Buy Social: A New Way for International Organizations to Create Social Impact

By Waka Itagaki


International organizations such as the United Nations (UN) and the World Bank have significant purchasing power. In 2014, the UN purchased $17.2 billion in their procurement process. Despite this purchasing power, international organizations have arguably not made the most of it to generate social impact across the world. “Buy Social,” a procurement process that seeks not only economic value but also social and/or environmental impact, has the potential to be transformative. This article highlights the benefits and challenges of Buy Social compared to “Socially Responsible Procurement,” and recommends that international organizations implement Buy Social.


There is no widely agreed term to describe this kind of socially conscious procurement. This article uses “Buy Social” but other names include “Social Procurement,” “Socially Impactful Procurement,” “Social Impact Purchasing,” “Social Purchasing,” and “Socially Impactful Purchasing.” It is important to note that Buy Social is different from Socially Responsible Procurement, which is already implemented by international organizations.

Socially Responsible Procurement applies negative or positive screens to bidders by using a “do no harm” approach. For example, the UN buys from companies that meet labor standards of the International Labour Organization (ILO). Socially responsible procurement typically only considers if a bidder is a business with social consideration, and does not measure the outcomes.

Continue reading

Remittances for Investment: An Innovative Source of Development Financing

By Ariel Gandolfo

While the ambitious, 169-point Sustainable Development Goals are still being solidified, the next big question in development will most certainly be how to finance them. Official development assistance (ODA) as a share of national GDP in many developing countries has been steadily shrinking, and identifying other sources of financing is crucial. Already, discussions here at the CSIS Project on U.S. Leadership in Development have focused on Domestic Resource Mobilization (DRM) and the importance of strengthening national tax bases and collection systems to increase the funds available for investment in national economic growth.

Western Union is one of the largest remittance services in the world.  Pictured here, an outlet in Angeles City, Philippines.

Western Union is one of the largest remittance services in the world. Pictured here, an outlet in Angeles City, Philippines.

Another source of overseas assistance with potential to impact national development is remittances. Remittances from diaspora populations are usually sent to families of the migrants working abroad, and as such have a limited, micro level effect. Yet global remittances already triple the value of official foreign assistance. Leveraging these inflows – which total in the millions and billions of dollars per country each year – to invest in public funds for infrastructure and social entrepreneurship may, however, contribute to more long-term, macro level economic growth. Continue reading

The SDGs and Food Security: Balancing Goals

The United Nations will adopt 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September as part of the post-2015 Development Agenda. However, as UN member states and other stakeholders prepare to reach a consensus on the world’s development priorities for the next 15 years, the importance of targeted interventions across all goals, especially food and nutrition security, is of critical importance.

The SDGs grew out of a nearly 2-year long process beginning with the establishment of a 30+ member Open Working Group (OWG) in January of 2013. The OWG model developed a set of goals meant to be inclusive, universal, and comprehensive, bumping up the Millennium Development Goals’ broad targets to a total of 169 targets.

The UN must advocate for the legitimacy of the SDG agenda as an advanced and improved agenda, different from but complementary to the MDGs. Goal 2, to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture,” is one of the broadest goals proposed by the OWG. Specificity and accuracy is the most important in implementing this goal. Agricultural development interventions are often well-intended but poorly executed, and a lack of local knowledge and capacity-building ends up distorting markets and disadvantaging farmers across the world. Continue reading

Weekly Roundup

This week in development…

U.S. Development Policy/International Organizations

  • In light of Davos, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim reflects on the state of the global economy. Kim points out that the predicted growth of the world’s economy is lower than initially estimated and notes the “uncertain [economic] environment.” He brings up the challenges but also the potential solutions for the global economy going forward, all while emphasizing the importance of working together.
  • At a discussion of the post-2015 development agenda on Monday, 10 top UN human rights experts stressed the need to make human rights and accountability a major focus of the SDGs. The experts urged Member States to include explicit references to freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly in goal 16 of the SDGs.
  • The international vaccine alliance GAVI raised around $7.5 billion to immunize around 300 million children in developing countries by the year 2020 at a donor conference in Berlin. The largest single donor was the United Kingdom, which pledged $1.573 billion. The second leading donor was the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ($1.550 Billion) followed by Norway and the United States.

Continue reading

Leveraging ICT in Global Health and Development

By Maggie Nelsen

In recent years information communication technology (ICT) has come to the forefront of the development conversation. Generally, ICT is seen as an efficient, low-cost alternative for disseminating and receiving information and making transactions, but it is also revolutionizing how governments procure public services and institutionalize transparency and accountability. E-governance is already replacing traditional public institutions, such as banks and tax administration systems, which typically provide fundamental public goods and services. ICT has gradually been integrated into almost every major industry—finance, agribusiness, health, and education—and will inevitably play a major role in the post-2015 sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Most recently, E-health services and applications have successfully coordinated health emergency response structures in Ebola-affected countries. From the onset of the outbreak, mobile delivery of vital health information and local updates became a significant resource for citizens and health workers in affected areas. Apps and SMS messages allowed citizens to receive information about symptoms, local resources, and clinic locations. Health administrators and aid organizations utilized e-health technologies to map the spread of Ebola cases in real time, and maintain a database to better understand the transmission of the disease. In several of these cases, e-health services were critical in closing gaps in human capacity and other resource deficiencies, especially in rural areas where the nearest full-service clinic or lab is one hundred miles away. According to the International Telecommunications Union, the UN Specialized Agency for ICTs, there will be almost 7 billion mobile subscriptions by the end of this year. With mobile phone subscriptions likely to exceed the global population in the near-future, m-health could be a major tool in building capacity.

A GSM antenna supporting mobile technology in Gambia.

A GSM antenna supporting mobile technology in Gambia.  Photo obtained from Wikimedia user Ikiwaner under a creative commons license.

Continue reading