The 2014 Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) Conference wrapped up last week, and this year The Rockefeller Foundation was proud to support the Inclusive Economies track at the conference. We were heartened by the robust conversation that grew out of that track around challenges ranging from creating good jobs to corporate responsibility in the face of growing inequality to opportunities for business engagement on the global stage post-2015.I was pleased to speak at the closing plenary session at the BSR Conference, and I shared a bit about The Rockefeller Foundation’s commitment to advancing inclusive economies that expand opportunities for more broadly shared prosperity—and especially how that work has been catalyzed by a series of transformational collaborations with our friends in the corporate sector.Take, for example, our recently launched initiative Smart Power in Rural India:We took a close look at one of India’s most pressing challenges—rural electrification. 42,000 villages in the country are either under-electrified or entirely unelectrified, leaving over 400 million people without the energy they need to perform basic tasks, like lighting their homes, or powering small-scale equipment like irrigation pumps that would go a long way toward improving their quality of life.
But at the same time, in the very same rural regions, there’s been ongoing growth in the mobile industry. This has led to the building of thousands of new cell towers in these electricity-poor villages. Right now, without access to the electric grid, these towers consume expensive, dirty diesel fuel—about two billion liters every year.
Our response to this challenge was develop a game-changing new business model, partnering with private energy service companies who can build off-grid renewable energy power plants in these areas, leveraging the steady source of revenue that the cell towers would provide and the revenues that can be generated from communities for their household needs. The bigger the combined demand, the cheaper we can provide the invaluable energy that these vulnerable populations need.
However, the biggest benefit lies in the potential for rural economic development. With this model established, we’re also promoting the development of new microenterprises and other businesses in rural areas that rely on access to steady power—creating brand new jobs while boosting demand from a new customer segment and lowering costs for everyone.
Or consider Digital Jobs Africa, another investment of $100 million by the Foundation, this time focused on connecting disadvantaged young people to digitally based work. The very nature of digital work provides skills and experience that expand opportunities for future jobs and builds resilience to changes in the economy—with the eventual goal of improving 1 million lives.
It’s obviously a bold, ambitious goal, and it would be impossible to reach without the resources and cooperation of corporate entities at all levels, all around the globe. One major area of opportunity is that fact that there have been transformative developments in Africa’s information communication technology sector. This enhances opportunities for disadvantaged youth in growing sectors with existing digital work, such impact sourcing sector, the socially responsible arm of the business process outsourcing industry, which employs individuals who would not otherwise have an opportunity for sustainable employment. It also opens up opportunities in rapidly digitizing sectors like entertainment and media, or in new jobs that can’t be imagined yet but that will be surely created as smartphones and mobile technology become ubiquitous.
It’s not about whether government, civil society, or the private sector is most responsible for creating jobs and a more inclusive economy. All three sectors need to combine their distinct capabilities to develop the market-based solutions that can sustain the creation of good jobs and support secure livelihoods, particularly for those who are too often left out of what opportunities the global economy provides.