This year’s keynote speaker at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show in New York City was former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He addressed the crowd of over a thousand attendees with a message of peace and prosperity in a world of growing conflict and struggle.
It might be hard to immediately see the connection of a former UN Secretary with the world of retail, but Annan stressed that peace goes hand-in-hand with prosperity, of which retail plays an integral role. Political conflicts and wars (with huge emphasis on the Middle East and Northern Africa) impact the way retailers do business around the world.
“Political conflicts and wars affect the environment in which one does business,” he said. “A bad environment creates problems for you and for the people living in that region.”
To that effect, Annan outlined three pillars prosperous societies are built on:
- Peace and stability
- Rule of law and respect for human rights
Each pillar reinforces the other. “If you don’t have a stable environment where people can invest and get their return on investment, why would they invest and how do you develop the country,” he asked.
Nations cannot move forward without stability and peace; there is no development within a volatile society. The pillars must be rooted in by the rule of law and a respect for human rights in order to see long-term growth.
Annan asked retailers to consider investing in third-world nations through public and private partnerships, noting that retailers need to incorporate small-scale farmers into their supply chain. Such farmers would be able to improve their own living conditions while contributing to their society.
In Kenya, Safari.com came up with a system called M-Pesa, a mobile-to-mobile money transfer system. In six months, M-Pesa has brought 17 million people into its network. Farmers are now making deals through their cell phones, cutting out the middleman – and it is making a difference on how produce is traded in Kenya.
During the Q&A portion of his keynote address, Annan stressed that retail can play an important role in solving many economic problems today. By coordinating efforts between large and independent businesses, creating jobs for young people and stressing socially responsible business practices, retail can be a driving force for change.