Luciana Aguiar
Luciana Aguiar is the Head of UNDP Business Call to Action. Ms Aguiar holds a PhD degree from Cornell University. She has acted as a visiting professor at São Paulo University, FGV/EASP and Fundação Dom Cabral. Before joining BCtA, she was the Private Sector in Development and Innovation Specialist for the United Nations Development Program in Brazil where she has developed innovative solutions on inclusive business, finance for development and private social investment. Social Entrepreneur and founding partner of a Benefit company. For 15 years, Ms. Aguiar has been developing strategies to serve the people living at base of the socio-economic pyramid for institutions such as IDB, CGAP (World Bank) and national and international foundations. Together with corporations, she worked on knowledge management, impact assessment and innovation projects in the areas of financial inclusion, education, health, technology, mass consumer goods, retail and communication.

Driving impact in multistakeholder coalitions

Interview by Alexandra Harris with Luciana de Aguiar, Head of UNDP Business Call to Action
19. May 2021

Many high-level multi-stakeholder coalitions and platforms have recently arisen. As one of the most established platforms supporting inclusive business, have you noticed a change in ambition among your members?

While BCtA began in 2008 with a group of mostly multinational companies who committed to implementing inclusive business activities in a few specific areas across their global operations, BCtA has witnessed its membership expand over the last decade-plus to include primarily impact-driven enterprises. This means companies that have been created with the specific intent to scale profitably while empowering low-income people. We see this shift in intentionality and focus on impact taking place across all different company sizes, sectors and regions of operations. This transformation is in line with a growing awareness and ambition among business leaders related to their role in tackling the great challenges of our time. For example, BCtA member ClickMedix quickly deployed its telehealth solution to rise to the global health challenge of Covid-19 while BCtA member aWhere leveraged its weather network of virtual weather stations to monitor and predict food insecurity driven by locust swarms, climate change and Covid-19 in East Africa.

locust swarm
aWhere monitored food insecurity driven by locust swarms, climate change and Covid-19 in East Africa. Image by Bishnu Sarangi on Pixabay

Do you think levels of ambition are rising in terms of sustainability commitments from major multinational companies? If so, why now?

Absolutely. In addition to the growing number and demand of activist investors and other stakeholders calling on multinationals to exercise their extensive reach and resources as a force for good, businesses have also realized that they cannot maximize profit without sharing value with society. From human rights, gender equality and the environment to the SDGs more explicitly, BCtA and its members have been at the forefront of a widening sustainability agenda since BCtA’s inception. With the Covid crisis the companies are even more focused on delivering a sense of purpose across a wide range of SDG priorities. BCtA member company Mastercard, for example, recently tied executive pay to ESG indicators. Such actions are a clear signal from multinationals that sustainability doesn’t just look good and isn’t just a nice-to-have but is fully embedded in the everyday business and leadership of the company.

BCtA tracks progress toward the Global Goals by sector and region. Have you seen more progress in certain sectors or regions? Why do you think this is the case?

While there are excellent examples of innovative inclusive business across many sectors and regions, one sector that stands out in terms of innovation and sheer volume of solutions is agriculture. Agriculture employs billions of people around the world. At the same time, it is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss. Considering the sweeping social, environmental and economic costs of not improving the global agricultural system, the proliferation of business solutions that support and empower smallholder farmers and promote climate-smart agriculture practices is understandable—and most welcome.

palm oil plantation in Indonesia
Agriculture employs billions of people, but is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss. Image by Nazarizal Mohammad on Unsplash

How do large international companies provide opportunities for all stakeholders by pushing boundaries? How can they provide opportunities for smaller inclusive businesses operating along the value chain, for example with smallholder farmers?

The scale and influence of large international companies afford them the opportunity and responsibility to drive meaningful, sustainable change. This can take the form of expanding opportunities for stakeholders to meaningfully participate in the supply chain, adequate resource allocation for stakeholders to uphold sustainable standards throughout the supply chain, and a commitment to capacity building for both stakeholders and the wider communities within which these businesses operate.

As the world faces myriad interconnected environmental challenges, for example, corporations recognize environmental stewardship and innovation as critical aspects of their business mandate. BCtA member SAP provides a good example of such innovative stewardship. With SAP Rural Sourcing Management, the company is providing agribusiness companies with supply chain management software that connects smallholder farmers to transparent agricultural value chains while ensuring compliance with agricultural regulations.

BCtA has a strong focus on helping IBs manage and measure their impact. How important is measuring impact to ensuring that new commitments are upheld, thereby mitigating “greenwashing”?

Impact measurement and management (IMM) at its core is a process by which inclusive businesses can understand how their low-income stakeholders are affected by their business activities. As such, BCtA’s IMM programmes are designed to assist member companies in collecting data from their stakeholders that in turn generate actionable insights on what needs to be adjusted or improved, both in terms of operations and strategy, to deliver on their intended outcomes. This approach has led to the adoption of IMM as a managerial tool that drives business value by helping IBs design better products and services, engage stakeholders meaningfully, gather feedback from customers, identify new market opportunities, assess risks and build brand value. The integration of SDG-aligned indicators and data collection helps businesses push boundaries, revise practices, identify new opportunities in creating positive social and environmental impact in their business practices. IMM mitigates the risk of SDG-washing or green-washing by fostering a culture of ongoing assessment of business commitment vis-à-vis impact.

measuring tapes
Companies need to measure their impact. Image by patricia serna on Unsplash

In sum, what particular value do you think platforms and new coalitions add in reimagining sustainable business?

Platforms and coalitions provide a space for learning, networking, testing new ideas, sharing experience and shaping new perspectives on a particular topic. While numerous platforms and coalitions have sprouted in the last years, each one holds potential to add value in their own unique way. We know collaboration is critical to achieving the SDGs. The proliferation of coalitions and platforms takes collaboration even further by affording opportunities for cross-pollination across platform participants and multiplying the reach of ideas and learnings and solutions across networks.