How can companies improve their impacts on development? This was the topic of discussion at an event last night, hosted by Corporate Citizenship to mark the launch of our new report: Impact for Change: Better Business in a Better World.
Baroness Jowell opened proceedings, noting that we were assembled on International Women’s Day. She posed the question: what role can companies play in tackling the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? Corporate Citizenship’s Mitun Majumdar then set out a challenge for the businesses present to respond to – our recent research shows that just one in five practitioners feel that external stakeholders have a “good understanding” of their impacts. So how can we close this ‘impact-knowledge gap’ and really make the progress that is required?
Daniel Vennard, Global Sustainability Director at Mars, kicked off the panel responses with an explanation of how Mars is targeting improvements in its cocoa supply chain. Gail Klintworth, Group Customer Director and Responsible Business Lead at Old Mutual Group, drew on her previous experiences as Chief Sustainability Officer at Unilever and outlined the need for better financing models to scale up development. Our third panel guest, Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary General of Civicus (the World Alliance for Citizen Participation), provided some healthy challenges to businesses in the room. Danny outlined how companies need to do much more to improve their impacts – including addressing the negatives. He also told the audience that he detected some “amazing shapeshifting” away from traditional corporate models to hybrid formats that combine a social purpose with profit-seeking commerce.
Our assembled guests – mostly from large, multinational companies as well as key opinion formers from Government and NGOs – raised questions to the panel on the role of partnerships, the business case, measurement frameworks, governments and more. But the most interesting part of the evening was how the SDGs, those big Global Goals, were met with near unanimous acceptance.
Perhaps because Mitun Majumdar had projected them up at the front of the room; they were clearly front of mind for everyone there. It seemed like the whole room agreed on the destination – the what we need to do.
There was also a clear consensus on the why: this makes good business sense (our report has more on this). So that just leaves the how. Clearly, companies are going to do different things. As Danny noted, a bit of competition between firms can be a really great thing. But how do you decide on what makes sense for your business? The overriding message was that all organisations need to start by understanding their impacts right across their value chain. They then need to target their interventions and take action where it matters the most. That will spur even more shapeshifting, collaborations and new innovations. At the end of the day, it will hopefully also create some really positive changes in the impacts of business.
Corporate Citizenship is looking at the theme of Impact for Change throughout 2016. For more details on our resources and events, see https://corporate-citizenship.com/event/impact-for-change-series/