Rural Livelihoods Initiative

Business collaboration can enable solutions that make it more attractive to live, work and invest in rural areas.

The Problem: Approximately 3.1 billion people, or 45% of the total world population, live in rural areas of developing countries. This includes more than 70% of the world’s poor, who are systematically disadvantaged by a lack of access to basic needs, markets, credit and other economic enablers that help support decent and viable livelihoods. The working population aspires to migrate to cities where they and their families have access to more attractive opportunities.

As a result, companies with rural operations or supply chains struggle to find and retain skilled human resources, and to ensure the health, safety and overall working conditions of staff and suppliers. Improving this situation depends on a set of complex and inter-connected development issues, and current efforts are fragmented across actors including NGOs, governments and international organizations. Businesses attempting to tackle these challenges increasingly find themselves stretched far beyond their scope and core competencies.

The Solution: The Rural Livelihoods Initiative brings together companies to establish cross-industry collaboration in rural areas. Drawing together the core strengths of various value chains, and linking to companies’ growth strategies holds the potential to support more viable, sustainable and scalable solutions to both business and development challenges faced in rural areas. This combined value proposition can ultimately make rural areas more attractive places to work, live, and invest in.

The Business Case

  • It’s a supply chain strategy. Improving rural livelihoods will help ensure sustainable access to the natural resources and skilled labor businesses depend on in rural areas.
  • It’s a human resource strategy. By making rural areas attractive places to live, work and invest in, businesses will help ensure the quality and long-term supply of skilled labor.
  • It’s a market access opportunity. Companies that enable the provision of solutions for rural areas as part of their business model can benefit from significant market opportunities. With 3.1 billion rural inhabitants in developing countries and an agricultural workforce of 1.1 billion, rural areas offer a tremendous potential marketplace for goods and services.
  • It improves the operating environment. Improving conditions in rural areas reinforces licenses to operate, reduces risk, and provides the foundation for a stronger, more efficient business environment.
  • It clarifies the business role. By testing collaborative models, business can be clearer on appropriate roles a single company should play within the rural development context, and where other actors may be best placed to fill development needs.

Bringing the concept to life

This idea was brought to life by the Rural Livelihoods Leadership Group at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), consisting of Nestlé, Novartis, Syngenta, Vodafone and Accenture. Together, these companies represent three types of actors we believe are necessary to establish scalable, cross-industry projects:

  • Anchor companies: operating in rural areas as part of their business value chain, who depend on access to appropriate skills, resources and operating environments.
  • Enablers / solution providers: facilitating rural livelihood improvements through their services and business models, and seeking opportunities for viablemarket expansion.
  • Catalysts: sharing insights and driving collaboration between primary and enabling companies, as well as local and international partners to develop, integrate, and accelerate solutions

Access this executive brief to read about:

  • Progress made throughout 2014
  • Ambitions for 2015-2016
  • How to get engaged

Relevant priority areas