Building Sustainable Legacies


The Community Leads

Sanjeeb Kakoty, a dear friend of mine at the IIM Shillong business school, who has also contributed to our 50+20 initiative shares an impressive account of how a community comes about to join in a shared effort to construct together a community center – with every family contributing at least 1 member for a free days of labor to make this happen.

A wonderful account of one of the many miracles that are happening around the world every day and that we know nothing about. Watch this 7 min. video to get a feel for it:

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A creative solution to overcome the failure at Rio+20

Spend 12 min to watch Jamie Drummond: Let’s crowd-source the world’s goals !


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Public-private partnership on green growth

A high-level session hosted by the Danish prime minister and the President of South Korea and the Mexican Minister of the Environment filling in for his president and Unilever CEO Paul Polman. The Danish and South Korean statesmen make an unlikely couple: a beautiful, young and tall blond lady and a small, restrained, nearly introverted gentleman. They jointly present the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF) as an innovative international action-oriented platform in service of  a future “we want”. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is absent as is the Mexican Prime Minister who had just hosted the G20. After short statement, the South Korean Prime Minister and his delegation leaves. When will the discussion start?

We learn that the heads of state have somewhat unexpectedly already approved the proposed new document generated by the Brazilian a day ahead of schedule. They seem to have followed the recommendation of the delegates who had unanimously approved the overnight effort of the Brazilians to save the conference a few days ago. This is certainly weird and a major disappointment for many. Weird because the procedure of the state addresses is still going on in the main hall of the conference. And a major disappointment as the concerns of minorities both in the global South as well as other major groups (NGO, youth, women, etc.).

Paul Polman points out that the agreement falls short of the expectations as it lacks clearly defined goals and measures to be achieved. Clear words that express a broad general sentiment. The Danish prime minister says she is “moderately satisfied” with regards to the outcomes of the RIO+20 conference. She underlines the importance of having green economy recognized as the way forward and clarified that setting a new high level global governance framework is a first step in a longer process. She reminds us that we will need  everybody will now have to go and apply the notions now, and business most particularly. Paul Polman highlights that there is a lot of energy in the private sector as a result of the RIO+20 conference with many important initiatives now emerging.

Three goals (universal access to energy by 2023, providing 3 billion people with modern cooking fuel, minimize adverse environmental externalities) in the energy are about to be agreed on and supported across all sectors. The head of UNIDO clarifies that it will take 48 billion a year for the next 20 years is needed to achieve this. This money must come from the private sector and governments seem confident that corporations will provide this cash-flow. The conversation turns on money, the financial crisis and the need for public subsidies. Polman demands transparency and points out the 33 trillion of asset from 1100 organizations reporting in the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) as a start to provide the kind of transparency that is needed to succeed.

Paul Polman states that business responds best to signals from the market which are reflected by investors. He demands new measures for evaluating the real value of a company and challenges the investment community to come up with relevant new measures. This and signs from the consumers will be much more relevant and appropriate than broad subsidies. Not everybody on the panel agrees. Polman concludes by stressing also the importance of supporting the youth and congratulates the Higher Education Initiative (HEI) which gained 47 more signatures during this conference reaching now more than 300 universities. BSL was among the first dozen universities to sign this important initiative which is supported by our World Business School Council for Sustainable Business.

In the middle of the closing remarks there is a commotion at the back of the room: Ban Ki-moon walks in. As there is no spare chair for him, everybody jumps up and leaves the panel, leaving the UN Secretary General sitting quite lonely up front. Tony-Schmidt who is by now called the fairytale godmother of Sustainability. Ban Ki-moon thanks her for demanding that the UN leads the global governance framework and that he takes this very seriously.

It becomes increasingly difficult to listen to Ban Ki-moon, as loud, disruptive voices reach us from the outside where a demonstration must be gaining force and size. In the intimate setting of a quite inappropriately tiny room for such a high-level session, we wonder what expects us outside. It feels like I am on the other side suddenly, on the inside fearing demonstrations outside, whereas so far I have been on the outside doing the rebelling with our guerilla business school of 50+20.


Rio dialogues: Focus on water

Rio Dialogues offers a public debate on the critical topic “water” on at RioCentro. Dialogues is a public direct democratic initiative by the Brazilian government as their contribution to RIO+20. In the main auditorium there is a highly diverse and young crowd of approx. 1000 delegates and representatives of all walks of life from around the world. A rowdy crowd that is alive and present! The former president of Brazil who presided over Rio 1992 was booed out when honored. Right thereafter, the top Chief Sustainability Officer of Coca-Cola was speaking – and the electricity in the room is palpable, yet nobody booed, maybe because his speech is very correct? Yet, what about the need to walk the talk?

The session offers an important outcome and is important as we will select 3 recommendations from the 10 most voted items through a democratic process in the past 10 days. Much energy focusses on the pre-sentiment that government is trying to get away from the 2010 declaration on the right of water for everybody. The choice ranges from securing access to water, to implementing the right to water to improving water sanitation to ensure that education of children. In contrast to yesterday’s people summit at the Flamenco Park, here the urgency and the importance is palpable. It is my generation who is here: many many young faces and at least half of them women! Maybe I have finally found a place where people want to meet to change the world!?

It is difficult to find the list of the panel in the maze of the RIO+20 and I am lacking references here. A high-level African quotes an important saying:

“if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” to express his hopes for RIO+20.

He suddenly stops mid-phrase when the King of Sweden steps in with his guards and joins the audience. Shortly thereafter, Mohamed Munif turns things serious when he talks about water contamination in Bangladesh.

The representative of the World Water Council wants engagement not just words. They demand that all countries in the world inscribes the right to water in their constitutions. Today, only 1 nations has done so. They also demand that as of tomorrow no single school rests without a water tab and toilets. Today, 60% of African schools are without access to water. In the other hand, they want action to ensure that more only food but also water is provided to disaster zones. We must restore the safety of water to the level we have inherited it from our ancestors. Water security founds the very basis of human survival. It is estimated that by 2020, the world needs 45% more water than today. According to the rule of 3, only oxygen is more important to human survival than water. Already today, 890 million people don’t have access to safe drinking water.

The UNCG Corporate Sustainable Forum is also under attack: the trade union representative accuses corporations to have failed on all 3 pillars of sustainability: economy, social and environment. He turns to his fellow panellist from Coca-Cola and says:

“I cannot believe that Coca-Cola will ever agree not to want to sell more Coke!”

The lady from India raises the challenge by stating that India is facing a 79% increase in water needs while at the same time facing a reduction of over 40% in the next decade. She says that we are not horrified enough that 2 billion have no access to sanitation and this impacts mostly women in the global South. She clarifies that the solutions of the North do not work for the South. While in India, the daily water consumption is around 18 litre per capita (lpc), in China the water needs are raising to 80-100 lpc in the next decade. In contrast, the USA uses 570 lpc today, which may go down to 440 lpc at best, but is way out of any sustainable future. She insists on home grown solutions based on ancient wisdom from the global South.

“There is enough for everybody’s need but more enough for anybody’s greed” (Gandhi).

After introductions, Jeff Seabright of Coca-Cola is put in the hot seat: “can we reconcile economic growth with the needs of water, and if so how?” He does not expand beyond politically correct but otherwise irrelevant answer. Munif suggests that beyond forcing governments, we need wide-spread citizen engagement to ensure the right to water and sanitation also locally. He also connects the importance of the water issue with global warming and raising sea levels which endanger many regions, and in particular Bangladesh. Two indigenous women from Mexico turn the atmosphere chilly when they point out the lack of consideration and consultation in the decision- making process around water. A 13 year old indigenous girl asks for clear strategies on how to ensure that this will be assured.

The audience present selects as their urgent recommendation to implement the right to water as their first priority. The bigger question of course is what government will do with this. The current update is that there will be no consensus reached, with only 40% of the draft even discussed and no agreement achieved to date. Tomorrow, the top government negotiations with the heads of states start…


Changing paradigms for creating sustainable and just cities

At Rio Centro, many thousands of delegates, media and major groups  (women, labour, youth, business, labour, etc.) representatives are  meeting to discuss the challenges we face. What a nice change from the 5-star experience at the Windsor Barra, the temporary home to 2,700 business executives. Finally we had some relevant and engaged discussion about important and urgent topics – food for the brain and soul!

A session sponsored by the Ford Foundation on building and creating  just cities pointed out an important new paradigm: we need to look at  the arrival of poor emigrants in a city as an opportunity rather than  as a problem, like in the 60s and 70s. Addressing the issue of  mobility linking housing with work place is also critical.

Naturally, there are fears about the political instability that results from many new low-income emigrants. Yet, there is a proven,  direct connection between general income inequality and political instability. Investments by foundations are, as such, risk money. We need to take risks to ensure we limit and reduce inequality, activities and investments that support this.

The latest thinking highlights the importance of non-government associative housing projects. Another related paradigm shift is the  need to understand that the different interests for different city spaces need to be transformed from competing interest to combined interests. The effect of moving favelas (slums) into different areas has long proven to be a disastrous strategy. In Rio, an unknown amount of economic activity and value-added activity of low-income areas was wiped out when the neighbourhoods were relocated to create space for  competing interests, such as commercial buildings. So-called informal settlements are very vulnerable to being relocated, often not only temporarily but (as an example given again from Rio) for a period of  50 years – a sad series of undisputed discriminatory deeds!

A great take-away quote from Luis Ubinas, President of the Ford Foundation: “Let’s not call investing in low-carbon public transportation solutions a courageous act, it would rather be courageous or stupid  not to do so… much like playing Russian roulette with our future!”

In conclusion, a related side comment from one of the panelists (the official list is hopelessly outdated, listing NYC Mayor Bloomberg who is nowhere nearby) who reminds us that rural poverty is even worse than urban poverty as it also concerns social exclusion and is mostly  hidden and invisible to the public eye. What a most relevant and engaged session – I feel as being part of a group of people who cares with a sense of urgency. What a relief!


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Here is today’s launch speech.

“Today is not just another day and not just another conference. Today, we present to you the result of two years of voluntary work by many many passionate people who deeply care about ensuring that business schools and management education truly contribute to a better world. In this process, John Cimino’s song the CALL which he just performed has been our inspiration to be daring and courageous.
I was 22 years old when the original Rio conference took place in 1992. I was studying business at BSL, the school I now run as a Dean. Stephan Schmidheiny‘s book “changing course” changed my life. While I was environmentally conscious in my private life, my experience at work had taught me that I better leave personal interests at home and be strictly “professional” at work. With Rio 92, I sensed a new world opening up – one where I could integrate my personal passion into my professional work and help companies to become sustainable.
Today is not business as usual. We need something different from the usual conference debates. We have seen and heard all this before … The same words, the same arguments. We are busy rearranging deck chairs while the titanic is sinking! This cannot be another Copenhagen! The stakes are simply too high. The time is up – it is OUR generation and this is OUR time. We are the ones, who need to drop what we do, reflect and take courageous steps in a new, right direction. Now!
50+20 is a collaboratory, an open-source effort of GRLI, the WBSCSB and UN PRME. Our aim was to come up with a radically new vision for management education. A vision that started by asking big questions, like
– what kind of a world do we want?
– what does this mean for the kind of society we will need?
– what is the role of business and the economy in this?
– and what should business contribute to such a new world?
– what kinds of leaders do we need to achieve such a transformation?
– and as a result, what would that mean for management education?

We worked in a collaborative process with people around the world, including more than 100 thought leaders. Many people in this room have been involved in ways large and small. And we invite you all to stand up.

Together we created a vision beyond incremental change. Management education FOR the world, management education in service of the common good. We see 3 fundamental roles. We reframe education, we give a concrete purpose to research and we introduce public engagement as a new responsibility for business schools.

This is about new benchmarks and the benches you see here symbolize that. They have been created by artists around the world from re-cycled materials. We invite you to look at them, sit in them and feel the creativity and the fire for a socially just and environmentally sustainable future they embody.

Today, right here, right now we officially release the 50+20 Agenda. Here it is in physical form.

Digitally it’s in the conference documents and online at 50plus20.org. Its the start – we have developed a process of engagement, there will be a book in the fall, there are over 100 emerging benchmarks on the website which may serve to inspire. We have worked hard to strip out the
greenwashing the blue washing and well meaning intentions.

But what matters is not what others do, it is your engagement and whether we personally take up the challenge of service to mankind. If you share the passion to drive deep change and would like to take action in an advanced community please give me or Katrin your business cards.

So now we bring you the voices and faces from around the globe who have helped us define the 50+20 vision. Turn off your email open your hearts and souls, and enjoy what the people out there have to say to us.



Arriving in Rio

Finally, the moment arrived. We met the members of the 50+20 team on the beach in front of the Windsor Barra. People flew in from all over and we even managed to bring a bench from South Africa which we assembled. 9 other benches are being assembled.

The security measures are very impressive: the marine has boats in front of the beach, helicopters are circulating, soldiers on the roofs and beach front.

But, our mood is excellent: we have received the scarves made out of recycled PET bottles and cotton (see picture) and are a bit overwhelmed by the volume and weight.

So, after a few beers and caiphirinia’s and pizzas, we feel ready to start the conference.

More to come.