Building Sustainable Legacies


Imagine Corporate Governance for a Sustainable World

I was asked to speak at the Zurich-based conference organized by Frank Bold legal services entitled “Corporate Governance for a changing world”. This conference is part of a global thought leader engagement process with events in London, New York, Brussels and Zurich and aims to develop new insights for new corporate governance. I was mostly impressed by the very impressive turn-out of many of the who-is-who of Switzerland’s relevant stakeholders on the subject, featuring prominent thought leaders from business, government, academia, civil society and consulting.

Given the nature of the 4-hour brain-storming session and the Chatham rules, I am able to share only some general personal insight that particularly struck me. While the pre-reading material and preparatory questions seem to be very detail-oriented, the various speakers (me included) highlighted the need to step back and embrace first the bigger and broader picture. I had suggested that we consider corporate governance in the context of the challenge of living well on one planet, the WBCSD Vision 2050 goal. This allowed me to frame corporate activity within the “safe operating space” of OXFAM’s doughnut model which includes on one hand the outer limits of the planetary boundaries (based on work done by the Stockholm Resilience Center) and the inner limits of social foundation (based on RIO+20 work).

The echo was really interesting and rather than facilitating a one-hour plenary session, I broke our high-level group of experts into relevant topical clusters such as voluntary corporate action, responsibility of the board, stakeholder engagement, influencing the regulatory environment, the purpose of the organization, incentivizing the existing system, and shareholder responsibility. I was deeply impressed by the depth and extent of these discussions and the creativity and engagement that emerged. Interestingly, the largest group and energy emerged in the area of influencing the regulatory environment and better understanding the corporate board to influence the purpose of the corporation.

I look forward to see what happens with a handful of really creative and provocative ideas to change the landscape and use the influence of investors to entice the management of companies to take decisions in favor of society and the planet. It was such an enriching experience to contribute to such positive and creative new ideas with thought leaders from so many different sectors and industries. Well done to Frank Bold and its local partners University of St. Gallen and University of Zurich for organizing this!

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Questioning the pertinence of the IMD 2014 World Competitiveness Rankings

As every year for two decades, IMD issues their annual World Competitiveness Report comparing a wide range of parameters to establish which country is ahead of the pack. For a number of years now, the United States maintains its pole position, closely followed by much smaller economies such as Switzerland who has been doing very well in this ranking for as long as I remember. I question the pertinence of this report for a number of reasons:

1) the Competitiveness Report is still based on old 20th century “survival of the fittest” fear-based thinking. Today, given the current realities of a resource- and demographic-constrained world, we would be much better advised to highlight and celebrate countries that a) have found alternative ways of dealing with their economic challenge (of no-growth in developed countries and of high-growth in developing countries), b) have found alternative ways to the widely questioned GDP indicator to measure relevant progress  for its citizens and nature (Bhutan with its happiness indicator is a widely cited and respected example), c) have found ways to reduce their negative impact on the identified nine planetary boundary developed by Johan Rockström et al., d) have found ways to significantly increase the relevant dimensions of the eleven social issues identified at the RIO+20 Conference, e) have used their innovation power in the critical domains that develop and critically enhance the “safe operating space for humanity“, the target area for all economic activity as defined by Kate Raworth of OXFAM, f) and have demonstrated an ability to significantly help and support other countries in their transformational journey towards a sustainable and just future.

I could go on! The point here is that I don’t get it why we are still celebrating countries that are significantly unable to manage their own budget, that have debt levels that should have long resulted in a national bankruptcy, and have social policies in place that endanger the current and future well-being of their citizens (examples for the U.S. would include its continuous health care disaster, the absurd income disparity between rich and poor U.S. citizens, a student loan debacle that is likely to cripple not only its future generation of leader, entrepreneurs, inventors and employees of all kind, and a nutritional challenge connected to its obesity problem that may well cripple its economy and societal well-being in serious ways).

I am thus launching a Call for Action to join us at BSL to start collecting data for an alternative World Collaborative Report that will highlight and celebrate countries that serve as role models in their own way of becoming a country with a vision and clear actions to enable all of us global citizens to “live well and within the limits of the planet” to quote the Vision 2050 of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). We are seeking resources and global partners to provide an alternative for old century thinking by embracing the current burning challenges of this 21st century. We are also engaged to help Switzerland embrace its own potential to become such a leading role model. Contact me if you are interested and have means to contribute. Together, we can change the world into a place worth living in for all of us!