In a much-anticipated keynote speech at Retail’s BIG Show, Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations, spoke to a packed room about the “Three Pillars to a Prosperous Society” and the role businesses need to play in fostering growth and opportunity in developing economies. It is the existence of these pillars, according to Annan, that creates the stability required to attract the level of capital sufficient to generate meaningful economic development.
Ultimately, Annan said, the problems of developing economies won’t be solved at the international level. The solutions will come from actions taken at the national and local levels with support and pressure from the business community (big and small) playing an important role. The increasingly global nature of business presents companies with the opportunity to play a bigger role in the development of these three pillars, according to Annan. Where the pillars are not yet in place, Annan says, businesses can and should take steps to help.
Annan pointed to a few ways businesses can do this. First, retailers need to integrate smaller-scale farmers and individual businessmen and women into their supply chains. This increases living standards and contributes to economic and social stability, a key factor in attracting capital investment. Second, companies that enter the developing world need to make a concerted effort to source their materials locally whenever possible. Firms need to do their research and resist the urge to import all their source material. Third, Annan suggested that retailers entering developing markets invest in their local partners when possible, either directly or through public-private partnerships, in order to give them the processes and technologies required to improve their products.
With the world population set to expand to 9 billion by 2050, millions of jobs will need to be created to support growth and to keep social unrest to a minimum. As Annan suggests, retail’s most important role could be helping to generate a good portion of these. With the right policies in place, retail will continue to play an integral role in the global economy.