Supporting Young People is Key to Sustainable Business

Paul Bulcke, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Nestlé
Sep 19, 2017 11:00 AM ET

At the UN General Assembly in New York this week, an important topic is how business can contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We at Nestlé believe that supporting young people is not only core to the SDGs, but is also core to achieving business goals in this fast-changing world.

Young men and women are the future of our societies and our economies. Yet they are struggling to find a place in a system that seems to have abandoned them. The International Labour Organization estimates that two out of every five young people either are unemployed or have a job that keeps them in poverty.[1] This denies them the opportunity to plan for and invest in their future.

No single company, institution, government, or NGO can deliver on the Sustainable Development agenda. The expertise, resources, solutions and focus of many in the private sector are needed if we are to drive these goals forward.

Governments have a role in creating the right environment for young people to get into work, but they cannot play the role of employers. Traditional education - for those lucky enough to get it – is often no longer enough. Young people need the right skills to help them in a rapidly changing, digitized world of work.

Companies around the world need to embrace the challenge and invest more in young people. This makes good business sense. These are our future employees, suppliers and customers; they will be the drivers of the next industrial and agricultural revolution; and they are the ones who will determine if the social and economic gains of the last 70 years are to endure.

From Nestlé’s perspective, this is vital. It will be hard to thrive as a corporation and help the communities we are part of to grow unless we can tap into the skills of young people – such as scientists, agricultural entrepreneurs, industrial engineers and product managers who will drive the next wave of development.

This long-term approach has always been part of Nestlé’s DNA. We fundamentally believe that a business can only be successful over time and create value for its shareholders if it creates value for society at the same time. We call that Creating Shared Value. As such, it was a real honour to accept the Concordia Leadership Award in New York this week, in recognition of the work we have done at Nestlé.

Nestlé’s own ambition, just announced, is to help 10 million young people around the world have access to economic opportunities by 2030.  So we are widening the scope of our Nestlé Needs YOUth initiative to focus on three areas across our value chain: employment and employability, farmers, and entrepreneurs.

Take agriculture: around the world, less than 5% of farmers in rural areas are under 35. We are fast losing the next generation who can change the face of farming and help us meet the nutrition challenges of tomorrow.

Nestlé buys indirectly from 4 million farmers worldwide and directly from more than 700,000. We train around 400,000 of them every year on good agricultural practices. We use digital tools for this, and see these as the key for the next generation of farmers. So we have put out a challenge on our Henri@Nestle platform, asking innovators to propose an education and training solution to achieve that.

If we are to solve the growing problems young people are facing, we in industry need to work together and set our sights even higher.  Through the Alliance for Youth, founded by Nestlé in 2014, we have invited over 200 companies to join us in our efforts. The Alliance has committed to create 230,000 more opportunities by 2020 in Europe alone. The Global Apprenticeship Network is even more ambitious, promising to create more than 9 million opportunities by 2020.

In particular, we call on companies to join the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth led by the International Labour Organisation. Nestlé has just this week signed up, firm in its belief that while businesses compete for talent, we have to work together to safeguard that talent first.

It is in the interest of business leaders to come together to create the architecture to help young people. We need to prepare school leavers for employment, create opportunities for young entrepreneurs, and provide meaningful training and apprenticeships that give the skills necessary to thrive in all sectors of the modern economy.

These young men and women are our future. If we fail them, the costs will degrade society and hinder  growth.  But if we embrace the challenge we will boost innovation, expand markets and secure the hopes of the next generation.

Investing in our young people will promote social stability, alleviate poverty and secure a better future for all. This is creating shared value in action.

It is good business sense and it is also the right thing to do.