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The Unexpected Surprises from Rio


By: Chantal Line Carpentier, UN DESA, Tess Mateo, CXCatalysts and Freda Miriklis, International Federation of Business and Professional Women

While some parties were disappointed in the final outcome document from Rio, not enough has been reported about the positive impacts emerging from the Rio+20 process. Ten years from now, we predict that Rio+20 will be described as a pivotal point for successful sustainable development. Why? Disappointed masses channeled their frustration with their governments’ leadership in Rio into an ‘underground’ movement of companies, women, youth and other stakeholders motivated to take action and create The Future We Want.

Never before have so many non-governmental actors actively participated and contributed to a multilateral UN process. Supported by the UN DESA’s Major Groups team, stakeholders from around the world brought together a rich diversity of perspectives, ideas and styles and corralled them into the UN’s foreign bureaucratic processes in a way that looked deceivingly easy. But the benefit of engaging so many different factions of society into the UN’s Rio+20 process was to instill a common understanding about how each stakeholder group felt about the global challenges of limited natural resources, climate change and the growing populations, and a common language to express these views. Love it or hate it, everyone learned the new language of UN acronyms; everyone now knows what it means when the CSD fosters SCP. To communicate and influence others, the newly christened Rio+20 stakeholder representatives also had to learn other new languages—the language of business, of science, of gender, of youth, of governments, of NGOs.

The preparatory processes for Rio+20 led to unanticipated personal connections and development. It is from this shared understanding and experience that the once disparate, fragmented and feeble stakeholders are now using their new knowledge and technologies to collaborate and act in a position of strength that was unimagined in the weeks leading up to Rio. This is the surprise from Rio; it is not as revolutionary as other recent popular uprisings from the Middle East and Africa, but in the “green” community, this will be looked back on as our “Carob Spring”.

For example, the International Federation of Business and Professional Women (“BPW International”), representing more than 30,000 business and professional women in 98 countries, has for the last eight decades primarily participated in women-centered UN initiatives. As strong supporters of the collaboration between the UN Women and the United Nations Global Compact, the Women’s Empowerment Principles are a set of Principles for business offering guidance on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community and is a strategic priority for all of BPW’s International’s chapters around the world.

However as a result of being invited to the Rio+20 Inclusive Green Growth business consultation organized by the Dutch government, UN Global Compact, International Chamber of Commerce and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, BPW International realized the potential their members could bring to the sustainable development movement. In Rio, BPW International and some of its members submitted over a dozen “Green Jobs” commitments including empowering thousands of women to create and support green economy businesses around the world.

Recognizing that their membership may have scale and reach but not the technical expertise to do this, BPW International is partnering with companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers in Poland and Spain for training. In Africa, BPW International members CXCatalysts and AQAL Investors are partnering with UN Foundation’s Global Alliance for Cookstoves, World LP Gas Association, global packaging leader Greif, PepsiCo, the Toyola Group and others to explore and create women-owned clean energy, clean water and sustainable food businesses. None of this would have been possible without Rio+20.

As the events in Tunisia inspired an entire generation in the middle east to take action on long simmering emotions, the weak outcome document from Rio+20 is galvanizing huge coalitions of recently empowered stakeholders who believe they no longer have to wait for governments to lead to take action. This is just the beginning. This fall, the Global Green Inclusive Innovation (G2i2) Summit will launch; it will be an intense two days matching committed companies with inclusive green businesses to partners and private and public sector funding. The first G2i2 Summit will be hosted by Infosys, on 25-26 October 2012 at their Bangalore, India campus.

Through the Rio+20 process companies and governments are increasingly committing to sourcing and supporting women-owned entrepreneurs; the International Trade Centre’s Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum will be held 6-7 November 2012, in Mexico City bringing together corporate and government procurement officers and women-owned businesses and networks from around the world.

The gifts of Rio will continue to give. These surprises are only evident to those committed to sustainable development and who understand that only through our collective actions can we make the world a better place for everyone and future generations.

For more information, please contact Chantal Line Carpentier, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs or Tess Mateo, Cx Catalysts.