Private Sector Roundtable
Business Roundtable on Corporate Leadership for Sustainable Urbanization
Organized in cooperation with UN-HABITAT and the GLOBE Foundation of Canada
The round-table discussions were chaired by Dr. John Wiebe, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Globe Foundation of Canada. Mr. Christopher Henderson, Chief Executive Officer of the Delphi Group, Ottawa, served as moderator and rapporteur.
The format of the round table included brief presentations on key issues and best practices in attracting private sector investment in sustainable urban development. The participants included senior members of the private sector from several countries, and development agencies. Several participants highlighted success stories and opportunities.
The round table identified major constraints for scaling up private investments. Those constraints included lack of enabling policy and regulatory frameworks; lack of expertise on the part of local authorities; an inadequate income base among the poor; cultural differences; and difficulty in finding local partners.
The participants agreed that there was tremendous market potential for private-sector investment in sustainable housing and services for the poor. The round table discussed the acknowledged significant role being played by the domestic small-business sector in urban development and advocated strengthening that sector. Participants clearly acknowledged that businesses were transforming themselves fundamentally through “bottom-of-pyramid approaches” in which low-income markets presented a prodigious opportunity for the private sector to expand its markets while bringing much‑needed products and services to the poor. In the emerging markets of Brazil, China and India, private sector companies had repackaged their products and services in that way. Similarly, utility companies were beginning to drop their requirements for recognized tenure to provide water and energy services to the urban poor living in slums, using community groups as their intermediaries.
The round table concluded that the poor represented a large potential market but that it would take time for the private sector to penetrate that segment of the population. The participants concluded also that scaling up private investment must be done through bottom-of-pyramid approaches, organizing demand through community organizations, as was taking place in several countries with the work of Slum Dwellers International and through public policy reform.
The participants requested UN-Habitat to continue the dialogue and develop appropriate mechanisms to strengthen international and local private-sector engagement in sustainable urbanization.
The Chair concluded that the private sector had a long way to go in reaching low-income groups and that they should explore the opportunity to develop new business models to reach out to the poor.
In her concluding remarks, the Ms. Inga Björk-Klevby, speaking as Deputy Executive Director of UN‑Habitat, emphasized that the United Nations would be in a position to back up the private sector in the political arena to help foster an environment which favoured trade, investment and open markets. UN-Habitat, through its close links with local and central governments, was in a position to help business work with a wide range of public, private and community actors to support sustainable urbanization.