Jenny Melo

Innove is a think and do tank that aims to trigger a paradigm shift in people and organizations in order to contribute to the sustainability of the human species on this planet. We contribute to sustainability by working on the following themes: Corporate Sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals, Inclusive Business, Corporate and Territorial Social Responsibility, Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

The Sustainable Development Goals and Inclusive Business: Considerations from the case of Colombia

Latin America and the Caribbean
11. Mar 2016

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) included in the Global Development Agenda are an important milestone for Colombia, for at least two reasons. The first is that Colombia had conceptualized and promoted the idea of the SDGs back in 2011, in the framework of conversations regarding Rio+20 and the post-2015 development agenda.

The second is that the SDGs are being considered as a key point of reference in defining public policy. In 2015, the High Level Inter-institutional Commission was created with the objective of seeking an effective way to address the SDGs through public policies; that same year, the National Development Plan was launched, which included 92 of the 169 targets from the SDGs. Along the same lines, a series of tools have been created and published online to help mayors and governors develop municipal- and departmental-level development plans that take the SDGs into account.

The SDGs are a very important aspect in the development of public policy. However, it is unclear how the importance of the SDGs will translate into a greater stimulus to inclusive businesses. Although the SDGs do not mention specific mechanisms for reaching the targets, and thus do not mention this type of business, for those of us who work in this field, it is clear that inclusive businesses can be concrete and effective private sector mechanisms to contribute to reaching the targets included in various goals. Within the first nine goals, their potential impact can be clearly seen for goals 1 (poverty), 2 (hunger and food security), 3 (health), 5 (women’s empowerment), 6 (water), 7 (energy), and 8 (sustained economic growth).

Inclusive business in Colombia’s National Development Plan

In the case of the Plan Nacional de Desarrollo 2014-2018 Todos por un nuevo país (National Development Plan 2014-2018: Everyone for a new country), the theme of inclusive business appears in a variety of ways.

Inclusive businesses are directly included as a strategy for territorial development in the Caribbean region and in the departments of Norte de Santander and Santander. The plan mentions that inclusive businesses will be promoted in those areas as a way to help generate income and improve the quality of life for poor and vulnerable populations; to this end, the government plans to promote the linkage of these populations to the business value chain as providers, distributors, retailers or employees.

In a wider sense, inclusive business is included in the objective of inclusive economic growth. The plan establishes that “the government will work together with the business sector and local governments to develop public strategies and public-private alliances that promote the generation of employment for poor and vulnerable populations, and the creation of new companies and lines of business that involve this population in their value chains, not only as employees and providers, but also as consumers.”

Inclusive business also appears indirectly under the framework of green business, which is incorporated into the framework of a green growth strategy. This part of the plan discusses fostering enterprises to market Amazonian fruit products; although it does not explicitly mention inclusive businesses, given the characteristics of the target population it is clear that the logic of these businesses will be needed.

It is interesting and promising that inclusive business appears in the Development Plan, despite the fact that it does not seem to address the full potential of this type of business. It is important for these businesses to be mentioned as the path by which to ensure that the private sector plays a role in development issues. However, it is necessary to continue working so that in addition to being seen as vehicles for productive inclusion, there is a recognition of their potential to foment new scenarios of access to healthcare, energy and water services and promote the economic empowerment of women, among other possibilities.

What is still missing?

Although the theme has been significantly developed in Colombia, there is still a latent lack of coordination among the actors that stimulate and promote inclusive businesses. There are some agencies, but they are focused on large businesses in certain regions. At Innove, in our efforts to promote this theme, we have observed a paradox in the sector: extensive practical knowledge has been developed of inclusive businesses, but there does not appear to be a community of practice that would make it possible to build on the combined experience of everyone working in this sector. Thus, although there is a great deal of preexisting experience, there is insufficient local knowledge, which results in a continued strong tendency to seek out the council of international experts.

Organizing, analysing and learning from the experience obtained through the implementation of inclusive businesses in Colombia is an urgent task. This is the only way to take advantage of the current landscape, which recognizes the importance of the SDGs and the role of the business sector in reaching them, and needs to see inclusive business as a concrete and efficient vehicle for driving this contribution.

At Innove we aim to promote a community of practice for inclusive business in Colombia and Latin America. If you would like to learn more, please write to: