Leading through complexity

A world characterised by high levels of distrust in institutions, in which tens of millions of people are refugees who have fled for their lives, and work is devoid of social purpose and can be carried out by technology rather than human beings… 

This is not an introduction to a dystopian future – it is the world in which we live. Trialogue’s Global Exchange partner, the US-based CECP: The CEO Force for Good, hosted its annual summit in New York in mid-2018, attracting business leaders from across the globe to discuss how to lead through the complexities of this moment
in the 21st century, fraught with uncertainty and instability.

Navigating a world of distrust
The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Report (https://www.edelman.com/trust-barometer) is based on an online survey, conducted with more than 33 000 respondents, that measures general populations’ trust in government, media, business and the non-profit sector in 28 countries. A 60 to 100 point rating shows trust, 50 to 59 points indicate neutrality and one to 49 points flag a state of distrust. China had the highest level of trust at 74 points, followed by Indonesia at 71 points and India at 68 points. The United States experienced a nine-point
decline – the steepest drop in trust ever measured – followed by Italy, with a five-point decrease. Twenty countries showed an average distrust in institutions overall.

“We are living in a world of distrust,” said Chris Manzini, managing director of corporate affairs at global marketing firm Edelman, in his presentation of key survey findings. These pervasive levels of distrust, Manzini explained, fuel the demand for expert voices to speak up and demystify falsehoods about their sectors. A need for business leadership in particular is reflected in the 64% global agreement that CEOs should take the lead on change, rather than waiting for government to impose it. Furthermore, the CEO’s job of ensuring that their company is trusted was ranked first, followed by the role of ensuring that their products and services are of high quality.

Creating a culture of purpose
According to Nicole Resch, head of accounts at Imperative – an organisation that supports companies to participate in the purpose economy – only 38% of the global workforce is fulfilled at work. She explained people’s desire to integrate their personal and professional values and that companies with purpose-driven strategies tend to do better at attracting and keeping talent. But what does a purpose-driven organisational culture entail? Drawing on insight originally shared by Anne Loehr, vice-president at the Centre for Human Capital, Resch echoed the lost potential of
an uninspired workforce that feels replaceable, even by technology. To course-correct, organisations should uncover and articulate their social purpose, which should be part of the motivation for why employees choose to join and stay at a company.

The potential of a global humanitarian crisis
David Miliband, the president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), drew a clear distinction between immigration and the refugee crisis. The latter, he pointed out, is the result of people fleeing for their lives, while the former is usually people moving towards a better life. Simply put, the refugee crisis is a humanitarian crisis. According to Miliband, there are currently 65 million refugees in the world, 40 million of whom are displaced within their home countries. Sixty percent of refugees live in urban areas and don’t have access to work or
appropriate relief.

A University of California study compared two programmes in Rwanda between 2016 and 2017. One offered cash grants to refugees, while the other offered food, hygiene and sanitation significant improvements in quality of life among the individuals who had received money, including improvements in their diets, financial savings and children’s growth. Based on this study, Miliband suggested that cash distributions to refugees living in cities would give them more control over their circumstances. He also cited Uganda as a model country for the treatment of
refugees. This small middle-income state is estimated to be hosting over one million refugees, mostly from other African countries. Refugees are given access to land on which they can build their homes, freedom of movement in the country and access to work. Meanwhile, other governments are reacting to the crisis by shutting their borders, retreating from the issue and threatening to pull out of the UN Global Compact for Migration. When confronted with stepping up or stepping back, Miliband suggested that civil society and the corporate sector should choose to step up – together.

“The refugee crisis is not a political issue, but a humanitarian one, and should be non-partisan,” said Miliband. He noted that employees of major global brands were the ones driving humanitarian issues within their organisations because they have a sense of what global citizenship means. They understand that their companies’ success is dependent on global political stability.

According to Miliband, in order to transform a crisis into an opportunity, employees and CEOs are realising that CSI should be strategic; that corporate philanthropy should have an international focus – since business depends on a connected world and the refugee crisis is only a symptom of the forces pushing against this; and that there is nothing like action to create a strong sense of social and employee engagement.

Disruptive technology for social impact
With much of the world embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the disruptive power of technology brings into
question ethics about how technology should be used. Jennifer Ryan Crozier, president at IBM Foundation and vice
president of IBM Corporate Citizenship, shared how the company is grappling with what it means to have ethical stewardship in the age of artificial intelligence (AI). Data security and responsibility issues have demonstrated the need for careful consideration of how the use of data and technology is regulated. Crozier believes that all technology companies must clearly articulate how customer data will be managed, protected and how decisions about the use of AI are made.

Central to ethical stewardship are the links that technology has to education, skills and inclusion. For IBM, education and skills development in AI are going to evolve the type of jobs that will be available in the future. IBM doesn’t believe in replacing humans with technology. While the company employs AI technology called Watson in its education interventions, it believes that teachers are a critical part of education. In the classroom, Watson is intended to serve as a teacher’s aide; an adviser that sources lesson plans and assists with assessing students in order to deliver personalised lessons, based on their learning abilities and aptitude.

AI tools like Watson can also be used to facilitate planning for a more equitable future. Nearly half of the global population does not have access to quality healthcare. Watson found that the abilities of under-resourced countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda to project what cancer medication would be needed in future transformed their supply and demand. Once this data was made available, it empowered health facilities to negotiate with large pharmaceuticals. Within a few months, the prices of in-demand medication were adjusted and made more
accessible to those in need.

Crozier also spoke about blockchain’s power of inclusivity. Blockchain makes it simpler to create a ledger of transactions that can be tracked in a decentralised manner. In this way, nothing can be replicated and the transference of anything through the ledger is an entirely transparent process. IBM and Walmart experimented
with this tool using a box of mangoes and found that the origin of the mangoes, as well as the conditions that they were subjected to throughout the supply chain could be traced. Ordinarily, tracing this information would take about a week. However, with the use of blockchain, that time was slashed to a staggering 2.3 seconds. IBM also used the process to trace the number of donations made to people affected by hurricane Harvey, in 2017. With blockchain,
donors could have access to clear information about how their
funds were used.

Core values needed for complex challenges
This rapidly changing world may be demanding corporate responses to increasingly complex issues, but the answers to these challenges remain embedded in timeless core values: trust, purpose and ethical leadership. For their own longevity, companies must contribute to ensuring that the communities in which they operate are socioeconomically healthy and equitable. To strengthen their social licence to operate, companies must clearly define and authentically communicate their social purpose to their staff, customers and other stakeholders.

2019-03-07T14:00:55+00:00 November 5th, 2018|Business in Society 2018, Featured|