Business Plays a Bigger Role in the MDGs

July 20, 2011|By Allison MacEachron
Among the excuses American women give for avoiding or postponing their annual gynecologist exam are lack of time, fear, embarrassment and, recently, even the economy.  But their husbands’ forbidding it because they won’t allow anyone to touch their wife is not one of them.

But that is an excuse in some other countries.

Such was the startling discovery that Donna Hrinak, a PepsiCo vice president, made during her work as US ambassador to several countries in the developing world.


“This was the beginning of my own evolution in understanding the role the private sector could play in advancing women and children’s health in the developing world,” Hrinak said.


Hrinak spoke recently at a United Nations General Assembly development dialogue on the Millennium Development Goals ( MDGs).  She offered a perspective from the private sector on women and children’s health as an engine for progress in achieving the goals.  Other panelists included representatives from the UN Secretariat, national health ministries, UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations.  PepsiCo is a member of the Business Council for the UN, a program of the United Nations Foundation.
Having served as an ambassador to Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, Hrinak brought an extraordinary perspective to her current role in public policy for PepsiCo, the food and beverage multinational corporation.


“In the past, cash and in-kind gifts were the focus of corporate giving in the developing world,” she said during the dialogue.  “Today the private sector’s role is much greater. Companies’ core competencies – for example, in distribution, communications, social marketing -- are what is most valued, and most valuable, in private sector contributions today.”


Women’s diagnostic services are not in her company’s purview, of course, but access to clean water and nutrition do fall into that realm.  Since 2001 PepsiCo has helped provide access to clean water and nutrition — mostly for women and children --  starting in China and then in  India and Bangladesh.


Cash is always needed.  But company expertise and talented personnel go further, she said. For example, in India PepsiCo engineers and operations personnel work with nongovernmental organizations on water and sanitation projects that currently benefit over 400,000 people, the majority of whom are women and children. In China, through the China Women’s Development Foundation, PepsiCo found ways to help harvest and store water — which precludes many mothers and children from having to walk several miles each day to get it.   In Bangladesh, PepsiCo research and development personnel and nutritionists, along with Save the Children, are providing foods that alleviate micronutrient deficiencies.


"It starts in the womb,” Hrinak said. “The first 1,000 days of a life are the most important. The implications of under nutrition on a person’s productivity, lifetime earnings and on a country’s GNP are profound.” These are not just health issues, they are economic issues, she added.

PepsiCo is also looking at how government agricultural policies can be used to affect health, especially chronic diseases.

Hrinak noted PepsiCo’s “47 Promises”— commitments it makes to not just shareholders but to others.  As PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi has said, “We are citizens of the world and we want to make the world a better place. “


PepsiCo has demonstrated a huge commitment to the MDGs, including Goals 4 and 5, which seek to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health.  Hrinak offered some lessons that the company learned from its work in these efforts. 

“Integration is needed between actors in government, civil society, the private sector.  It’s difficult to isolate activities.”  She added:  “We don’t do anything alone.  We work in partnerships with other companies, governments, civil society. The UN needs to be a partner too”.

Perhaps the health diagnostics industry can develop a way for women to get their important annual gyn screenings that respect local cultural attitudes.  PepsiCo will continue to work with other companies in the International Food and Beverage Alliance, a group of food and nonalcoholic beverage companies with operations around the world, whose work aims to help consumers eat balanced diets and lead healthy lifestyles. 

Allison MacEachron is director of the Business Council for the UN, a program of the United Nations Foundation.


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