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Are We (Finally) Ready For Compassionate Capitalism?



Examine and study capitalism, showed as a magnify glass and word capitalism | Are We (Finally) Ready For Compassionate Capitalism? | Featured

Before speaking at IMD Business School’s Global Alumni event, The Future of the Planet: Inspiring What Could Be, I communicated with Paul Polman, the former Unilever CEO who’d just launched IMAGINE to help companies pursue the UN sustainability goals with a “collective sense of urgency,” and with Gillian Tett, the U.S.

Managing Editor for Financial Times (FT), who’d just launched Moral Money, an FT series dedicated to explaining why investors should pay attention to environmental, social, and governance, or ESG, principles.

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Are We (Finally) Ready For Compassionate Capitalism?

Support for compassionate capitalism has rapidly grown over the last half dozen years with antecedents over several decades.

Some early advocates include Hunter Lovins, founder of Natural Capitalism Solutions; Gary Hirshberg, Stonyfield founder/author of Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World; Alice Tepper Marlin, founder of Social Accountability International; Joe Keefe, founder of Impax Asset Management and Marcy Murninghan, who’s advanced a broad range of corporate social responsibility initiatives since the 1970s.

Social return-on-investment (SROI) calculations and other metrics are important. John Elkington, who coined the concept of the “triple bottom line” with three Ps — people, planet, profit — says it was meant to be more than just an accounting or reporting system; its goal was “system change — pushing toward the transformation of capitalism.”

Initiatives that support global citizenship, sustainability, diversity, and inclusion too often have been “out-house” appendages.

The CEO of a multi-national corporation asked me to help advance their corporate social responsibility, or CSR, work.

I met their senior vice president in a gorgeous corner office with breathtaking views. He enthusiastically declared their commitment, then sent me to meet their CSR executive vice president. When I arrived in her closet-sized office with no windows, I immediately knew their true priorities.

She brimmed with brilliant ideas, from engagements in local communities to global efforts as their company was expanding throughout the U.S., Europe, and Africa.

But she was deeply disheartened, describing how her recommendations elicited a black hole of silence when she shared about the enormous energy of citizen volunteers ready to engage.

With virtually no budget and just one part-time assistant, she needed resources from higher-ups to proceed: a green light wouldn’t suffice, but she wasn’t even getting that.

Sadly, I’ve encountered this only too often. But we may finally have reached a tipping point where social responsibility is something businesses and governments must act on, not just talk about.

Covid-19 revealed a raft of inequalities, which provides an opportunity for us to redress these disparities. Employees and consumers increasingly want companies to do that. A similar trend shows that citizens expect it from their governments.

During his first 100 days, U.S. president Joe Biden focused on more inclusive prosperity domestically. A Pew Research Center study shows that many in the U.S. and Western European economies support government-sponsored job training, affordable public housing, and other interventions to revive economies.

Biden also is pursuing greater global cooperation on a range of issues, rejoining several international treaties.

Jeffrey Sachs, President of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, calls for sharing the intellectual property of Covid-19 so that vaccines can reach the most vulnerable in our world.

He cites 150 former heads of state and Nobel laureates who sent an open letter supporting this. What does this mean for you? As leaders, first, we each must develop a deeper sense of responsibility for each other and our planet.

Then we must become advocates for our enterprises to grapple with the world’s enormous problems, extending beyond exclusively quarterly returns.

We also need multi-sector, cross-border alliances to tackle issues that no one sector or nation can successfully address on its own.

The foundation for effective social responsibility is a belief in the power and importance of unity, empathy, fairness, and the acceptance of human differences.

Engaging with others on efforts — large or small, local, national or international — is our best chance to save humanity and the planet, by cementing business, political and social systems that help all of us thrive rather than dividing and destroying us.

Leaders must think both/and instead of either/or. We’re not just observers: We can be influencers and change-makers. Compassionate conscious capitalism connects us to a deeper purpose.

The more we engage with each other, the better “the whole” functions and we increase our chances of being successful with our individual endeavors.

Compassionate capitalism is calling. Figure out what you want to do, then find others to work with you. Then act as if meaningful change can be achieved — and it will be.

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