By: Karen A. Morris
Karen is a strategic advisor to national and multinational companies. She is also a frequent speaker and writer on innovation and leadership at global forums and conferences around the world.
Sustainability has many dimensions and fittingly they are, like any complex ecosystem, intricately interconnected and entwined. As problem solvers, this invites us to investigate the meaning of patterns, connections, and the insights they offer up, even when least expected. Consider the seemingly disparate calendar activities over the last month of various GSC Board members. As we went about our business, matter by matter, in linear fashion, little did we anticipate webs of connectivity, but they were there…
We were involved in the organizational phase of our new Women’s Empowerment Initiative which will be featured in The Source next month; our collective search for inspiring sponsors is on; and work has commenced on the 2014 3S Awards. As always, the narrative of the 3S Awards submissions reminds us of the impact a few can have on many. Gloria Starr- Kins, a veteran UN correspondent and loyal GSC supporter, introduced us to an early contender for this year’s awards, Just Shea, a social enterprise focused on Ghanaian women; and we anticipate many more.
Dr. Wanda Lopuch and I were especially honored to attend the United Nations Eighth Session of the General Assembly Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWGonSDG) Post 2015. We are grateful to Patricia Chaves (Senior Sustainable Development Officer, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs – Division for Sustainable Development) for facilitating this opportunity. The working groups presented thoughtful and extensively researched work on topics ranging from biodiversity, climate change, equality as a human right, social equity and gender equality, to conflict prevention and resolution. And of course, ever-present on the sustainability agenda, that malignant and persistent enemy of humanity, extreme poverty. World Bank estimates still indicate that two and a half billion people subsist on under two dollars a day.
In addition to attending the OWGonSDG, the GSC was also represented at a Private Sector Briefing hosted at the UN and chaired by Ms. Arancha Gonzalez, Executive Director, ITC. The thematic focus of the briefing was the three “E”s of inclusive and sustainable development: Entrepreneurship – which leads to Economic Growth – which in turn creates Employment opportunities. This panel discussion alluded to the Women’s’ Empowerment Principles, a joint initiative of the UN Global Compact and UN Women under which companies commit, inter alia, to integrating women-owned companies into their value chains. We saw how these principles are relevant to companies’ choices in vendor selection. We will feature the Women’s’ Empowerment Principles in our next edition.
We also attended a reception “For the Love of the Philippines” generously hosted by Convene (a New York based company) to support and honor the courageous and resilient people of the Philippines, still in grief and still in recovery from the horrific onslaught of Typhoon Haiyan. The Philippines is one amongst many destination sourcing countries in the southern hemisphere that are vulnerable to natural disasters.
Our emphasis is on the human face of globalization.
In our conversations and actions to promote socially sustainable sourcing, we are often talking about building economic links between Global North and South. Our emphasis is on the human face of globalization. In the diverse discourse we have enjoyed over the last month, we began to notice how often the big themes confronting (our) humanity resurfaced and the many ways in which they interrelate: weather, women, war, wellness and wealth.
The Philippine event reminds us, for example, of the challenges confronting sourcing destination countries that repeatedly suffer natural disasters; even worse, in emergent economies in the Global South, financial and structural vulnerabilities amplify horribly the human suffering caused by these catastrophic phenomena. Phenomena whose frequency and impact may be exacerbated by climate change shocks. Great crises are, moreover, often compounded by consequent civil instability that further hampers recovery and renewed economic activity so vital to resilience. It just takes a moment to reflect that weather, wellness and wealth are intermeshed, that families’ wellness and well-being are critically tied to the well-being and wellness of women and that civil stability can rest on this. The tangled web can be woven into the fabric of a sustainable cohesive society or one torn by conflict and inequality.
We probably did not expect our conversations at a downtown New York City fundraiser to lead us to see these patterns. But of course we had been primed by listening to the discussions at the UN to step outside the microcosm of our experiences and see a bigger picture. The UN OWGonSDG illuminated vividly that problems geographically remote from where many of us are, nonetheless concern all of us. If patterns of production and consumption in our globalizing, interdependent world economies continue to neglect sustainability, the consequences will be devastatingly destructive to humanity, this planet, and all the life it sustains. As His Excellency Peter Maurer (the Swiss Ambassador to the UN) put it both wryly and succinctly: “In life, there may be a Plan B but there is no Planet B.”
The discussions we witnessed at the UN on the immense topic of Women’s Empowerment brought home the point that we cannot talk about the wellness, if you will, of our planet without taking into account the wellness – in every sense – of half its human population. Time and time again we see that strategies for empowering half of the world’s population cannot be uncoupled from sustainability imperatives. The forces that continue to make gender discrimination the most prevalent form of oppression today are, in a cruel continuity, often the forces that describe unsustainability: wellness in communities is undermined by poverty; poverty is exacerbated by lack of education and access to and control over resources; inequitable distribution of wealth traps economies and inhibits economic participation; human rights rely on rule of law; discriminatory cultural norms ultimately injure an entire society; conflict, violence and exploitation disproportionately harm women, children and the poor and so forth. A litany of aspects of a non-sustaining ecosystem.
In sustainability, as in women’s and girls’ rights, the statistics often cited in the UN discussions continue to be dauntingly depressing. Pessimism serves no purpose though. This is why in all that we do at the GSC, we are looking forward and moving forward, even if inchingly because socially sustainable sourcing practices can take on some of the above cited forces that harm societies. We are over a year away from our decennial year; those of us who co-founded the GSC remember what was missing from our conversations back then, what was considered off-topic for an organization concerned with the sourcing dimension of globalization. We were even chastised in some venues for our preoccupation with “irrelevant and trivial matters” such as sustainability.
The bottom line, in forward thinking organizations, yields to the triple bottom line.
Thankfully, those kinds of thinkers are increasingly seen as off-topic today. Business needs to be for profit but not only for profit. The bottom line, in forward thinking organizations, yields to the triple bottom line. We have no doubt that our sustainability agenda, the 3S Awards and our new Women’s Empowerment Initiative, are very much on-topic for sourcing strategies. These strategies are rich in transformative potential for women’s inclusion in education, economic participation and self determination and yet again advancing the human rights of women and girls contributes to holistic sustainability outcomes. They are connected.
All of us, whether in government, academia or business appreciate the short term tensions perceived and real, between economic development, growth and profitability, and sustainability. And yet, such an economic value-sustainability tension is essentially an oxymoron. How can the unsustainable path be the right choice? But for as long as this dichotomy obtains, our progress towards sustainability goals will continue to be a matter of our choices and their consequences. Inexorably, every culture, every business, every policy and strategy is the sum of its choices.
Choices and voices matter very much. We want to include as many perspectives as possible in our developing discussions on sustainability and women’s’ empowerment. In our next edition of The Source, for example, we will be sharing insights learnt from social entrepreneur Danielle Grace Warren who chose to make a difference to Ghanaian women in the shea nut agronomy. Just Shea contributes to business resilience, economic opportunity and physical safety for these women with sustainably-sourced shea butter products and social impact programs.
Just Shea is a small social enterprise. During the UN Private Sector Briefing, we also heard from a large, multinational enterprise that supports women micro-entrepreneurs. Ms. Patricia Hargill of Alcatel-Lucent told how her global company chose to strategically integrate women-owned businesses into its global supply chain with demonstrable, uncompromised business success. Now, they are a positive precedent for others.
Convene sets a positive precedent too. In sponsoring “For The Love of The Philippines”, Convene chose to help an employee’s family and their community devastated by Haiyan. Convene uses principles of human centered design to transform underutilized urban spaces into insightfully architected meeting places. In this instance, they made their space make a difference by hosting a fundraiser. We were struck by their human centered passion and purpose.
We feel that in different but connected ways the behaviors of these wildly different organizations exemplify modernity. (Looking at our agenda a month ago we would not have seen this pattern.) They are boldly led; infused with innovation; inspired to make people, places and experiences better and are committed to design sustainable solutions.
Every organization is perfectly designed to do what it does. As we struggle to achieve the best of all possible worlds, as we always will, we need to look through a design lens. If we want to do something differently, sustainably, with equity and dignity for half the world and with opportunity distributed to all people in the world, then, for the love of everything and everyone that matter, which is everything and everyone, let’s feel the need to do something, and do it.