25 February 2008
Economic and Social Council
ECOSOC/6326

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Special event on philanthropy

PM Meeting


World business leaders, UN officials discuss contribution corporate philanthropy


can make to global anti-poverty goals, at ECOSOC special event


Over 200 of the world’s leading executives, corporate philanthropists, senior United Nations officials and country representatives discussed the tremendous opportunities available for collaboration between companies, foundations, Governments and civil society to further internationally-agreed development objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals, at United Nations Headquarters today.


The special event of the Economic and Social Council was organized by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, with support from the United Nations Office for Partnerships (UNOP) and the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), and focused on “How corporate philanthropy can contribute to advancing the Millennium Development Goals, particularly for sustainable development”.


Opening the meeting, the President of the Economic and Social Council, Léo Mérorès ( Haiti) said that the Council had the distinct advantage of bringing together different stakeholders, including Governments, international organizations, civil society, the private sector and academia.  Today’s meeting could launch a very useful discussion on how the corporate giving community could partner with Governments and other stakeholders in support of the Economic and Social Council’s work, in particular within the framework of its two important new mandates, which would be held during the Council’s high-level segment in July -- the Annual Ministerial Review and the Development Cooperation Forum.


This year, the Ministerial Review would focus on “implementing the internationally agreed development goals and commitments in regard to sustainable development”.  Reviewing trends in development cooperation and promoting greater coherence in the development activities of various partners, the Council’s Development Cooperation Forum was expected to become a principal mechanism for global dialogue and policy review of all stakeholders.  He had no doubt that today’s deliberations would yield new and exciting ideas for collaboration and partnership in the efforts to improve the quality of life for impoverished and vulnerable people worldwide.  He intended to make recommendations and proposals that might come out of the discussions today available at the Council’s substantive session, in particular at the Annual Ministerial Review and the Development Cooperation Forum.


Asha-Rose Migiro, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said enhanced cooperation between the different actors would add great value to overall development efforts, in which sharing of experiences was a first step.  Solidarity among nations and development assistance had been affecting global development during the last half of the past century.  Corporate giving had entered the equation in the twenty-first century.  The event was designed to further dialogue between the United Nations and corporate philanthropy.  Smart philanthropy had the potential to enhance investments in public goods, among other things.  Over the past five years, the United Nations had opened its doors to more and more partners.  Partnerships would be vital to tackling climate change, one of the Organization’s priorities.  Without cooperation between Member States and corporate leaders, success would be impossible.


Stressing the enormous potential for strong cooperation between business and international communities, Charles Moore, Executive Director of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) said its mission was to lead the business community in raising the level and quality of corporate philanthropy.  “It is our job to inspire world leaders to make a lasting commitment,” he said.  It was important to explore how business, in collaboration with other sectors, could focus on opportunities in the areas of most urgent need, including the Millennium Development Goals.


Today’s event had gathered some of the most influential leaders, he pointed out.  The United Nations community offered on-the-ground knowledge and clear objectives, on which collaborative efforts could be built.  The corporate sector had tremendous resources, including donations, distribution channels and expertise.  Corporate philanthropy was seen as an integral part of the business, which was increasingly international, integrated and focused on measurable impacts.  He encouraged the participants to review the Millennium Development Goals -- halfway through -- and learn more about those concrete, lofty, but measurable opportunities to combat poverty, which could be assisted through philanthropy and responsible business practices.  Relatively small steps could have tremendous impact, and cross-sector partnerships could be developed through continuous dialogue.


Following the opening remarks, the participants of the event took part in two panel discussions that focused on “Applying strategic philanthropy to the MDGs”and “Leveraging leadership and strengthening partnerships through positive dialogue”.


In closing, Amir Dossal, Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Partnerships, summarized today’s proceedings, saying that today’s history-making meeting was the start of “a whole range of new opportunities”.  It was clear that, to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, it was necessary to do it together.  Among the issues raised today were the questions of scale and strategic approach. It had also been pointed out that the private-public partnerships must be beneficial to both sides.  The United Nations needed to do more, and today’s panels had examined how to manage and control how people worked with the United Nations.  How could the United Nations change its approach to building partnerships?  Among other things, guidelines needed to be further developed.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had lots of experience in that regard.


As for the outcome of today’s discussion, he said that the synthesis of the event would be reported to the Economic and Social Council, and his office would submit it to the General Assembly.  In fact, he had already been approached by several organizations asking how they could do business with the United Nations.  “It is your UN,” he said.  “We work for you, we welcome you, and I hope you come more often.”


Conversation I:  ‘Applying strategic philanthropy to the MDGs’


Interactive discussion I was moderated by the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals, Jeffrey Sachs.  The panellists included Steve Gunderson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Council on Foundations; Ad Melkert,Associate Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Jane Nelson, Senior Fellow and Director, Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative, Harvard University, and Director, International Business Leaders Forum; and Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director, Community Affairs, Microsoft Corporation.


Pointing out that the Millennium Development Goals were still achievable, Mr. Sachs said:  “We have 8 years [until the target year of 2015], we are running out of time, but we are not running out of know-how, we are not running out of technology.”  Many plans had been put in place.  If rich countries followed up on the promises they had made, development goals were achievable.  Investment in the Millennium Development Goals was critical for the survival of the planet.


For their part, businesses had the technology to grow more food, provide diagnostics, cell-phones, computer routers, and solar panels, among other things.  Those were needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, he said.  Thus, private–public partnerships were of great importance.  Public financing and private cooperation were needed to get technologies to scale, to promote health, education, safe water, doubling or tripling of food production in the next few years.  “If we spend a tiny fraction of what we spend on war, we can achieve the development goals,” he said.


Mr. Gunderson said that a survey of the Council’s corporate members had indicated that, while most were aware of the Millennium Development Goals, they had not been consciously motivated by them in choosing their philanthropic goals and strategies.  There was, nevertheless, a strong correlation between international corporate giving and one or more of the Millennium Development Goals.  Funding by United States corporations supported every one of the eight Millennium Development Goals, with the largest share going to health, education, poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability.  Assets the strategic corporate philanthropy could bring to international development included:  a business model; advanced technical capacities; marketing acumen; a multi-country presence; and logistical expertise.  Those advantages were linked through partnerships with non-governmental organizations.  He proposed a global compact for philanthropy in the line of other global compacts, such as trade agreements and human rights.


Mr. Melkert said halfway to 2015 the Millennium Development Goals campaign still had a lot of momentum.  Google and Cisco had assisted in launching the Millennium Development Goals Monitor on the Web.  New countries had joined the traditional donor countries and the steady growth in philanthropy was equally important.  However, in order to be effective, the new philanthropic resources had to be invested in a strategic manner.  Experience had shown that official development assistance used in an uncoordinated manner yielded few results.  Companies could enhance the capacities of local small and medium enterprises, or they could support corporate volunteering initiatives.  Mentioning some examples of such initiatives, he said corporate philanthropy could take many shapes and forms, but to achieve results, efforts needed to be coordinated.


Ms. Nelson said that every industry in the world could tackle development challenges in a way that also made sense to its businesses.  Sometimes those activities could be purely philanthropic, sometimes purely commercial, but increasingly there were “hybrid interventions”.  For example, the financial sector was increasingly getting engaged not only in microcredit as philanthropy, but also in knowledge development as part of its business endeavours.  Health-care companies were not only providing traditional donations, but also looking at pricing in developing countries and developing the infrastructure.  She also emphasized the importance of collective corporate action, when a number of companies worked to advance development goals, as well as “systems-strengthening” philanthropy and partnerships with national Governments to build local capacity and institutions.


Mr. Badshah said the Millennium Development Goals were critical for individuals, and for the survival of the planet.  It was also critical for companies to understand the role the United Nations and its agencies played and the role others could play in partnerships.  Since 1986, his company had encouraged its employees to participate in philanthropy and had matched employee donations.  Last year, Chairman Bill Gates had launched the Unlimited Potential Programme, which had the goal of bringing the benefits of technology to the next 5 billion people with the goal of reaching the first billion by 2015.  In trying to get technology to the people at the bottom, the programme focused on transforming education, fostering innovation and enabling jobs and economic opportunities.  The Community Technology Skills Programme aimed to be a global information technology skills programme, with local implementation to empower those who had not gone to school.


Several speakers in the ensuing debate stressed the importance of the event’s theme to the world’s poorest countries, which were making tremendous efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals.  What was missing was fulfilment of the pledges made, which made it difficult for developing countries to draw on the assistance promised.  Poor countries truly had the will, but were lacking the capacity to meet lofty developing goals.  A speaker wondered if the private sector could use its influence on wealthy States to make them keep their promises, including the pledge to devote 0.7 per cent of their national income to official development assistance.


On the business sector contribution, a speaker highlighted the importance of a switch from corporate social responsibility to corporate philanthropy.  How could private corporations be motivated to contribute a particular percentage of their income to development causes? he asked.


Aid needed to be well integrated and aligned with national development strategies, another participant pointed out.  He wondered if private philanthropy resources were geared to those strategies and suggested that the United Nations should do more to research on that issue, bridging the gap between the needs and resources.  It was pointed out that, through innovative public-private partnerships, companies and other partners could achieve their social responsibility goals, while helping the international community meet the needs around the globe.


Also addressed in the debate was the need to urgently invest in environmental causes to save the planet.  Environmental and social justice issues represented a paradigm shift in corporate investment, a speaker said.  Questions were also raised regarding special programmes for countries emerging from conflict and cross-border philanthropy, as well as coordination of funds in order to channel them to particular areas of need.


ConversationII: ‘Leveraging leadership and strengthening partnerships through positive dialogue’


Panellists of the second conversation included:  Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations; Christina Gold, Chief Executive Officer, Western Union; John C. Whitehead, Former Co-Chair, Goldman-Sachs & Co.; Hilde Johnson,Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); and Kathy Bushkin Calvin, Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer, United Nations Foundation, who moderated the interactive conversation.


In her opening remarks, Ms. Bushkin Calvin, noting that making the United Nations into a partnership organization was a transformative effort, said that partnerships were often the best answer to systemic challenges.  There were five kinds of partnerships.  The first one was advocacy partnership, where organizations tried to place an issue on the United Nations’ agenda.  Operational partnerships provided project support, resource mobilization and service delivery.  Capacity-building was a new kind of partnership that invested in organizations and institutional strength.  Normative partnerships set norms and standards -- such as the Kimberley process -- and joint regulation partnerships aimed to bridge governance gaps.  Institutional challenges for United Nations partnerships included:  a lack of formal mechanism for partnerships; significant bureaucratic, budgetary and “cultural” obstacles in the United Nations; and a lack of a system-wide policy for such partnerships.


Mr. Sha said opportunities were created by an amazing growth in international giving, combined with a new focus on financial sustainability -- both within the public and private-based development community.  The challenge was how to work together effectively.  Announcing the first Development Cooperation Forum, organized by the Economic and Social Council and to be held in July, he said, “I see the value of the Development Cooperation Forum as a facilitator of the conversations between the public and private side of development cooperation.  […]  Both Governments and foundations must be willing to bridge cultural and institutional differences in order to develop a long-term common agenda and the Council’s Development Cooperation Forum can provide a venue and medium for this discussion.”


Ms. Johnsonsaid that today’s challenges could only be addressed through partnership among all stakeholders.  It was important for the United Nations to open its doors to players from the private sector, and the Economic and Social Council was facilitating such dialogue.  A socially responsible corporate sector could be a highly effective and powerful ally.  It could also do more to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  Corporate philanthropy and responsible investment could make a difference.  UNICEF was promoting corporate engagement in its most comprehensive sense towards fulfilment of the rights of the child.  By joining together with the corporate sector, UNICEF could do more.  Targeted goals could be better achieved through coordinated action, and leadership was critical in that regard.


Mr. Whitehead noted the coincidence that this morning, 50 chief executive officers of the biggest companies in America had met to exchange ideas and experiences about their corporate giving.  They had pledged to increase the amount of money they spent on non-business activities to meet the Millennium Development Goals.  Encouraged by that meeting, he predicted that United States corporations were going to come a lot closer to meeting their Millennium Goals obligations than the first five years had indicated. Over the last 60 years, American corporations had realized that they not only had a responsibility towards their stockholders, but also to their employees, customers, suppliers and the communities in which they did business.  In this morning’s discussion, the chief executive officers had discovered that most of the corporations had earned more than 50 per cent of their profits outside the United States.  More of their corporate giving should, therefore, also go abroad.


Ms. Gold said that remittances sent home by migrants -- and last year, those had amounted to some $330 billion -- were among the most powerful forces in global development today.  Even more could be done to multiply the effect remittances were producing, and her company was involved in the effort to make sure migration became a choice, rather than a necessity and that money generated became more productive.  One of the company’s programmes was “Our World Our Family”, which sought to meet educational and economic needs of global citizens.   Western Union promoted global solutions attuned to local needs and surroundings, relying on support of its employees.  The company also cooperated with non-governmental organizations.


During the ensuing conversation, one speaker wondered what leverages developing countries had to force developed countries to implement their commitments.  Another participant said that many of the Monterrey commitments had been implemented, but that commitments after Monterrey, including the Gleneagles commitments, had not been fulfilled.  Moreover, an increase in aid had largely gone to debt relief, resulting in the fact that poor people were paying for the poor people’s debt.  Another speaker said that the matter of leverage was a difficult one.  Leverage could consist of advocacy, promotion, facilitation and norm setting.  The United Nations could help by collecting data and analysing them.


Some speakers addressed the issue of remittances, with one wondering if the company transferring those remittances could influence the use of them, for instance of poverty alleviation or housing.  Another speaker, noting that a group of immigrants was boycotting Western Union, wondered about the pricing of remittance transfers.


Ms. Gold, from Western Union, answered that the beauty of remittances was that there was no bureaucracy involved.  Her company could only try to educate its customers about financial instruments.  It could not, and should not, determine how the remittances were used, as it was money hard-earned by individuals.  As for the boycott, she noted that the remittance business of her company had grown immensely and that was a vote of confidence by customers.


Addressing the issue of corporate responsibility of companies in developing countries, another question put to the panel, Ms. Johnson said that UNICEF was engaged in many programmes with local companies in trying to prevent child labour and child trafficking.  When UNICEF engaged with global companies, it also addressed the supply chain of those companies.  Addressing another question, she assured participants that UNICEF had screening in place, in order to prevent misuse of its name.


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For information media • not an official record