OPIC President and CEO Elizabeth Littlefield delivered the keynote address February 24 at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute (GPPI) annual conference, where she spoke about the changing nature of global development and the private sector’s growing role as a force for good in the world. She also outlined three things that many people do not know about development:
- We’re winning. “In the last ten years we’ve made amazing progress,” said Littlefield, who cited United Nations data showing that the portion of people living in extreme poverty in the developing world declined from 46% in 1990 to 27% in 2005 and is expected to continue to decline. She also offered other indications of improvement in health and well-being in some of the world’s poorest regions, including a large decline in the number of malaria-related deaths.
- We spend less than you think. Surveys show that most Americans believe the United States spends around 25% of its budget on foreign aid, when in reality the figure is less than one percent, said Littlefield. In fact many of those same people, who believe the foreign aid budget is so high, suggest 10% of the budget as a more reasonable level, she said.
- Increasingly the tab is being split between the public sector and the private sector. Littlefield said that in recent decades there has been “a fundamental shift” in the thinking of the private sector regarding social consciousness. Businesses that once engaged in limited charitable giving, faced shareholder pressure during the 1970s and 1980s to be more responsible in their day-to-day operations and today are increasingly –with the support of and sometimes pressure from their customers — integrating socially responsible practices into their core operations, while identifying opportunities to make money from investments that will deliver a positive social impact.
“The socially responsible investor movement is huge,” said Littlefield. “We here at OPIC are seeing the same shift…. Mindsets are changing, both in the developing world and in the mainstream community.”
Although she stressed that the private sector cannot solve all the world’s problems, she said that it can be pushed to address more of them.
“If even a tiny portion of the world’s corporations focused more on doing good while doing well, it would take a huge burden off the world’s aid requirements,” she said.