On combining sustainability and profits

I would like to recommend this lecture from Lund by swedish author and sustainability expert Per Grankvist on combining profits and sustainability. (Unfortunately it is in swedish).

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Understanding Shared Value

FSG  created a quick video to demonstrate the meaning of shared value conceived by bringing in the interaction of business and society for collective social impact. It isn’t just enough to “greenwash” your business but to change the mindsets of the  individuals leading the organization and ultimately diffuse to all employees that business and society are not mutually exclusive.

See here

Equality means Business

Fast forward five minutes into this youtube clip and listen to UN Secretary General speak about the UN Global Compact Women’s Empowerment principles.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Costa Rica, Convergence, and CSR

Public-private partnerships have not earned itself a popular approval in many communities around the world as a means to reduce poverty and improve livelihoods, and surely the process to converge NGOs and private business firms and government is a complex one. Nonetheless, I believe the idea of a convergence economy proposed by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has some bright opportunities, including NGOs who recognize the resources they can leverage by seeking out dedicated businesses for support and businesses who recognize the long term benefits they can leverage by engaging NGOs who are aligned with public welfare issues and the protection of natural environments. Governments, therefore would accordingly need to facilitate and act as an umbrella actor to help foster the accommodating policy fora so that such a convergence can take place.

Take Costa Rica for example, in a recent article by Robert Blasiak ( a former LUMIDER!), the country has independently “self-imposed” this idea of convergence first in regard to environmental protectionism and economic development, recognizing the diverse societal gains of their biodiversity of lush tropical forests (more hectares of forests:carbon neutrality; ecotourism: local employment). Because as Robert so nicely summarizes:

“Costa Rica’s success in slowing and ultimately reversing the deforestation trend is due to recognition by policymakers of the value of the country’s ecosystems.”

For Costa Rica, and it may be a unique case given the country’s natural environment endowments, the lesson is drawn from a seemingly nonchalant, yet out-of-the-box epiphany by the government: constitutionally justifying  “a healthy and ecologically balanced environment” for all people and operating without a standing army for the last 64 years! But nonetheless, Costa Rica drew my attention and certainly speaks to what the WBCSD  envisions, a future  of a “convergent value chain” or:

“…a flexible model in which different participants play different roles at different times, according to the recipients’ needs and according to which entity has the necessary mix of skills and resources.”

And it looks somewhat like this in Costa Rica. Because as the Costa Rica works towards carbon neutrality (independent of the international finance and institutional support might I add), big businesses in the country such as Florida Bebidas (aka Florida Ice & Farm Co.) are integrating more sustainable and environmental conscious efforts into their operations as a beverage brewery company. It appears to me that the model represents a convergence of stakeholders in this regard using a mix of financial and program development resources and local on-the-ground labour input. For example, Florida Bebidas’ (financial resources) pay for environmental services such as watershed conservation, coordinated by state agencies and national foundations such as the Foundation for the Development of the Volcanic Mountain Chain or the Costa Rica National Forestry Fund (program development and implementation) who then train and pay landowners and community producers for the services their land is used to provide for water users. (See one 2003 watershed program here)

Since my digging has not yet discovered local NGOs’ collaboration with business and government, this could mean several things, including: whether there are still gaps in seeing the effects of a fully multi-sector oriented scheme, the fact that the different stakeholders are still not seeing eye to eye and maybe there hasn’t been an active request to NGOs for support, or possibly even a lack of interest or hesitancy by these organizations themselves to be involved. However, what seems more probable is the potential for new value captured in the overall value chain model where not only has a company committed to CSR campaign for waste reduction and responsible consumption behaviors, but it has committed to working with people and stakeholders outside of its direct industry, and for the main reason recognizing that its long term growth depends on it. Ultimately it is such a convergence of stakeholders that the social and environmental impacts have equated to training landowners, employment generation, water resources management, social network development, and ultimately the conservation of Costa Rica’s precious ecosystem.

Gender perspectives on CSR

The popular tv show Mad Men set in New York’s emerging advertizing industry of the 1960’s, underlines the challenges and difficulties women were faced with when entering the workplace at the time.  Sexual harassment, being ignored by their leaders, and thick glass ceilings, just to mention a few.  Since then, women have moved far in the workplace (at least in some countries).

Yet, in 2012 for performing the same work women still (statistically) receive lower salaries than male colleagues,  both within the public and private sector. Women are absent from top management,  leadership positions and boardrooms across the corporate world. Furthermore, issues such as sexual harassment, abuse and low wages are problems with a gender dimension to it.

In 2010 the UN Global Compact placed gender equality on the CSR agenda through the launch of the Women’s_Empowerment_Principles. These principles address the issue of gender equality in all areas of business, including  leadership, supply chains and entrepreneurship in communities. The principles create awareness and give practical examples of what corporations can do to empower women’s role in the workplace. There is a huge potential for business to make a difference.

That said, it is not only the business community that bear the responsibility for correcting inequalities. There is a need for policies that promote women’s agency, opportunities and rights in the workplace. Policies that empower and enable the entire workforce, both men and women,  to participate and contribute with their capacity.

This part of CSR is up to all of us, in the businesses and organisations we participate in daily. If the  workplace of the 21st century was of the Mad Men, why not let the 22nd be of the Sane Men and Women?

On the note of leadership…

Speaking of leadership, if you are interested what some of the most influential people in business are up to these last couple of days and the state of global economic development, keep an eye on the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland!

A notable quote mentioned in AI, Africa Investor, from Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank:

“We have to generate the political will to do things that have to be done. We need a framework of regulations, public-private partnerships that help create investor confidence, and standardisation in our financial and services industries. These are things that are lacking, but with storm clouds in the rest of the world, we must turn to ourselves for growth.”

What struck me the most about what he said is right on target, but presents a definite challenge for many SSA countries:

1) political will

2) standardisation

3) ownership and leveraging individual (country and local) growth–all without the sugar daddies of WB or IMF among other institutions…

Follow someone at Davos! Here are some suggestions!: Tweeting from Davos

Emotional Intelligence 4 CSR

Just a quicky about EQ, We all talk about CSR and how it contributes to development, but there is an important ingredient that needs to be highlighted. In the world of the private sector there is a need to supplement the existing profit intelligence with a more Emotional Intelligence mindset. CSR isn’t just about the responsibility for its surrounding environment (nor only about marketing), but it should be first built on the people in the organisation where strategy is built with both brain and heart, where top talent is committed for its own sake and is willing to do their best for the purpose of the company. Research has also shown that emotional intelligence is two times more important in contributing to excellence than intellect and expertise alone. We need more diversity and “personal without being private”- leaderships, to build the business from within to make everyone wanting the same goal. Therefore corporate decisionmaking should alter and restructure its current businessmodels to a more humane nature where emotional intelligence replaces greed at the roundtable, pronto!

/ Eva Alm

Impact Investing at the Bottom of the Pyramid, Chinese Style

Last week, I found myself sitting in a conference room among a majority of suit-clad business executives listening to a panel of state commerce officials and legal experts discuss the current international trade in Arizona. A lot of numbers were thrown around about import and export goals met and jobs created, but my attention was most jolted when the discussion centered in on China and more so, China in Africa. What is China doing in the African marketplace, one of growing opportunities and that has recently appeared on investors’ radars? The discussion inevitably shifted from international trade to trade with China [read: why haven’t the Americans sought out Africa and how can we compete with China to capture the lion’s share of investment?]

It seems to me that Chinese investors are taking more risks these days and more of these risks appear in the form of privately held businesses across Accra, Dar es Salaam, Lusaka, and even in Juba. But much to the big dogs of media’s surprise, some Chinese entrepreneurs have not followed in the footsteps of what many Chinese companies have rampantly invested in the past decade across developing regions of the world–everything in between Presidential mansions, shaky buildings, and hoards of Chinese labour that is. Instead, on the minds of a new wave of Chinese investors are heralding the way for increased social entrepreneurship where wealth and charitableness are starting to go hand-in-hand as opposed to the common belief “为富不仁” -wéi fù bù rén.

In a recent Q&A session with Tao Zhang, Chief Operating Officer of New Ventures, WRI’s center for environmental entrepreneurship, the key message emphasized that the Chinese are certainly commercially motivated but it does not mean their commercial returns cannot also create social and environmental benefits. Unprepared to make an impact in the social sense of the word, the  way the Chinese see fit (for now) is to team up with interested partners, investors, and thinkers across different developing and emerging economies, such as in India and Africa. Investors are now collaborating with centers like New Ventures of the World Resources Institute, where its Chinese office helps entrepreneurs to better conceptualize and quantify the social and environment impacts of their new start-up.

So rather than trying to push more American companies to invest in Africa, I think it’s high time to push for a renewed type of investing..from the bottom-up that is, and more awareness on the social and environmental impacts. And this is as much a priority for entrepreneurs as it is for policy-makers to foster the kinds of environments to best accommodate impact investing.

An example of a Chinese firm working with impact investment in Asia: Avantage Ventures seeks to create a marketplace for social capital by advising social entrepreneurs and investors on strategic impact investing!

100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics-2011

The list is out! Ethisphere has just published its newest list for the 100 most influential people in business ethics: HERE

Among the 2011 list include those from various sectors both public and private, academic and corporate, government and Non-government.

Excited to see a professor from my alma mater–Arizona State University–on the list!

#89 Marianne Jennings – Professor, Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business

Some other notable business ethics extraordinaires include:

#1 Anna Hazare – Indian Anti-Corruption Activist, Independent
Category: Thought Leadership

#17 Ai Weiwei – Chinese artist and activist, Independent
Category: Media and Whistle-blower

#37 Panthep Klanarongran – President, National Anti-Corruption Commission of Thailand
Category: Government and Regulatory

#49 John Githongo – Activist, Kenya
Category: Media and Whistleblower

#54 Azim Premji – Chairman, Wipro
Category: Business Leadership

#58 Michelle Obama – First Lady, United States
Category: Government and Regulatory

Ethisphere Institute is a leading international think-tank dedicated to the creation, advancement and sharing of best practices in business ethics, corporate social responsibility, anti-corruption and sustainability. The Ethisphere Council and Business Ethics Leadership Alliance are forums for business ethics that includes the membership of over 200 leading corporations, universities and institutions

Keeping Earth in Business

This  inspiring video shows how small and large businesses are acting as catalysts of change.  Through the project 1% for the Planet – Keep Earth in Business,  companies are contributing with 1% of their revenue to an environmental cause. Enjoy the lovely video!

2011 Net Impact Conference – Lessons Learned | Future Leaders in Philanthropy

2011 Net Impact Conference – Lessons Learned | Future Leaders in Philanthropy.

10 facts learned from the conference, though some a bit depressing, hopefully motivates change by American consumers, businesses, and corporate leaders…I a flabbergasted by #5, I especially like # 7,  I can see how the occupy movement had grown more steam day after day based on # 3; and I hope that the firm noted in # 8 can do something more sustainable about # 2

Social Inventions require audacity, vision, and everything else in between

I recently sent an article to a few of my dear Lumid alumni and previous project management team members (you lucky souls know who you are) reminding them of the great times we had devising a mock organization and project on Ugandan women’s development and feminine hygiene. And it’s true as one of my team members commented that I just cannot get of the subject…of the Period that is…because this story is simply too innovative to resist.  It helps me to reflect on some simple rules about social entrepreneurship, filling a need in society while simultaneously creating a business model.

Where 70% of women in India simply are not able to afford sanitary napkins a study by AC Nielsen highlighted the poor sanitation and hygiene conditions of women, especially in rural India. On top of the taboo of speaking about menstrual health, often the opportunity cost of buying sanitary napkins could mean daily necessities such as milk. And the other methods used by women for their periods involve rags, newspapers, leaves that may be unhygienic and ascend to infections such as RTIs or potentially cervical cancer (Sinha, 2011)

The Audacity:

In 2006, an Indian man and high school drop-out took a risk and made a disruption in order to transform lives and improve women’s access to more affordable sanitary napkins. He began to investigate the composition of sanitary pads. Arunachalam Muruganantham (i’ll call him Murug for short) began to wear women’s panties and created a “menstruating uterus by filling a bladder with goat’s blood…occasionally squeezing the contraption to test out his latest iteration.” Deemed a pervert by his wife, mother, and ostracized by others in his community, he continued his research and even created his own millionaire’s alter ego (one that Donald Trump would be proud of) in an attempt to obtain testing materials from U.S. firms to support his investigation.

Finally, murug was able to fashion an electricity generated sanitary napkin machine that de-fibers cellulose (from tree bark), compresses and seals it into a napkin and sterilized by ultraviolet light (the kind only a Starwars hero could appreciate). Each machine under the control of four woman can produce about 1,000 napkins sold at retail price for about $.25 per package (8 per package).

What’s the gain? Well, according to Murug’s research, U.S. consumer giants like P&G and J&J burn their corporate pockets (think P&G commercial, “in a small village in Africa” Nia has a happy period because she has tampax) of half a million dollars(!) on a machine that does the same as Murug’s machine which costs $2,500. Although the number of napkins produced are not comparable to the numbers produced by P&G, a unique business model was born out of his invention that will assist in reaching his vision of a “100% napkin-using country”.

The Vision:

Rather than becoming a commercial enterprise, Murug spreads an idea and tries to fill a need. His company, Jayaashree Industries, helps rural Indian women and self-help groups buy a machine (via govt loans, NGO), teach them how to operate it (about three hours of instruction), and ultimately creates jobs that allow the women themselves to make an income. Although currently there are only 600 machines in use by women across 23 states in India and abroad, Murug envisions 1 million jobs to be created as his invention and the business model becomes more viral and expands in other developing countries.

Everything in between:

What’s equally important as access to affordable sanitary health is creating an awareness, and in this case an awareness especially relevant among half the population of India. Although I cannot begin to say I understand the lifestyles of Indian women in some parts of the country, the immediacy  of one woman’s response to a cautioning against reproductive infections: ‘So what? How long are we going to live anyway?’ really hits home the need for more social innovators like Murug and responsible businesses like Jayasshree Industries to jump start development and raise awareness.

So Team Papy, B, S, I, and E, don’t be too bummed about not getting our mythical funding for the project, there are social entrepreneurs and changemakers out there who are!

Interested in Jayasshree Industries and How’s the de-fibering done? You can watch a series of short videos here, the first without voices complemented with Chinese elevator style music in the background

First ever stakeholder-based certification system for the oil and gas industry

If the world can’t completely convert from oil and gas to electric*, then why not make oil and gas operations more responsible?

It’s the called the the EO100 Standard and it allows for a 3rd party verification process by independent stakeholders, outside the actual operating managment, including the companies, academics, governments, and NGOs and indigenous communities, to qualify and evaluate oil and gas company’s environmental, social, and sustainability impact and performance.

Previously EO100 Standard v. 0.5 was established for oil and gas operators in the Amazon and Andean regions of South America, but it appears that the renewed EO100 Standard v 1 will allow its application to more global oil and gas operators. Operators will be held accountable under the EO metrics and performance standards in areas such as corporate governance, human rights, fair labour, climate change effects, and project life cycle management. Essentially, the aim is to make more transparent the entire process from contract to implementation and in any post-completion and remediation.The standard is implemented by the organization, Equitable Origins, which started in 2009, with the vision of bringing greater transparency and credibility to CSR activities.

*Although Israel is on the move motivated by Shai Agassi’s Better Place organization to build electric energy infrastructure around the world to promote the electric vehicle switch: