DT Global was proud to be a Gold Level sponsor of the Society for International Development (SID) Annual Dinner, held this year on December 12. The annual SID dinner is an opportunity for professionals from across all paths of the international development community to collectively celebrate the achievements of the past year and renew their commitment to work on the challenges—and opportunities—ahead. 

Personally, my favorite part of the SID dinner is the feeling of being at a giant reunion. It is a welcome opportunity to reminisce, share updates with former colleagues, and introduce current colleagues to friends and mentors who knew us in our formative years. At SID, I never have the feeling of forced networking—instead there’s a comradery that results in a fun evening and at least a few new friends. 

The SID dinner is also an important time to celebrate notable accomplishments in development. This year’s award for Outstanding Leadership in International Development went to Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever and Co-Founder/Chair of Imagine. Under Mr. Polman’s leadership, Imagine works with CEO’s from around the world to intentionally build social sustainability into their business models; models that put people first. Imagine helps business leaders articulate what corporate social responsibility actually means, identify the areas of their business in which corporate social responsibly can and should be implemented, devise a long-term meaningful business strategy, and ensure accountability around these new commitments for consumers and shareholders alike. 

Mr. Polman began his remarks by reminding us that “It is a good time to be born. Every day the conditions of poverty are getting better. But at the same time, the disparities of our current economic system are becoming more transparent.” He suggested that we are currently witnessing a global tale of two cities, exacerbated by the realities of climate change, income inequality, and disproportional resource allocation. Imagine is responding to this by helping businesses and business leaders around the globe understand the bottom-line impact of socially conscious consumers. Mr. Polman reminded us that as early as 50 years ago the average life expectancy of publicly traded companies was 70+ years. Today the average life expectancy is only 17 years. In Mr. Polman’s words, “There is a graveyard of companies whose mission was to the shareholder alone, and that business model is no longer sustainable.” 

Mr. Polman’s reflections on the gross inequities of resource access and distribution are not shocking to development professionals, who see this dynamic play out in our daily work. However, it was encouraging to be reminded that the global attitude toward social responsibility is changing for the better. Collective collaboration between the development and business communities, which is required to continue the trend of improvements, is possible. 

DT Global has also taken to heart the desire to develop new approaches to collaboration. One way in which we are responding to this is by sharing a portion of DT Global’s profits with the DT Institute, DT Global’s sister non-profit. Through this relationship, DT Institute will have unencumbered seed funding to support priorities at the donor level, fund studies and assessments that the broader donor community may otherwise seem too risky, and provide grants as a bridge mechanism for sustainability to DT Global beneficiaries at the community level.

Mr. Polman concluded with a call to action, stating that “The bigger question we need to face, ourselves and collectively, is ‘do we care?’ If we do, we need to attack the issues collectively, differently.” Looking ahead to the coming year, I am encouraged from my vantage point at DT Global that we are tackling these issues collectively, differently, and with untraditional models of development. I look forward to the opportunities the coming year will bring for us all so we might reflect on them at next year’s annual SID reunion.