Will the private sector be the driver of green transition?

Green transition used to be contested but is now a mainstream concern and economic incentives, public policies, technologies, and societal norms and values are shifting. With its production capabilities, technologies and investment capital, the private sector is indispensable in any large-scale economic transformation, and multinational companies especially so.

Historically, the industrial market economy and private corporations have not been net positive contributors to planetary sustainability. In their global pursuit of efficiencies and arbitrage advantages, multinational companies have traditionally been widely perceived as culprits in the sustainability agenda, effecting inequalities, environmental degradation, and supply and specialization vulnerabilities, while progressive momentum has been ascribed to governments, NGOs, youth, and social movements.

However, MNC activities, mandates and strategies have progressively widened over recent decades, where CSR, codes of conduct, public-private partnerships and corporate political activity have woven MNC activities and concerns deeper into the broader societal fabric. Are we observing a turning point in the institutional drivers of sustainability transition where economic markets and private enterprises shift from mainly manifesting constraints and negative externalities to potentially becoming a self-reinforcing driver of reformation of the global economic architecture? Are private companies and economic markets becoming major progressive drivers of green transition, and if so how and with which consequences? Is the harnessing of the private sector and economic markets a precondition for successful sustainability transition?

The lecture is hosted by the Copenhagen Business School. 

When: 12th October 2023 at 13:30 CET / 11:30 GMT 

Where:  Copenhagen Business School

You can join the lecture by:

  • coming to the event 
  • joining the event online on Zoom – register here
  • following livestreaming from the event at kapuscinskilectures.eu
  • asking your questions to Jeffrey Sachs via Twitter using #KAPTalks hashtag

Natural resource extraction after COVID: social justice challenge

Global Witness’s annual reports on the killings of environmental defenders are but one, awful, indication of the social injustices that can accompany the extraction of natural resources from the subsoil and from forests. The struggle for social justice in these environments has become yet more difficult under COVID, all the more so given the impacts of COVID on indigenous populations in many of these environments. These challenges seem likely to intensify downstream of COVID in the face of economic reactivation policies, closing civic space, the search for energy transition minerals, and a politics of urgency that risks undermining a politics of social justice.

In this talk, Anthony Bebbington explored some of these trends and the challenges they present to civil society and to philanthropies that support civil society. He referred especially to the experience of the Ford Foundation, while also making a broader argument.

Reimagining ways to achieve SDGs – innovations in finance and digitalisation

Royston Braganza is a CEO of Grameen Capital which aims to provide debt financing to social enterprises across sectors such as affordable education and skill development, affordable healthcare, clean energy & innovation, agriculture, financialinclusion and livelihoods. Having a background in banking being in his earlier assignment a head of HSBC’s SME Business and Senior Vice President with HSBC, Royston Braganza was instrumental in setting up and heading HSBC’s Microfinance & Priority Sector business inIndia. Prior to that, he worked in Citibank India for over 8 years in various assignments across both the Consumer Bank andthe Corporate Bank.

In his talk titled Reimagining Ways To Achieve SDGs Innovations In Finance And Digitalisation, Royston Braganza pondered on how to respond to crises, how to make our life better, greener, cleaner and more inclusive. Keeping in mind that people are all interconnected in today’s world, he made it elear to reimagine the innovation and moving forward by focusing on two areas, finance and digitalisation. Considering the current health crisis which tums into an economic crisis and theninto a humanitarian crisis, it affects every part of life, state-wise and individual-wise. The urge to reimagine capital, whichshould be a capital with conscience. Covid-19 has distracted the norrnality but it is also an opportunity to build new systemsbłock by błock. A crisis urges to rethink values and actions and can cause a boost to build greener and inclusive life, as it has been said by the speaker: „In terms of digitalisation, it changes everything and helps to improve life. At the moment, we use mobile phones for contact tracing, whether in India, Nairobi or Riviera, the situation is the same. We use newtechnologies – solar power in Africa; AI, machine learning.

They say that data is the new oil. It’s actually better than oil because you can use data several times, and creatively. We nowneed to leam how to use it for making life better, and we should focus on serving every single person, so nobody is leftbehind.”

The speakers used an example of Grameen Foundation that in 2007 acknowledged that 400M people in India have to live with 2$/day and set a goal to bring microfinancing to 400M people via helping microfinancing companies to raise capital.Eventually and gradually microfinance NGOs tumed into mainstream banks and in 2008, through these NGO tumed into banks, Grameen had emphasised the impact on 52M clients, affecting the lives of about 300M people counting in the familymembers. Microfinancing has been a positive story, showing that one can do good and do well at the same time. lt is possible to make profit by facilitating affordable healthcare, education or housing to people who very much need it. This sentiment has been echoed in every aspect of life, including in churches and company boards. Now impact has become mainstream and fast­ growing, supporting the achievement of SDGs. Thanks to Grameen Foundation, 200M accounts were opened in a very short period in India, which was supported by the fact that 1B people got an ID, and that mobile technologycan be used. Nowadays, it is obvious that companies invest in their employees, are customer centric, reimagining the way todo business.

Royston Braganza also focused on ways to attract mainstream capital to combat the consequences of Covid-19 in his lecture, which tums to be the most relevant issue and barrier to achieve SDGs. Again, using an example of Grameen Foundation that has shown that taking a bigger risk can pay off – the foundation created an impact fund and distributed it in smaller shares of it to smaller distributors (at the moment it is a Covid-19 impact bond, which supports women artisans who get a monthly stipend and a training, which will help them to overcome the difficulties created by the pandemie). The existing models, Royston mentioned, are transferrable to other SDGs, for example to the climate: when big companies like Shell or Nesquik become funders of the bond, it should be distributed to communities through smaller NGOs and entities to fund activities and create impact at grass root level. The existing models can be scaled by awareness raising, and by creating one’s own networks.

Concluding the lecture, Royston Braganza mentioned that Grameen Foundation imagines financing the sustainable developmentgoals 1) through technology, 2) by measurement (for example, avoid green washing and rely on facts), 3) by results-basedapproach – by paying not for building a hospital but paying for a health outcome, 4) using a total ecosystem approach, i.e. taking into account that everyone is connected, and therefore we need to work together, 5) by the principle of universal inclusion.
The event was moderated by Dr Mihkel Solvak.

Vision for vision: translating ideas into practice

The Kapuscinski talk was given by eye surgeon and social entrepreneur, Dr. Andrew Bastawrous. He shared his journey from surgeon to public health practitioner, then founder of the social enterprise Peek Vision which has a mission to bring vision and eye health to everyone.

The event was moderated by Mario Calderini, Professor at Politecnico di Milano School of Management, Director of Tiresia, Research Centre for Impact Finance and Innovation, and current member of the Italian government’s Task Force on Social Impact Investment.

The event started with welcome messages by the moderator prof. Mario Calderini, by Emilio Paolucci (director of the ASP), Gabriella Fesus (EC, DG Development and International Cooperation) and Jan Szczycinski (UNDP). After welcomes, two pre-recorded videos by Andrew Bastawrous were played. In these videos, he explained that his motivations for first becoming an eye-doctor and then establishing Peek Vision, was a sense of injustice for the many people in poor countries who are blind or have poor vision due to diseases that we already know how to cure or prevent.

Children with poor sight may look lazy and appear as though they do not pay attention at school. They grow up believing all these things while the reality is that the world they see is out of clarity. Andrew revealed that he himself grew up with very short eyesight and received his first pair of glasses when he was about 12. This changed his world and from this experience he understood that clear vision corresponds to many opportunities, such as education and ability to socialize.

In 2012 he moved with his family to Kenya, where, similar to other developing countries, most of the resources for eye care were in the big towns and cities, while most patients who needed them lived in rural areas. An option would have been to take the eye care equipment to communities. However, such equipment were sensitive, heavy, costly and needed about 15 people to be moved to the communities. Communities also suffered scarcity of electricity, therefore, that option had poor feasibility.

Andrew’s entrepreneurial idea was to recreate the tests done in the clinic on a smartphone and to simplify the process so that a rather complex test could be delivered anywhere to anyone, with the results shared with specialists who then decide whether to treat the patient or not.

This novel approach was initially tested at schools, where teachers were trained to do vision testing on children to pre-identify those with low vision. For every child identified as having a vision problem, a text message was sent to parents and to head teachers with instructions on what to do next. This approach allowed capillary screening without increasing the load on already overburdened hospitals and nurses.

The system was initially tested on 21,000 children who were screened by only 25 teachers in 9 days. 900 of them were found to be visually impaired. The program was then scaled up to cover the whole county. 160,000 more children were screened and treated if they had a problem. Today, the program is being extended to other parts of Kenya and to countries such as Botswana and India.

As he concluded the lecture, Andrew stressed that an important part of the program implementation was understanding why some patients who needed treatment exited the program without being treated. Thankfully, this information could be got through data collection and smartphone technology and it helped program planners and implementers make appropriate decisions locally.

European Union statecraft for sustainable development

Jeffrey D. Sachs, University Professor at Columbia University and Director of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, focused on the role of the European Union in the process of achieving the SDGs both in a European and global context at this Kapuscinski lecture.

He argued that sustainable development requires a new kind of statecraft, and the new European Commission has the opportunity to put the EU in the global lead of this effort: “Unless we have a strong Europe and a Europe that understands that when American leadership has collapsed, it is necessary for European leaders to step forward, we won’t be making it”, he told an audience at the Hertie School.

According to the annual Sustainable Development Report, which estimates each country’s capacity to achieve the SDGs, the globally top-ranked countries are European. “Without question, the quality of life in Europe is the highest quality of life on the planet. It’s also the part of the world that comes closest to achieving the ethos of sustainable development”. Sachs argued that sustainable development at its core means economic prosperity, social inclusion, environmental sustainability and the rule of law. Despite Europe’s practice of importing goods from polluting countries, Sachs acknowledged its intent to comply with the standards of environmental sustainability, but nonetheless called for further SDG alignment among EU member states.

The new EU Commission has the opportunity to become a global leader of the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement. This comes with the question of how Europe can lead other countries to achieve the SDGs and how Europe affects other countries through global supply chains and other spill-overs. Sachs’ recommendations for the new European Commission under the leadership of Ursula von der Leyen included introducing EU-wide strategies to target the “seventeen-dimensional problem” of achieving the SDGs. He emphasized the need for technology-driven transformations for decarbonized means of transportation in air, sea and on land and energy systems. “Europe has a big job to do because where is the goal? The goal is zero by 2050!” This technology puzzle could only be solved by significant investments in research and development, leading to a climate-neutral and circular economy. Sachs highlighted the inherent need for a new investment agenda to cope with the lack of innovation in some regions. Therefore, the EU needs a budget increase with more resources spent on directed research and development, increasing innovation and thereby the quality of life.

The issues need to be addressed at every level of government, from local to global and require constructive problem-solving. The complexity and timeframe of the issues Sachs outlined require intensive analysis and research, as well as a multidimensional approach that includes both the public and private sectors. Furthermore, Sachs suggested that a Eurostat framework for SDG measurements and indicators should be introduced as a means to monitor the implementation of policies by governments and the alignment of businesses with the SDGs.

He recommended a shift in the European Union’s diplomacy agenda, and challenged Europe to take the lead in the multilateral environment and climate change agreements: “Europe’s leadership is vital to make the world system work”. With respect to Europe’s position as the largest donor in the world, Sachs argues that it needs to scale up its strategy and focus on attaining the geopolitical heft that comes from raising resources for development. Furthermore, he suggested partnerships with key bilateral forums: “Europe’s bilateral relations with other regions will come to be the defining diplomacy”. The European Union should partner with the African Union to endow every African child with the opportunity for secondary education. He urged Europe to commit to a sustainable Eurasian economy and to further cooperate with MERCOSUR.

In his concluding remarks, Sachs urged Europe to “build a rule-based, multilateral system under the UN Charter with the common aim of sustainable development”, by engaging in strong partnerships and the promotion of the principle of having zero emissions by 2050.

Beyond crowdfunding: power of crowd in development

Role of civil society in global governance

The experience we’ve had fighting corruption with the help of the CSO Transparency International has shown me the impact organised civil society can have on better global governance, a complex challenge which none of the traditional actors of governance can solve alone.

To put it very briefly, Transparency International has built its success on:

  1. mobilising civil society in more the 100 countries for the diagnosis of their corruption problems design of reforms and their implementation  in their own societies,
  2. using a holistic approach, and
  3. in cooperation with other actors of governance – often an antagonistic coalition of very different actors in the public, private and civil society sector.

A close cooperation with the media for building a global consensus about the catastrophic impact of corruption – including our regular Corruption Perception Index – and with research and academia, led to a situation where today practically every significant voice castigates corruption. 

Growing support of coalition of the three actors of governance, the State as prime actor, the Commercial Sector and Civil Society Organizations have to complement each other in order to establish together better governance.

A free and vigilant civil society is essential if we are to tackle poverty and the injustice of globalization, and to dispel the climate of despair and alienation that serves as a breeding ground for conflict, war and terrorism.

Only an effective coalition of state, business and civil society can bring transparency and accountability to global governance, not only to fight corruption, but other ills of globalization (injustice and inequity, poverty, violence, conflict, environmental destruction and climate change). There is hope for a better, more just world for everybody.

Effective poverty reduction beyond MDGs

As the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) approaches, it is important to evaluate and plan for the future vision. Although the MDGs have been generally successful and some goals have been met, such as halving extreme poverty, there are still many lessons to be learned. Economic development, decent work and job opportunities, inequality and sustainable development will be high on the post-2015 development agenda. Organized jointly by the European Commission (EC), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), and in partnership with Devex and the Global Association Masters in Development Practice, José Antonio Ocampo, Professor and Director of Economic and Political Development Concentration at Columbia SIPA, and Esther Duflo, Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at MIT, discussed effective policies in poverty reduction beyond the Millennium Development Goals, as part of the Kapuscinski Development Lecture Series. 

John Coatsworth, provost of Columbia Universityopened the lecture and noted this was the first to be held outside of Europe.

Andris Piebalgs, European Commission, stated that the goal of Kapuscinski development lectures series is to discuss the post-2015 MDGs and to shape the development debate in the years to come. The European Union is committed to poverty eradication and provides an example for social and economic development that allows dignity for citizens. It is crucial that no one suffers from a lack of access to housing, water, education and health, but also to jobs, justice, institutional access and dignity. Mr. Piebalgs indicated that the EU could provide policy coherence for the post-2015 MDG discussion. He added that development “used to be solely based on how much money was being spent on aid, but now we are shifting to a focus on outcomes and outputs and the success of development.”

Helen Clark, UNDP, thanked the European Commission for their strong partnership around the world and the work with EU accession members and future members. For the post-2015 MDGs, “over a million respondents took part in the World Survey and Global Debate, showing an appetite and interest in engaging in the debate.” Many voices were heard, including the young, indigenous people, women, people with disabilities, displaced persons, and LBGT. People want their governments to be honest and responsible and their leaders to be more ambitious in current topics such health and education. They want to expand to new areas such as addressing increasing urbanization, energy, inequality, marginalization, decent work, and sustainable development that does not push growth at any price if destructive.

Poverty Eradication in Post-2015 Development Agenda

In his speech, Professor Ocampo addressed post-2015 macro issues, highlighting that the current debate has been highly participatory by including not only states, but also civil society, the private sector, foundations and academia. He stated that the MDGs have been successful because they are concise, human-oriented, visible, useful for advocacy and design of development strategies, backed by significant institutions and measurable, which represents a huge improvement in the monitoring of UN goals from the past. On the other hand, the major criticisms of the MDGs have been the high centralization of defining goals and targets viewed as donor-centric. There was a lack of participation by member states and no economic issues were addressed, such as productive and decent employment. The goals also included incomplete targets in many areas, for instance gender and environment and many were irrelevant to middle-income countries.

The vision of the post-2015 MDGs has been headed by a UN Task Force and has been based on the fundamental principles of respect for human rights and equality. A high level panel summed up the ambition, “our vision and responsibility are to end extreme poverty in all its forms in the context of sustainable development.” Professor Ocampo pointed out that extreme poverty is not the only issue at the center, but also inequality between and within nations. He called for adopting a universal agenda, applicable to both developing and developed countries. As a result, developed countries need to address their own domestic challenges related to unemployment and inequality and also assist developing countries. The agenda also needs to leave “ample space for national policy design as it’s important to build ownership of strategies”. Goals should be few, practical and measurable.

Professor Ocampo sees the main issues on the table as figuring out what GDP means and implies, including future economic development, addressing inequality, increasing social services and changing the rules for global finance and trade. “Domestic inequality, primarily income inequality, is the most important issue in high and middle-income countries, and 60% of the world in the beginning of the 21st century continue to live in nations where income inequality is increasing.” He views inclusive development as having four ingredients: productive employment, universal social services, redesigned care economy and redistributive fiscal policies.

While peace and good domestic governance are difficult to measure, they are a core element of well-being. The broader UN agenda has linked peace and security to sustainable development; but because there are no specific goals, a framework is needed in order to improve peace and good governance.

Making Poverty Reduction More Effective

Esther Duflo, MIT, gave a presentation on making poverty reduction effective and defining the new role of international assistance. She began her talk by breaking down the two perspectives on foreign aid, the optimist and the pessimist. While many think aid can eradicate poverty, others believe aid is useless or worse. Professor Duflo stressed that broad sweeping statements cannot apply from country to country and we need a more modest objective, because eliminating poverty is a very broad goal. Since poverty is not going to go away with one approach, she suggested “experimentation and imagination.” Currently, policy makers lack imagination and are prisoners of ambition, as they promise too much and want to solve the problem all at once. This is not only a problem of aid, developing country’s governments often have the same mindset and challenges.

Professor Duflo stated that aid has traditionally filled a gap in financing, such as building bridges, or other infrastructure projects. But she pointed out that money is fungible and will reduce return to further public and private domains. She predicts, “Aid will eventually become irrelevant” unless a venture capital approach is implemented. Capital could finance investment in new technologies and new approaches to development. She further outlined 3 stages for this: basic research, making products market ready, and scaling-up and diffusion. Such capital is lacking in the development sector, even if there is potential market. The Acumen Fund and the Omidyar Foundation demonstrate how this can work. Ideas in development have huge social value, but many might not have a market yet. Therefore, markets need to be developed and linked to social programs and redistribution.

Professor Duflo urged the audience to stop to thinking of aid as providing things and technical knowledge and to get away from the mindset of “you don’t know, we know.” To illustrate this point, she provided results of her studies in improving educational quality in India. In many countries, including India, learning levels in schools have actually reduced because current MDGs only target enrollment and equality between genders. By focusing on the children lagging behind, 

low-paid employee came to schools and provided weekly remedial classes.  Even though the evaluation showed large increase in test scores and evolved to become Read India, attendance and school commitment to the program still lagged. Through a series of experiments in different states, 

Professor Duflo and her team finally found a system that works with the government. She added, “the system does not come out of anyone’s hat, it needed time and money and experimentation.”

Her message was that aid must become a venture capital model for development innovation so it does not become obsolete. It is important to facilitate research, promote replication and scaling up, and foster a culture of learning in governments to support their own growth.At the end, Professor Duflo stated that “Agencies are not ready to accept failure and risk yet, but the mindset will need to shift. I’m not sure if can be done, but it is worth trying and necessary to be optimistic. An excellent start will be if even a small amount of money can be set aside for experimentation and see the results. There is movement in this area. USAID, for example, has an innovation fund…there is now the Global Idea, which the UK and Sweden have supported, to expand innovation. It is just a matter of pushing it along.”

Social business reducing poverty in Africa

Effective pursuing of sustainable development globally requires both political high-level agreements and practical implementation on the ground. Nick Moon takes care of the latter. As a co-founder of the KickStart International initiative, he promotes simple, cost-effective tools and solutions which increase agricultural productivity in Africa. Moon proves that social economy can bring benefits and effectively lift people out of extreme poverty through triggering their entrepreneurship rather than giving aid.


KickStart is an award-winning non-profit social enterprise, listed by Forbes Magazine as one of the world’s Top 30 Social Enterprises. KickStart has to date enabled over 135,000 “base of the pyramid” entrepreneurs to invest in and build successful rural family enterprises, taking over 670,000 people out of poverty, providing an additional 210,000 on-farm jobs, and generating $130 million annually in net profits and new household incomes.