International leaders celebrate 10 years of sustainable growth in Asia

Sustainability, profitability, growth and the means to achieve benefits for all were the main themes adorning the anniversary celebration as Solidaridad looked back on a decade of sustainable development in Asia on 1 and 2 November.

Under a glowing Solidaridad balloon floating high in the Manesar sky above New Delhi, more than 300 people including government officials, industry leaders, technical experts, foreign delegates and farmers attended presentations from various speakers during the event.

Accelerated growth in Asia

After the event’s opening by Director of Solidaridad Asia, Dr Shatadru Chattophadayay, and Solidaridad Network Executive Director, Nico Roozen, the regional directors were invited to the stage to share their own journey with Solidaridad so far. Many cited Solidaridad Asia as an example for their own operations as it was one of the first regional offices to quickly accelerate to a full-grown regional organization. Both the diversity and the unity of the international Solidaridad Network was emphasized during a panel discussion hosted by Shahamin Zaman, chairperson of Solidaridad Asia’s Continental Supervisory Board.

Open sessions with Solidaridad directors from each region resulted in complex, interesting discussions. One question raised was whether Solidaridad should also work to encourage more demand and campaign to increase the uptake of sustainable products. The panel commented that it is not Solidaridad’s role to stimulate production. Rather, it is more important to fortify the resilience of farmers for inevitable market fluctuations.

This was followed by a farmers’ panel on current challenges they are facing. Lead farmers from India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia participated in the discussion.

Encouragement from Dutch leaders

“You can be very very proud,” said Ambassador of the Netherlands in India, Marten van den Berg, as he congratulated Solidaridad for 10 successful years in Asia during his speech on the second day of the event. He praised the organization’s accomplishments in terms of its operation, management and capacity while advancing agendas relating to sustainability, environment and society.

For the Netherlands, the Public-Private-Partnership model is the pillar of its development cooperation, said Amb. Van den Berg. The Netherlands strives for “getting people together, to connect knowledge and skills from different angles with smart innovation and real progress in SMEs,” he said.

Speaking from the dais in a hall that had beautifully carved walls, Amb. Van den Berg said that Solidaridad has built up a solid track record as a reliable partner. He gave examples from the sustainable tea programme called Trustea and the clean Ganga programme in the leather industry of Kanpur.

The Dutch government was also represented by Tanja Gonggrijp, management team member at the Department of Sustainable Economic Development, who emphasised the importance of a fair market. “We have to broaden our responsibility and start paying the true price for products and services so that farmers can earn decent living, children can go to school, forests remain and the water flowing through river Ganga can be clean again,” she said.

“If sustainability remains just a CSR project, then we cannot reach the sustainable markets. If values like equal opportunities and solidarity are not part of the core strategy and conviction of an organization or business, then even well-intended projects cannot be successful,” Gonggrijp said.

In complimenting Solidaridad on its achievements, Gonggrijp said that its deeds involving constant action, innovation, new partnerships and keeping open mind have set an example for others. “Solidaridad is no longer a Netherlands-based NGO working in developing countries but an international network organization,” she said.

Improvements must continue

Solidaridad Executive Director Nico Roozen said that the organization is making lasting impact by creating perspectives for improving livelihoods. “Great work is done but I am still concerned about the scale and speed of our operations,” he said. “The challenges that we face in the world community are bigger than ever.”

Details of Solidaridad Asia’s achievements during the last 10 years in nine countries including  India, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Malaysia were provided by Managing Director, Dr Shatadru Chattopadhayay. Solidaridad managed 60 multi-stakeholder platforms, worked with some 880,000 farmer households and helped improve the sustainability of more than 10 million tons of products, said Dr Chattopadhayay. In addition, Solidaridad has saved 500 billion litres of water through its good agricultural practices over the past few years.

Atul Chaturvedi, CEO Agribusiness, Adani Wilmar Limited, was very supportive of Solidaridad’s efforts. “Sustainability and profitability are not mutually exclusive… they are interlinked,” he said. “Companies which practice sustainability in a real sense as opposed to mere lip service… invariably perform much better.”

According to Chaturvedi, the new definition of sustainable development is the economic growth that fulfils social and environmental needs without compromising the future of those aspects.

Corporations are the key

Regarding the implementation of sustainability projects, Roshan Tamak, executive director of DCM Shriram, told the gathering that all such programmes need to be anchored by corporations as the core responsibility lies with them. “It cannot be steered or entered by any NGO or other partner,” he said. “Corporates have to own, steer and monitor, otherwise it will not happen.”

The pressure for adopting sustainable operations for Indian business is largely coming from international investors as the markets are demanding more sustainable products and services, said Arindam Dutta from Sustainability Banking Rabobank in Asia. “Most of the conversations around sustainability are happening with companies and industries which have international supply chains,” he said.

During the deliberations, it also became apparent that the emphasis on environment and sustainable development in school curriculums is having a noticeable impact.

While describing recruitment interviews with fresh graduates, Sanjay Sacheti, country head of Olam Agro India said that millennials ask questions about the sustainability-related elements in the business model of a company. To create a solid employee value proposition, sustainability is crucial, he said.

During the two-day event, parallel sessions were held on a number of themes such as:

  • sustainable landscapes
  • blockchain technology
  • impact communication
  • use of technology
  • pollution management in industrial sectors
  • impact investment
  • food and environmental security
  • national sustainability standards

Each evening concluded with gala entertainment including a rock band, ballet dancers and dance troupes. A special performance by Solidaridad teams from Bangladesh, Indonesia and India on the last evening made it a proud and memorable event for the friends of Solidaridad.

For more impressions of the celebration, check out this blog from Executive Director Roozen on LinkedIn.