UNITED NATIONS — Senior business leaders met yesterday with heads of state, UN agencies and NGOs to strategize on concrete actions business can take to help close the gap on meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, and Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen were among the hundreds of high officials from corporations, governments and world organizations at the United Nations Leadership Forum who stressed the critical role of the private sector in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
During the forum, over 23 companies announced new or renewed commitments to development, including Becton, Dickinson and Company, who is a prominent supporter of ‘Together for Girls’, a global public-private partnership to end sexual violence against girls, to which UNFPA is an active partner.
“There is no longer any doubt that business plays an integral role in delivering economic and social progress,” declared Mr. Ban.
Yesterday’s Forum came three months after Mr. Ban challenged more than 1,000 chief executives and entrepreneurs to agree on a ‘Development Compact’ in support of reaching the targets by their deadline of 2015.
“Already, many businesses have advanced employment and income generation, improved health outcomes and gender parity, provided access to safe water and sanitation and advanced environmental sustainability,” he said. “Now is the time for all of us to bring these solutions and innovations to scale,” he charged participants.
Ms. Obaid served as Lead Discussant on one of the 27 tables that dotted the UN General Assembly lobby, which had been transformed to host lunch and an hour-long brainstorming session among participants. Round-tables were organized around six themes focused on the MDGs, with UNFPA hosting the discussion of Maternal and Child Health and AIDS, along with UNAIDS and UNICEF.
Following lunch, Forum participants dove into intense discussions on how best engage the business sector to support social goals. At one table, Ms. Obaid was elbow-to-elbow between UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Secretary-General Bekele Geleta of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, to hash out ideas with fellow table participants including directors from Product RED, Novartis Foundation and Becton- Dickinson Company. Ms. Obaid highlighted UNFPA’s own experiences with the private sector, including innovative public media campaigns in Colombia and health education programmes with garment workers in Bangladesh.