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It’s Everybody’s Business – So Make Social Issues Strategic: The Private Sector’s Stake in Fighting Gender-Based Violence

Christopher Colford's picture

If you’re in the private sector, and if you somehow imagine that social issues don’t have anything to do with your business, then you’d better think again. The dollars-and-cents costs of chronic social problems and dysfunctional behavior have a direct impact on private-sector productivity and profitability.

As Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter told a World Bank Group audience not long ago, explaining his theory of “creating shared value”: If business leaders are serious about ensuring future private-sector-led growth – and about the long-range stability of the economy – then the corporate sector had better prioritize pro-active steps to address serious social issues as a significant part of their strategy.

Social issues might not readily rise to the top of corporate leaders’ in-boxes, since many hard-headed businessmen – and I use the suffix “men” advisedly – might presume that “soft” human concerns aren’t central to day-to-day business operations. Yet the painful human toll inflicted by social dysfunction is everybody’s business. Corporate executives who truly aim to fulfill a positive leadership role in society, to which they so often aspire rhetorically, have a duty to raise their voices about the many kinds of social trauma that impede socioeconomic progress.

If a sense of social responsibility isn’t enough to get corporate leaders thinking pro-actively, they should at least consider their business’ long-term enlightened self-interest. A workforce that’s de-motivated or demoralized – or, worse, physically injured or emotionally abused – will suffer lower morale and higher absenteeism, will trigger higher health-care costs, will be distracted from seizing new business opportunities, and will fall short of fulfilling its full productive potential. That economic reality should spur the private sector to take constructive, preventive action.

An event on Wednesday at the World Bank Group will offer a reminder of how one vicious form of extreme antisocial behaviorviolence against women and girls – acts as a drag on society, a drain on the economy and an impediment to achieving every development priority. The 2 p.m. event in the J Building auditorium will launch a new World Bank Group report – the “Violence Against Women and Girls Resource Guide” – that surveys a wide range of analyses on the human suffering and social pain caused by gender-based violence.

Jointly sponsored by the Bank Group, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Global Women’s Institute based at George Washington University, the afternoon event will follow a morning panel discussion – at 10 a.m. in GWU’s Jack Morton Auditorium – featuring the authors of a landmark series of analyses of gender-based violence in The Lancet, the UK's pre-eminent medical journal.

Recognizing gender-based violence as a medical and public-health emergency – and reinforcing the World Health Organization’s recent declaration that gender-based violence is a global threat “of epidemic proportions” – The Lancet’s special edition is blunt about the grim toll of violence that deliberately victimizes women and girls: “Every day, millions of women and girls worldwide experience violence. This abuse takes many forms, including intimate physical and sexual partner violence, female genital mutilation, child and forced marriage, sex trafficking, and rape.”

Can informal health entrepreneurs help increase access to health services in rural areas?

Jorge Coarasa's picture


New approaches to medical care can improve health outcomes (Credit: World Bank, Flickr)

In many poor countries, a large proportion of health services is provided by the private sector, including services to the poor. However, the private sector is highly fragmented and the quality of services varies widely. Private health markets consist of providers with very diverse levels of qualification, ranging from formally trained doctors with medical degrees to informal practitioners without any formal medical training. According to Jishnu Das, in rural Madhya Pradesh— one of the poorest states in India, households can access on average 7.5 private providers, 0.6 public providers and 3.04 public paramedical staff. Of those identified as doctors, 65% had no formal medical training and of every 100 visits to healthcare providers, eight were to the public sector and 70 to untrained private sector providers.

How do they do it? Public-private partnerships and universal healthcare

David Lawrence's picture

I pay through the nose for health insurance for my family, and I’m not happy about it. As a U.S. citizen, I don’t have the luxury of government-backed healthcare. Since I’m technically self-employed, I have to pay the full premium myself. Want some figures? It costs me $830 a month for a family of four, with a high deductible. Besides being expensive, it takes a huge effort to deal with insurance issues, and I find that my provider is expert at finding reasons not to reimburse me for medical expenses. This is chewing a gaping hole in my budget. The only way I’ll ever get value for my money is if I’m hit by a bus.

Healthcare services? Yes, please!

David Lawrence's picture

I could tell something wasn’t quite right with the electrician. He was standing stiffly, poking at the wires in the circuit breaker panel, his face pale, his breathing labored. My wife offered him a cup of tea and asked if he was OK. 

“I’m fine,” he said. “I just had a little surgery yesterday.” He kept working until he fixed the wiring; only then did he accept the tea. Then he told us his story.

Launching Healthy Partnerships: How Governments Can Engage the Private Sector to Improve Health in Africa

Connor Spreng's picture

As we get ready for the launch of the Healthy Partnerships report here in Nairobi, Kenya, there is a strong sense of accomplishment, mixed with nostalgia and hope. This report measures how governments in Sub-Saharan Africa are currently working (or not) with the private health sector in 45 countries we visited a little over a year ago. It has been long in development, but well worth it. We have made a first cut at doing something which some colleagues thought was too difficult. We developed indicators to measure the level of a government’s inclusion of the private health sector in a national health system, allowing cross-country comparison.

(Don’t) Carry Your Own Water

David Lawrence's picture

Not long ago, I carried a 20-liter bottle of water three blocks to my apartment (there is an artesian well in a nearby park). At first it was easy. I lifted it up onto my shoulders and walked boldly along the street, drawing admiring looks from everyone I passed.

But it didn’t take long for my muscles to feel the burn. Then my back started to ache. By the time I got home, I was wiped out. Never again, I thought.

It’s a microscope! It’s a phoropter! It’s a….cell phone?!

Anushka Thewarapperuma's picture

If mobile phones hold potential for addressing a number of development challenges in existence today then the newest innovations are exciting with cross cutting implications for health. The World Bank recently hosted three top innovators selected from NASA’s LAUNCH Initiative in Health, to provide an overview of new innovations in mHealth and to debate potential bottlenecks in financing and scalability. LAUNCH was formed jointly by NASA, the US Department of State, USAID and NIKE as a global initiative to identify and support innovative work contributing to a sustainable future. All three presenters, Aydogan Ozcan of UCLA, Ramesh Raskar of MIT Media Lab and Josh Nesbit of Medic Mobile, have been widely recognized in the development field as dynamic young innovators.