Trust Yourself to Change the World
“Change happens because a few people decide to act”. With these words of Jo Confino, executive editor at The Guardian newspaper, opened this morning the 11th Doing Good and Doing Well conference, the largest student-organized conference on responsible business in the world.
It’s easy to separate business off from who we are, but this has to change, he added. “We have to change our minds. The challenges we face are so inter-connected that we can only change things by working together.”
At the proceedings of the conference, Eric Weber, IESE associate dean reminded the audience that responsibility and service to society has always been at the heart of IESE’s mission and is not just a response to the irresponsibility that triggered the current financial crisis.
Thomas Schick, vice president of communications at American Express, began the keynote sessions by saying that “CSR is more of an art than a science”. In his opinion, it is not so much a policy as making day to day business decisions in a socially responsible way. “Today we recognize that beyond the three traditional constituencies in business – employees, customers and shareholders – there is a fourth: stakeholders. You can only operate in society because it allows you to.”
The problem, however, is that the social contract is unwritten. “Corporations have signed up to this unwritten contract that they will behave in a responsible way, but they grapple with this every day making real business decisions.”
Schick then posed some questions. Is outsourcing to developing countries socially responsible when it creates unemployment at home even though it creates jobs in other countries? Is it morally wrong to use tax loopholes to evade taxes although it’s not illegal? Is it acceptable for fast food companies to ignore the epidemic of obesity for which they are partly responsible?
There isn’t a right answer; it’s a question of approach, he said. “A corporation has to ask itself – what does society expect of me in these circumstances? There is a second question which is: in these particular circumstances, do we want to meet this expectations or would we be better off falling short?” This, he said, is the day-to-day reality of CSR.
Dr. Bjorn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and Copenhagen Business School took an even more practical approach: How and Where to Do the Most Good? He said that as we can’t solve all the world’s problems, or not all at once, we have to prioritize and, as it all costs money, figure out where the money can be most effectively spent.
Unfortunately, we tend to behave in a reactive way, because something is in the news and because society demands some form of action. The Consensus Center has drawn up a list of the ten most pressing global problems, which include armed conflict, preventable disease, natural disasters, education, climate change, hunger and malnutrition and then analyzes how best to deal with them. It then puts its findings to its panel of experts, which includes four Nobel laureates, to decide what is the best solution and what investment will bring the biggest results.
The rest of the day was dedicated to workshops and panels on sustainability, impact investing and energy. The conference resumes tomorrow morning with contributions from the entrepreneur Raimund Stüer, John Bird, founder and editor of The Big Issue, and Ana Sáenz de Miera, director of Ashoka, Spain.