JONATHAN CHARLES: THE KEY TO SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS

Jonathan Charles, Managing Director for Communications at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), tells us about the paradigm shift needed today to support the public good.

Listen to the podcast:

The Bank –owned by 68 countries, as well as the European Union and the European Investment Bank– strives to promote environmentally and socially sound and sustainable development. They operate with the values of multiparty democracy and pluralism; transition; gender equality; environmental and social sustainability; and integrity and compliance.

Highlights of the interview:

  • Public value is about implementing public good (major economic change; improving lives of the population; or action on climate change mitigation). It is particularly important in countries in transition that are looking for private sector investment.
  • Public value has changed over the past few years as governments are less wealthy and struggle to help their population. Foreign investors used to support the public sector in countries in transition. The trend is now to bring private sector investment in these countries to develop the private sector. In the long term, the best way to improve lives of people and help economic change is to help the private sector develop.
  • A key argument is to demonstrate that doing good for the planet (being energy efficient for example) and society is also good business and drives sustainable business.
  • Corporate social responsibility used to be superficial and part of compliance. It is now core to the strategy of most companies, not only because their reputation depends on it, but also because the young generation wants to work in companies that demonstrate they are responsible.
  • In its early days, working in countries in transition, the EBRD used to concentrate on institution-building and the rule of law. Today, the Bank focuses mainly on developing the private sector, keeping in mind that Small and Medium Companies (SMEs) are the backbone of the economy. The EBRD focuses on providing the basic infrastructure (transportation is an example) that the private sector will eventually need, so it can grow and strive.
  • Multilateralism is today under tremendous pressure from various regions. Governments seem to move away from their formerly passionate belief in multilateralism to develop self-interest. Unfortunately most of public value challenges –climate change being an urgent one– can only be solved through multilateral action and mitigation.
  • Demonstrating tangible success and leading by example are key to motivate private and public companies to change and adopt a different mindset. Both public and private institutions need to be extremely agile and accept change if they want to survive in such a fast-moving world.
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