector. Business can be a generator of innovation, a driver of new technologies, a primary source of jobs, and the life-blood of economic growth.

Whilst the turbulence and uncertainty of the current global economic environment poses serious challenges, it also offers great opportunities for companies to move beyond traditional business models, to develop new markets, and to strengthen their value propositions.

There are a few, in our business community, who still maintain that development is not a business priority, that the business of business is profit at all costs. They regard social and environmental concerns as external to business – better suited to the attentions of governments and civil society.

My message today, is that this outdated approach is bad business in every sense. There is a need for different measures of costs and returns, for instance, which include the impacts of factors such as pollution, staff well-being and community goodwill. Ethical values and trust are also measures which need to be accounted for.

There is a need to capture alternative kinds of shareholder value, by considering the wider community of stakeholders in businesses. Modern management should seek not only to increase market share, but to increasingly widen the market itself. In an age of diminishing resources, falling demand and shrinking revenues, the interests of our ‘bottom billion’ are the interests of your bottom line.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, put it best when he said: “The objectives and priorities of the international community and the business world are more aligned than ever before…for business to enjoy sustained growth, we need to build trust and legitimacy…for markets to expand in a sustainable way, we must provide those currently excluded with better and more opportunities to improve their livelihoods.”

Growth can only be inclusive – benefitting all – if it is more sustainable, and it can only ever be sustained in the long-term by ensuring that it benefits the greatest possible number of people, and does not damage our planet.

What we need is to harness the innovation, expertise, and passion our the business community to deliver on public goods. But we cannot subordinate ethical values to short-term profits – we must also take into account issues of societal and environmental risk. In other words, sustainable development is the smart business of business.

Ladies and gentlemen,

A Vision for 2025 & Beyond

You are probably aware that the Member States of the United Nations have launched a process to agree on a new set of universal Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) after 2015, and to drive our global development agenda. What then is the role for business in this process, and what should we realistically expect as the outcomes of our partnerships in the next ten years?

A recent Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel of Eminent Persons set out what can be achieved if governments, business, and people around the world commit to implementing some of the sustainable development goals and targets being considered.

Amongst their illustrative projections are that, by 2030, the world could realistically have:

• 1.2 billion fewer people hungry and living in extreme poverty;
• 1.2 billion fewer people hungry and living in extreme poverty;
• 100 million more children who will otherwise die before age 5;
• 470 million more workers with good jobs and livelihoods;
• 200 million more young people skilled for employment;
• US$30 trillion spent by governments fully and transparently accounted for; and
• 220 million fewer people suffering the crippling effects of natural disasters.

It seems to me that when talking about value and return on investment, these would be some exceptionally attractive results.

There are already a growing number of global and regional multi-stakeholder partnerships delivering, at scale, the first of these promising outcomes: in health; nutrition; education; agriculture; water; energy; information and communications technology; financial services; cities; and open government. The question you really need to be asking is how then can your companies, institutions, and organizations be more directly involved in driving this success?

Ladies and gentlemen,

Action Agenda for Corporate Sustainability

One of the clearest messages from the global negotiations on partnerships for the post-2015 development agenda is that business must take a more active leadership role.

The new business paradigm should be one of corporate governance, based on the values of responsibility, inclusivity, and sustainability. It should hardwire into management an understanding that the relationship between business, society and the environment must be one of respect and mutual benefit.

I would like, therefore, to share five suggestions for what a new action agenda for values-based corporate sustainability could include:

a. First, business needs to shift Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) attention from how to spend money (i.e. charitable giving) to how their money is made (i.e. in a sustainable and socially responsible manner).

b. Second, business needs to use innovation to open up new growth markets and develop new drivers of growth - addressing the needs of poor consumers; developing consumer demand for value-based sustainable products and services; and helping marginalized communities use technology to leap-frog inefficient and less sustainable products and services.

c. Third, business should ensure the highest labour standards, industrial safety; and environmental protection. We cannot allow a ‘race-to-the-bottom’ on labour standards and the resulting loss of lives, or for toxic pollution to simply be shifted from developed to developing countries.

d. Fourth, wise stewardship and concern for the common good must become core values of business, this entails, inter alia, staying cost-competitive by conserving land, water, energy, and minerals, as well as by eliminating waste and encouraging reuse and recycling.

e. Fifth, move from short-term speculation to long-term value creation by attracting the highest caliber managers and leaders, who can build the skills and human capital of employees, strengthening governance mechanisms to ensure open and transparent integrated reporting. There must be zero tolerance for corporate corruption and criminality.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Conclusion

In conclusion, responsible business can become a leading agent of change and development.

Our shared challenge, and the opportunity for increasing both value and values-based partnerships in the years ahead, is to not only accelerate growth, but also to change the nature of growth, making it more inclusive, more sustainable, and ultimately more supportive of people and our planet.

Warren Buffet was right when he said that: “price is what you pay, value is what you get” We need to ensure that what we get, in 2025 and beyond, is the future we want.

To succeed will require governments, business, and people to embrace a new spirit of human solidarity, shared responsibility, and mutual benefit.

Let us together create the world of which we can truly be proud - for ourselves, for our children, and for generations yet unborn.

I thank you.