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How USAID Supports the Private Sector’s Sustainability Efforts

We spoke with Keith Dokho, USAID’s Private Sector Engagement Secretariat Lead, about how the organization is shifting to support the private sector’s environmental and social progress.

As climate challenges accelerate, it’s more important than ever for the public and private sectors to collaborate on holistic solutions for the greater good. The public realm, specifically, can open new pathways that just aren’t possible within the private sector alone.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), for example, leads the US government’s international development campaigns to support more stable, resilient, and democratic societies — which are better equipped to combat climate change.

The reputation of measured, methodical movement within the federal government is changing; and leaders such as Keith Dokho are building the next generation of connections between agencies such as USAID and important private-sector leaders. Dokho, USAID’s Private Sector Engagement Secretariat Lead, and members of his team attended SB ‘23 San Diego in October; and we chatted with him about how USAID is shifting to support the private sector’s environmental and social progress.

It’s rare to find government agencies involved in private-sector sustainability events. What inspired USAID to take part in Sustainable Brands in October?

Keith Dokho: As Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) regulations increase, consumer accountability amplifies, and the world leans further into sustainability, brands are moving beyond traditional corporate social responsibility toward integrating shared value into entire value chains. Almost every industry understands its “why” for needing new business and community engagement approaches, but fewer understand the path forward or “how.” One word consistently mentioned during the event was “partnerships.” USAID firmly believes in the power of partnerships to address global challenges, spark new and innovative approaches, fill crucial gaps and chart the “how.”

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If anything has become apparent in our increasingly interconnected world, these new collaborative approaches are required to solve today’s complex development and humanitarian challenges. Sponsoring SB’23 San Diego offered USAID an excellent opportunity to engage with individuals and organizations discussing the latest sustainable and regenerative business trends. We also attended to better understand the diverse challenges various stakeholders face, how we can work toward shared objectives, showcase lessons USAID has learned, and discuss successful accomplishments through public-private partnership approaches.

Why has USAID placed an increased importance on private-sector partnerships?

KD: USAID recognizes the private sector is an engine for growth — creating nine out of ten jobs in the developing world. Working with the private sector is no longer a luxury but a necessity. We recognized that private enterprise is the single most dominant force for lifting lives, strengthening communities, and accelerating sustainable development.

We also recognize that no single organization or industry can tackle sustainability challenges in isolation. That is why partnerships with the private sector have long been a critical component of USAID’s initiatives. In fiscal year 2022, USAID engaged 3,000 private sector partners globally — forming over 800 new partnerships, through which we leveraged over $1.5 billion toward achieving Sustainable Development Goals targets. Feed the Future is the US government’s global hunger and food security initiative — led by USAID — which partners with more than 50 US companies (including several Fortune 500 companies) to align and focus CSR, ESG, and core business efforts to address hunger and poverty.

However, we found that there’s still a perception issue balancing how the public and private sectors can work together. It is understandable, as the government is often perceived as “bureaucratic” and not strategically aligned with corporate goals; but our participation at the conference provided an opportunity to break some of these stereotypes about government and have meaningful conversations at the intersection of business interests and USAID development and humanitarian goals.

How can USAID provide value to the private sector?

KD: Sustainable business encompasses numerous aspects — from companies’ interactions with local communities to environmental impacts. USAID’s 10,000+ employees, serving in more than 150 countries, provide “3C” values to private sector partners — Capacity building, Capital, and Convening power. Meanwhile, USAID can leverage companies’ innovation, industry expertise, and agility for greater collective impact.

Capacity building

We are committed to shifting funding and decision-making authority to individuals, organizations, and institutions — ultimately, propelling change within countries and communities. Capacity building is essential for reinforcing local leadership and ownership.

For example, through Feed the Future’s Resilience Challenge Fund, USAID is building on existing humanitarian assistance in Somalia to catalyze private agribusiness in creating jobs and raising the incomes of vulnerable smallholder farmers, pastoralists and agricultural workers. These efforts will reduce the need for humanitarian assistance during future crises by improving the capacity of five women-owned milling companies for grain milling, processing, and fortification; equipping 3,000 youth with technical and soft skills training; forming 25 village savings groups linked to banks; and doubling sorghum yields.

In Nigeria, our partnership with Bayer has helped achieve a significant milestone: the release of Pod Borer-Resistant Cowpea — a variety that provides protection against this devastating pest. This engagement has also helped build the technical and business capacity of local African breeding programs and small- and medium-sized seed enterprises.

Capital

Many speakers at the event emphasized the importance of risk mitigation. Agriculture is traditionally considered a risky investment due to uncontrollable factors such as weather, natural disasters, pests, and conflict. The US government can provide capital to help farmers with agricultural risk management, thereby encouraging the adoption of risk-mitigation strategies.

Announced by USAID and Norway earlier this year at the UN General Assembly, the Financing for Agricultural Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) in Africa (FASA) Fund is a multi-donor fund that addresses the financing challenges faced by agri-SMEs across Africa. Over the next ten years, the FASA Fund aims to support 500 agri-SMEs and 1.5 million smallholder farmers, benefiting 7.5 million people while bolstering nearly 60,000 jobs.

Convening power

Lastly, the US government can play the role of facilitator or convener by encouraging the private sector, government, and civil society to create momentum for more sustainable and equitable solutions.

For example, in 2021, LIXIL and USAID launched the Partnership for Better Living (PBL) to create sustainable sanitation and hygiene for more than two million people in at least 11 countries by 2026. This partnership combines USAID’s broad scale and reach D with the innovation expertise of LIXIL to expand the market for affordable and appropriate sanitation solutions and improve the availability of products and reliability of supply chains.

For companies or brands interested in engaging USAID, how can they learn more about working with you, or how to begin the conversation?

KD: Building partnerships with USAID starts with identifying alignment and a shared vision of what we want to achieve together and then growing a relationship that taps into our respective strengths. Our engagement with the private sector consists of three common modalities: 1. Developing the Enabling Environment; 2. Mobilizing Private Capital 3. Core Business Activities and Shared Interests.

We can support businesses’ sustainable sourcing, resilient supply chains, and responsible community engagement. There are various avenues that exist for companies to collaborate with USAID to achieve increased collective impact. Below are a few partnership opportunities, with others listed here.

  • Private Sector Collaboration Pathway — an open invitation to businesses and other private-sector entities to co-create solutions alongside USAID that achieve sustained development impact and foster business success.

  • Enterprises for Development, Growth, and Empowerment (EDGE) Fund — Rather than focus solely on using government dollars to leverage private sector investment (the scope of most traditional development finance), the $50 million EDGE Fund will unleash business capabilities and influence commercial operations in the service of advancing development objectives. In the past, such partnerships have increased the representation of women in corporate supply chains, helped distribute vital medicines to remote communities, and spurred the provision of crucial agricultural inputs to smallholder farmers. These partnerships all benefitted not solely from private capital but from private expertise — from a company’s strategic edge in a given domain.

  • President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience (PREPARE) Call to Action — a government initiative co-led by USAID and the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate’s Office working to help half a billion people in developing countries to adapt to and manage the impacts of climate change. To elevate the work of private-sector actors in adaptation, PREPARE has launched a global Call to Action for businesses to make new, significant commitments to signal the critical importance of building climate resilience in partner countries.

  • Climate Finance for Development Accelerator — a $250 million initiative designed to mobilize $2.5 billion in public and private climate investments by 2030 to fund a range of climate mitigation and adaptation solutions focused on scaling up the transition to an equitable and resilient net-zero economy.

Learn more about how to work with USAID here.

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