ABV is unusual among international development not-for-profits in that since our establishment more than 35 years ago, our focus has been on inclusive growth through the private sector. Over the last decade however involving and harnessing the private sector has become the international development zeitgeist.
In 2014 the Australian Government launched a ‘new aid paradigm’. In this new paradigm the aid program has two principal strategic goals – human development (which had been the focus of earlier aid policy) and private sector development. Since 2014 the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade has implemented a number of new private sector oriented aid programs, including InnovationXchange, Business Partnerships Platform, and Pacific Business Investment Facility, among others. By 2020 the Government aims to raise programs defined as ‘aid for trade’ to 20% of the aid budget.
An increased focus on the private sector is not just an Australian phenomenon however. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs), a global ‘plan of action for, people, planet and prosperity’, emphasises the private sector as an ‘essential partner’ in achieving sustainable development and human prosperity.
Small & medium enterprises (SMEs) have also become a big topic in development. They have been described as critical to achieving the SDGs, and microfinance and other small business promotion projects have proliferated across the developing world. Major political accords such as the (yet to be agreed) Trans-Pacific Partnership and the European Union’s new trade and investment strategy are also promoting a strategy of growing SMEs as a way to boost broader inclusive economic growth in developing countries.
Additionally, harnessing other non-traditional private sector models is rapidly becoming the norm in international development. According to one of ABV’s Southeast Asian host organisation partners, “15 years ago social enterprise was a dirty word”. Now however, across Asia and the Pacific social enterprises are becoming a major model for effecting social change. ‘Impact investing’ – investments made with the intention to generate a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact alongside financial returns – has expanded massively in recent years. Similarly the concept of ‘shared value’, which is defined as policies and practices that enhance the competitiveness of companies while improving social and environmental conditions has spread rapidly since it was defined in a 2011 Harvard Business Review article.
This new global focus on involving and harnessing the private sector in international development is obviously an opportunity for ABV. ABV’s key strengths; our registry of highly experienced business volunteers, our expertise designing and implementing effective people-centred capacity building programs, our experience with a range of private sector partners, and our expertise designing and implementing projects carried out by corporate employees all align with ‘the spirit of the times’. Moving forward ABV will be leveraging these strengths to build our partnerships, grow our programs, and deepen our impact.
Photo: A Hmong girl picks tea in northern Vietnam. Hmong tea harvesters were the intended community beneficiaries of a recent ABV partnership project.