Sunday Forum: The G-20 vs. poverty
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As global leaders gather for the September G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, they face an opportune moment to engage the private sector constructively in plans for international economic development, catalyzing growth and strengthening food security for the world's most vulnerable.
The United States provided $26 billion in development assistance last year to fight global poverty. While this has helped stop more of the world's poor from falling deeper into poverty as a result of the economic, food and fuel crises, it is not enough. No amount of development assistance -- no matter how generous -- can end global poverty by itself. What will, however, make a difference is the private sector.
Sustainable change in the lives of the poor will not come from aid dollars alone, but rather from private sector-led growth that creates jobs, spurs innovation and stimulates trade and investment. It is imperative that our approach to sustainable development be redefined to embrace the private sector's pivotal role.
Exploring public-private partnerships of resources is a good place to start. I continue to see their viability firsthand through my work with the U.S. government's Millennium Challenge Corporation, an innovative development assistance program that awards grants to countries that practice good governance, fight corruption, invest in the skills and health of their citizens, and promote economic freedom.
Smart assistance like this is building the institutional capacity and competitiveness of partner countries to attract private-sector investments. Because of their MCC-funded training in agricultural productivity, pineapple growers in Ghana, for example, have already attracted the attention of major agribusinesses that want to work with them on long-term contracts to source their pineapples for the European market. Contracts like these mean steady jobs and rising incomes for Ghanaian farmers, lifting them and their children out of poverty.
El Salvador, too, signed a public-private partnership to leverage MCC resources for infrastructure development with those of the private sector. By combining funds from MCC, the government of El Salvador and Virginia-based AES Corporation, this partnership will construct 1,300 kilometers of rural electrification lines, connections and extensions to existing lines in the country's Northern Zone, providing access to electricity for more than 30,000 poor families. A basic service like electricity allows businesses to operate and school children to sharpen their skills to contribute to the future productivity of their economy.
Recognizing the power of public-private partnerships, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently said, "By combining our strengths, governments and philanthropies can more than double our impact. And the multiplier effect continues if we add businesses."
It's time for American businesses to turn on this multiplier effect. As they look for new ways of strengthening their bottom lines, American businesses need to investigate where the U.S. government is investing development dollars to explore investments of their own.
The private sector can and should take advantage of these opportunities not just because it is the right thing to do to rid the world of entrenched poverty, but also because it makes sound economic sense for creating American jobs, increasing profits and bolstering trade.
For the sake of the world's poor, as well as America's own prosperity, there is no substitute for the active participation and contributions of the private sector. It is now up to the private sector to heed this call and act creatively to parallel, complement and add to what the U.S. and other G-20 governments are doing to fight global poverty.
First Published August 30, 2009 12:00 am