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My Sustainable Brands coverage of the Third Global Forum for Business as an Agent for World Benefit.

On Thursday, the first full day of Flourish & Prosper: The Third Global Forum for Business as an Agent of World Benefit in Cleveland, Ohio, the morning’s plenaries and CEO panels explored how business can move beyond how social and environmental responsibility are thought of today, to a new mindset of “full-spectrum flourishing” where “companies prosper, people excel, and nature thrives.

By the afternoon, it was time to get to work. “Speakers give you seeds of ideas and food for inspiration. Now it’s time to get us going in a different direction,” said David Cooperrider, author and professor at the Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University.

He invited conference attendees to split into eight smaller “design studios,” where each group used Weatherhead’s Appreciative Inquiry (AI) summit method and facilitation to design, and work on, a specific, real-world innovation challenge.

A similar process at past Global Forums has resulted in breakthrough developments. At the 2006 event, participants designed the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) with the UN Global Compact Office. PRME is a global network and framework for academic institutions to advance corporate sustainability and social responsibility. Launched in 2007 by Ban Ki-Moon, PRME signatories today include 500 leading business schools and academic institutions from more than 80 countries worldwide.

In each of the studios, attendees created an action plan for moving forward on a project or challenge, based on the dozens of ideas and work of everyone in the room. Attendees worked with facilitators to go from the brainstorming stage of collecting ideas (ideation), narrowing these ideas down into promising concepts, generating workable prototypes for discussion, and then into the final design phase with an action plan. After barely eight hours of work total, the teams presented draft — but tangible — vision statements, timelines and next steps on the main stage late Friday morning.

The studios worked on:

  • Cities as centers of full-spectrum flourishing
  • Regenerative agriculture
  • Transitioning to 100 percent clean energy
  • “Consciousness of connectedness” in the workplace
  • A “U.S. Grand Strategy” based on sustainability
  • New metrics for sustainability-as-flourishing,
  • Transforming the linear economy into a circular one, and
  • Showcasing businesses working for good, with Nobel Prize-like awards and recognition

In the renewable energy group’s report, spokesperson Matt Renner, executive director of the World Business Academy, shared the group’s plan to accelerate a pathway to a 100 percent renewable energy economy. The group proposed using existing technology based on micro-grid platforms, funded by a global energy bank.

The U.S. Grand Strategy project has been in motion for several years starting with a 2003 whitepaper commissioned by the Pentagon and authored by Patrick Doherty. The team is now housed at the newly launched Strategic Innovation Lab at Case Western with co-directors Mark “Puck” Mykleby and Doherty. Their group shared ideas for engaging businesses, regions and citizens across the country to work on a U.S. grand strategy based on sustainability.

The final studio, “Showcasing Business as an Agent of World Benefit” opened with the inquiry to find ways to change the stories we hear about business and the world. As a whole, we mainly have negative ones that dominate our media and conversations. Instead, business can help elevate the larger, truly positive stories that are out there, but unheard, of companies doing well by being good for their customers, society, employees, and the environment. By sharing and scaling up these stories, “they can become known and become living reality in business and society,” said Cooperrider.

To this point, Harry Halloran, Chairman and CEO, American Refining Group and ARG Resources said, “People would be astonished to find out all the good things already happening in business.” (Halloran Philanthropies supports the Fowler Center for Sustainable Value at Case Western.)

Work on this initiative is already underway at Case Western and other institutions. Business students are conducting thousands of business leader interviews about innovations, breakthroughs, and excellence, using the Appreciative Inquiry method.

In the group’s report to the conference, they shared ideas for an online platform to house the stories, an app to share them, a MOOC, exhibitions, and global business awards.

While the conference concluded on Friday, the design studio work and all the connections made at the conference will continue, to create a flourishing world.

More about “full-spectrum flourishing” can be found in the new book, Flourishing Enterprise: The New Spirit of Business by Chris Laszlo, Judy Sorum Brown, John R. Ehrenfeld and others.

My Sustainable Brands coverage of the Third Global Forum for Business as an Agent of World Benefit

UN Global Compact chairman Sir Mark Moody-Stuart used his time on the main stage at the Third Global Forum for Business as an Agent of World Benefit on Thursday to propose how business can join the global fight to eradicate malaria.

In addition to his role with Global Compact, Moody-Stuart also serves as the chairman of the IVCC Board of Trustees. IVCC is a not-for-profit public-private partnership that was established as a charity in 2005. The group’s mission is to save lives, protect health and increase prosperity in areas where disease transmitted by insects is endemic.

Moody-Stuart shared how IVCC is partnering with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UKAID, USAID and Swiss Development Corporation to engage with major agro-chemical companies to bring three new antimalarial insecticides into production. “Innovation funders and business partners have brought us this far,” he said, but the project still needs $50-100 million to come to fruition.

Malaria seen a remote problem that’s not connected to business, but Moody-Stuart argued it’s not.

“Healthy employees, customers and communities are good for business,” he said.

The problem, as Moody-Stuart explained, is that people fighting to eradicate malaria need to rely on the continuing generosity of governments and philanthropists such as the Gates Foundation. And as the problem continues, they’re asked to do even more.

“Or someone else has to do the job. To me, it has to be done by companies in the affected areas,” he said.

Which is where his proposal came in, with the question: “Would societal benefits be enough to get companies to give a few million dollars a year to bridge the gap?”

Companies that contribute to the effort would be helping bring a solution over the finish line.

Malaria is one of the world’s most preventable illnesses and causes of death. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), malaria kills over 600,000 people each year and sickens over 216 million more. Increased prevention and control measures have reduced malaria mortality rates by 42 percent globally since 2000 and by 49 percent in the WHO African Region.

But these gains are threatened because of increasing resistance to insecticides that are used in life-saving sprays and bed nets. Similar to antibiotic resistance, the long-term effectiveness of insecticides relies on more than one kind and the ability to rotate them. But with a lack of human welfare funding on a global basis, these new insecticides are not being made.

The economic case for eliminating malaria can be found in the research that tallies the annual costs of death and illness due to malaria to governments. The Centers for Disease Control estimates the direct costs from malaria from drugs, illness, and premature death to be at least US$12 billion per year. As the CDC outlines, the cost in lost economic growth is many times more than that: “Costs to governments include maintenance, supply and staffing of health facilities; purchase of drugs and supplies; public health interventions against malaria, such as insecticide spraying or distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets; lost days of work with resulting loss of income; and lost opportunities for joint economic ventures and tourism.”

Businesses bear many of the same costs with lost employee productivity and costs to care for ill employees.

Dr. Nick Hamon, CEO of IVCC, remarked: “For companies who want to grow in Africa, now’s the time to get your brand out there with a small group of motivated companies who want to be part of the solution.” Hamon estimates that 5-10 companies contributing $1 million a year for 10 years would be sufficient to bring these three already-tested insecticides to market and make malaria eradication closer to reality.

As well as being the right thing to do, for companies who operate in areas impacted by malaria, this can also be seen as an opportunity for companies looking to grow and be seen as a human welfare leader.

“They can be a part of the solution right up front, with something we know is going to be successful,” Hamon said.

Global Forum Workshop Explores Brands’ Challenges & Opportunities for Flourishing in the Future

Flourish & Prosper: The Third Global Forum for Business as an Agent of World Benefit started Oct. 15 in Cleveland, Ohio with a full day of plenaries, CEO panels, and afternoon workshops. The conference’s aim is to move beyond how social responsibility and sustainability are thought of today, to a new mindset of “full-spectrum flourishing” and profitability.

At one of the conference’s afternoon workshops, WeFirst CEO Simon Mainwaring explored the branding challenges facing companies today from societal, technological and global upheavals, as well as the opportunities to adapt for a “flourishing” future.

He started by telling the story of how he was inspired by Bill Gates’ 2008 “Creative Capitalism” speech at the World Economic Forum. Gates called on business to help solve the world’s problems alongside government and philanthropy, by making “doing good” a part of how they do business.

Today, everyone with a computer in their hand now has the power to reach literally millions of people with a post, tweet, or photo. And as well, this access to information has created a generation of increasingly media savvy customers. “Social activism can rally likeminded people to either support or demonize your brand,” Mainwaring said. Mobile activism is on the rise, with apps like Buycott that let customers vote with their spending to support or reject brands and causes.

But reality is, says Mainwaring, “Consumers want a better world, not a better widget.” They’re looking to brands and asking “Are you part of the problem or the solution?” This thesis is backed up by consumer “preference for purpose” research by Edelman and others.

Mainwaring said that many companies didn’t want to necessarily want to talk about all the good things they were doing. But the world has changed. Consumers actively want brands to tell them what they’re doing to contribute to a better world.

“So the bar is raised and it’s no longer enough to have a good product—companies need to have a purpose as well,” he said.

The most iconic brands of the future will be those with the greatest social impact. More and more, leading brands that have been known for creativity are now leading with their corporate purpose.

Mainwaring offered advice for companies to start with their purpose and asking, “What’s the right thing to do? Does it tie into what our customers want?” And then, from there, to ask “How do we do it in a way that’s profitable?”

Brands that answer all these question are then able to distill their purpose down to one core property, like Coke’s “Open Happiness”, Starbuck’s “Shared Planet” and Nike’s “Better world.”

Another key takeaway from the discussion was that leading brands think of themselves as the celebrator, not the celebrity, of their customer community. An iconic example is Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” campaign that celebrates everyday athletes.

An intriguing development is how purpose-led brands are using social media and customer relationships to lead social conversations that align with their company purpose and values. One example is Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz, who expressed the company’s support for same-sex marriage at a 2013 shareholder meeting. Chiptole has steered a national conversation about food and how it’s made with viral videos like The Scarecrow. And of course, Patagonia’s iconic 2011 Black Friday “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign that opened conversations about consumption and responsible purchasing.

Mainwaring also cited Tesla as an example of how far a brand can go to live from a purpose with CEO Elon Musk’s commitment to break away from fossil fuels. Musk’s company is doing that by making electric cars and unlocking Tesla’s patents to speed up production and adoption across the industry. So in that sense, Tesla is a “mission with a business,” instead of the other way around.

One of the morning’s CEO panelists, Chris Killingstad , president and CEO of Tennant, was at the workshop. He offered his perspective on leading from his company’s brand values of creating a cleaner, safer, healthier world. Tennant makes chemical-free indoor and outdoor cleaning solutions that use 70% less water, are environmentally inert, and drastically reduce workers’ exposure to toxic chemicals in the workplace.

But it’s not always an easy sell with the pressures of quarterly earnings expectations. “Investors increasingly get that we’re running the enterprise of the future, but they say we’re are only going to give it so much time.” And he added, “you’ve got to have courage” to keep leading from an unshakable commitment to a company’s values and doing work that’s good for the world as well as the bottom line.