Making science work for development

The private sector's impact on international development

19 March 2015

For UKCDS, improved engagement between academia and the private sector is a key priority for the future of science for development. At the last UKCDS Board meeting in September 2014, it was agreed that the Secretariat should scope out a new initiative to explore the increasingly pivotal role the private sector plays in international development and the research opportunities it offers.

Reviews by the European Parliament, the International Development Committee and the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, among others, have focused on the private sector’s role within development. They have identified opportunities for the private sector’s enhanced use of evidence to contribute to development impact and improvements in policy coherence – the idea that an organisation wouldn’t have a policy which contradicts or undermines another policy.  

While tools currently exist for impact assessment in various sectors (e.g. there are guides to study socio-economic or environmental impact), clear gaps remain in understanding the holistic impact of private sector organisations’ core business activities. A recent KPMG report on social investment found that while large multinational corporations are reporting successfully on their inputs and outputs, capturing the longer-term, systemic outcomes and impacts is still far more challenging.

We believe this is where research can come in. Methods from complex systems research, big data analysis and cohort/longitudinal studies may all have a role to play in better evaluating the diverse long-term impacts of multinationals operating in developing countries.

The Secretariat has therefore been in discussions with multinational corporations such as Coca Cola, Dell, Anglo-American and Sainsbury’s to explore how academic research can provide the methodological rigour and insight that can translate into real improvements in how multinationals contribute to development. At the same time we have also been liaising with UKCDS member organisations to identify elements of the research that would constitute both excellence, and broader benefits to the public.

The Secretariat has also liaised with international NGOs that are championing more responsible forms of private sector engagement in developing countries. For example, Oxfam has worked with Unilever to conceive a “Poverty Footprint” methodology; meanwhile a large number of companies and NGOs have come together to form the Ethical Trade Initiative which aims to enhance worker safety and wellbeing.

The UKCDS Secretariat is currently convening a panel comprised of research funders and representatives from the private sector, in order to scope where there may be opportunities to embark on a collaborative programme of work.

  • Landscape analysis
  • Working with businesses
  • Jamie Enoch

  • Jenny Wilson

Contributing organisations