Why Multilevel Collaboration is Key for Developmental Change: An Interview With Anders Gerdin



Meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires coordinated action by local civil society, the business community and international donor organizations. We talk to Anders Gerdin, to understand the perspective of the development agencies and policymakers involved in this effort.

Anders is Program Manager at the Department for International Organizations and Policy Support, at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). Here Anders explains why it is important to forge links between the global, regional and local levels to stimulate ground-level change in developing countries.

Can you give us a brief description of your work at Sida? 
I work at the Unit for Global Economy and Environment, which deals with programs that usually focus on normative aspects of development, such as influencing policy formulation at the global level within the donor community. At our department, we address questions of how best to coordinate our work, resources and policy at the global level to address vital development issues. Gender equality, for example, is an important issue for Sweden, and this is one area where we work to influence global policy and to engage stronger commitments from the donor community.
My work within the department falls specifically under the strategy for sustainable economic development. This covers a diverse range of programs, such as providing support to informal economies, rural women’s economic empowerment, taxes, financial stability and capacity-building programs for central banks, as well as various programs on fostering sustainable business, such as our project with GRI: Business Transparency for Sustainable Development.
You focus a lot on developing countries in your work at Sida. According to you, what is the approach we should take to help meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in these economies?
Developing countries are not a homogenous set of countries but consist of a diversity of countries with different levels of development, and different historical backgrounds in the economic, social, and cultural sense. I do not think meeting SDGs is a matter of choosing one or a few specific targets that can “easily” be met. Instead we should keep in mind what the desired outcome is and focus on that.

I also do not think that there are some targets that are more suitable for a certain category of countries. All targets are important, and depending on the context, we need to take whatever steps we can to meet the goal of a more sustainable world by 2030. This might mean that we need to take larger steps in certain areas. But it does not mean that we should not focus on areas where we can only make small steps. Whether it is countries, large companies, small companies, or individuals, we all need to work together on this, since all efforts count.

Based on your work experience, can you give some examples of areas that need to be addressed in these countries?
As an example, currently there is a tendency to discuss the business contribution to end poverty mainly through participation in development projects and philanthropic approaches. However, one fundamental problem encountered in developing countries is tax avoidance. Lack of education, health and social protection schemes are other areas that tend to preserve poverty, and these are clearly linked to the ability of countries to mobilize their own domestic resources. Lack of sufficiently skilled labor serves as a constraint for firms in many developing countries.

Given that all these areas are interrelated, if taxes were paid fully in developing countries, the impact on poverty is likely to be huge, more so than business participation in development projects. It can create a virtuous circle through increased domestic revenues, increased social expenditures, as well as other growth in supporting investments. This in turn will tend to lower costs for firms, increase productivity and expand markets as more people get access to decent jobs with living wages.

How does GRI’s work support Sida’s strategic mission of reducing poverty and improving lives?
It is necessary to integrate sustainability in development and growth strategies of developing countries. Business plays an essential role in this - it is particularly important to capture SMEs in this process. Given the size of the informal economy and how it affects a majority of the population in virtually any developing country, it is also important to find ways of making the informal economy more transparent and sustainable, to address poverty as well as human and labor rights.

As one of the most widely used sustainability reporting mechanisms, GRI provides a link between the global policy level, the business level, and the local level in developing countries. By linking these three domains through the use of sustainability data, GRI has high potential to act as a normative platform for dialogue on sustainability, development and poverty. In this way, it also creates an important link between development policy and its practical implementation.

In what ways do these links between the local level, business level and global policy level function to help achieve ground-level developmental change?
To contribute to a significant change, it is important to assure ownership of the problem. To do this, we need to understand the problem from the perspective of those who face it, and from the socioeconomic/cultural context in which the problem occurs. For this reason, the link between the private sector and civil society organizations at the local level is essential. It helps to formulate an effective response to the problem at country level.

However, there is also a need to use the knowledge gained from the local level to influence both the international and national policy levels. This, fact- and experience-based local knowledge forms the foundation of effective development cooperation. It helps to influence other international actors and donors, and assure coordinated approaches to dealing with these problems. This is vital because international policy also influences implementation on the ground, as is the case with the SDGs.
Through the Business Transparency for Sustainable Development program, GRI and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency are working towards improving corporate reporting in developing countries to help alleviate poverty. To find out more about this program and GRI's other governmental partners, visit our Strategic Partnerships page.

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KEYWORDS: Responsible Business & Employee Engagement, Philanthropy & Cause Initiatives, GRI, global reporting initiative, sustainability reporting, GRI Standards, sustainable development goals, SDGs, SIDA

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