Nearly everyone in the development community (and a growing list of business executives) is familiar with the “MDGs.” The term is short-hand for the UN’s Millennium Development Goals – a list of eight ambitious objectives that, if achieved, would provide better education, healthcare, nutrition, gender equality, and communications technology to a far greater percentage of the world’s poor. Lately, Ericsson’s President and CEO Carl-Henric Svanberg has been quite vocal about his company’s support for the MDGs. Ericsson has joined the UN’s eHealth initiative and is raising awareness of the role of telecommunications in achieving the goals at the Volvo Ocean Race.
When the MDGs were conceived eight years ago, there were only 738 million mobile subscribers, which represented approximately 12% of the global population (assuming one subscription per person). Today, over 3.5 billion people – half the world’s population – own mobile phones, and the GSMA estimates that mobile networks will cover 85% of the world’s population by 2010 – five years before the MDGs are supposed to be achieved. Ericsson’s Svanberg points out that the Millennium Development Goals are now being re-thought in terms of how mobile technology (and technology in general) can contribute toward their achievement. In fact, nascent sub-industries like mServices – the delivery of critical services like healthcare and banking through mobile phones – have gained valuable support from governments and influential development organizations. Many of these organizations have learned important lessons and refined their roles and expectations for private-sector partners. In a recent investigation for the UN and Vodafone Foundations, Vital Wave Consulting identified six strategic recommendations for effective mHealth implementations. Many of these recommendations have an implicit requirement for private sector involvement.
Governments and development organizations manage entire ecosystems that serve the basic needs of millions of people. Despite resistance to (or mistrust of) the profit motive by many in the development community and emerging-market governments, a growing number of organizations are seeking ways to bring the private sector into achieving the MDGs. There is a residual assumption that private companies are still best involved as donors and philanthropists. However, the smart business manager will identify and seek out new opportunities presented by those who want to work with private-sector partners to (profitably) create efficiencies, improve communications, and provide better access to information and services.
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