At the conclusion of the second World Bank Group Development Finance Forum, which brought together a select group of development experts, private sector players and thought leaders for working sessions in Dublin, it is clear the global development space is entering a period of profound change. Creating a pathway to prosperity and self-reliance for billions of people living in so-called ‘fragile states’ and developing countries requires a move from billions in development finance to trillions in combined capital stemming from all available sources. No sector has the balance sheet and long range survival instincts to do this like the private sector, which in many cases has remained — to its own peril — on the sidelines of potentially rewarding market opportunities at the base of the pyramid. Nothing instills hope and lifts more people out of poverty and into the middle class than private enterprise governed by market forces. Mobilizing stakeholders from across sectors requires pulling purse strings as forcefully as development professionals pull heart strings. To do so more effectively requires changing the narrative. Unleashing the needed wave of investments has some free points of leverage that global development institutions, like the World Bank Group and UN are uniquely poised to leverage, yet are underutilizing.
Fragility or Opportunity?
The first point of leverage relates to framing and establishing context. For far too long, the context of the aid and development world has been shaped by an often hypocritical tension between profit and purpose. This has driven a dangerous wedge between private sector participants and development professionals that still lingers, even at enlightened fora like the event in Dublin. Addressing this source of tension requires not only new lenses through which to view the intersection of where development objectives and the profit motive meet, it now requires a new cohort of people to peer through those lenses. When global institutions meet to coordinate their response to a crisis or a development challenge, which often deliberately or inadvertently creates winners and losers in the private sector, it is called consensus building. When the private sector does the same thing or is invited into the room it is often conflated with collusion. The world needs to move beyond this firewall and embrace authentic cross-sector collaboration because there is far too much at stake.