Mark Zuckerberg CEO of Facebook Speaks in Trusteeship Council Chambers During the Interactive Dialogues Of the SDG Summit on Fostering sustainable economic Growth, Transformation and Promoting sustainable consumption and production.

Why Mark Zuckerberg Was at the UN Today

Day 2 of the UN’s Post-2015 Summit was not quite as hectic as the previous day, but there were still some key announcements made as world leaders were speaking all over the building at various events. The UN Global Compact’s Private Sector Forum was perhaps the highlight of the day where the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, President of the General Assembly Mogen Lykketoft, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark rubbed shoulders with the likes of Facebook’s  Mark Zuckerberg and other high-powered CEOs like Unilever’s Paul Polman and LEGO’s Jørgen Vig Knudstorp.

It should come as no surprise that the UN has opened its doors to the private sector just a little bit more in the months leading up to the Post-2015 summit. Not only did civil society experience a more inclusive process in forming the Sustainable Development Goals, but as implementation and financing became the focus, so did private sector actors.

It’s true that the bulk of financing efforts to implement projects geared towards achieving SDGs like renewable energy, clean water, access to proper sanitation, and women’s empowerment will come from governments, but there are gaps that only multi-national corporations may be able to fill.

This is where companies like Unilever, SkyPower Global, and Aviva come in. Mark Wilson, CEO of Aviva,  spoke to the General Assembly yesterday and today addressed a small crowd at the Private Sector Forum, saying that “not addressing the global goals would be the biggest market failure of our time.” He called the Global Goals a potential “Magna Carta” for business to establish their “legacy.”

It isn’t the usual rhetoric of CEOs but could point to a shift in a ‘business for good’ model in the post-2015 era, one that is mutually beneficial because shoring up emerging markets in the world’s poorest countries means more customers for businesses.

Naturally, there is still a strong contingent at the UN that believes in keeping the private sector in check in the developing world to prevent predatory practices. President of the General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft of Denmark may well be part of it. Though he noted during the Forum that “we must mobilize a much larger and more varied set of financial resources than was relying on for meeting the [Millennium Development Goals],” he went on to issue a public warning to corporations, calling for stricter tax law enforcement. Lykketoft said that companies as well as wealthy individuals need to pay taxes where they earn their money in order to ensure the ability of those economies to build lasting infrastructure and the ability to fight corruption.

His last two points may not necessarily go hand-in-hand, but Lykketoft’s point was that companies cannot and should not parachute into the developing world without allowing the country to reap their fair share of the benefits from that investment beyond wages paid to workers or private infrastructure projects.

It was a bold statement to make in front of that crowd, but his tempered optimism could also be seen as a warning to developing nations looking for investment: make it easier for countries to do business with you by following the rule of law and curbing corruption. A better business environment could be the answer to achieving at least some of the SDGs.

Mark Zuckerberg took a different approach at the Private Sector Forum by calling attention to his initiative, which is attempting to provide free internet access to billions around the world. Though his statement deserves a headline, he is certainly not the first person to suggest that internet access and poverty reduction are closely tied. Professor Ernest Wilson III of the University of Southern California is just one example of someone who had worked in the development field who saw a need for access to information as far back as the late 1990s. Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, has also been advocating for it as he notes that the next billion people are coming online faster than anyone thought they would be and it’s changing the face of development as a result. Zuckerberg however may be the only person who can actually put this plan into action because of Facebook’s far-reaching infrastructure, popularity, and profits.