Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Haiti, koman ou ye?

January 27, 2010

“Koman ou ye?” means “How are you?” in Haitian Creole. The answer tends to be “M pa pi mal” – which means something like “Not too bad.” After the horrible earthquake, Haiti and its people are not well. All the help that is conceivable and possible is so badly needed for a country that had already been ailing so much for so many years. And yet, Haiti’s people are incredible. During the years I lived in Montreal, Canada, I knew quite a few people from the Haitian community. I was always impressed with their love of life and people, positive spirit, love of music, dance and play, and deep spirituality. I learned to appreciate the music of Manno Charlemagne. I believe that the spirit of Haitian people will carry them through … I only hope that aid will be effective, and that the millions of dollars donated will reach the people who so badly need that support. I am worried about a similar risk that Bernard Kouchner, the founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres and now the French Foreign Minister, warned about after the Tsunami five years ago: That of each Euro or Dollar donated, only 50 cents would reach the people in need, and the other half would be lost in the many aid organisation’s administrative overhead … And I agree with Kouchner pleading in mid-January this year: “… our attention and efforts must go beyond immediate humanitarian relief. We must engage the Haitian people and help them on their path toward a new future.” I read in the news that Haiti is asking for help over the next 5 to 10 years. That looks like a reasonable period. Our commitment must be long-term.

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Season’s Greetings

December 6, 2009
Dear  clients and colleagues,
It’s the end of a turbulent and unsettling year – and we all ask ourselves “Will this situation continue into 2010, with each of us facing a mix of uncertainty and hope?” The global financial crisis – when will it be over? What will the world need to look like after it? And how can each of us contribute?
In November, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, announced he’d go on a 24-hour hunger strike to raise awareness that one in seven of each of us in the world face starvation. For those, what will their season’s celebrations look like, going to sleep hungry? And then there is climate change – how far are we from the ‘tipping point’, after which any change we will try to make will simply be too late?
You might agree that being patient and hoping that somebody else will take care of all these things for us will no longer be enough … Working with Sustainability and Change, I cannot help noticing the urgency of each of us feeling personally co-responsible and each of us taking personal action.
Many of us tend to celebrate this season because more than 2000 years ago, a caring changemaker was born who took personal responsibility. Most of us admire changemakers like Ghandhi and Mandela. The Nobel Peace Prize committee awarded this year’s prize to President Obama for the spirit he carries into the world and his willingness to effect change.
All of these people are/were regular human beings, only with a serious dose of awareness, energy, courage and commitment. And that’s where the hope lies – in responsible citizens around the world taking action, out of a passion for caring about each other and the world. I know you will be doing something, taking an active role, rather than letting the world’s events just wash over you. And I would love to hear from you about that – post your comment here about what you do, in your life or on behalf of your organization.
We are each a part of all of this. Each of us can make choices, and together, we have achieved so much already. In this spirit, I do wish you a few quiet, restful and reflective days with your loved ones at the end of the year, and then a new year 2010 full of opportunities, for you and your nearest and dearest to prosper and experience personal happiness, and for all of us together to engage, contribute, and turn things around!
Season’s Greetings and Happy New Year!

From Community Involvement to Social Performance Management

October 20, 2009

As language has kept changing and developing over the past decade, from philanthropy via Corporate Citizenship to Corporate Community Involvement, there is yet again a change to be noticed. Increasingly, the mining, oil and gas companies (e.g. Shell, e.g. BG Group) talk about Social Performance Management and develop their own Social Performance Standards. In their companies, Community Involvement is now part of overall Social Performance Management (the third line of the Triple Bottom Line). As they have been trendsetters before, it will be interesting to see whether their language will ‘go mainstream’ soon …

Turning inward – and losing relevance?

May 17, 2009

 

Just read through an interesting research report and thought I’d share the essence – regarding companies engaging in real dialogue and exchange with stakeholders in the community:
Key content:
The authors’ research shows that just when companies need to turn outward toward their communities, they turn inward toward their organisations. 
The dominant focus becomes their own programs, strategic planning, internal board matters, etc. It is in this realm that leaders believe they can exert the most control and where they feel most confident in their abilities. The research clearly shows that the more leaders and organisations try to turn outward and focus on the communities in which they work the more they reach for inward practices for guidance about what to do. The result is a cycle that binds them ever closer to a posture of inwardness.
And yet, it is within our communities where people live, and where the aspirations and challenges to address reside. The fundamental issue raised in this report: What does it take to turn outward to create real change? The authors position stakeholder dialogue and engagement as a *core competency* to be learned and acquired, and they point out how necessary it is for organisations to lose the *fear* of engaging in deliberation with stakeholders – daring to embrace citizen-based values, or losing relevance.
Thought this perspective could be interesting? 
Just read through an interesting research report and thought I’d share the essence – regarding companies engaging in real dialogue and exchange with stakeholders in the community. Key content:
 
The authors’ research shows that just when companies need to turn outward toward their communities, they turn inward toward their organisations. The dominant focus becomes their own programs, strategic planning, internal board matters, etc. It is in this realm that leaders believe they can exert the most control and where they feel most confident in their abilities. The research clearly shows that the more leaders and organisations try to turn outward and focus on the communities in which they work the more they reach for inward practices for guidance about what to do. The result is a cycle that binds them ever closer to a posture of inwardness.
 
And yet, it is within our communities where people live, and where the aspirations and challenges to address reside. The fundamental issue raised in this report: What does it take to turn outward to create real change? The authors position stakeholder dialogue and engagement as a *core competency* to be learned and acquired, and they point out how necessary it is for organisations to lose the *fear* of engaging in deliberation with stakeholders – daring to embrace citizen-based values, or losing relevance.
 
Thought this perspective could provoke reflection on current state and needed change? 
 
(The report: ‘The Organization-First Approach – How Programs Crowd out Community’ by Richard C. Harwood and John A. Creighton; prepared by the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation with the support of the Kettering Foundation; published 2009)
 

A new approach: From CR to Sustainability to Business Innovation

May 14, 2009

What started out as corporate philanthropy morphed into social sponsoring, and then by way of Corporate Citizenship turned into Corporate Community Involvement. What started out as Health & Safety expanded to Health, Safety & Environment, and then broadened to become Corporate Social Responsibility with its triple bottom line. It took two to three years of international back and forth, and then the ‘social’ was dropped – the language turned to Corporate Responsibility. Well, then the issue itself became interesting to governments and NGOs – they wanted *their* corporate responsibility … only, they are not corporations. So, lately we are increasingly talking about *organization sustainability*. How can an organization be sustainable – economically, environmentally, and socially with employees and with all other (human) stakeholders?

Interestingly, what motivates people tends to be an appreciative rather than a punitive approach: not “you must be less bad”, but “you can actually have fun and make good money by being good!” That’s what the Lohas want, and that’s what ‘Cradle to Cradle’ (McDonough/Braungart) is about – one of the most important books currently around. Last week, I had the pleasure of spending a good two hours with Michael Braungart, one of the visionary brains behind the concept.
Prof. Braungart is certainly driven by a sense of urgency which fuels him into considerable speed in thinking, convincing, inventing and implementing.
Prof. Braungart no longer speaks with companies about Corporate Responsibility. He is not about ‘sacrificing performance for going green’ and also happily takes environmental NGOs out of their comfort zone. Rather, he engages with companies in provocative conversations about Innovation Management to create a ‘beneficial footprint’. Prof. Braungart challenges companies into creating breakthrough innovation that eliminates the concept of waste and pollution altogether. Such product innovation starts with e.g. edible underwear or the first Ford car made from cradle-to-cradle materials. Going even further, he paints the picture of innovatively changing whole companies around new business models. I’m intrigued with that, because if you have e.g. three people in a company ‘getting’ what an innovative, cradle-to-cradle business model could look like and they want to go for it, how do they take an organization of 50,000 or 90,000 people along – people that are potentially attached to the ‘old ways’? What communications and engagement processes will they need? How can everybody take part, get excited, contribute own ideas, co-own the concept? How does the whole organization need to be redesigned? Corporation 2020 (www.corporation2020.org) is looking into that.
 
This is about not just running with the profits and outsourcing risks around disposing of products to society. This is about companies selling services rather than products – they sell/lease the use of their products and take them back after a while, be it cars, TVs, computers, windows, carpets … and then make sure those get re-introduced into a non-harmful closed-loop cycle of updating, upgrading, re-using. Or whatever cannot be taken back can safely be thrown into nature, as it will consist only of non-harmful biological nutrients.
 
Interface did it, and they were among the first: a company that made industrial carpets from oil that were in use for 10 years and then thrown out to rot in landfills for the next 20,000 (!) years is now well on its way towards zero negative effects on the ecosystem by 2020 – *and* gaining market share on the way! A lot of companies are interested in following suit – Akzo Nobel, BASF, Ciba-Geigy, Degussa, Ford, SC Johnson, Philips, P&G, Unilever (to name just a few) have all started looking into this.
 
Cradle to Cradle is not about focusing on problems. It is about focusing on gratifying solutions that are good for the customer – good for the environment – and good for the company. Let’s see how language will continue to develop – I would not mind seeing the notion of Corporate Responsibility disappearing, being replaced e.g. by a notion of ‘Business Innovation for the 21st century’, created by ‘Organizations for the 21st century’.
 

Moralised markets

May 14, 2009

Between locking your values firmly in tradition, never to examine them again, and being completely value-free and random in your choices, there is an in-between: Be(come) aware of your situation and the state of society and the world – and choose your values consciously, acting on them accordingly. Re-investigate your values periodically to make sure they still make sense or adjust them to new demands of a changing environment.

What got us into the current world-economic and climate mess? The short answer, according to many media headlines these days, is: Greed. Greed is about the absence of values. Greed is about short-termist thinking, about the next three months rather than the next 30 years. Profit as a mono-criterion is *not* sustainable – it creates a win-lose situation. The trouble with that is what The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (2006) pointed out: 5-20 % of global gross domestic product will be lost *per year* if stabilizing measures are not introduced. We will experience *market failure*. Stern states: “Our actions over the coming few decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, later in this century and in the next, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century.”

The breakdown of the financial industry, the breakdown of the automotive industry already demonstrate how short-termist thinking *will* produce a backlash worse than everything ever imagined. If we don’t tie ourselves to well-chosen values, we will experience a series of unimagined breakdowns over the coming years. Healthy (albeit moderate) profits and healthy companies need to be firmly integrated with and embedded in a complex and interdependent context of healthy (well cared-for) customers, healthy (well cared-for) employees, and a healthy (well cared-for) environment. Yes, this is holistic thinking indeed – our common interest can not be less than a world in balance. And if new business models are needed for that, then we need the best minds everywhere to think hard about those.