The value of corporate partnerships

Development Policy11 Nov 2013Jon Pender

‘UNGA week’ is always hectic. And this year’s UN General Assembly was particularly frenetic. My few days in New York were a busy, but hugely rewarding, round of discussions about issues ranging from tackling malaria to malnutrition.

But whichever meeting I was in – be it the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition to talking about the Roll Back Malaria initiative – the mood was one of focused optimism. It was heartening to see a renewed emphasis on the final push towards 2015, coupled with an energetic debate on the post-2015 agenda and the need for sustainable development.

What will be critical to this drive for sustainable development is a commitment to global partnership. This was a key element of the original Millennium Development Goal programme. It was reiterated by the High-Level Panel report, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told UNGA this year: “We must be open to new and innovative partnerships.”

We fully support this. Such a spirit has always been central to our engagement in sustainable development in a range of developing countries. And, though the private sector certainly has a vital role to play in driving development – both economic and social – it is collaboration with organisations, ranging from businesses to NGOs and governments, that is key to securing genuine and lasting change.

There is much that we can bring to the table, like resources and organisational reach. Because we know that our expertise only goes so far, other organisations can bring complementary strengths in other areas. Pooling expertise, resources and influence therefore delivers the best and most effective global development outcomes. Our development-focused partnerships with Save the Children, CARE International, AMREF, Vodafone and most recently Barclays, are testament to that.

Global public health is clearly a crucial focus for our partnership programmes. And as the Outcome Document published during this year’s General Assembly outlines clearly, partnerships will particularly be critical in the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB. It was therefore heartening to see the UK government last month pledge £1 billion to the Global Fund, illustrating commitment at the highest levels to tackle these devastating diseases.

The development of RTS,S – the world’s most advanced malaria vaccine candidate – demonstrates the tangible effect that partnership can have. We have worked on this vaccine for three decades, developing it for use among young children in sub-Saharan Africa, where malaria is rife and deadly. Collaboration has been key: we have worked with the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) and doctors across sub-Saharan Africa.

Earlier this month, an exciting development occurred, as we reached an important milestone with RTS,S, announcing that we plan to file it for regulatory approval in 2014. An effective and affordable vaccine to complement existing preventative measures, such as bed nets, could help control the scourge of malaria and help Africa to prosper. As the vaccine’s development progresses, partnership will be critical to making sure it reaches those children who need it most.

Partnerships with like-minded corporate organisations, innovative collaboration with Save the Children, and RTS,S demonstrate the value that the private sector can bring to global development. At UNGA, I heard the message loud and clear that businesses across a wide range of sectors are ready, willing and able to play a valuable part in this agenda.

Having debated the vision for sustainable development, underpinned by a range of voices and players, the challenge now is to turn the discussion into action. But from what I heard in my many New York meetings, I am more convinced than ever that we can forge new collaborations and make the global partnership for development a reality.