Below is an exclusive excerpt from Alice Korngold’s new book A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solving Global Problems…Where Governments Cannot. In case you missed the New Global Citizen’s review of A Better World, Inc, check it out here.
The world faces social, environmental, and economic challenges that are projected to increase exponentially over the coming decades. Many of these issues, such as environmental degradation, climate change, access to healthcare, poverty, and human rights, are cross-border issues. National governments acting alone lack the authority and resources to provide adequate responses. The international community has too often failed to achieve binding and actionable agreements to deal with these global problems…The NGO sector has made strides in advancing the human condition but lack resources and scalability sufficient to make transformational progress.
In the face of these difficult challenges, some creative responses are emerging from the business sector. Unlike governments, businesses in the twenty-first century cross national borders, spanning oceans and continents. Modern corporations respond to customers, employees, and investors across the globe in order to profit and thrive. Moreover, companies are learning that they must be attuned to the needs of the world’s population in order to maximize profits. This book tells the story of a number of global corporations that have aligned their profit-making missions with efforts to build a better world. These companies have come to understand that they can enhance their bottom lines while improving global conditions, often through partnerships with NGOs and governments.
For business, alleviating poverty presents opportunity, while addressing a pernicious global issue. By helping to advance people from extreme poverty to the middle class, businesses anticipate achieving long-term strategic growth through access to new markets, workforce development, product innovation, and product distribution. In Africa, Asia, Latin America, and formerly Communist countries, businesses are teaming up with NGOs and governments to foster employment, business development, and regional capacity-building to strengthen economies. Companies realize that these locales will provide vast and growing market opportunities as wealth increases and consumers seek to increase their quality of life…
It is in our power to create a better world where all people will have food, shelter, healthcare, an education, and the opportunity to work. There are two routes that must be pursued concurrently. First, the economies of regions where there has been extreme poverty must be transformed. Second, girls and women, as well as boys and men, must be empowered and provided access to education, healthcare, and the opportunity to earn a living…What is required is the regional infrastructure to promote and support education, healthcare, financial services, business development, regional capacity-building, open markets and free trade, and equal opportunity…
Businesses are a powerful force in economic development and individual empowerment in some of the poorest regions of the world. By building stronger and more vibrant communities in previously impoverished regions, businesses in partnership with NGOs and governments benefit by advancing the vision of all people sharing in global prosperity.
Local Content Development
“Local content development,” sometimes referred to as “national content development,” is an approach used more recently by global corporations—often extractive companies (oil, gas, mining)—to help develop the capacity of a region where the company is locating a major extractive or manufacturing site. Local content development focuses in particular on employment and job training, in addition to fostering the creation of local business enterprises that can provide everything from basic services up to fabrication and construction, logistics, operations support, and professional services. Companies are conducting local content work in emerging and formerly Communist countries, so there are many challenges, including the lack of an educated workforce and poor health conditions…..
Through local content development, corporations have a powerful opportunity to improve lives, bringing economic development to some of the world’s poorest communities. Furthermore, companies are learning that in order to be effective, they must engage a multitude of stakeholders—from government ministries to NGOs, local trade associations, businesses, and suppliers.[Deirdre] White explained that while compliance [with mandates by host countries in return for the company’s license to operate] is often the starting point to get a company to focus on local content, the hope is that corporations will shift to recognize the business case for local content. And, in fact, during the IQPC [International Quality and Productivity Center] conference [Fall 2013], White said she was “heartened to hear companies state clearly that their business rationale is manifold: sustainable human, social and economic capacity-building reduces the company’s political and security risks, demonstrates their responsible corporate citizenship, reduces their costs over time, secures their license to operate, and therefore makes good business sense.”
Two global pharmaceutical companies [Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, as described in the Healthcare chapter] have advanced their corporate missions while improving world health through innovative employee engagement programs…
According to PYXERA Global’s Corporate Volunteerism Benchmarking Study 2013…From 2006-2013, volunteers [deployed by global corporations through PYXERA Global] have worked …primarily in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The total number of volunteers has increased steadily each year….Developing the volunteers’ professional skills was seen as the greatest potential benefit—leadership development, team building, and entrepreneurship.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) describes itself as a science-led global healthcare company that is “dedicated to improving the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better, and live longer.” GSK’s global pro bono program is called the PULSE Volunteer Partnership… GSK’s global volunteers work on project management, business development, and change management, human resources, information technology, data management, logistics and supply chain, research and clinical development, and communications and marketing. The majority of volunteers work internationally, primarily in emerging markets, although some work domestically in underserved communities.
GSK believes there are a number of reasons to engage in global pro bono, including the win-win-win for the company, the employee, and the NGOs and communities they serve. Ahsiya Mencin, Director of the PULSE Volunteer Partnership at GSK, described being inspired by the CEO Sir Andrew Witty’s original vision to expand the company’s volunteering opportunities. “We built the program around Andrew Witty’s vision in the power of partnerships to solve complex global health challenges, and our strong belief in the value of bringing outside perspectives and realities into our company’s culture and thinking,” Mencin recalled. “PULSE aims to affect a three-fold change: change communities, change oneself, and change GSK.”
“We envisioned this as an experience to change the diversity of the way people think inside the company, and how they perceive the way that the world works,” he [Sir Andrew Witty, in a private interview with the author] said. “We wanted people from GSK to experience how civil society works as compared to corporations, and to learn how to get things done through partnerships…We want to develop more competent decision makers who have a global view. We want to have a company that’s part of society, with a cadre of personnel who will behave differently because of what they’ve experienced.”
Three Keys to Success
Multinational corporations at the sustainability forefront also understand that there are three keys to success: First, ensuring effective board governance of the company’s sustainability strategy and achievements; second, engaging with stakeholders, including customers, employees, investors, and communities, in an iterative conversation on global problem-solving; and third, collaborating with other companies and NGOs to advance the company’s sustainability agenda….
Looking to the Future
Global corporations have the human capital, the financial resources, the technology, the international footprint, the power of markets, and the profit motivation to build a better world. NGOs will be essential partners—essential for their expertise and their commitment to mission. Governments will be vital partners—vital as representative bodies. By engaging together through an iterative process, we will achieve “A Better World.”
Companies can build profitable brands and businesses by capturing the wisdom of stakeholders from the far corners of the world, including women and girls who have been disenfranchised, young employees who are adept with new technology, social media, and solutions, consumers communicating on the Internet worldwide, grassroots NGOs in the communities where they do business, and investors who understand that companies are more valuable when they incorporate sustainability into planning.
The stories in this book show that companies are the likeliest institutions to build a better world, that they are beginning to show promise of their capacity to do so, and that you can play a part in making this so.