Video Interview – Winnie Byanyima: ‘Excited but skeptical’ on private sector’s role in development

winnie b

I watched a great interview today from Devex (Raj Kumar) with Winnie Byanyima (Executive Director of Oxfam International).  The video discusses how the private sector can fit into the current development framework, how things have changed, and what might happen in the future.  They also talk about how companies may interact with the public, NGOs and governments in their various roles.  The general opinion of Oxfam seems to be that they are excited to work with companies in new ways, but are skeptical of doing so in a world without international regulations for businesses.

Some issues that are discussed include:

  • How the development sectors (including NGOs) would really like more money from private companies for funding
    • Firms should pay their fair share of taxes
    • But public money should also go to good private investment
  • Companies are primarily accountable to shareholders (and accountability to the public- especially the poor – is negligible)
  • Increased government regulations on businesses worldwide is necessary in order to create certain standards for the treatment of people and the environment (governments must be strong and capable)
  • Instead of charity, what is most important is that companies are responsible in their practices and supply chains around the world (look at Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign)
    • Seeing new leaders in business that are showing you can protect the environment and serve a social good while making a profit
  • More of an idea of “collaboration” with NGOs and companies (development paradigm is shifting)
    • Majority of the poor are now in middle-income countries (inequality is more of an issue – poverty in growth areas, making growth inclusive) as opposed to poor people in poor countries which need money from rich countries
    • Calling on the middle-class in developing countries to hold their governments accountable
  • Less traditional development assistance available from countries with failing economies (but there are new ways to raise resources)
    • Stop illicit flow of resources from developing countries
    • Stop tax avoidance (cut down on tax havens)
    • Starting a financial transaction tax
    • Carbon taxes could raise a lot of money

Final Thoughts:  I think she raises a lot of good issues that need to be addressed in the future.  Even if some companies have good intentions, the impact may be small if there are no widespread government regulations.  It is important for large bodies (such as the UN or World Bank) to get involved so that the private sector cannot simply avoid laws by changing the locations of factories or headquarters.  Corporations should be held accountable to a much broader audience than just their shareholders, and I think that if such regulations happen, it will be better off for everyone in the long run.

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About Amanda

Hi, I’m Amanda! Originally from Ottawa, Canada, I am currently living with my partner (Steve) in Sucre, Bolivia for the next year. I work in the unique space between industrial design and international development – but what does that even mean? I’m passionate about working WITH marginalized communities in a way that utilizes design to improve the lives of different types of people around the world. I have worked, studied, traveled, and researched on every continent (except Antarctica), and most recently I lived in Ghana, Bangladesh and Nepal. I love exploring new cultures and learning more about myself along the way.
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