The role of business in society

The New York-based CECP (Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose) aims to advance the role of business in society through the active participation of business. Trialogue is the Southern Africa partner to the CECP-convened Global Exchange which collectively represents nearly two thirds of the world’s GDP through its network. The formation of the group is “indicative that the role of business is becoming a business itself,” said Nick Rockey, Trialogue’s managing director.

During his opening remarks at The Trialogue Business in Society Conference 2019, Rockey unpacked the concept of the role of business in society and, drawing from the theme of the CECP annual conference, explored what is required of business to lead through the current complexities of the global context in which it operates. He made reference to the various reporting frameworks, including the Global Reporting Initiative, UN Global Compact and King IV, that compel business to improve its transparency and societal responsibility. The investment into reporting is immense, he said. Yet, despite these mechanisms, we are still witnessing corporate failure, environmental dereliction and social inequality.

Aligning developmental impact with business objectives

Rockey suggested the shared value concept introduced by Michael Porter – that, when businesses move away from being charitable donors towards offering solutions that stem from their own core offerings, they can become a powerful force. “When business is chasing profit and by doing so it is making a positive impact, scalability is only limited by the pace of growth. The greater the success of business, the more society benefits.”

Similarly, Trialogue’s strategic corporate social investment (CSI) positioning matrix and the annual strategic CSI award aim to encourage companies to enhance their efforts by aligning their developmental impact with their business objectives.

Responsible business, beyond CSI

Where the strategic alignment and shared value propositions don’t fit neatly to meet societal needs, businesses should take on an advocacy role through a sector body, or individually, to ensure that they are securing stable political, environmental, social and policy certainty. “Effectively, our CEOs, if they choose to be, can be a powerful source for change,” added Rockey. He also referenced president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee David Miliband’s talk at the CECP 2018 summit, in which he challenged CEOs to take a stand on the international refugee crisis and send a clear message that refugees were employees, family and neighbours, stressing that taking a stand was not costly to companies, but an effective measure, especially, when the people being advocated for were experiencing political hostility.

Locally, Rockey recognised that CEOs have committed themselves to collaborative and collective actions with government and other civil organisation through initiatives and bodies such as the National Education Collaboration Trust, Business Trust and Youth Employment Services initiative. Although with some of these initiatives there are structures which exist to reward corporates, there is still mutual benefit which Rockey described as “a form of collective shared value because it shifts the responsibility from a societal obligation to mutual vested interest”.

The field of CSI has moved from grantmaking and selective giving to demonstrating outcomes and impact. “I believe that going forward, we will begin to see a third generation of CSI programmes that are integrated with other business in society programmes, with the boundaries blurred but with overall greater impact and efforts to collaborate and organisations bringing their unique competencies and resources together to achieve a common purpose. Greater in theory, difficult in practice but necessary if we are going to see some sort of systemic change,” said Rockey.

IMAGE: Trialogue managing director, Nick Rockey, in conversation with conference chairperson, Thabang Skwambane

Article written by Khumo Ntoane

Photo taken by Cobus Oosthuizen

2019-05-21T17:15:44+00:00 May 10th, 2019|Business in Society 2019, Uncategorised|