Why refocusing purpose is vital to building back better, post COVID

The spur for this post is a great opinion piece by Soli Townsend, co-founder of Futerra, which I belatedly caught up on this week, and which has caused me to re-evaluate a lot of what I’ve said and written in the past about purpose. Much of that – as will no doubt sound familiar to many of you – has been to encourage people to think about corporate purpose through the lens of questions like:

  • Why do you exist, beyond making money?
  • What do you stand for?
  • Why is the world a better place with you in it (or, conversely, why would it be poorer if you weren’t there)?

To that end, in my past life as a brand strategist, a popular exercise I used to run with clients was to get them to write their organization’s own obituary – an invariably eye-opening experience that forced senior execs to focus their minds on what they’d wish their brand to be most remembered for. But as Soli observes (brilliantly, IMHO) there’s a potentially fatal flaw in framing questions, such as the above:

Their in-built introspection.

Such questions all too easily drive conversation in the direction of self-service – about fulfilling your brand’s own destiny and defining your importance on your own terms. The more I think on this, the more it feels directly at odds with the need to drive conversation in the direction of service to humanity – one whose starting point is to reflect on society’s toughest challenges (as represented by the SDGs), and then to ask how are we distinctively positioned to help solve these problems of people and planet (profitably and, hence, sustainably)?

Comparing and contrasting these different directions, it’s not hard to see how purpose has, ironically, somewhat lost its purpose – or, at least, how a noble idea has ended up fracturing into genuine and less-genuine executions.

At one extreme, we have a host of smaller enterprises (e.g., the impact enterprises we work with through EY Ripples) and larger ‘born purposeful’ brands (e.g., Natura, Patagonia and the like), many of which have joined the B Corp movement and legally changed their status, so as to allow pursuit of a higher social purpose to come before generation of shareholder returns. (We also have other large organizations, such as Interface and Orsted, that have taken climate change as their cue to implement root and branch transformations of the core business strategy and operations.)

At the other, sadly, we have a much larger group of businesses who’ve created slick purpose statements as shiny new wrappers for business-as-usual. In changing (next to) nothing about how they operate, they’ve reduced purpose to the status of brand asset – and CR/sustainability to the status of afterthought – rather than the business strategy it should have been.

So, what’s Soli’s suggestion for steering clear of self-serving purpose puffery and refocusing on genuinely and meaningfully contributing to society? Thinking in terms of what she calls servant brands.

While your first reaction to this may well be to pooh-pooh it as ‘emperor’s new clothes,’ I genuinely believe there’s something valuable and distinctive in this. First of all, it sure as heck encourages businesses to anchor their thinking in the world beyond their own bubble. And second, it poses a very different set of framing questions for defining purpose – less about who you are and what you stand for, and more about who/what you are in service of and how what you do fulfils broader societal goals.

Though not precipitated by the COVID crisis, this shift from purpose rooted in self to purpose rooted in service is certainly accentuated by it. For, as Soli writes:

Put bluntly, when all of us are facing mortality, and terrified for our loved ones and society itself, none of us gives a damn what your brand stands for. Your essence is irrelevant. Your carefully honed statement means nothing… [T]he only thing that matters right now, more than anything, is to be useful. The only question worth asking today [and in the future] is ‘are we useful?’

Servant brands start by identifying what society needs most, then figure out how they can develop/channel core competencies to best serve those needs. Servant brands are open and honest – they share data, insights and solutions that can help scale and accelerate social progress, and speak with a truly human voice, rather than their words sounding like finely-tuned legalese. And servant brands are courageous – they have the guts to stop doing/making things that don’t serve the long-term interests of people and planet, and focus on innovating new products, services and business models that do.

Now would certainly appear to be an opportune moment for business-at-large to absorb and apply these insights. Again, not created by COVID, but certainly accelerated by it, a poll reported in the Guardian this week would suggest that momentum is growing behind another much-needed shift – that of moving from measuring prosperity in terms of the rate of growth to understanding it terms of people’s lived experience of it.

That poll not only found that 8 out of 10 Britons would prefer the UK government to prioritize health and well-being over economic growth during the COVID crisis, but also that 6 in 10 would still wish that to hold true after the pandemic has subsided. That such a large majority should favor prioritizing quality of life over purely economic indicators should lend more power to the elbow of those wishing to advance the vision of a wellbeing economybuilding back better by rooting policy- and decision-making in new goals that give primacy to long-term human well-being and environmental regeneration.

I’ll leave you with an extract from another great thought piece by Halla Tómasdóttir, CEO of the B Team, which neatly integrates all of the above and more:

What if we now found the courage to reimagine and reset our personal and professional purpose to be of service to humanity? What if we agreed to a global set of imperatives to help guide the co-creation of a new social and environmental contract, one that left neither people nor the planet behind? What if we were brave enough to use this pandemic pause to reset our definition of success? What if we made sure to measure what matters, like the health and well-being of all life and the natural systems that help us thrive?

What if we reimagined private and public sector leadership to be gender balanced and diverse? What if we paused long enough to learn to manage our egos and embraced the fact that we are ONE, be it against this global pandemic or other challenges like climate change and breakdowns in nature, unsustainable levels of inequality and low-to-no trust the world over?

The leadership we now need is the kind that that is willing to answer these questions with bold dialogue and brave action. The kind that is ready to take a personal risk for the benefit of humanity. The kind that that embraces courage and humility in equal balance – knowing that while the road ahead may be uncertain, it is our responsibility to build back better.

Bon weekend, everyone.

Will COVID help or hinder progress on climate change?

If you’re looking for something to add to your reading list, research out of the Oxford Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment – published earlier this week – is well worth a closer look. As you’ll see straight away from the title, it sets out to answer the killer question for most environmentally-minded folks right now – i.e., will COVID-19 end up helping or hindering progress on climate change?

For my money, the paper does a masterful job of painting the picture of the crossroads we’re at. It also does an equally masterful job of reminding us of the size of the challenge when it comes to the climate emergency – in case that’s gotten lost in the mists of time since COVID captured all the headlines.

To put that into perspective, consider that global greenhouse gas emissions might fall by 8% (2.2 GtCO2e) this year. Now consider the extraordinary set of circumstances that has brought that about, and that we’ll need to achieve similar year-on-year reductions every year to 2030 in order to be on track to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

If governments are serious about their Paris Accord commitments, then surely they must seize this opportunity to shape the future decade – to further ‘green new deal’ strategies for lowering carbon emissions, while also investing in ‘just transition,’ so that workers are able to adapt and thrive in a net zero carbon economy? To permit a return to the ‘old normal,’ and an emissions rebound, once lockdown restrictions are lifted, would be to increase the risk of triggering feedback loops that result in outsized and permanent damage to the climate.

Fortunately, this research suggests that not allowing that to happen is not only the right thing to do from an environmental perspective; it’s also the smart thing to do from an economic one.

Drawing on a global survey of senior central bank and finance ministry officials, as well as learnings from the 2008 financial crisis, economists – including Nobel prize winner, Joseph Stiglitz – catalogued more than 700 stimulus policies into 25 broad groups and conducted a global survey of 231 experts. On average, respondents saw a ‘green route’ out of this crisis as also being highly economically effective.

Win-win examples include investment in renewable energy production, which previous research has shown creates twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments. They also include spending on retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency, clean R&D, natural capital investment for ecosystem resilience and regeneration, and investment in education and training – not only to address immediate unemployment from COVID-19, but also to create structural employment opportunities from decarbonization.

Here’s hoping that the existence of the Paris Accord, and the national targets that have followed, make for a fundamental difference vs. the global financial crisis that came before. This time, because countries already have commitments to cut emissions, they have a framework that requires them to take account of carbon and incentivize a green recovery.

I’ll leave the final summing up to Emily Shuckburgh, director of Cambridge Zero at the University of Cambridge, who says this:

Shaping the national and global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a way that supports the response to climate change and other environmental threats simply makes sense. Not only does analysis suggest that green recovery packages deliver greater economic benefit, but investing appropriately in research, innovation, infrastructure and skills training, and matching that with robust institutional structures, will help create a fairer, more resilient, sustainable world with benefits for all.

COVID-19: another chance for a great reset?

Building on my previous post, it’s remarkable the number of column inches being devoted to the potential of the COVID-19 crisis to bring about long-term, transformational change. There’s a growing sense that, not only will we not be returning to normal anytime soon, but maybe we won’t return to the old normal ever.

Among the issues being thrown into sharp relief:

  • Work from home rules are giving everyone a sense of the daily challenges faced by many working mums (and dads), which will hopefully spark accelerated progress on gender equality specifically and flexible working more generally
  • The precariousness of many people’s livelihoods is once again shining a light on executive pay, with CEOs earning plaudits for cutting all or some of their salaries to protect against having to furlough or lay off staff
  • The importance of community is being highlighted like never before, hopefully causing the realization to finally dawn (on those it has hitherto escaped) that the health of business is inextricably linked to the health of the social and environmental systems in which it is embedded

The more I reflect on this (the last point especially), the more I wonder if my last post went far enough. The encouragement to think about ways of working that are worth hanging on to, once the crisis subsides, is a field of enquiry anchored in ‘what,’ when there are arguably much higher-order ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions at play here.

“What will be the new normal, post-coronavirus?” is perhaps the wrong question to be asking. A better one might be “How should the experience of coronavirus reshape what we value, and how we organize ourselves to deliver it?” – in other words, a question rooted in fundamental design values and operating principles.

The beauty of a question like this is that it can be applied at multiple levels – the systemic, the organizational and the individual. At the organizational level, it can help us to expand our mental model of ‘corporate responsibility’ – vital at a time when ‘responsibility’ no longer seems remotely adequate to capture the full breadth and depth of what’s at stake.

Indeed, as those smart folks at Volans observed in an email I received from them earlier this week, the irony is that ‘responsibility’ seems to be hitting the mainstream consciousness with a vengeance at precisely the moment when ‘responsibility-as-usual’ is no longer a sufficient response to the realities we face. As they argue (correctly, IMHO):

Change-as-usual strategies have tended to focus on Responsibility – or, in the financial world, risk. There’s nothing wrong with acting responsibly – in fact, in moments like these, we need responsible business leaders more than ever. But the focus on responsibility turns out to be only the base layer of systemic change.

What we now need is for business to embrace two additional Rs: Resilience, of course – a topic that has, rightly, if belatedly, shot to the top of every leadership team’s agenda in the last few weeks. And Regeneration – because, ultimately, no business can become truly sustainable or resilient unless it operates as part of a living system and contributes to the health of that wider system.

So, what might be the organizing principles of ‘regenerative capitalism’?

A good place to start, I’d suggest, is with the these eight, as put forward by John Fullerton, CEO of the Capital Institute, a few years ago. If these strike a chord, then you can find out more about them, and John’s research, in a more extensive white paper here.

In any event, the key point is surely that now is the ideal opportunity to use this crisis as the spur to ‘do’ capitalism differently – to reimagine what both business and government is for.

As for the former, I’d return to the British Academy’s definition of corporate purpose as ‘solving the problems of people and planet profitably, and not profiting from causing them’; also to the eternal wisdom of Charles Handy and these words from his seminal 2002 HBR article, What’s a business for?:

The purpose of a business is not to make a profit, full stop. It is to make a profit so that the business can do something more or better. That “something” becomes the real justification for the business. […] It is salutary to ask about any organization, “If it did not exist, would we invent it?” “Only if it could do something better or more useful than anyone else” would have to be the answer, and profit would be the means to that larger end.

As for the latter – as UCL economics professor, Mariana Mazzucato, argued in The Guardian a couple of weeks back – now is a perfect time for governments to seek to actively shape markets that deliver sustainable and inclusive growth, and to steer innovation toward solving the big social and environmental challenges of our time:

[It] is time to finally learn the hard lessons of the 2008 global financial crisis. As companies, from airlines to retail, come asking for bailouts and other types of assistance, it is important to resist simply handing out money. Conditions can be attached to make sure that bailouts are structured in ways that transform the sectors they’re saving, so that they become part of a new economy – one that is focused on the green new deal strategy of lowering carbon emissions while also investing in workers, and making sure they can adapt to new technologies.

[We] can use this moment to bring a stakeholder approach to the centre of capitalism. Let’s not let this crisis go to waste.

And with those last few words – wouldn’t you know it? – we arrive right back at an almost verbatim repeat of the final line of my previous post. (Spooky!)

On silver linings to a very large cloud

Times like these are a crucible, amplifying both the best and the worst in human nature. As news abounds of tragedy, idiocy and selfishness, I wanted to spread a little positivity, courtesy of a great letter sent by Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO of impact investor Acumen, last week.

You can read her message in full below, but one paragraph resonated with me especially:

This world is full of fear, not only of COVID-19 but of the economic hardship already happening in countries directly and indirectly impacted by the pandemic. And yet, in this past week, we have also become acutely aware of our interdependence—that our collective success will not only depend on how we care for ourselves, but also how well we include and care for the poor and the vulnerable. Everywhere, I am seeing people and businesses reaching out, connecting, offering support. This crisis is giving us the chance to find our best selves again and to renew our connection to one another in ways with deep local roots and with branches that extend across the world.

The chance to find our best selves again.

What a wonderful and powerful opportunity that is – to not return to ‘business as usual’ once the crisis fades, but to preserve some of the good that will have come out of it as a ‘new normal.’ To not bin those new ways we found to stay connected and have fun together. To retain and build on that deeper sense of our interdependence; to devote ourselves more fully to the ideals, people and relationships that are truly important to us, and to the health of the communities around us. And, yes, to keep reminding ourselves that maybe we don’t need to travel as much as we used to.

Those are just a few of the ‘close to home’ things I can think of, off the top of my head. I’m sure we could all think of many more, and I’d encourage us to do so.

It won’t erase the months of hardship and tragedy that will have befallen so many. But it can at least mean that we emerge from the experience wiser – more conscious of the precariousness of so many people’s lives, and more acutely aware of the impact of our behaviors on people and planet.

It’s a great opportunity to double down on building better. Let’s not pass it up.

PS. Jacqueline’s letter in full:

To our remarkable Acumen Academy community,

I’ve always marveled at the traditional greetings of different cultures, acknowledgments that range from, “Peace be upon you” to “How did you sleep?” The phrases we use in our daily interactions say much about the historical or modern experience of each generation. No longer able to greet with a handshake, today we find ourselves greeting one another with a look in the eyes, a question about health or an invitation to dance together through a cell phone or computer screen. Many people feel not just a new anxiety, but a new tenderness. And most of us agree that we suddenly find ourselves in a new world.

This world is full of fear, not only of COVID-19 but of the economic hardship already happening in countries directly and indirectly impacted by the pandemic. And yet, in this past week, we have also become acutely aware of our interdependence—that our collective success will not only depend on how we care for ourselves, but also how well we include and care for the poor and the vulnerable. Everywhere, I am seeing people and businesses reaching out, connecting, offering support. This crisis is giving us the chance to find our best selves again and to renew our connection to one another in ways with deep local roots and with branches that extend across the world.

We are also seeing new skills emerging among our most effective leaders, who are partnering in creative ways and prioritizing our collective health and well-being over individual profit. Shining examples of moral imagination, these entrepreneurs have the humility to recognize the ugly realities we must confront today and the audacity to envision and work toward a better future.

I couldn’t be more inspired by the actions members of Acumen’s community are undertaking in response to COVID-19. In Bozeman, Montana, Acumen America investee MyVillage, a company that helps people open and operate high-quality, home-based early education programs, has raised emergency grant funding to ensure that its childcare providers can continue to educate young children into April. MyVillage Co-Founder and CEO Erica Mackey says the goal of the funding is to minimize disruptions to educator income and help parents manage costs incurred during a COVID-19-related exposure or absence.

Also part of Acumen America’s portfolio is a restaurant chain called Everytable that offers healthy grab-and-go meals in low-income, underserved communities. Last week, its Founder and CEO Sam Polk wrote a letter to his community stating the company’s commitment to doing, “whatever it takes to ensure that everyone across greater Los Angeles has access to healthy meals,” including senior citizens, underserved schools or individuals who are struggling. Sam and Erica’s moral leadership remind us that we need to celebrate the actions of such role models so that more actions like these become the norm.

Acumen is fortunate to also be able to learn from its leaders in communities around the globe. Whether their communities are plagued by viruses, conflict, homelessness, despair or the stressful uncertainty that poverty brings, they constantly remind us what resilience looks like, and the importance of kindness and gratitude when all you see around yourself is darkness. One such leader is Acumen West Africa Fellow Niniola Williams, founder of DRASA Health Trust, a public health organization named for her aunt, Dr. Ameyo Stella Adadevoh, the doctor credited with halting the spread of the Ebola virus in Nigeria. Since 2015, Niniola and the DRASA Health Trust team have been creating government partnerships and public education campaigns to promote good hygiene to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. In many ways, they’ve been preparing for five years for the arrival of COVID-19.

We have miles to go, but we can address the new realities of this global health and economic crisis while holding with fierce, persistent aspiration to the good that can be done in the midst of it. Every Acumen entrepreneur, Fellow, Partner and, of course, our amazing team, Board and Advisors are in this together, equally committed to keeping one another healthy and safe so that we can stand together and bring our best selves to the work we came to do.

And we are thinking hard about what we can do to keep our community connected to one another during this time. We welcome your ideas, your stories and your inspiration.

With gratitude to you for all that you do. With hopes for peace, good health and love for you and for all who are suffering, for the lonely and fearful, for all of us. And with an abiding commitment to give everything we can to a world that needs all of us.

Jacqueline Novogratz
Founder & CEO, Acumen

Make way for the future of sanitation

There’s a saying in the north of England: “Where there’s muck, there’s brass.”

If I thought this’d mean anything to anyone outside the UK, I’d love to have made it the title of this new EY study, produced in collaboration with the Toilet Board Coalition (TBC). Roughly translated, it means that dirty work can be lucrative, which seems apt in the context of a piece that starts with the premise that there’s a multibillion-dollar economic bounty to be derived from human poo.

Yes, you heard me right!

As if it wasn’t scandalous enough that 4.2b of our fellow human beings still lack access to safely managed sanitation – and 830,000 people die each year due to poor water, sanitation and hygiene – we’re compounding this by missing out on a massive opportunity.

As the global population continues to rise, human waste is one of the few natural resources that will increase. Right now, trillions of liters of these valuable “toilet resources” (the TBC’s preferred term for poo!) go lost and untreated every year, when their capture, treatment and productive use could create a transformational sanitation economy worth an estimated US$62b a year in India alone.

Looking to shift the debate from why creating said economy is a good idea to how to make it happen faster, the TBC engaged EY to write this report, which shares insights into the practical and replicable steps that impact enterprises in their Sanitation Economy Accelerator program have taken to achieve scale and sustainability (several of those enterprises, incidentally, having benefitted from not-for-profit EY projects to help build their capacity to scale).

I hope you’ll find it as fascinating to read as I did to write. As ever, I found myself marveling at the ingenuity of some of these models – my personal favorite probably being Sanergy in Kenya who, alongside their Fresh Life toilets business, have built a facility housing a colony of black soldier flies that feed on the waste collected and upcycle it into high-quality animal feed and organic fertilizer.

As well as being a great example of circular economy principles in action (turning the waste from one process into food for another), it’s also a brilliant illustration of how social business model innovations can address multiple Sustainable Development Goals – in this case not only SDG6 (clean water and sanitation), but also SDG1 (no poverty) and SDG2 (zero hunger) by virtue of creating markets for affordable, quality agricultural inputs that smallholder farmers can use to increase their yields and incomes.

This and other examples in the report show that better answers to the global sanitation crisis already existthey just need to be scaled. And in sharing how Sanitation Economy Accelerator enterprises are doing it, EY and the TBC aim to encourage others like them to follow suit, and to stimulate the kind of investment that can help make that happen.

As the report concludes:

We sit at a critical inflection point in the pursuit of the Sustainable Development
Goal of access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all by 2030.
With the UN suggesting that achieving universal access to even basic sanitation
by 2030 would require doubling the current rate of change, we need to go
further, faster. In particular, we need to go further, faster in scaling the impact
enterprises whose innovative business models are reaching the parts that
conventional sewerage, waste treatment and processing can’t.

The business case has already been made — powerfully. And better answers to the
global sanitation crisis already exist in the shape of past and present participants in
the TBC’s Sanitation Economy Accelerator program. But unless and until the
debate meaningfully shifts from why a transformational sanitation economy is a
good idea toward how to rapidly scale and replicate the success of these enterprises,
the prize is likely to remain elusive.

That prize — estimated to be worth US$62 billion a year by 2021 in India alone — deserves greater attention and commitment to act. It deserves greater attention and commitment from governments and municipal authorities who can reduce the unaffordable public costs of sewered sanitation, while reaping huge cost avoidance advantages in improving community health. And it demands greater attention and
commitment from entrepreneurs and impact investors who can unearth huge
value, not only from serving the 4.2 billion people still lacking access to safely
managed forms of sanitation today, but also helping to tackle adjacent goals for
sustainable development, such as safe water, food security, renewable energy, and good health and well-being.

Building a profitable, sustainable sanitation business serving low-income customers
is hard, but as the examples in this report show, it can be done. From bundling
sanitation with other services to create a better, broader user experience, to
creating demand for transformed toilet resources, to becoming asset light to make
invested capital stretch further, Sanitation Economy Accelerator enterprises are
illuminating multiple pathways to greater efficiency, profitability and scale. And in so doing, they’ve already brought dignity and a better quality of life to millions of people.

With the right support — particularly innovative forms of finance — EY and the
TBC believe that they, and others like them, can bring affordable, sustainable
and safely managed sanitation to hundreds of millions more of the people who so
desperately need it.

On purpose, humanity and the future of the corporation

These past couple of weeks, I’ve been reflecting on an interesting paper from the British Academy – Principles for Purposeful Business: How to deliver the framework for the Future of the Corporation.

Essentially, it’s a treatise on closing the ‘say-do’ gap on purpose, setting out principles and pathways for taking us beyond the rhetoric and hardwiring it into organizations everywhere. And there’s a lot to like about it – not least its definition of corporate purpose, the simplicity and clarity of which stands in sharp contrast to the Business Roundtable statement published a few months back:

The purpose of business is to solve the problems of people and planet profitably, and not profit from causing [them].

I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love that – not just for what it says about anchoring corporate purpose in broader societal goals (as represented by the SDGs), but also what it implies about our notions of ‘prosperity’ and the essential role of capitalism in furthering it. It encourages us to shift our perspective on how and why markets work from their allocative efficiency to their effectiveness in promoting creativity, problem-solving and the diffusion of innovation.

When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. After all (as some smart McKinsey bods argued a few years back), life isn’t better today than it was in 1800 because we’re allocating the resources of the 19th-century economy more efficiently; it’s better because of the vast array of innovations (life-saving antibiotics, indoor plumbing, motorized transport to name just a few) that have become available to much (if not yet all) of the world’s population.

In other words, prosperity can’t be properly understood by looking at just monetary measures. Maybe it’s better understood in terms of the accumulation of solutions to human problems – the ultimate measures of societal health and wealth (and business success) being the range of problems solved, and how widely available those solutions are to all.

I do have my reservations, though…

Aside from the undoubtedly excellent definition of corporate purpose – plus a few abstract references to the wellbeing of humanity – the report is strikingly devoid of any kind of human expression. From ownership and governance to measurement and performance, the principles outlined (while useful) are all largely ‘mechanistic’ in nature, steeped in the mindset of the lawyer, the accountant, the economist, the management consultant and the academic.

As highlighted by a purposeful pal of mine, amid some WhatsApp chat-chat about the report, a big part of the problem today is surely that we’re already drowning in these perspectives – and have been since time immemorial. At their worst (embodied by the likes of Frederick Taylor and his scientific management theory), it’s these perspectives that have led us to spend the best part of a century trying to drive humanity and its imperfections out of the system, so perhaps it’s no great surprise that a humanist perspective is missing from the narrative.

But when it’s our essential humanity that’s now seen as the very thing most critical to business and society thriving over the long term, those deeper philosophical underpinnings need to be there, e.g.:

  • Understanding what it means to be human at work in an era of increasing human-machine collaboration, and how to nurture that
  • Recognizing that any business (at least at its founding) is fundamentally a social enterprise – a coming together of people to solve a problem/meet a need that they couldn’t address alone
  • Appreciating our innate desire, as humans, for connection – with nature and with each other
  • Framing the need for change in terms of finding the antithesis of an economic model seemingly designed to pry ourselves from our human natures, dampen our passions and keep ourselves from constructing a ‘whole’ and meaningful story for our lives

To that last point, the WhatsApp chatter generated a series of ‘from… to…’ statements that bear closer inspection and deeper thought. If the mood takes you, I’d invite you to have a think about these, and maybe share other ‘mindset shifts’ you’d add to the list:

  • From engineer to artist
  • From physicist to biologist
  • From economist to spiritualist
  • From specialist to generalist
  • From consumer to citizen
  • From parts to systems
  • From economics to holonomics
  • From mechanism to organism
  • From extractive to regenerative
  • From ‘more!’ to enough
  • From scarcity to abundance
  • From growth to scale
  • From financial returns to impact returns
  • From transactions to relationships
  • From bureaucracy to community
  • From organization to self-organization
  • From control to nurture

Something to ponder over the festive break, anyway.


If not now, when?

I received this passionate and utterly brilliant message from Giles Gibbons, Founder & CEO of Good Business, earlier this week. Naturally, I agree with every word, and it’s just too good not to share in full:

Dear friends,

20 years and counting of the ‘sustainability movement’ – of which we count ourselves a part – and what have we achieved? Our honest answer right now is nowhere near enough.

If anything drives it home it’s the summer we’ve just had. We don’t think you can have lived through it without having a ‘stop and think’ moment. 46-degree heat in Paris. The hottest July the continent of Africa has ever seen. Populism breaking politics in Britain, and exploding onto the scene in France, Italy, Ukraine – and the list goes on…

Too many people feel that the world is stacked in favour of elites at the expense of everyone else. And so the two main challenges of our day – climate change and inequality – played out on the global stage in a clear, present and in-your-face way. Even the FT and corporate USA have started to argue that capitalism as currently construed isn’t working. And that’s before millions of people around the globe joined the biggest climate protest ever.

This must be the time not just to sit up and think, but to take action. Businesses have been delivering slow and incremental change in the name of business responsibility and sustainability when what we need is a thunderbolt of transformation.

We can’t keep saying we’ve got twenty years to save the world because the time will run out. From zero-carbon commitments to the SDG deadline, horizons for delivery are drawing ever closer, not so the action they demand. In fact we think that unless business steps up to the challenges we face, time will be called on the sustainability movement. It’s not delivering the capitalism the world both wants and needs.

But it absolutely can. And there’s never been a more compelling case for it to do so. Not least because there is a massive new wave of will for change. For the first time ever consumers and culture are in the lead on all this, demanding action. People want to buy from, work for, talk about and partner with organisations that deliver bold solutions for people and society. And for every established business that doesn’t deliver against this there’s a disrupter that will.

The message is clear. If you want your business to be part of the future you need a step change in thinking and action. Steady progress on sustainability will write you out of history. The winners will be those that embrace transformative change.

And if there’s ever a moment to mark a new beginning it’s upon us – January 2020. A decade to meet the 2030 agenda for sustainable change. The moment to draw a line in the sustainability sand, and springboard into a new era of action.

We know this is anything but easy. But it is essential. And we believe that everything we’ve learnt and done over the past 20+ years of working in this space has set us up for this moment.

If you agree, join with us. If you want us to help, please get in touch. We’re ready.

Transform your business, transform the world.


Founder & CEO
Good Business