Last week, I had a look at this video against gas fracking near New York City made by Yoko Ono, her son Sean Lennon and others. I could not help thinking about a recent documentary I saw about the last years of John Lennon, from the moment he settled in NYC. The tone of Ono and Lennon’s video and that of some memorable protest songs in the 70’s are so close… Are the times really changing, or is it just – 40 years later – the same state of things… ?
Well, on one hand we can really feel desperate about how deaf our politicians or business leaders seem to be regarding some of our most urgent challenges. One friend, coming back from Davos in January, told me that most global leaders are no more talking about fighting climate change but are rather concerned about our adaptation to it, as if it was a fatality now (as the title of the Forum could suggest : Resilient Dynamism). Yet…
Yet, I have been really impressed by some experiences I have had over the last months.
At HEC Sustainable Business Conference, on March, 22nd, among too many green washing speeches, two companies impressed me with the visible authenticity and seriousness in tackling the world’s challenges :
- Gail Klintworth, CSO of Unilever, explained the main challenges and achievements of the company’s Sustainable Living Plan. This post is too short to get into details, but I have been really impressed by Gail’s vision, energy and lively committment. It shows that even in companies that you would not name immediately as “sustainability models”, you can sense how these issues have become top-priorities for some CEOs, central to their strategy, and not just a PR activity.
- Thomas André, Business Developer, presented the BIP-BOP program of Schneider Electric. This program blends an investment fund into companies dedicated to Bottom of the Pyramid activities, with a specific approach to new business models and offering and a philanthropic program to train young people. They have a joint venture with Grameen (Grameen Shakti) that allows 50 000 households in Bangladesh to access energy.
It was striking, then, to compare the commitment of these two companies with the words of one of the top leader of a large energy company in the same conference, arguing that one goal of their sustainability policy was to “increase the level of acceptance of their activities by the communities where [they] operate.” How can one be so openly cynical ?
At Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, from April 10th to 12th, I have been totally amazed by the number, relevance and energy of many social entrepreneurs I met there. We are so far away now from the early days of micro-credit or even social business. For instance, have you heard about The Citizens Foundation led by Mushtaq Chhapra who built more than 700 schools in Pakistan ? Did you know Free the Children, the NGO created and totally managed by teenagers ? What about Euforia in Switzerland, a movement for young change makers ? or have you ever learned about World Film Collective, a wonderful project that engages young people from the slums in the craft of making films on cell phones ? These are examples, out of many, that show the extraordinary creativity and relevance of social entrepreneurs everywhere on the planet. What is also amazing is the scale that some of these initiatives are reaching. This was obvious, for instance, in the energy workshop I attended. Just take a look at Jim Ayala‘s Hybrid Social Solutions and you’ll understand that we are no more talking about small scale local initiatives only.
Thanks to Isaac Getz, I have been made aware of the importance of U. Haque’s last book : The New Capitalist Manifesto. His point is to show that capitalism is already changing deeply, due to the dead-ends of its current models. Best-in-class companies are moving, he argues, from Value Chains to Value Cycles, from Value Propositions to Value Conversations, from Strategies to Philosophies, etc. designing a very different capitalism, much more aware of its links and influence on communities and of its long term sustainability. We can discuss the examples he takes in the book, but the very fact that, in the heart of last century’s capitalism (Harvard Business School), such a voice starts to be heard is a signal of something new.
Something is happening. At the same time, we can hear very old songs of racism, hatred,… So, a question remains very deep in me : in the 30’s, many artistic, social or peace movements were dreaming about a very different century from the one we actually had. Are the movements I am mentionning their historical equivalent ? Or can we dream of not missing the beginning of this century and having it deploy the huge potential it has ? At the end of the day, the answer lies in our comittment.
PS : By the way, here’s a link to B. Dylan’s song that inspired the title of this post.