WE live in a complex world. Like many of the problems on our doorstep in the UK, those that exist globally require sophisticated solutions.
Whether it is providing access to education, healthcare or food, or getting young people into work – involving people from a broad range of organisations can create lasting change. Across the world the business sector is the main driver for much of that change – often a force for good but sometimes less so. In the last 20 years, 660 million people have escaped poverty. But one billion still live well below the poverty line.
As a non-governmental organisation, we campaign for social justice and demand change from companies and institutions whose practices are contributing to social hardship. Yet often this is just part of a wider plan that involves everything from investing in small enterprise, providing credit, or developing cooperatives.
Throughout Oxfam's history we have always recognised our limitations: we cannot hope to solve the many complex global issues on our own. One way of bringing about change is through partnership.
Business and NGO partnerships have evolved dramatically over the last decade and what might at first have seemed unlikely alliances have been successful. They go well beyond the charitable donations you would expect. Today alliances are built on core business, on supply chains, on logistics and even joint efforts to improve government policies. These initiatives can be as eye-opening for the business as for the charity.
Wherever possible in our engagement with big business we want to inspire them to rethink. Whether it is by encouraging multinationals to pay a living wage to their employees or to adopt equitable policies on acquiring land – we can be a critical friend to businesses.
Our Behind the Brands campaign operates at the sharper end of our engagement with business, challenging them to make the food system fairer. Both publicly and privately, we are calling on the food and beverage industry to change. Many of these companies, who are household names, buy their ingredients from communities that struggle daily to access to food. We have produced a scorecard to rank the world's 10 largest food and beverage companies, assessing their policies and commitments on how they manage their supply chains.
Alongside the campaigning, Oxfam continues to partner with a variety of companies in a range of sectors. Oxfam has found that everyone gets more from partnerships, if it's clear from the beginning that the commitment from the business is not just to give cash but to engage with the issue. Often, the most critical impact business can have is to look at how it does business and make positive adjustments at the heart of operations.
Business can also help charities tackle key challenges. The sector has many assets; their human resources, their hardware, access to their markets and infrastructure: all these things can make partnerships more productive for all parties, and can mean that firms are able to measure their impact as well as just their contribution. Charities and business need to evaluate a multiplicity of ways they can partner for mutually beneficial outcomes.
Whether it is in small steps or by strategic changes it's clear that corporate social responsibility can reap rewards for firms which take it seriously.
And the billion people living in poverty now? Quite possibly, they are your customers of the future.