How The Private Sector Can Help In Achieving India’s Sustainable Development Goals

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Economic development is driven by entrepreneurship, innovation, upgradation and diversification and external outreach. At the same time, it needs to include all sections of the human capital and ensure the sustainability of the natural capital. However, development, from the perspective of both sustainability and inclusiveness, still remains a far-shot in our communities! More than the ideation or planning, it is the implementation that often gets handicapped given the paucity of public sector resources like funds, skills and know-how. This makes it all the more imperative now for the private sector industry to play a pivotal role in achieving the sustainable development goals.

Does The Private-Sector Need To Look At Development?

Despite an uptick in impact and ESG (environment, social and governance) based investments and a growth of sustainability strategies by the private-sector, most sections of that community still look at these as part of their CSR (corporate social responsibility) plans. However, the magnitude of these challenges merits far more attention from the private sector than just a CSR plan. This is because these challenges affect the fortunes of private sector businesses in multiple ways:

  1. The failure to include large swathes of our population in the addressable consumer base is only intensifying the battle for market share for the existent small consumer base, thus resulting in price-wars and profit erosion,
  2. Degradation of natural resources like soil and water is reducing the availability of cultivable land, despite the consistent growth in our population and diversification of our eating habits,
  3. Increasing temperatures and erratic weather patterns due to climate change is impacting our work-productivity and damage costs,
  4. Continued use of chemicals to boost food production so that it meets the supply is affecting the health quality of our food, thus affecting our medical bills and productivity, and
  5. Economic distress in several regions due to lack of jobs or loss of livelihoods is impacting urban migration, leading to social unrest and pressure on civic resources.

The list can go on. But the point is that, directly or indirectly, the private-sector industry is being impacted negatively by the twin challenges of sustainability and inclusiveness; and that should be a motivator in itself for it to contribute meaningfully towards sustainable development.

What Are The Best Types Of Solution For The Private Sector To Work Upon?

At the same time, converting every development need into a billion-dollar business idea is not a feasible solution. Many high-tech solutions emerging today to address developmental needs are expensive and hence, out of the purchasing power of a mass chunk of the population in developing countries like India.

The best solutions in such circumstances are ideas that are both low-cost, hence can be implemented by masses, and have long-term benefits, so that we are not forced to invest in new plans every year. Both aspects run contradictory to private sectors’ interests: a higher-priced product typically plays on value, not volume, and hence earns higher operating leverage, while repeated purchases for new versions/plans of a product ensures continued sales. Nevertheless, the real need is to devise low-cost and long-term solutions, and see how it can be made financially viable for the private sector’s involvement.

An Example To Build Upon!

Andhra Pradesh, a state in southern India, offers such a solution. Its Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) policy aims to address one of our core development challenges—food, at the right quality, quantity and price—and it aims to cover all the farmers of that state by 2025. ZBNF farming practices involve using natural inputs as bio-inoculants instead of chemical fertilizers. These inputs are available within the villages and at a far lower cost than the expensive fertilizers and pesticides of the chemical industry. It is also seen to create a better quality crop, which has long-term benefits for the health of the consumers. Low-cost and long-term beneficial solutions like these can help combat certain sustainable development challenges.

But implementing this to the scale required would necessitate the involvement of the private sector. For instance, Azim Premji Philanthropic (the family investment office of Wipro’s Azim Premji) is already investing in scaling up the technical resources needed in this project. Apart from funding, private sector involvement would be practical to devise cost-effective and profitable ways to scale up the availability of the natural bio-inoculant inputs in every village, so that the cost to migrate to ZBNF farming from chemical farming does not increase due to non-availability of inputs in any specific village/cluster. Private sector involvement would also be practical to devise seamless channels for marketing the final product to consumers within and outside the state, including creating the brand awareness of the product’s health benefits for consumers. This list can go on!

In the end, anything that ensures an increasing supply of consumers (with an equivalent increase in their purchasing power) for private sector businesses should be motivation enough for them to be involved in achieving sustainable development. Else they may end up looking at a future of fighting for the market share of a constrained consumer base, thus leading to even more price wars and profit erosion!

The above article was originally published in the CSR Gateway newsletter of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

This post has been written by a YKA Climate Correspondent as part of #WhyOnEarth. Join the conversation by adding a post here.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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