Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate and to reflect. Since 2000, the extreme poverty in the world has been halved. The remaining half will be the harder part, but experts say we have a chance to eradicate poverty altogether. Today we can be reminded, though, that the European settlers who sat down to feast with Native Americans also brought with them a model of economic expansion that is looking less and less sustainable.
We must stop development without sustainability. Sustainable development, on the other hand, is a must. People should have the right to clean air, food, clean water, energy, access to information, and peace.
"It is indeed possible to protect the environment while reducing poverty and developing strong economies," wrote Erik Solheim, Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee, in a recent report. "Brazil has reduced deforestation in the Amazon by 80% alongside rapid economic growth. Ethiopia aims to become a middle-income country without increasing its greenhouse gas emissions."
Today the poorest countries are receiving funds in the form of aid, loans, investments, and transfers from people working abroad and sending money home to their families. Business and institutions such as the UN and the OECD are putting pressure on governments to increase transparency and end corruption.
The UN has set a target for donor countries to give 0.7% of gross national income in development aid, though so far only Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the UK and Luxembourg have reached that threshold. The OECD has developed programs to help poor countries take charge of their own development, such as one called Tax Inspectors Without Borders, and is focusing on better financing solutions. Academic centers such as MIT's Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab are developing sophisticated ways to measure the impact of poverty relief programs and spreading knowledge about best practices. Social impact consultants such as TechnoServe and FSG offer great shared value programs for companies. And the UN's plan to set new 15-year Sustainable Development Goals is gaining momentum.
"We've had an extraordinary 15 years since the Millennium Development Goals were established," says Michael Elliott, CEO of ONE, the anti-poverty advocacy group cofounded by Bono. "Now the world needs to make the same sort of commitment with the Sustainable Development Goals. They need to be good enough--coherent, comprehensive, smart, measurable and accountable--and they need to be famous enough."
One focus of the goals is healthcare, and according to Elliott the best investment is in vaccinations. "You can save lives with pennies," he says. "There is plenty of money in the world to tackle all disease, Ebola, HIV, and malaria included."
Business is playing an increasing role in sustainable development. Here are four ways you can, too:
1. Think of poor areas as communities and poor people as consumers. Design products and services for the "bottom of the pyramid" consumers. The high growth opportunities are in the frontier markets.
2. If your company does business in an underdeveloped region, become a part of the community. Source locally and responsibly. Get to know your neighbors and their skills. Help them be entrepreneurs. Share the value.
3. Innovate. Find the areas of "shared value" where the business profits AND the community benefits. If you don't know how to do this, there are excellent consultants available even for small businesses.
4. Attract the best employees by being socially responsible and offering the best volunteering programs. Encourage philanthropy. Match donations.
"We have reached a tipping point," says William Warshauer, CEO of TechnoServe, a company providing business solutions to poverty. "It is so important to companies, as a competitive advantage, to attract the best talent. Our clients have PhDs who could work anywhere, and who choose to work for them because of their innovative socially responsible programs." He offers the example of an agro-food company supporting food processing in Africa. The company's best food scientists are eager to provide expertise to African food processing companies and support local industry and development there.
The world is inter-connected, and no good deed is isolated. As a philanthropic enterprise, "by tackling extreme poverty and preventable disease, you are creating a safer and more prosperous world," says Elliott. "This is true for a large multinational, and it's just as true for a neighborhood fish restaurant."