The future of development cooperation: Engaging with the private sector

Dec 12, 2016

The “Role of the Private Sector in the Era of Sustainable Development” conference on 12 December discussed the country’s prospects in achieving in the SDGs and how enterprises and corporations might potentially expedite the process

The crucial part played by the private sector in advancing the sustainable development agenda was highlighted at an event held in Kathmandu on 12 December. More than 100 participants representing Nepal’s private sector, government and development partners took part in the conference on the “Role of the Private Sector in the Era of Sustainable Development” to discuss the country’s prospects in achieving in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how enterprises and corporations can potentially expedite the process.

The conference essentially urged private-sector actors to look for ways in which they could better lend a hand to broad-based social and economic development—keeping in mind the unique constraints of Nepal’s context, of course. Positing the private sector as an “engine of growth”, Mr. Gokarna Awasthi, Chairman of the Society of Economic Journalists Nepal (SEJON), stressed on the importance of involving businesses in development efforts. This was reiterated by Ms. Sulo Shrestha-Shah, the Chair of the UN Global Compact Network Nepal, who said it was high time for the private sector to move beyond the narrow pursuit of profits and begin to examine ways in which it could benefit society at large. She additionally invited all business houses to join the UN Global Compact, which comprises the largest corporate social network in the world.

Along the same lines, UNDP Deputy Country Director, Ms. Sophie Kemkhadze, pointed out the necessity of more collaborative action: “We need to think and act together. The private sector can take the lead in identifying what they are capable of doing and how development partners can support them for the shared goal: sustainable development.”

Private-sector representatives responded positively to these requests for improved engagement in realizing the development agenda, such as Mr. Anil Shah, Chief Executive Officer of Mega Bank Nepal Limited, who said that the “seed” of partnership needed to be planted right away. The exigency of internalizing the SDGs in business models was duly acknowledged—given how participating in development work could also prove strategically beneficial for these businesses.

Several speakers remarked that private-sector entities needed to be recognized for the work they have already done and are doing on social responsibility, so as to motivate them. Ms. Ambika Shrestha, Chair of Hotel Dwarika’s, for instance, talked about how they had long been purchasing local products made by small entrepreneurs where possible, not only helping these entrepreneurs grow their trade, but also setting the hotel apart from others.

The private-sector representatives also entreated that there should not be too many constraints placed on their activities—the sector should be allowed to flourish if there is any hope of its becoming a viable partner in development, they said. And Mr. Hyungkyoo Kim, Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) Country Director, urged the Government to create a favorable environment in this regard.

Innovation was another core theme of the conference: Mr. Allen Bailochan, the Director of the Microsoft Innovation Centre, touched upon the importance of harnessing technology in addressing Nepal’s unique development challenges, particularly in reaching out to remote areas where needs are most stark. But this cannot be achieved, he emphasized, unless all sectors in the country cooperated with one another.

In a nod to the future, Mr. Pradeep Shrestha, Chair of the Panchakanya Group and Vice-Chair of the Asia-Pacific Chambers of Commerce, suggested the establishment of a local private-sectors champions club that could drive SDGs awareness and create a positive narrative on the newly-adopted development agenda. He also underscored the importance of Global Compact’s role as an engagement platform for businesses to improve their uptake of information on SDGs and on leveraging the goals for opportunity and innovation within this new framework.

Following the conference, UNDP and KOICA assured the private sector that they would do their utmost to accommodate their concerns and facilitate partnership opportunities between development partners, the government and the private sector in Nepal. High priority has been accorded to the formation of a committee in this regard, to bring together relevant stakeholders and promote collaboration between them.

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