Within the prevailing growth-based development paradigm, the private sector has been acknowledged as playing a key role in realizing economic growth in some of the least developed countries. The related potential increase in public income is to enable governments to support wealth redistribution for the poverty reduction and to improve access to basic services.
The private sector is, however, under increasing external pressure to internalize social- and environmental externalities and to operate in ways that will protect the environment and communities and indeed benefits those most excluded and in need. At the same time the sustainability of business operations is increasingly under pressure because of e.g. political instability, regulatory uncertainty, decreasing access to natural resources due to unsustainable management and natural disasters, inadequate labor skill-pools and social unrest. In part these business risks arise from the notion that private sector does not contribute sufficiently to producing public goods and common benefits, especially at the local level, while at the same time transforming perceived common local resources into private ones. These dynamics not only create challenges to sustainable business operations in the local context, e.g. local citizen movements taking action against polluting businesses in the light of inadequate public (enforcement of) regulations, but they also create a dichotomy between “development-minded” and “business-minded” views. The polarization of these viewpoints in turn creates a lack of dialogue and exploration on how private sector, public sector and civil society could collaborate and partner for the greater good, as well as for individual interests, in a mutually benefiting and sustainable way.
Corporate funded development partnerships, were in the past mostly based on philanthropy, but are increasingly seen as benefiting the private enterprise beyond public relations. Inclusive business practices, Triple Bottom Line (TBL) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) are amongst strategies used to deal with external risks, to become more resource efficient and to fulfill ever increasing environmental and social regulatory frameworks. Many large multinational companies and well-known brands already recognize the strategic relevance of integrating sustainable development into their core business strategies and across their sphere of influence. These business strategies also aim to ensure that the private sector contributes to achieving longer-term development goals in an inclusive and equitable manner without compromising environmental sustainability. However, to date much engagement between the development sector and business on sustainable development is limited to specific projects, which are still relatively limited in scope and scale.
There is specific opportunity within (natural resource-based) small medium sized enterprise (SME) development and (pro poor) public private partnerships (PPP) development which the promoting business opportunities for “Green Economy” approach presents because the aspects of sustainable development and the selection of value chains and PPPs needs to be seen in the light of the increased urgency to deal with the impacts of our unsustainable lifestyles and economic model. PPP and SME development not only needs to take place considering the principles of Green Economy, it ideally should also capture the business opportunities which the Green Economy provides. Some of these business opportunities are e.g. food security through organic farming, renewable energy, and adapted technologies promoting resource-use and energy efficiency technology. The link with regional “low carbon cities” initiatives in terms of innovation and support provides in this context also an interesting opportunity.
Development Connect works for example together with the International New Town Institute (INTI) from The Netherlands (newtowninstitute.org) as experts in Kenya “Feeding the City” research program. INTI works in partnership with the University of Amsterdam, and the Technical University Kenya to map the metabolism of Nairobi (spatial planning for food security).