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Responsible Business Forum 2017
Partnership for People, Planet, Prosperity
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Responsible Business Forum

Dec 18, 2017

For the second year in a row, UNDP collaborated with Global Initiatives to co-organize the Responsible Business Forum (RBF) in Singapore, which brought together over 900 participants from business, government, academia, the UN and media from more than 40 countries.  More than 300 companies were present at the event, highlighting the increasing attention of the business community to the Sustainable Development Goals. The focus of the Forum was on acceleration of SDG actions and critical aspects of the implementation of Agenda 2030: measurement, performance and impact.

It was clear that UNDP does have a value added for engaging the private sector, but concerns were raised about the flexibility and responsive nature of UNDP, including that we were often slow with approvals; decisions seem to change often and without notice; lack of understanding of market dynamics; services must be more professional; as well as a lack of capacity to engage with the private sector and capital/financial markets.

The forum presents the following results;

  • The private sector is open (and often eager) to collaborating with UNDP, and we must be able to create an offer to engage with them. This offer and positioning needs to be shared across our offices.
  • UNDP value proposition for the private sector is evolving, leveraging the strength of UNDP (i.e. its presence on the ground, connection with the grassroots communities, expertise in crafting tailor-made programmes responding to the needs of the developing countries and emerging markets).
  • UNDP launched the first non-human Innovations Champion for Asia and the Pacific – Sophia, a humanoid robot developed by Hong Kong based company Hanson Robotics. We believe that she is the future of Artificial Intelligence, and displayed her potential to engage with the private sector. We are now carving out Sophia’s role further in supporting our work in the region, so that we can demonstrate how innovations and AI can contribute to the development agenda.
  • The RBF platform provides us with a unique opportunity to strengthen the UNDP brand with the private sector, and to influence many businesses to think about how they can contribute to the SDGs.

Opportunities + Challenges (specific UNDP related Operational issues).

  • In the lead-up to the RBF, RBAP encountered a lot of difficulties to get the necessary approvals to “sign-up” Hanson Robotics (Sophia the Robot) as the Innovation Champion for the region. It resulted in a back-and-forth with various HQ departments, that nearly resulted in the company not committing to this exciting partnership. It clearly showed that there must be significantly more flexibility and understanding corporately of how UNDP should engage private sector and innovation partners.
  • Forums like the RBF provide us with an opportunity to further strengthen and continue to build our thinking about UNDP’s value proposition and how we can effectively engage with the private sector.
  • There is a huge opportunity for UNDP to also think through our engagement with small and medium size businesses, and how we can be a partner to SMEs.
  • The RBF is an excellent networking opportunity for UNDP colleagues, and the next time we intend to have some dedicated time for UNDP COs, regional and HQ staff to plan for the engagement and create more structured ways to translate some of the connections into partnerships. 

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