Events: GBCH President Addresses African Leaders at Forum

Alyssa GovindanNews

The following is a transcript of the keynote speech GBCHealth’s President, Nancy Wildfeir-Field, gave at the Rebranding Africa Forum on October 6, 2017.

Excellencies, Ministers, Ambassadors and Distinguished guests.  Bonjour.

I am genuinely honored to be here today to kick off this formidable event, amongst esteemed partners and friends. My name is Nancy Wildfeir-Field and I am the President of GBCHealth.  We’re a not-for-profit business-oriented group based in the United States, working globally, and dedicated to leveraging the total resources of the business community, to improve the health and well-being of communities around the world.

At GBCHealth, we believe that good health is good business. Since 2001, we’ve worked with hundreds of partners, from SMEs to Fortune 500 companies, designing and implementing workplace and community health programs. We’ve mobilized their powerful collective voice to drive programmatic impact locally, and to help shape and influence policy globally – through dialogues, action and investment.

In the spirit of Rebranding Africa, I’d like to focus on building partnerships with the private sector to invest in youth, the demographic dividend of the continent, which can transform the lives of individuals, communities and societies as a whole.

But first, it bears highlighting at the outset, that the private sector we often paint with a single stroke, is really quite diverse.  If we think about private investors, global corporations, large national businesses and SMEs – they all have very different motivations and approaches to business, community, CSR investments and philanthropy.

  • Some focus on their employees, customers or brand, while others focus nationally or regionally.
  • Some are commercially driven, while others are looking for social impact through social enterprises and shared value.
  • Some corporate leaders are tackling big issues through partnerships and innovations, as true development partners.
  • Many, are doing all of this, and a few, aren’t interested in contributing at all.

Why is this important? Because understanding motivations and goals helps to foster open and honest conversations, building the necessary respect, trust, transparency and accountability between sectors in true partnership.

As I’m sure many of you know, Agenda 2030, also known as the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, was launched two years ago – not just as a call to action for governments – but also as a call to action for business – for investment and partnership. That truth is, that in today’s market, integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards into daily practice is a business imperative. Those companies that do will prosper, and those that don’t will fail.

According to a study by Arabesque Asset Management, 88% of reviewed research showed that solid ESG practices resulted in better operational performance, with 80% showing positive influence on stock prices.

Business is increasingly evaluating the complex interplay between financial, human, social and environmental return.  We need to continue to push these conversations from the break room to the board room – pushing for commitments and action at the highest level.

Agenda 2030 provides a useful framework to help business evaluate the types of investments that are needed to promote prosperity across the globe. Health must remain front and center if we are to truly accelerate progress on any of the SDGs.

Health directly or indirectly underpins all 17 goals, and is critical to delivering other key outcomes, such as economic growth and education. Health and wellbeing is also one of the four thematic pillars within the AU roadmap.  And health is a key business issue, regardless of your industry sector.

Turning more specifically to Africa, there is much talk and coverage about the increasing business opportunities there. It’s the fastest growing continent with the most youthful population in the world — with 40% of the population under 15 years of age and another 20% between 15 and 24.

Harnessing this potential into a positive force for inclusive growth through investments in health, empowerment, education and employment is the greatest challenge of the next 15 years.

If successful, African nations and the business sector will be able to reap significant dividends from this demographic change. However, not if employees and consumers are unhealthy.

Large families with fertility rates of about 5.5 children per woman particularly in West and Central Africa, poor health, high risk behaviors, and lack of education and jobs are driving away this potential.

Good health remains essential to reducing youth vulnerability and extremism, improving workforce productivity and creating an environment for youth to realize their full potential.

Smart investments in crosscutting areas like nutrition, food security, sexual and reproductive health, and malaria will have an outsized impact on accelerating demographic transformation, and maximizing dividends.

Yet, across Africa, there are multiple barriers, which limit a young person’s access to information, high-quality health products and services as well as education and employment, particularly for young girls and women.

We are championing business action to support full and healthy lives for women, children and adolescents everywhere and putting youth first, all of which represent the future of our societies.

Investing in women and girls has a ripple effect. When just 10% more girls attend school, the average GDP increases by 3%. When barriers to work are reduced for women, productivity increases by 25%.

Clearly this demonstrates both a social and business benefit.  Business is the ultimate beneficiary of these interventions as they engender a more robust economic environment, provide a bigger pool for future employees and customers, and reduce systemic risk and volatility.

Corporate champions are already using their core business expertise and powerful voices to improve the lives of women and girls in Africa, demonstrating that tremendous progress that can be achieved when commitment is matched in equal parts by leadership and strategic thinking.

Big issues ranging from employability and entrepreneurship to universal health coverage, malnutrition and family planning cannot be tackled alone. Partnerships with government, partnerships with civil society, partnerships with communities and, yes, even partnerships with other businesses are required to drive sustainable, long-term impact.

That’s why, just last week at the United Nations General Assembly in New York GBCHealth announced two new partnerships to provide business with direct opportunities to collaborate to improve health.

First, the African Business Coalition for Health (ABCHealth) will be developed in partnership with the Aliko Dangote Foundation to support African business efforts to fight poverty and improve health in Africa. It will be a neutral platform to incubate partnerships, drive investments in health, spotlight African business leaders and their work on health and development. It will also provide a hub of data, insights and learnings shared within and from African markets to the global community. It will be an exchange for ideas, for knowledge and most importantly for collaboration.

Second, is a partnership with UNFPA, to encourage smart investments amongst African and global companies in the health, empowerment, education and employment of young people, focusing particularly, but not exclusively, on the health of young girls and mothers.

I use the term ‘investment’ in its broadest sense, looking at the broad range of resources available to companies, not just finance and I use the term co-investment as a call to joint action and shared results.

We need companies to bring the full breadth of their resources to bear on a variety of issues  – to support the growth and productivity of a new, healthy generation in Africa – and to co-invest through integrated planning, high-quality products and services, systems, networks, training, utilizing data and more.

Corporate programs can maximize their impact by aligning themselves with national strategies and channeling (financial, technical, in-kind, products & services, program) investments into accountable, scalable and cost-effective programs.  Innovative platforms can pool investments of small, medium and large companies, global and local, to grow the amount of capital flowing towards these programs.  Effective use of data can inspire political action, stimulate investment and drive significant outcomes and returns to shareholders, consumers, communities and countries.

Business should be seated at the table alongside governments and civil society to bring concrete ideas and business know-how to existing programs including the flagship SWEDD – Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend project – and to develop new opportunities to scale successful programs and fill gaps in expertise and funding. They can also take the lead in applying rigorous business measurement standards to their social programs helping to engender an ecosystem of accountability based on outcomes.

The true and shared meaning of Demographic Dividend for all partners must be the common belief that with the right investments and encouragement, African youth will take responsibility for shaping the future of the continent through smart, sustainable and innovative solutions.

Young people are the engines of economic growth, but only on the condition that institutions are strengthened, and that reforms and programs are in place to encourage smaller families, improve youth access to appropriate education and training, and create opportunities for them to earn a reasonable income. The private sector is an essential partner in our fight to put young people first.

The private sector is increasingly engaging in this important discussion. To quote our new partner, Mr. Aliko Dangote, the only way to move Africa forward is to think big, dream big and do big things together.  Together let us break down silos, work across borders and work across sectors with government and with each other.

As a call to action, we will be creating a private sector advisory group to help to champion this important work on the Demographic Dividend, raising the visibility of this agenda globally, and developing direct avenues for businesses to bring their expertise to bear on some of these challenges, rapidly moving these ideas from theory to action.

If we work together we can educate, empower and employ the next generation to ensure no one is left behind.

Thank you very much. I am honored to be a part of this forum and I look forward to learning from all of you over the course of the day.

Alyssa GovindanEvents: GBCH President Addresses African Leaders at Forum