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Business as an Agent of World Benefit

17 June 2015 at 10:50 am
Lina Caneva
The notion of business as an agent of world benefit could assist corporations in becoming even more powerful in addressing global social issues writes Associate Professor Debbie Haski-Leventhal of the Macquarie Graduate School of Management.

Lina Caneva | 17 June 2015 at 10:50 am


Business as an Agent of World Benefit
17 June 2015 at 10:50 am

The notion of business as an agent of world benefit could assist corporations in becoming even more powerful in addressing global social issues writes Associate Professor Debbie Haski-Leventhal of the Macquarie Graduate School of Management.

In April Professor David Cooperrider from Weatherhead School of Management visited Macquarie Graduate School of Management to launch the Deep Dive Leadership program. During his visit, Cooperrider spoke to my MGSM CSR Partnership Network, which comprises over 30 leading Australian companies, NFPs and governmental departments, about Business as an Agent of World Benefit. This is a groundbreaking idea that shifts away from corporate philanthropy to unleashing the unlimited power of business to do good for the world.

In his presentation, Cooperrider brought many examples of innovative businesses that use design thinking to address our most urgent issues as a global society, such as poverty, access to clean water, climate change and peace. Cooperrider said he believes that businesses today have the power to demolish life-threatening poverty and to dramatically increase the peacefulness in our world. It is all about increasing the motivation of more businesses to rethink CSR and how they can focus on also being best for the world, instead of only being best in the world.

Cooperrider wrote over 20 books and worked with five American Presidents and other world leaders to create world benefit and to harness the business leaders to do the same. He is well known for his Appreciative Inquiry (AI) framework, which uses positive psychology to drive a whole-organisation change. The AI is also known as the Four-Ds because of its four components, all based on positive analysis:

Discover: The identification of what is great;

Dream: Creating an engaging vision for the future;

Design: Planning and prioritising processes that would work well; and –

Deliver (or Destiny): The implementation of the proposed design.

When I teach the AI to my MBA students at MGSM, they are very engaged with the positivity of the framework. It is refreshing to see a framework of organisational change that does not focus on problems and resistance to change, but rather enables the entire organisation, with the involvement of employees and consumers, to work together for a better future based on strengths and assets.

What I did not know until last week was that Cooperrider was using the AI framework to change the world. It has been long since the AI was taken outside the narrow organisational change context and was used to create “world benefit”. For example, in 2004, Cooperrider was asked by Kofi Annan to design and facilitate a historic, unprecedented summit on global corporate citizenship, a meeting between the United Nations and 500 business leaders to “unite the strengths of markets with the authority of universal ideals to make globalization work for everyone.” Cooperrider’s work enables positive change, innovation, and sustainable design in systems of large and complex scale.

As he explained to us during his presentation, Cooperrider pushed for the conversation to be not at the business leaders, but with them, using their strategic thinking and knowledge to see how we can solve the biggest problems our society faces. It was the beginning of the UN Global Compact, which used the massive power, knowledge and resources of businesses as part of the achievement of the Millennium Goals.

Cooperrider was also invited to design a series of dialogues among 25 of the world’s top religious leaders, started by the Dalai Lama who said, “If only the world’s religious leaders could just know each other, the world will be a better place.” Using AI, the group held meetings in Jerusalem and at the Carter Center with President Jimmy Carter. When reflecting on the role of religion in conflicts, one can easily understand how important this imitative was for enhancing peace and reducing violence in the world.

In 2009, Cooperrider wrote about his “Peter Drucker Moment”[2]. Cooperrider met Drucker when the management guru was 93 to discuss corporate citizenship. He tried to pull the conversation into the different approaches to business management of Drucker vs. Friedman (who said that the only social responsibility of a business is to maximise profit) debate.  

Cooperrider wrote:

That day I ventured into the corporate citizenship question surrounding the Enron accounting scandal and used it to ask about the differences between two giants: Drucker himself and Milton Friedman. I knew going into the meeting that Drucker did not believe that ‘profit’ per se was the overarching purpose of a business, but was instead a prime indicator of and essential means for achieving a firm’s primary purpose: the creation and exchange of value.

So it seemed as though it would be easy enough; it would be a snap to put Drucker’s views against those of Friedman who, as we all know, drew the anti-social responsibility line in the sand, arguing that the only social responsibility of business is shareholder maximisation. So I asked Drucker to articulate the differences between his own and Friedman’s views. I invited him to critique the black and white idea that ‘the only social responsibility of business is business’.

However, Peter Drucker shifted the conversation to a different direction, and with it, shifted the paradigm all together. Instead of talking about Friedman, Drucker  talked about how our most burning problems and changes could be used as a business opportunity and as such, business can become an agent of world benefit. Drucker said to Cooperrider “every social and global issue of our day is a business opportunity in disguise, just waiting for the entrepreneurship and innovation of business.” This

Based on these ideas, in 2004 Cooperrider’s University (The Case Western Reserve University) opened a Center for Business as an Agent for World Benefit (BAWB) with a fundamental mission to discover, amplify, and perpetuate innovations in organisation practice and management education that create mutual benefit for business and society.

I recently wrote an essay for Pro Bono Australia News on business and peace and what businesses can do to enhance peace and reduce violence. The idea of “business as an agent of world benefit” could feed right into it. War and conflicts are still a global issue but they also pose a new business opportunity in disguise. They allow business to enhance peace and reduce violence while also helping the economy to thrive, creating new markets and business opportunities and a competitive advantage.

To illustrate with one example of many, Coca Cola’s Small World Machines allowed the company to improve the image of its brand and create new markets, while also doing something meaningful to bring people from India and Pakistan together. The Small World Machines provided a live communications portal, linking strangers in two nations divided by conflict for 60 years, with the hope of promoting cultural understanding. The company used first-of-its-kind 3D touchscreen technology to project a streaming video feed onto the vending machine screen while simultaneously filming through the unit to capture a live emotional exchange. People from both countries are encouraged to complete a friendly task together – wave, touch hands, draw a peace sign or dance – before sharing a Coca-Cola. The YouTube video of this initiative attracted to date nearly 3 million views.

In summary, business are shifting away from traditional CSR and corporate philanthropy to strategic CSR and Creating Shared Value. I believe that the notion of business as an agent of world benefit could assist business in becoming even more powerful in addressing global social issues. To echo the words of Porter and Kramer (2011)[3], if business acted as business to address our global issues and challenges, there is no limit to what can be achieved. Business, with its immense power, knowledge and resources, can address poverty, food insecurity, human and children’s rights and even war and conflict.

[1] This article is partially based on Haski-Leventhal, D. (2015). Editorial: My David Cooperrider Moment: Business as an Agent of World Benefit and Peace. Business, Peace and Sustainable Development, 2015(5), 3-6.

[2] Cooperrider, D., & Fry, R. (2009). A Peter Drucker moment: Harnessing the innovation-generating potential of a shareholder and stakeholder theory of the firm. Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 36, 3-6.

[3] Porter, M. E., & Kramer, M. R. (2011). Creating shared value. Harvard business review, 89(1/2), 62-77.

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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