The world is at a crossroads – needing to create at least 750 million jobs in developing countries by 2020.
Doing so would cut today’s dangerously high unemployment levels in half, making a significant dent in global poverty. Not doing so would be unconscionable.
The vast majority of the needed job creation can only come from one place: the private sector.
And especially from the small and medium enterprises that drive growth throughout the developing world.
Help local entrepreneurs build dynamic, competitive industries with productive and growing labor forces, and you help nations move forward. Ignore them, and you face peril: worsening poverty, social unrest, and more.
In many ways, the socially responsible business leaders of the developing world hold the keys to our future. With the world’s population on track to rise by 2 billion, adding new pressures to those already posed by the interrelated forces of climate change, resource depletion, and food security, they are the ones who can make the difference. They create jobs, drive innovation, and provide essential services in infrastructure, health, and education. Their positive impact is felt at all levels of the economy – many now use inclusive business models with transformative impacts on the poor, whether as employees, producers, consumers, or distributors.
And farmers are businesspeople too. Like others, their productivity rises with improved access to finance, training, technology, and markets – increasing the food supply at a time of growing concern over vulnerability in many countries.
Governments across the globe understand these points now more than ever. They are also central to the agenda of the World Bank Group. No longer are questions of private sector development reserved for the sidelines. Today they are front and center, opening new opportunities for engagement with the business and finance communities.
At our recent Spring Meetings in Washington D.C., our 184 shareholding countries issued an historic communiqué calling the private sector “crucial for growth, jobs, and poverty reduction.” They urged our institutions to come together as never before on this essential three-part agenda.
This remarkable call built on momentum established a few months earlier at an OECD aid donor summit in Busan, South Korea. Marked by an especially broad and inclusive spirit of partnership for poverty reduction, Busan’s final outcomes included a pledge for more action on business growth.
Government decision-makers are increasingly seeing that business and development go hand-in-hand, and are natural partners in a time of shrinking aid budgets. Three things must now be done to move forward:
First, focus on the public merits of private sector growth must continue to reach the highest levels. At the 2009 G20 London summit, held among the greatest challenge to the world economy in our lifetimes, world leaders called for new a multilateral trade finance initiative to compensate for commercial banks’ pull-back. To carry out this agenda, IFC has worked in partnership with many donor partners and more than 600 banks, supported more than $40 billion in trade, and also helped coordinate the private sector’s involvement in other G20 initiatives on financial inclusion and food security. Held to the highest standards of results measurement and environmental and social sustainability, this high-level approach should be expanded to other areas: for example, in employment, climate change, and empowering women.
Second, all institutions in this field must come together around a shared agenda. IFC is just one of 31 international finance institutions who have collectively quadrupled their financing of the private sector in developing countries in a decade. Together we now provide more than $40 billion a year, and every dollar we invest stimulates as much as three times more investment from commercial sources.
Third, the international finance institutions and the private sector must have more seats at the table in the development process. There are many good examples to consider here. They range from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in oil, gas, and mining, the Equator Principles and Global Banking Alliance for Women in finance, the GSM Alliance Development Fund in mobile communications, and others, to the private sector forums that are helping improve the investment climates and promote inclusive growth in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sierra Leone, and other low-income countries.
Some would say these trends constitute a rethinking of traditional aid models. But in fact it is a rethinking of private investment, now rightly seen as the key driver of development, and a trusted, efficient, and responsible partner the fight against poverty.
Lars H. Thunell is Executive Vice President and CEO of IFC (International Finance Corporation).