Socially Responsible Business

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CR Leaders Corner
Business, Finance, and Media That Matters: A Conversation

Back in the 1990s, then-Harvard Business School professor J. Gregory Dees described the convergence of characteristics and principles governing non-profit and profit organizations, a nexus he dubbed “social entrepreneurship”.  At that time, he was developing HBS’ Social Enterprise Initiative, and then went on to launch Stanford’s Center for Social Innovation and Duke’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship [CASE], where he continues to work.  

 AccountAbility Senior Research Fellows Marcy Murninghan and Bill Baue posed the following 10 Questions

Marcy Murninghan: You‘ve participated in many cross-sector and public-private partnerships. What key qualities do you look for in partnership initiatives?  And what warning signs alert you to possible problems—particularly when multiple parties are involved?

 We are living in a world in which cross-sector and public-private partnerships have become essential to all stakeholders’ core missions.  Whether on a global, country or local level, the world has transformed in such a way that the old boundaries of ‘siloed sectors’ have become blurred.  In fact, many discrete sectors are converging with others and are in the process of re-forming in ways that have not yet been determined.  Plus, we now live in a world where perhaps we may never truly reform in any permanent sense. The new rules appear to be that change is iterative, requiring flexibility to adapt with every new seismic shift in world populations (such as the current so called Arab Spring) or technology (the latest kind of social media tools). As change presents itself, we need to be open to viewing our world with open eyes that are not framed by the lens of previous views of what reality is. I know this all sounds quite esoteric at best and difficult to imagine as a framework for guiding one’s actions going forward, yet the current and future status quo suggests that in the long term, there will be no status quo!

Bill Baue: Can you give us a tangible example?

 Here’s a well-known illustration, from the silver screen, on the need for cross-sector partnerships.  It requires you to suspend disbelief that my sense of the framework within which we are all now working and living is accurate.

I have been focusing so much of  my time lately on the levers that allow better stakeholder  engagement, to ensure marginalized people and environments of the world are empowered to build  sustainable communities (financially, socially and environmentally). That’s why I would like to frame my thoughts using the struggles, opportunities, and lessons portrayed in the movie Avatar. 

Avatar is a powerful movie, and not just from an entertainment or technical standpoint.  More significantly (for me at least), the film is a metaphor for the changing landscape I described, and how it affects: * who is considered a stakeholder, and possible cross-sector and public-private partnerships that now make sense for all who sit at the table; * the need for everyone to recognize cross-sector partnerships are not just as additive to their core missions, but now are essential to their success; and  * the rules of engagement, which affect the voices of those who were once perceived to be disenfranchised and therefore not involved.  Now they have a voice, through advocates, governments, new rules of law, social media, smart phones, and other emerging disruptive technologies.  They’re part of a shared vision, which is enabled by all of these stakeholders supporting previously less-represented segments of the world’s population.

Marcy Murninghan: So how does this relate to Avatar?

 Well, in the film, you have a classic struggle of those who live on the land, love the land, and assume that they will forever be formally or informally deeded that land. They are the blue-skinned humanoids that represent all indigenous people in our world....
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