WALKING THE EXTRA MILE
Oct 10 - 16, 2011
With the increase of public-private partnerships, the role of private companies in governance has increased. For companies, it is no longer possible to focus simply on profit maximization and the outwitting of competitors. Now a number of global trends indicate, there is an opportunity for the business community to have a greater positive impact on society.
Firstly, professionalism is applied to management of social and ethical business issues. Secondly, a number of firms operating internationally accept an extended definition of corporate social responsibility that is covering human rights and associated issues. Thirdly, there is a growing realization that partnership of companies, civil society, and the public sector can solve the intractable social challenges.
There are direct links between business policies and challenges of creating economic opportunities for vulnerable populations.
Pakistan is facing serious economic challenges. The World Bank report attributed the 'dismal' economic scenario to the overall security situation, political tensions, slow progress on the proposed economic reforms and natural calamities such as the latest floods.
According to the National Disaster Management Authority, 1.4 million homes have been affected (of which over 500,000 have been completely destroyed) and some two million acres of crops destroyed. Seven of the 23 districts of Sindh have been severely affected.
On the other hand, the problem in Balochistan is not just political - it is humanitarian. A vast majority of the people in the province - mainly in its Baloch-dominated central and southern regions - live below poverty line with next to no means of earning livelihood. They have minimal access to education, health, roads, electricity, and other means of communication.
In the rest of the Pakistan, a large proportion of the country's population live in poverty and a significant number of these right now are internally displaced due to so called war against terrorism and natural disasters.
Poverty, lack of educational and job opportunities, power failures, and poor infrastructure are pushing growing numbers of people into minor crimes to terrorist activities. The psychosocial consequences of present conditions are accelerating the destruction of Pakistani society. Levels of crime and greater security concerns have impacted businesses.
Corporate sector may continue to see its corporate taxes being spent to control unrest or the consequences of unrest, rather than to promote developments.
Corporate sector can play a meaningful role indirectly in maintaining peace and security. Most companies address issues such as human rights, transparency and environmental standards. Companies have also joined multi- stakeholder initiatives such as the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. In addition, they intend to contribute to socioeconomic development through community programs.
Relief and restoration is driven primarily by the military, public sector donor funds, SMEs and private philanthropy, although larger corporate sector can contribute by providing practical support for immediate relief efforts.
- Re-establishment of core infrastructure and industry:
Early corporate engagement is likely to combine the restoration of past commercial activities and distribution with investment in new business initiatives.
- Engagement in broader economic recovery:
Corporate efforts may involve expanding economic activity and creating the appropriate infrastructure needed for large and small businesses to flourish. These efforts are most effective when conducted within an 'enabling environment' conducive to the mobilisation of domestic resources, as well as foreign direct investment in industries such as manufacturing and processing.
Corporations cannot solve conflicts alone; the main responsibility for conflict resolution and peace building remains with governments. However, there are spaces for corporations to step in.
- Utilities companies can participate in public-private partnerships to increase access to clean water, energy, and telecommunications.
- Energy companies can support efforts to develop renewable energy sources, especially in rural areas, as Pakistan faces severe power shortage.
- Construction companies can make an important contribution to this goal by providing low-cost housing, especially in the flood affected and war torn areas.
- Manufacturing, food and beverage, and consumer goods companies can source raw materials, parts, components and services from local suppliers, and like others provide numerous job opportunities.
- Agribusiness and biotechnology companies can work with small farmers and their cooperatives along global supply chains to provide credit, and improve rural productivity, product quality and food security.
- Consumer goods companies can collaborate with small and medium-sized enterprises to distribute their products.
- Food and healthcare companies can support programs to improve child nutrition and provide immunization through the school system, as well as raising awareness on health and lifestyle issues.
There is a room left for corporations to engage beyond the socioeconomic dimension, for example in community cohesion or reconciliation projects. There are long-term needs for businesses to contribute in areas outside of their direct influence.
Depending on the industry sector and circumstances, some corporate sector will be able to play a leading role in rebuilding and supporting recovery. As, one thing is clear: Pakistan's future prosperity is dependent on the involvement of local people in the redevelopment of the social infrastructure and economy. Corporate sector has the knowledge, skills, technology and opportunity to do something better for the future of Pakistan.