Filed under: Corporate Citizenship, Google, Unilever | Tags: Anglo-American, Corporate Citizenship, GE, Google, Kimberley Clark, Occupy, SABMiller, Unilever, Walmart
This year, I’ve had conversations on with ten major corporations about business and society – mainly FTSE-100 companies, and mainly at CEO or Chairman level. All really interesting.
They’re all keenly aware of the hostile, anti-corporate sentiment surrounding them. As one client put, “my teenage kids think we’re the bad guys”.
So it’s been interesting to read Screw Business As Usual – not an Occupy manifesto, but the new Branson book. I doubt that Branson’s kids think he’s one of the bad guys; he’s still the anti-establishment rock-star CEO.
It’s a good read. Raconteur-ish, but well researched. As you’d expect, there’s plenty on the power of entrepreneurial thinking, and its potential to solve the world’s problems.
More surprising is that Branson – the self-styled Goliath challenger – is a real champion for the positive impact that big corporations can have. He gives the clearest articulation of this when discussing Walmart:
[Walmart] now has 100,000 suppliers, 2.1 million employees, 200 million customer visits oer week and annual sales of $419 billion (greater than the GDP of more than 166 countries)… Just their sheer size means that when they do get something right it has incredible ripple effects. They can shift a whole industry by applying pressure in the right places… They can also create millions of opportunities when they shift their buying strategy.
It’s a good articulation of why I’m doing what I’m doing right now. There are plenty of other examples he picks up:
• GE’s commitment, through Ecomagination, to investing $1.5 billion annually into R&D on clean tech.
• Anglo-American’s pioneering work to fight HIV/AIDS in South Africa, before the ANC recognized the problem.
• Google’s work making data available to promote an open discussion on global drugs policy.
• Kimberly-Clark’s invention of the tubeless toilet-roll (trivial? 17 billion tubes go into landfill each year in the US alone. Who knew).
• SABMiller’s innovative work in Africa’s newest country – South Sudan – brewing beer from Cassava to in order to buy from local farmers.
• Unilever’s Project Shakti in India, establishing thousands of female “micro-entrepreneurs” in a distribution network across 135,000 villages.
Some of these companies are our clients – and it’s safe to say that none of them have had an easy time being the good guys. All of them have had difficult issues: tax avoidance, palm oil, privacy, safety, etc etc. But these businesses can be a positive force – and Branson’s book gives a handful of them a slap on the back. A bit of positive reinforcement, to balance the well-deserved public pressure.
Image from IndyBay
Filed under: Corporate Citizenship, Nike Foundation, Unilever | Tags: Burberry, Corporate Citizenship, Corporate Foundation, foundation, Nike, Nike Foundation, Thomson Reuters, Unilever, Virgin Unite
Last week I arranged a breakfast for a few big corporate foundations. Unilever kindly hosted it, in their plush CEO dining room – a clear bright morning, with a panoramic view of the London skyline. We were joined by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Virgin Unite, Nike Foundation and Burberry Foundation.
One thing’s clear: in the world of corporate foundations, this lot are a new breed. Here’s why.
More matter, less art.
Historically, corporate foundations were likely patrons of the arts – but now the energy moving away from theatres and galleries and towards the slums and inner cities. The magic word is “impact”. The arts institutions really need a new narrative to retain their corporate patrons.
The multi-nationals are becoming multi-locals, so the story goes – and the new wave of corporate foundations has a naturally international outlook. Increasingly, their partners are the international development agencies and NGOs.
More employee involvement.
Many foundations are still far removed from real business – just benefactors for the favourite charities of chairmans’ wives. The new wave is much smarter: the corporate foundation is a catalyst for employee engagement, a feeling of belonging and shared endeavor, a feeling of pride, and in some cases a platform for developing new talent.
More aligned to corporate brand and strategy.
This is about leveraging the core competencies of the business – legal advice or journalism, if you’re Thomson Reuters. In other cases, it’s about being emblematic of the corporate brand: entrepreneurialism if you’re Virgin, or creativity if you’re Burberry.
There’s an instinctive sense in the people running these foundations that to make a difference, the foundation has to really resonate with the heartbeat of the parent corporate.
It was an interesting session, and fun to organize. Everyone agreed we should do another one before the end of the year, and invite a few other kindred spirits.
Lovely image taken from Unilever’s roofgarden from here.
Filed under: Corporate Citizenship, Unilever | Tags: Corporate Citizenship, corporates, development, DFID, language, Microsoft, Natura, Nestle, nextbillion, Oxfam, P&G, Technoserve, UN, Unilever, USAID, Wal-Mart, WEF
We all know why the oil companies talk about energy exploration instead of drilling for oil, and why the book-makers talk about gaming instead of gambling. Language matters… So we’ve been looking at the language of corporate citizenship, and there are a few interesting themes.
We looked at the reports and websites from a few global corporates (Unilever, P&G, Natura, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, Nestle), some global NGOs (Oxfam, Technoserve, nextbillion.org, Africa Progress Panel) and a few global institutions (World Economic Forum, United Nations, Department of International Development, USAID). Here’s what we found.
- Self-referenced language vs Independent reference. Corporates are much more likely to refer to people by their relationship to themselves: “suppliers”, “employees”, “customers”, etc. Non-corporates use much more independent references: “people”, “farmers”, “communities”, etc.
- Goal-orientated vs. journey orientated. Corporate language is highly goal-orientated, suggesting action and efficiency: “programmes”, “processes”, “targets”, “operations”. Non-corporates are more likely to use “journey orientated” words which suggest participation and inclusiveness: “support”, “together”, “work”, “shared”, “help”, “change”.
- De-personalized issues vs People issues. Corporates talk about issues in objective, de-personalized language – “water”, “waste”, “food”, etc. Non-corporates are more likely to use words which invoke a human aspect: “healthy”, “women”, “poor”, “social”, etc.
- Some words were less in evidence than expected. These include: “innovation”, “impact”, “invest”, “progress”, “growth”.
- Development is a word that is used by both communities – it’s a potential bridge. Unilever talk about “market development” a lot, and Nestle have “rural development” as a goal, and SABMiller have “enterprise development” as one of their ten priorities.
Interesting to think about how a shift in the words we use might help corporates and non-corporates to find new ways of working together. Anyway, to bring this to life a little, we got a bit carried away on Wordle – see what you think:
I’m back in London. India was intense, as ever – filthy, beautiful, putrid, delicious, noisy, exuberant, etc, etc. The Himalayas soared and sparkled.
On the way down we stopped at Rishikesh, and walked out to the old abandoned ashram in the hills where the Beatles stayed in the Sixties. It’s been re-claimed by the jungle – quite a poetic end for the place where they did LSD and meditated and learnt to play the sitar, and where eastern mysticism became western pop culture, for a while…
Somebody should write the screenplay: four scousers in their mid-20s, more famous than Jesus, wearing Indian dohtis, getting stoned and chanting Vedic mantras, with their entourage of Mia Farrow’s and record company execs. It’s all there: drugs, sex, scandals, money, fame, the search for truth…
John Lennon said it was the most creative period of his life; they wrote dozens of songs there. I think it’s fascinating that the world’s biggest pop icons were drawn to a philosophy that wholly rejects mainstream consumer culture. Maybe they had a spiritual itch to scratch; as George Harrison explained,
“Like, we’re The Beatles after all, aren’t we? We have all the money you could ever dream of. We have all the fame you could ever wish for. But, it isn’t love. It isn’t health. It isn’t peace inside, is it?”
So what’s this got to do with anything? I had my first business meeting today, at Unilever – an interesting discussion about the need for a new language, to describe a world where we can create economic growth, consumer wellbeing and environmental progress. It feels like they’re trying to create a new reality.
I think first we need to look at our own role in fueling consumer culture. When the Beatles disappeared to a remote town in the Himalayan foothills, they brought a radical creative challenge to the conservative mainstream . I think we need another challenge. Where’s it coming from? What if it came from the big corporates…?
Normal service will resume shortly. Image from Paul Saltzman.