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10 August 2009

Trade not Aid- The Business of Sustainable Business

Tag(s): Business, Sustainability

In 2007 Richard Harvey stunned many by ending his decade-long tenure as CEO at the insurance conglomerate AVIVA to do charity work in Africa. Until July 2007, Richard was the CEO of one of the UK's largest FTSE companies, AVIVA.  With 59,000 employees serving over 40 million customers, AVIVA principally deals in fund management and general insurance, with worldwide total sales of £41.5 billion and assets under management of £364 billion.  Richard, 56, has had a long and successful career in the insurance industry and successfully managed the merger between Norwich Union and CGU to become AVIVA, now the world's fifth biggest insurer.

Richard brings the organisational, financial and communications expertise you would expect from a FTSE CEO, along with a personal hands-on interest in building, engineering and woodwork.
 Taking the “gap-year” he never had, Richard, together with his wife Kay, worked with Concern Universal, the development charity, swapping his chauffeur-driven car and executive pay for dusty tracks and extreme poverty in Malawi and Kenya. Today he is working with Concern Universal to engage international business in efforts to reduce poverty and achieve the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. He is determined to raise the profile of development especially among the business community and believes strongly that while aid has an important role to play, it will be “trade not aid” that delivers the Millennium Goals in a sustainable way.

At a recent Criticaleye reception I had the chance to meet and talk to Richard about this.

He impressed upon me three points:

 1. The Difference between Aid and Development. Aid is all very well but too frequently creates no long term benefit. Of course, when people are starving they require emergency aid. But to prevent it happening again and again they require help to develop their own resources.

2. Climate change is real and has happened. Richard has seen areas in southern Kenya where global warming has killed off the grasslands that used to support the Masai in their cattle farming. (It may be churlish but Masai farmers may cause damage, too, through inappropriate agriculture.)

3. Business makes the difference. Through business people get a stake in the economy and work together to solve their own problems. (Yes, but for business to prosper there needs to be proper governance, protection of property rights etc.)

Concern Universal claims to be one of the region’s leading international humanitarian charities. It reckons to be more efficient than many more established charities with around 95% of all its resources going directly to its country projects. It is committed to maintaining a community focus and responds to local needs by working closely with local partners and supporting development from the ground up.

My own knowledge of Africa is as a tourist. I have seen the Pyramids and been on Safari in Kenya. I have stayed in the Mamounia in Marrakech and the Saint Geran in Mauritius where Britt Eklund was also a guest. A colleague who knew Africa well said I had only seen Beverly Hills Africa!

With the West's banking system facing near meltdown, the world's biggest economies in recession and unemployment on the rise, the key messages of climate change, food shortages and fair trade have been drowned out by the doom and gloom of economic news. Just about the worst background to try to claim the attention of the finance community is the City of London. So Richard is needed as an advocate for change who can speak in the City’s own language and is likely to be heard. They call him “The Adventure Capitalist”

One meets many people who are keen “to put something back.” While recognizing the instinct I am not completely comfortable with the phrase as it implies that something has been taken out in the first place and provided one has led a full and active life that should not be the case. Nevertheless, it was truly inspiring to meet someone who gave up everything to go and work with the poorest people and bring the skills of his professional life to help them in that endeavour.

For more information about Concern Universal visit its website
 www.concern-universal.org

Copyright David C Pearson 2009 All rights reserved




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