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November 13, 2017
Ana Maria Menéndez: "Private sector plays a key role in strengthening the resilience of communities"

Ana Maria Menéndez, UN Under Secretary General and Senior Advisor of the Secretary General on Policy

Remarks at the launch of the report "Business and SDG 16: Contributing to Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies" - 3 November 2017 – 3.00 p.m.


Good afternoon,

I would like to congratulate the SDG Fund, UPenn Law and all the partners from the public and private sectors that have contributed to this report. 

The report provides interesting examples of what can be done to advance efforts under SDG 16 but also give us useful insights in the context of the renewed approach the Secretary-General took in the area of prevention.

The SG has placed prevention as one of his key priorities. In doing so, he was very much guided by a keen awareness that we live in a time of truly global challenges and threats to stability, prosperity and the planet. Conflicts have become more complex — and interlinked — than ever before. They produce horrific violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. They limit human opportunities and sustainable development. People have been forced to flee their homes on a scale unseen in decades. Megatrends — including climate change, population growth, rapid urbanization, food insecurity and water scarcity — have increased competition for resources and heightened tensions and instability. Longstanding threats such as terrorism have taken on new, and frightening, global dimensions.

The human and financial costs are unsustainable. The economic impact of violence was more than $14 trillion in 2016 (nearly 13% of global GDP). Resources that should be channelled to sustainable development are instead being used to respond to crisis. 

The Secretary-General’s resolve upon taking office was that this logic needed to change. He has therefore put in motion a set of reforms and formulated a vision of prevention that should guide our work. In his vision statement, he defines prevention as “doing everything we can to help countries avert the outbreak of crises that take a high toll on humanity, undermining institutions and capacities to achieve peace and development”. 

Prevention should permeate everything that we do, to cut across all pillars of the UN’s work, and join us up for greater synergy and effective delivery. 

One important anchor to this new approach is the recognition that Agenda 2030 is the best investment we can make in preventing crisis. Preventive measures should be far broader than simply addressing the imminence of crisis – they should tackle the structural or root causes of crisis. The premise for that is that we can’t fulfill the promise to leave no-one behind without meaningful efforts to address the root causes of the crisis.

We need also to focus our efforts where it matters the most – at the field level – where women and men are at the core of our actions.

Today, we are presented with a new report that provides some answers and raises many questions in a relevant aspect of prevention: how the private sector can contribute to peaceful, just and inclusive societies. By relying on the SDG Fund’s extensive experience and its partnerships between UN Agencies, governments, civil society and private sector we can find some answers. There are three elements I want to highlight:

  • The need for integrated and joined-up responses. If, as I said before, roots of conflict and other forms of crises are multidimensional (such as climate change, political representation and gender inequality) responses need to be integrated and multi-dimensional as well. We found a good example in the SDG Fund’s partnerships in Sierra Leone, where the extractive industry in the Kono District has signed an agreement with communities and local advocacy organizations that will allow citizens to have a voice in the management of their natural resources.
  • Private sector should recognize its role in prevention. According to this report, private sector actors are somehow reluctant to see themselves as part of prevention. Beyond adopting a “do no harm approach,” the private sector can have an active role in promoting national anti-corruption policies and inclusive hiring practices. In Colombia, engagement of the private sector in the peace process serves as a good example of this. In many other places, the private sector plays a key role in strengthening the resilience of communities to face natural disasters or other forms of shocks.
  • This is all about putting people at the center of prevention and sustainable development. Perhaps the most inspiring part of the report are case studies where we see young women and men, small businesses owners, entrepreneurs, and civil society organizations who want to contribute to a more peaceful society. The UN contributes to crisis prevention, but on the ground, it is millions of active citizens who want to build a better future for themselves and their communities. The role of the UN is to enable them to do this. In Cote d’Ivoire, the SDG Fund is helping young women access legal information, thanks to the “Association des Femmes Juristes de Côte d’Ivoire,” which focuses on women and children at risk of abuse, negligence, violence and exploitation. With their legal rights ensured, the organization helps these young women start their own businesses through entrepreneurship programs.

People around the world want peace and development. With the 2030 agenda, the UN is relying on powerful instruments to provide better opportunities to millions of people afflicted by crises. But this is not sustainable. We should work together to do so.