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11 Apr. 2017 | Comments (0)

Gabriela Burian recently joined the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), while continuing in her executive position at Monsanto. WBCSD works with leading companies to create a set of business solutions that are good for business and will deliver the organization’s vision when set at scale. WBCSD focuses its work across four economic systems: energy, food and land-use, cities and mobility, and redefining value. In this Q&A, Gabriela Burian discusses her new joint role and how she is positioned to help advance SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals.

Q: Recently, you moved into a position as a strategic advisor on food and agriculture at WBCSD while continuing in your position at one of the world’s largest multinational corporations. How does your being involved in both sectors enhance your ability to advance SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals?

A: Being engaged in both sectors has presented an extraordinary opportunity to help activate the best of each sector: a results orientation and market focus from businesses together with the long term and holistic vision from nonprofits. This is an opportunity to create a new market, incorporating social and environmental aspects that reduce risks for society and businesses. Only with real collaboration and innovation can we find new solutions to global challenges—social, environmental, and economic.

Q: How does your focus on food and agriculture support numerous SDGs, including: SDG 1 (No Poverty), 2 (No Hunger), 5 (Gender Equality), and 10 (Reducing Inequalities)?

A: The Better Business, Better World report published by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission in January says it best: “Our research shows achieving the Global Goals in just four economic systems could open 60 market ‘hot spots’ worth an estimated US$12 trillion by 2030 in business savings and revenue.” Furthermore, the report shows that a global food and agriculture system that is aligned with the Global Goals would create value of more than US$2 trillion. This approach would provide higher incomes for 1.5 billon smallholder farmers, thereby reducing inequalities and poverty. The majority of these smallholder farmers are women in Africa. In December 2015, during COP21, just three months after the launch of the Global Goals, the WBCSD together with food and agriculture sectors defined the statement of ambition: By 2030 the sector will ensure 50 percent more food is made available (reducing waste while improving food production), thereby improving resilience and reducing emissions by 50 percent. Since COP21, we have been working together towards this goal directly supporting SDGs 1 (No Poverty), 2 (No Hunger), 5 (Gender Equality), 6 (Water), 12 (Sustainable Production) and 15 (Life on Land).

Q: Now that you are working in both the corporate and nonprofit worlds simultaneously, what’s your advice to business people to better understand and help to advance nonprofit missions? (And why should business people care?)

A: Nonprofit missions are directly connected with better society. At the same time, a fair society reduces risks for businesses, while also improving the market. My advice for businesses is to support nonprofits by providing the expertise they need to achieve their goals in a way that is integrated with the market. This will be good for businesses—better market, less risk—while helping to improve the world. Additionally, include your company’s financial experts in the process of collaborating with nonprofits. Capacity building can be crucial to achieve the best results. The WBCSD “Leadership Program” engaged corporate finance teams to accelerate success. Useful programs include the natural capital protocol toolkit and the social capital protocol.

Q: With your new role working inside a nonprofit, what lessons can you share to help those organizations leverage their relationships with businesses to advance their missions?

A: My advice to nonprofits is to describe their impact in business terms. It’s not often easy for business people to understand the value nonprofits bring to the table. Companies are on the outside. Once you get inside, however, the opportunities really open up. So, nonprofits can advance opportunities for collaboration by communicating in terms that businesses and markets understand: that nonprofits can help to reduce risks while adding value, including improving the company’s reputation, and engaging employees. The WBCSD’s global water tool is a perfect example. It provides the methodology and the language for nonprofits to translate their work and results into terms that businesses can fully appreciate.

Q: You often make trips and visits to meet with farmers in Brazil, where you've lived, and elsewhere. What's the value of your in-person and on-the-ground discussions?

A: In agriculture, farmers are essential to the process of finding new solutions. Companies and nonprofits must build trust with farmers by gaining a deeper understanding of their experiences, perspectives, and cultures. This is critical to exploring and creating possible solutions. 

  • About the Author:Alice Korngold

    Alice Korngold

    Alice Korngold advises companies and NGOs on strategy, board governance, sustainability, ESG, and diversity and inclusion. She is the author of  A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solv…

    Full Bio | More from Alice Korngold

  • About the Author:Gabriela Burian

    Gabriela  Burian

    Strategic Advisory for Food and Agriculture, World Business Council for Sustainable Development[/caption] With 20 years of experience in agriculture, since January 2017 Gabriela Burian has been t…

    Full Bio | More from Gabriela Burian


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