Private sector investors are becoming increasingly aware that their ability to grow and generate profit is directly linked to the existence of stable, prosperous societies and inclusive economies. It is also becoming increasingly apparent that fiscally constrained governments lack the capacity and the resources to single-handedly meet the needs of their growing populations which is why the private sector’s role in ushering in a new era of inclusive growth is imperative in the coming period.
As “Sustainability” moves to the top of national and corporate agendas and initiatives we have begun to witness a massive increase in the number of events, conferences and workshops dedicated to sustainability. We are also witnessing a steady evolution in the manner in which sustainability is being approached. It has gone from being regarded as philanthropy or charity that is doled out sporadically by individual donors, to more structured corporate responsibility initiatives organized by companies, to fully-fledged corporate strategies that align internationally recognized environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices and reporting standards into every facet of a company’s day to day operations.
In short, sustainability has evolved from being a luxury to a necessity. While all these trends are a positive indication that there is more awareness of what needs to be done to tackle global problems of inequality and finite resources, we need to make sure that we avoid over crowding and have proper coordination to maximize efficiency and avoid redundancies.
The next step in this evolution is to align these practices with global standards and integrate national efforts to promote sustainable development in a manner that unites government, private sector and civil society in the process. The adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), a set of goals designed to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030 is an important step in that process.
Ushering in an era of inclusive growth will be of particular importance in Egypt where prices have soared on the back of the devaluation of the Egyptian pound in November 2016 and the gradual removal of energy subsidies which saw petrol prices increase by 55% in July of this year. In the past 6 months alone, food prices have increased by an average 40% placing tremendous pressure on Egyptians from all walks of life. So what can we do to survive the coming period which is no doubt taking its toll on both businesses and private citizens, and placing tremendous pressure on the government to create social safety nets for its most disadvantaged citizens? In my opinion, navigating the challenges requires 3 things: developing a common agenda, forging partnerships, and coordinating implementation. Without strong partnerships and collaboration between equally committed entities, lasting progress will not be possible.
Governments need to create enabling frameworks that will allow the private sector and civil society to work productively to address some of the shortfalls in crucial areas like education, energy and infrastructure, sectors that have been previously off-limits to private investment.
The private sector needs to invest responsibly in businesses that can create value in the form of jobs, knowledge transfer, and the provision of services in addition to financial returns. Civil society should function as the link between the public and private sectors as they are essentially the glue that holds the triangle together.
However, engaging the private sector will require carrying out a meaningful dialogue in business terms that examines both the risks and rewards of adopting a sustainability agenda that includes responsible investments. The fact of the matter is that public and private interests can convene to create a sustainability eco-system that achieves inclusive growth and concrete results that will be of mutual benefit to governments, societies and companies alike.
Now is the time to pursue inclusive growth. Businesses can no longer afford to overlook the social inequality that will lead to instability, and I think we can all agree that instability is not good for business. Governments can no longer act alone to tackle social problems. They need the private sector to play a partnering role in helping build youth-led economies by creating jobs and providing educational and vocational training opportunities for our youth.