Goal 16 - Peace and Justice

Who Was Left Behind?

5 best practices for the private sector to contribute to solutions for fragile states and humanitarian contexts

By Joy Marini, Executive Director, Johnson & Johnson Global Community Impact

I recently asked a group of bipartisan U.S. congressional staffers whether they thought that we were successful in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The responses were broad, from “yes” to “no” to the “comme ci comme ça” hand gesture.

Everyone at the table was right.

There is no denying the power of goal-setting and collective action. In 2000, 191 member states of the United Nations set us on a path to achieve eight goals with health and economic indicators. In some areas, goals were met. For example, more than 2.6 billion people gained access to clean drinking water. In others, such as poverty reduction, child mortality and maternal mortality, progress was good, but fell short of targets.

Who was left behind? More than 1.5 billion people who live in fragile and conflict-affected states (FCAS), and those who are disadvantaged because of their sex, age, geography, or ethnicity. As we improve health and economic conditions in stable countries, there is increasing inequity in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where women and young people continue to face the greatest challenges due to poverty.

Conflict and displacement takes a toll on every aspect of life, and are particularly difficult for women and children. Evidence shows there are fewer deaths directly attributable to conflict, but the ramifications include food insecurity, broken health infrastructures, lack of access to health care, displacement, and gender violence. In these circumstances, women, especially pregnant women, and children will suffer physical, psychological and social consequences throughout their lifetimes and even over generations.

To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, as a global community, we are all obligated to work in the most difficult contexts in the world. The private sector has an important role to play in helping to close the gap between increasing demand for assistance in fragile and conflict affected states (FCAS) and increasingly constrained aid budgets and government resources.  Besides resources, the private sector has  the capability to deliver services faster and/or at higher standards than the public sector in times of crisis.

Admittedly, investing in FCAS is a challenge for the private sector, which values return on investment and sustainability. To achieve returns on investment, we must use view fragile states and humanitarian situations with a different lens. We must take a long-term view and embrace the positive ripple that health, equity, and prosperity for all would bring to economies and businesses.

These five “best practices” can enable the private sector to partner successfully in FCAS and humanitarian settings:

  • Align with local priorities: Facilitate shared priorities and implementation arrangements to align assistance behind government strategies
  • Respond to local contexts: Develop business models and strategies that respond to high volatility, high risks, and low capacity
  • Adapt program evaluation: Consider a longer timeline and use of basket indicators. Regular meetings to regroup should take place to learn/evaluate and adjust planning
  • Integrate activities: Identify systems within existing local institutions to complement existing health infrastructure
  • Partner: Find allies, networks, and partner organizations with complementing capabilities to collaborate on specific interventions and increase resources

Instead of viewing fragile and conflict-affected states as problematic and too risky, we must all see the future potential. We must prioritize the well-being of women and children – in particular, attention to midwives and access to midwifery care – and apply these best practices to health and development initiatives. Doing so will enable the private sector to successfully contribute to reaching that last 1.5 billion people whom were left behind.


  • Alignment with local priorities: Facilitate shared priorities and implementation arrangements to align assistance behind government strategies. (DFID, 2015)
  • Adaptable program evaluation: Benefits often accrue over a longer period of time in FCAS so an extended programming timeline and the use of basket indicators may be beneficial. Regular regroups will need to take place to learn/evaluate and adjust planning if necessary. (DFID, 12)
  • Tailor modes of engagement: FCAS require different business models and strategies to respond to the high volatility, high risks, and low capacity in these countries. (World Bank)

Image: A young boy at the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, where nearly 80,000 Syrian refugees are living. UN Photo/Sahem Rababah. March 2017

This post is part of the “SDG Solutions” series hosted by the United Nations Foundation, Global Daily, and +SocialGood to raise awareness of ways the international community can advance, and is advancing, progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. As the international community prepares to gather at the UN for the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development from July 10-19, this series will share ideas and examples of action. Previous posts in the series can be found here.

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