UNDP pushes high-gear with Syria’s private sector through the compact

By Muhammad Agha, Project Director, UN Global Compact Syria

The past ten years provided a unique opportunity for the private sector (PS) to engage in high level dialogue with governments from around the world and identify promising trends and opportunities for business community contribution to the MDGs. The UN Global Compact helped operationalize the application of this agenda.

PS leaders launched corporate practices, exemplary collective action and innovative business models for contributing to development in the areas of poverty and hunger, maternal and child health and HIV/AIDS, access to education through innovative ICT, innovations for financial inclusion, empowering women and achieving equality; and green economy.

Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon best put it saying: “The common thread runs through almost all companies’ experiences in bringing the Compact’s ten principles to life: expanding markets and advancing the economic and social well-being of people and societies can be two sides of the same coin.”

Today, Syria stands as the Compact’s fastest growing Network (GCLN) in the Middle East, with 43 members and $4 million in UNDP lead PS partnerships. This fact speaks volumes about what the initiative can do in a country, no matter what the economies of scale. In parallel, it tells how mature the PS can be when engaging in global development.

UNDP Syria supports reform and development efforts of the Syrian Government, aiming to achieve the MDGs and sustaining economic growth, while improving human development and reducing poverty. The Country Office programme is anchored around several pillars, including governance reforms, poverty reduction and social development, environmental sustainability, and crisis prevention. Partnership with the PS and civil society organizations is a cross-cutting effort for the Country Office.

The Compact is lead by UNDP in Syria since 2008. A Project that falls within the larger strategy which provides a framework for UNDP’s PS interventions within the broader context of the CPAP, and PSD guidelines for collaboration with the PS. This effort is culminated with the creation of a National Advisory Council of 23 professionals aiming to increase the impact, scale, and sustainability of initiatives that help small enterprises (SEs) grow, create jobs and reduce poverty.

The joint efforts resulted in government buy-in proven by from zero in 2008 to full funding in 2010. Three assessment studies were conducted to examine the PS impact on human conditions, labour rights, the environment and corruption. The said three studies opened a long awaited channel of dialogue between the policy makers and the PS. The Compact also opened a new platform for exposure and display of Syria’s PS good practices and their potential role in local global socio-economic development and peace. This was done through sensitization workshops around the country and strong international presence in annual forums and the sponsorship of the recent Leaders Summit.

On the grass-root level, this collaboration is directly benefiting job conditions, performance and productivity of almost 30,000 workers within the Syria GC Network. With proper dissemination of the 10 Principles of the Compact, the impact is channeled to business partners, the general society and ultimately policy makers.

In this context UNDP Syria plans its PS development approach on Inclusive Markets Development. The overall aim is to ensure that markets work better for the poor as entrepreneurs, wage employees and consumers.

In order to support these interventions, steps are being taken to tailor existing PS programmes more closely with strategy objectives; all drafted under the umbrella of Syrian national priorities.

Just as the Global Compact has left its mark on business in Syria, business around the world has left its hallmark on the UN. UN agencies, funds and programmes are benefiting from partnerships with companies of all sizes that advocate the MDG’s or bring expertise, resources and capacities to bear in support of the national Five Year Plan.

One of the primary challenges ahead is to bring responsible business to true scale.