Business and world leaders have a responsibility to contribute to sustainable development, as do each of us as individuals, but how can the business community in particular enhance its contribution?
Against a backdrop of the Rio+20 Summit, its hundreds of side events and Rio de Janeiro's trademark samba music and beaches, I attended two events this week that helped to paint a clearer picture of the role businesses can play.
The Corporate Sustainability Forum (CSF), a three-day event organized by the UN Global Compact, and the Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD) Business Day, however, also brought to mind three questions that, aside from keeping me up at night, I will pose to business leaders worldwide.
• How can we create more regenerative business models that are resource positive?
• How can companies engage more with governments and in public policy debates?
• What can I do with my global and local communities?
The policymakers, NGOs and business, civil society and academic leaders who attended the events specifically highlighted three ways businesses can support sustainable development.
• Foster partnerships, dialogue and social inclusion
Business must shift its attitude from that of philanthropy to that of genuine collaboration. During the CSF closing plenary, Janice E. Perlman, founder and president of the Mega-Cities Project, illustrated this point by quoting a low-income urban woman: "If you came to help me, you can go home. But, if you see my problem as part of yours, perhaps we can work together."
Other speakers presented examples of this type of partnership, such as the HERproject, a factory-based women's health peer-to-peer initiative, and PepsiCo International's partnership with Columbia University's Water Center at the Earth Institute to improve rural water and livelihood outcomes.
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