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“Hey Corporate America, what if…?”

October 12, 2011 Comments

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The outpouring of support and respect for Steve Jobs was not only a testament to the creativity, passion and brilliance of the man, but also what’s possible for the corporate leaders of America.

What if every corporate leader was as singularly associated with a positive impact on society as Steve Jobs was for humanizing design?

What if all companies offered unparalleled transparency and accountability for their impact on the environment as we see with Patagonia?

What if every social game makers tethered virtual goods to donations so that giving became scalable and fun as Zynga did?

What if all corporate leaders committed to executing purposeful strategies at the holding company level like Indra Nooyi has at PepsiCo?

What if every brand adopted a global leadership strategy as Nike has using its Environmental Apparel Design ToolNike Green XChange, and work with the Livestrong foundation to address issues larger than itself?

What if all competitors chose to work together as we see with Nike, Adidas and Puma, who have partnered with others in the Sustainable Apparel Coalition?

What if every heavyweight challenged itself and its supply chain to reduce their carbon footprints in a matter of months rather than decades as Wal-Mart has?

What if all Wall Street firms recognized that their greatest assets are not their buildings or bonuses but the customers protesting at their doors?

What if corporate America shifted from defending itself to attacking social problems?

What impact would that have on consumer respect for business leaders? What would it mean to your employees? What would it do for your bottom line? And, most importantly, what could it do for our country?

Which begs the question: What will it take for you to change?

 

 

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7 responses to ““Hey Corporate America, what if…?””

  1. Scott Cosman says:

    Well presented Simon. Helpful in deepening the conversations with interested (curious) Enterprises.

  2. Thanks Scott. There are inspiring examples out there for sure. And social enterprises are critical to the change we need. Simon

  3. Anonymous says:

    Simon, that’s essentially  how the social business approach came into being, with a ‘what if’ proposition as explained in  this extract from an interview in 2004 with my recently deceased colleague Terry Hallman::    

    “Essentially, P-CED challenges conventional capitalism as an insufficient
    economic paradigm, as evidenced by billions of people in the world
    living in poverty in capitalist countries and otherwise. Under the
    conventional scheme, capitalism – enterprise for profit – has certainly
    transformed much of the world and created a new breed of people in
    capitalist societies, the middle class. That is a good thing. But,
    capitalism seems to have developed as far as it can to produce this new
    class of fairly comfortable people between rich and poor, at least in
    the West where it has flourished for quite some time.

    The problem is that profit and money still tend to accumulate in the
    hands of comparatively few people. Money, symbolically representing
    wealth and ownership of material assets, is not an infinite resource.
    When it accumulates in enormous quantities in the hands of a few people,
    that means other people are going to be denied. If everyone in the
    world has enough to live a decent life and not in poverty, then there is
    no great problem with some people having far more than they need. But,
    that’s not the case, and there are no rules in the previous capitalist
    system to fix that. Profit and numbers have no conscience, and anything
    done in their name has been accepted as an unavoidable aspect of
    capitalism.

    I disagree. In 1996, I simply set up a hypothetical ‘what if’
    proposition. What if some businesses decided to change their practices,
    or institute themselves as new enterprises completely, for the sole
    purpose of generating massive profits as usual and then using those
    profits to help people who have little or nothing? That’s the way to
    correct and improve classic capitalism for the broadest benefit
    worldwide. It’s now called social capitalism, or, social enterprise.”

    One of the subsequent “what ifs” related to war in Iraq in the strategy paper for Microeconomic Development and Social Enterprise in Ukraine where he wrote:

    “It is proposed that the
    United States of America be actively engaged in supporting this project,
    financially and any other way possible. Ukraine has clearly
    demonstrated common will for democracy. Ukraine has also unilaterally
    taken the first critical step to fulfill this program, thus clearly
    demonstrating initiative and commitment to participation required in the
    original Marshall Plan sixty years ago. The US side is presumably
    attempting to foster democracy in another country, which never expressed
    much interest and shows little real interest now. That of course is
    Iraq, where recent estimates indicate a cost of $1.5 billion per week.

    That same amount of money,
    spread over five years instead of one week, would more than cover the
    investment cost of the initial components of this project, and allow a
    reserve fund for creating new projects as Ukraine’s intelligentsia
    invents them in the Center for Social Enterprise. It is proposed that
    Ukraine and the US provide equal portions of this amount. Ukraine is
    certainly able to provide that level of funding, given that projects are
    designed with the same fiscal discipline employed in the traditional
    business sector. That means they pay for themselves, one way or another.”
     
    He was the change and he died leaving the biggest “what if” of all. What if we deploy business to invest in placing children in family homes. All children, including those hampered by disability in cultures which considered thm disposable.

    What if we listened and made it happen?      

  4. Anonymous says:

    Here’s something Terry Hallman had told me about the early days in Chapel Hill where he later fasted for economic rights from a tent.

    “I called Nike’s then-CEO Phil Knight out in Chapel Hill,  c. 1998.  He
    arrived within three days.  UNC students were roundly condemning Nike’s
    business practices as part of anti-Nike sentiment sweeping universities
    married to the Nike logo via contracts with their sports departments. 
    For whatever reason, he decided to appear at UNC ahead of the multitudes
    of other schools on the warpath.  That likely had to do with UNC’s
    legendary status as a NCAA men’s basketball power.  + receiving a
    carefully-worded invitation to show up or else.  I only wrote the
    invitation.”

  5. Wow. Thanks Jeff. Amazing story.

  6. […] It is time for corporate America to become “the third pillar” of social change in our society, complementing the first two pillars of government and philanthropy. We need the entire private sector to begin committing itself not just to making profits, but to fulfilling higher and larger purposes by contributing to building a better world. These efforts cannot be limited to ad hoc contributions or small cause marketing campaigns. Just as MLK accomplished, we need to shift the prevailing thinking in corporate American that is content to ignore or abuse one segment of society—the growing class of poor and unemployed Americans—while enriching an elite small group of individuals. Corporations must begin recognizing that we cannot have a high performing functional society if we continue to separate purpose and profit, living and giving, consumption and contribution. […]

  7. […] It is time for corporate America to become “the third pillar” of social change in our society, complementing the first two pillars of government and philanthropy. We need the entire private sector to begin committing itself not just to making profits, but to fulfilling higher and larger purposes by contributing to building a better world. These efforts cannot be limited to ad hoc contributions or small cause marketing campaigns. Just as MLK accomplished, we need to shift the prevailing thinking in corporate American that is content to ignore or abuse one segment of society—the growing class of poor and unemployed Americans—while enriching an elite small group of individuals. Corporations must begin recognizing that we cannot have a high performing functional society if we continue to separate purpose and profit, living and giving, consumption and contribution. […]

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