Hurricanes Sandy and Obama
I recently returned, miraculously, from Hurricane Sandy-stricken New York, after attending the annual Conference of Business for Social Responsibility organized by the global BSR organization (Business for Social Responsibility). Participants included 1,000 company representatives from 32 countries and from all lines of business.
My visit coincided with pre-election developments. The third and final Presidential Debate between Obama and Romney was over, headlines crowned Obama as the prospective winner. Hovering (literally) above all that was the presence of Hurricane Sandy which was fast approaching the East Coast and threatening to destroy Election Day.
In the midst of it all, the American media held an intensive public debate about economics, economics and even more economics. What does the future hold? How will America overcome the economic obstacles that were and still are an integral part of government efforts to bail out Americans from a real financial crisis?
This was the “background atmosphere” of the conference, which was centered around a large group of for-profit businesses that are also looking to improve and positively affect the world through social, economic and environmental effects. Sounds naive, presumptuous and self-righteous? Not for those attending the conference, which marked 20 years of existence.
Looking at the way business was conducted over the past two decades, one can see an interesting transformation: businesses moved from doing business for profit only, to making profits while contributing back to the community. However, contributing to the community was just an intermediate phase for businesses which went deeper and devised better ways to achieve socio-economic development, from the understanding that contribution to the community is not a sufficient remedy.
Cautious optimism aside, it should be noted that the journey is just beginning. The most fundamental and strong insight that emerged from the conference, repeating itself in several variations, was the importance of partnerships.
For instance, it was argued that there needs to be a much stronger partnership between businesses, governments and the non-profit (third) sector in order to promote issues of common interest. It was further argued that we must master the courage to abandon unsuccessful partnerships and focus on those that do create a real change in society. At Strauss, we are trying to adopt the idea behind this insight, namely that when a business wants to address a social issue, only a long-term partnership with a government (central or local) authority and a relevant social organization will yield an optimal result.
Another important insight about partnerships was that businesses that run international operations and wish to manage their impact on society and the environment, acknowledge that they can’t solve global problems on their own. That is why they make an effort to partner with other companies within or outside of their sector. At Strauss, too, for example, we rely on our partnership with PepsiCo to try to meet the needs of African farmers, who grow hummus and are part of our supply chain, by training them and providing tools for their economic development, thereby creating social development.
Now that Sandy is behind us, and Obama is staying in our lives for four more years, I hope that in between the spirit of social-economic change, through partnership with the business sector, will continue to prevail in our midst.