April 07, 2008
Grameen Danone – the world’s first “social business” as conceived and presented by Dr. Yunus in his new book – is a brilliant invention. What Grameen and Danone have done with great courage and insight is open the door to a new future – and to a new whole landscape of possibility for creating a world without poverty. And perhaps much more.
Given this first landmark step, what else might now be possible?
For instance, what could happen in the world of profit-making business if “global viability” became the equal of “maximizing profit” in the boardroom?
Changing the game
From many perspectives, business enterprises have made a profound contribution to human progress since their inception some 400 years ago. However, a fundamental shift has occurred in our world over the last 50-60 years. We are entering a new era.
In the previous era, resources were abundant and people scarce. In this era, resources are scarce and people abundant. Many of the very principles and rules that historically allowed business to make such a remarkable contribution to global progress, if followed today, have the potential to destroy the well-being of our people and our planet.
Fortune’s Global 500 shows that the ten largest businesses in the world accounted for $2.4 trillion in sales in 2006. Nine out of ten of these mega-corporations are either oil or automobile companies. (The other, and largest, is WalMart.)
As those nine oil and auto companies expanded, they fueled an exponential expansion of global commerce. Selling more oil yields more profit – that’s the game we set up, and they have mastered it. However, what we didn’t realize previously is that selling more oil also accelerates global warming, which today threatens to destroy our planet as we know it. And of course, the world’s poor will feel this planetary impact first, foremost and most deeply.
We need new rules and a new game for global business enterprise, consistent with the new era in which we find ourselves. We have become masters at winning the game of business. From my point of view, it would be a mistake to throw out the baby with the bathwater. We simply want to change the game, change the rules of the game and unleash global business enterprise to get the job done of winning the new game with as much vigor and intensity as were applied to the old game. If that were to happen, it would have unimaginable impact on our world.
I agree totally with Dr. Yunus that corporate social responsibility while a laudable step in the right direction is insufficient to make any sustainable difference in creating a world without poverty. In the boardroom, as soon as profit goes down, the virtuousness of corporate social responsibility is one of the first things to go.
We need a new game in which, alongside of profitability (not displacing profitability), and of equal stature in the boardroom, must be an equally clear measure of social contribution (let’s call it “global viability”) that would include environmental sustainability, social justice and spiritual freedom. (Paul Dolan, in his book True to Our Roots, calls this idea the “Triple Bottom Line.”) In this new game, exceeding the “global viability” target would generate the same state of celebration, and falling short the same sense of urgency, as would exceeding or falling short of the profit objectives.
To be continued…
Starr Consulting Group
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