23 Jul 2018

Tracking Business Commitments in the Global Nutrition Report

Jonathan Tench SUN Business Network

The inaugural Global Nutrition Report should reflect on the growing and fast changing role of business and of market based solutions in addressing undernutrition in developing countries. Governments within the SUN Movement are increasingly including business in their national nutrition strategies. After all, the private sector offers the biggest channel for delivering improved nutrition to the most undernourished communities. In developed markets a lively and well established public policy debate already exists around regulating food and beverage companies. The Access to Nutrition Index[1] tracks progress of the biggest 25 global companies in improving nutrition.

Against this backdrop, and the growing recognition of the double burden of malnutrition, both in developed and developing markets, with implications for business and regulatory frameworks, where does the Global Nutrition Report go from here? Here are some key issues that all of us involved in the report should consider.

1.       Business is not a monolith

A small-holder woman farmer is a businesswoman. A small and medium enterprise producing complementary foods in Cote D’Ivoire is a business. A multinational can cope with regulation and tracking but there’s no bandwidth within SMEs to deal with onerous regulation and tracking. How do you establish a regime to track commitments for the private sector, when it is as diverse as any other group? The best answer could be to measure the progress public private partnerships are making at country level. That requires resources.

2.       Over-reporting?

Reflecting the increasing role of business in international development policy-making – there has been a huge rise in recent years of global multi-stakeholder partnerships. Grow Africa, Zero Hunger, Every Woman Every Child, Every Newborn Action Plan and New Vision for Agriculture to name a few. With all the reporting we’re asking business to do; will they have time to do the business we want them to do? Who will take a grip of all these initiatives at a global level to get the alignment and cut out the duplication– so that we maximise the involvement of business? This is going to become an even greater issue as reporting mechanisms for all these partnerships grow. We will all risk losing out when companies see too much duplication in the global architecture we’re all busy creating. Can any multi-stakeholder delivery mechanisms within the Post2015 agenda help create better alignment? Would it be better for countries to hold business to account and not global partnerships?

3.       ‘Business loves setting targets for themselves, they hate it when others do it for them’

A quote from a senior vice president at a multinational. Business set themselves hugely ambitious goals, they don’t always need public policy to do this for them e.g. Unilever’s Sustainable Living Strategy[2]. If we want to incentivise more businesses to get involved in the fight against nutrition, should we be looking at tax holidays, making it easier to do technology transfer, to unlock more private sector investment, rather than concentrating on a ‘must-do’ set of tracking targets? Certainly any conversation with business about getting them to make more commitments has to address the public policy restrictions that currently prevent them from doing more. Language is a key issue too – the monitoring and evaluation frameworks set by donors and NGOs is a foreign language to brand managers who measure progress by units sold.

4.       What have we learned this year

The key principles the SUN Business Network[3] has adopted in our tracking journey 1) self-reporting, business develop their own commitments and track themselves 2) the benefits, we explain to business that they demonstrate their real commitment to nutrition, and also to accountability, through tracking 3) starting slow – we are only tracking the ‘improving workforce nutrition policy’ commitments given by 29 companies in 2013, this year. We will build next year but want to create a culture where tracking is seen as critical to our growth.

We’re learning a huge amount as we build the SUN Business Network about what effective engagement with business looks like. In many ways it’s unchartered territory and with the Global Nutrition Report we will need to think through these issues above. However the prospect of capturing and further unleashing the innovation, research and marketing capabilities of the private sector in the fight against malnutrition is too great an opportunity to miss.