Rudolph Atallah, senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Michael S. Ansari Africa Center, testified at a House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on “The Growing Crisis in Africa’s Sahel Region.”
On the heels of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit to the United States, Energy & Environment Program Associate Director Mihaela Carstei joins CTV to discuss the Keystone Pipeline project that would transport tar sands oil from Canada and the northern United States to refineries in the Gulf coast of Texas.
2012 Atlantic Council Awards Dinner - Distinguished Business Leadership Award
Mr. Paul Polman
Introduction by Dr. Rajiv Shah
Monday, May 7, 2012
Transcript by FedNews
RAJIV SHAH: Thank you and good evening. A special thank-you to Mika and Joe; and thank you, Senator Hagel, for hosting us this evening. It is really an honor for me to be with such an incredibly distinguished audience, an audience of leaders who have imagined different possibilities for our world in so many different fields, and in particular in different ways to make our country safe and secure.
It is in that setting that it’s my distinct honor to introduce a friend of mine, Paul Polman. It’s unfortunate that just this evening more than 900 million people around our planet will go to bed hungry. And it’s unfortunate that more than 500 million of them are young children. And many of them, because of their chronic hunger, will not have the strength to fight the next illness and will succumb when they should persevere. Many will not have the strength for their brains to fully develop so they can learn, grow and contribute to making their world more productive and economically rewarding for their communities.
And it’s in that world where we’re able to honor tonight a business leader, Paul Polman, who runs a massive consumer-goods company, Unilever, and has had a very impressive background at Nestle and other firms. And he brings an absolute and unique commitment to ensuring that business leaders around our world commit themselves to literally ending hunger, ending preventable child death and making sure that the reach of modern capitalism touches even those families that sometimes are forgotten.
And it’s with his perspective that corporate CEOs and corporate entities have both the responsibility and a tremendous business opportunity in addressing the needs of very poor and often unstable environments that he has created a number of efforts that are literally changing the way companies large and small see their role in addressing these global challenges.
He’s brought together other CEOs of similarly large firms to say, enough is enough, and we have to work together to prevent the next famine in the Horn of Africa, because that famine is both a deep moral blight on our conscience and also a very serious security threat to all of us.
He has brought together companies with more than $3 trillion in revenue – trillion with a T, even a big number in this town – so that they could actually think about how they can improve the products they offer and how they could partner with the United Nations and so many other agencies around the world to reach those children who otherwise simply don’t get enough calories and certainly don’t get enough quality calories to learn, grow and thrive.
And with this new effort, called New Visions for Agriculture, he’s helped to make sure that these companies work together with local leaders and local businesses and local governments to make sure that we generate the kind of hard-nosed corporate results that we all value. As a result, he’s launching a public-private partnership in Tanzania that could triple Tanzania’s agricultural output; generate, together with other efforts, more than half a million jobs; and lift 2 million people out of poverty.
Paul’s worked aggressively with the World Food Program, the front-line partner against hunger and famine, to launch an effort called Together for Child Vitality that has already helped to feed 80,000 children and encouraged them to come to school, because they get food in school, throughout Kenya, Indonesia and Colombia. The list goes on and on: deforestation, school nutrition, improved food products for families, and efforts to literally transform the final frontier in food and agriculture, sub-Saharan Africa.
There was a time a few decades ago when we celebrated the insights of a young scientist named Dr. Norman Borlaug, who had invented new wheat seed varieties, and in doing so coupled that invention with his absolute persistence to end hunger. And we awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize for that effort.
Tonight’s award is not the Nobel Peace Prize, but in many ways Paul Polman reminds me of what I’ve learned and – when I had the chance to meet Dr. Borlaug: someone who has tremendous vision and intellect; someone who is respected for his leadership in a hard-nosed, results-oriented corporate environment; and someone who miraculously gets up every day, commits his personal time and energy, and somehow manages to bring 20, 30, 40 other CEOs along with him every time he launches a new effort to make the world a better place and to imagine an environment where those kids don’t go to bed hungry every night.
And for that, I am deeply honored to be able to introduce my friend Paul Polman and to present him with the Atlantic Council’s Distinguished Business Leadership Award. Thank you, Paul. (Applause.)
PAUL POLMAN: Thanks, Raj. I think that’s more than something I deserve. But one of the things that is very clear is that Raj’s leadership of USAID and obviously a deep sense of purpose, focus and energy that he brings to a number of these global challenges is obviously admirable – and more importantly, to the benefit of us all. And I think no one better to explain that than Raj himself.
I saw some of that energy and determination when I had the privilege to work with him at the latest World Economic Forum, which I co-chaired, and we worked on the Vision for Agriculture as a partnership to indeed promote the – what we call now the southern growth corridor in Tanzania. It’s actually an immense honor obviously for me to accept this award for – in name for our company, for Unilever obviously, and do this at a time that you celebrate the 50 years of trans-Atlantic relations and to foster peace and understanding across the world.
In fact, I myself am probably in some ways a child of the Atlantic Council. I was born at about the same time that – in the Netherlands actually – that the council started. I grew up in Europe, actually studied in the United States, and actually have the privilege to lead a wonderful company that touches about 2 billion lives a day, where seven out of 10 households actually use our products around the globe.
I’m very privileged to have my wife Kim here, and I’m delighted that she’s actually with me, but I’m also sorry to say that most of the time, the only chance we have to speak with each other is on the plane when we go somewhere. (Laughter.) So I want to thank her for everything, and I couldn’t do that without her. And I also want to especially welcome my mother-in-law who is here, Daudi Strauss (ph) and Lorraine Percy, the widow of the late Senator Percy. (Applause.)
But I think you agree with me that the personal sacrifice that we make as leaders in business is nothing compared to the price willingly paid, actually, by those who risk their lives in the cause of peace and stability. So I feel especially humbled tonight to be receiving this reward on an evening when you actually recognize the men and women of the armed forces.
I’m accepting this award at a critical time for business. Capitalism as we know it is being questioned – at a time, actually, when trust in corporations and governments is at a low. Yet a need for responsible business has probably never been greater.
The world faces many challenges that Raj eloquently summarized, food security being one of them, poverty reduction, sustainability of resources, yes, climate change and social and economic development for all. The scarcity of food, water and energy alone represents what many experts are calling a perfect storm. And another 2 billion people will be entering this world in the coming 30 years, and these challenges will only multiply.
It is clear that we do have to act before it is too late, and yet we face a dilemma. In fact, if – forgive me, as a businessperson, I put it in terms of supply and demand. In fact, the demand for change from citizens is growing. In fact, they’re screaming out for it. And social media is increasingly giving them a voice, actually, in these demands. And at the same time, the ability of governments and others to supply – to supply the changes that are needed is increasingly limited.
Now, I believe that business has an opportunity and a responsibility to step up and give the lead. I always like to quote Viktor Frankl, who said in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” that when they built the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast of the United States, they forgot the build the Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast. (Laughter.) And I think that is true for all of us. (Applause.)
Now we have an historic opportunity to strengthen the confidence of all the citizens and to – (inaudible) – actually, this mistrust that increasingly exists, that mistrust towards business, to show that capitalism isn’t that, and that it is just in need of a fresh expression.
At Unilever, we’ve tried to give a lead in this respect. We’ve put sustainable and equitable growth at the heart of our business. In fact, that is our business model. And we’ve set our ambitions high. We want to double the size of our business, but at the same time, half our environmental footprint of total decoupling. We want to, in effect, to decouple this growth from the negative impacts on this environment.
No company our size or complexity has set such audacious goals, yet this new model of sustainable and equitable long-term growth is absolutely needed, and we call it the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. We have 60 time-bound targets covering the entire value chain, and that will reduce, hopefully, the impact that we have and at the same time improve the lives of millions of people around the world, especially the many that go to bed hungry, as Raj said, or the many people that are what we would call small-hold farmers and many more.
We want to save lives. It simply – it simply cannot be right that even in today’s world, millions of children die every year of preventable diseases like diarrhea when the answer just lies in simple hand washing. It simply cannot be right that one child dies still every six seconds in this world, and it simply cannot be right that a billion people go to bed hungry every night. Therefore, I’m very pleased that the secretary-general is here as well and would certainly call for endorsing very strongly his initiatives of Every Woman Ever Child or Energy for All and Scaling Up Nutrition. Some of these things are absolutely needed.
Our sustainable living plan is a 10-year plan, but one year on, we’re already starting to see real progress, not least because others are also rallying to the cause. We simply cannot do it alone. We’ve always said that power comes from collective action. So when, for example, the world’s major retailers and food manufacturers under the global Consumer Goods Forum commit to help put an end to deforestation, we actually begin to move the needle.
I know there is a growing appetite for the agenda here as well. We need to bring the U.S. obviously in the foreground on this leadership. The ingenuity and the innovations for which you are known for are needed more than ever. And particularly, we hope that the U.S. government can set the right tone and ambitions for the upcoming Rio+20 conference.
And we also need the Europeans to join the U.S., because together, you compromise (sic) the largest markets in the world for a long time to come, and you can set the example once more of what sustainable development is and to step up the leadership, the leadership that we need to work in partnership with business, multilateral institutions and civil societies to solve some of these biggest challenges.
The secretary-general, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, and Raj Shah understand this very well, and I know they’re doing everything they can to break down these institutional barriers we have and kept closer cooperation amongst the many stakeholders, particularly in one of the biggest challenges that we have, which is food security.
It certainly is a privilege to leave the private sector group on these issues ahead of the upcoming G-20. If we’re serious, if we’re serious about lifting people out of poverty, stimulating economic development, ensuring that we can feed the world when they have 9 billion people, and if we’re serious about destabilizing effects that come from food shortages, than we simply have to act now. On food security and other pressing global issues, business simply has to take the lead.
But it requires a new way of thinking; it requires a new business model. We used to talk about business getting a license to operate – I don’t think any longer. Today the challenge for business is to earn a permission to lead. The world needs it. The consumers demand it. We cannot leave these challenges to governments alone. Business simply has to step up, and time is running out.
As one of the greatest countries here on earth that you are, most influential as well, one of your founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, once famously observed that “you may delay, but time will not, and lost time is never found again.”
At Unilever, we’re trying to earn a permission to lead. It is a journey in which the 171,000 men and women who work for our wonderful institution are committed. On their behalf and mine, I certainly thank you for acknowledging that this evening and for giving us this presentation this evening as well. I’m deeply honored, and certainly thank you for your time. Thank you. (Applause.)
On May 22, the Atlantic Council's Cyber Statecraft Initiative will hold a discussion on the history of cyber critical infrastructure protection in recognition of the 15th anniversary of Presidential Decision Directive 63 (PDD-63).
On May 23, the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Peace and Security Initiative at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security is hosting a panel discussion on new developments in security cooperation among the United States, its European allies, and the Gulf states, and how they are likely to evolve in the coming years.
On May 30, the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center will release a new issue brief, The Kaleidoscope Turns Again in a Crisis-Challenged Iran, a discussion of Iran’s upcoming presidential elections.
From June 13-14, the 2013 Wrocław Global Forum will bring together over 350 top policy-makers and business leaders to explore the region’s impact as an actor in Europe, as well as its crucial role in the transatlantic partnership and on the global stage.