14 December 2009

Businessmen, the Planet Needs You

Summary of a New York times op-ed by Georg Kell, my previous boss and executive director of United Nations Global Compact, a U.N. initiative to encourage businesses to adopt socially responsible policies.

"As negotiating teams labor at the U.N. climate change conference, a rising chorus of business leaders is chanting “seal the deal.”
Though notions of hammering out an actual climate treaty in Copenhagen have been put to rest, many captains of industry are nonetheless urging governments to agree on the core elements of a climate framework that can serve the basis of a treaty. ...
But given the level of inaction and the counteracting forces of organized opposition, further steps will be needed to truly tip the scale in favor of positive business action.
First, progressive businesses must take their case to the industry fence-sitters through an active outreach campaign that includes a number of key messages:
1. climate change is the test of business leadership in the 21st century;
2. the future of the global marketplace hangs in the balance;
3. addressing climate can trigger an era of sustainable prosperity;
4. transformation is possible and viable; and
5. climate change is an urgent ethical issue for the broader role business in society.
Of course, it would be naïve not to acknowledge that there will be industry losers in the end. There will be those companies and sectors that are just too entrenched in the high-carbon economy to adapt and change.
A second action must involve the further mobilization of key stakeholders — most notably civil society, consumers and the investment community. ...
Achieving the low-carbon economy of the future will not be possible without the active role of business. Some have taken up the challenge. It is time for the fence-sitters to join this effort."
Read the full op-ed at New York Times.

24 October 2009

Today is UN Day - video message from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Today is UN-day celebrating the anniversary of the Charter of the United Nations, as which "shall be devoted to making known to the peoples of the world the aims and achievements of the United nations and to gaining their support for" its work.

The UN is doing work in many different areas from peacekeeping, health, children and women, environment, human rights to sustainable development. Currently, I am myself involved in facilitating partnerships with companies to create jobs and income opportunities in developing countries, most of them in Africa.

See a video message from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

"The United Nations is doing its utmost to respond — to address the big issues, to look at the big picture. We are forging a new multilateralism that can deliver real results for all people, especially those most in need."
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Message on UN Day, 24 October 2009

14 September 2009

Let's transcend the obsession with economic growth - Stiglitz et al. recommend to go beyond GDP

"Well-being is more than money", a saying that could come from the Dalai Lama but in this case it is the essence of a recent report done by a group of 22 leaders. The group comissioned by French president Sarkozy included Nobel economics prize winner Stiglitz, and Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen who helped create the U.N. Human Development Index.

"The report, delivered to Mr. Sarkozy on Monday, recommends shifting the emphasis from GDP, which measures economic production, to well-being and sustainability. "GDP statistics were originally introduced to measure market economic activity," Mr. Stiglitz said. "But they are increasingly thought of as a measure of societal well-being, which they are not. … Our economy is supposed to increase our well being; it is not an end in itself."

The report suggests looking at household income, consumption and wealth rather than production in the economy as a whole for a better reflection of material living standards... More prominence should be given to the distribution of income and wealth, as well as to access to education and health, the report said, adding that attention should also be given to whether countries are over-consuming their economic wealth and damaging the environment.

The report also recommends that indexes should integrate complex realities, such as crime, the environment and the efficiency of the health system, as well as income inequality."

Read on at Wall Street Journal

Personally, I believe we would benefit tremendously by 'updating' our 'success metrics'. How can we continue to count car accidents, bombs etc. as a positive on our national production measurement? How can we continue to believe that the more and faster the better? Let's support this more holistic way of measuring our well-being!

If you think the recommendation from the Stiglitz-commission doesn't go far enough, maybe we should go to adopt Bhutan's GHI, Gross National Happiness.

21 August 2009

Social Entrepreneur example: Oliberté Footwear from Africa!

Working at UNDP in my professional life... I do have a passion for Social Entrepreneurs in my private life. Despite all the red-tape and challenges, they are the ones who push for development with business spirit, in many cases with social rather profit goals.

So when I heard that Tal Dehtiar started "Oliberté Footwear" I was curious. I know Tal from founding and running MBAs without Borders until starting Oliberté. This footwear venture is positioned as "1st Urban Brand from Africa", so hopefully it will show Africa's "Yes, we can" attitude.

"Oliberté is a new revolution showcasing the true potential of Africa. Every time someone buys a pair of Oliberté shoes, they are showing to the world that Africa is more than just poverty - that it is full of pride, power and liberty" said Tal Dehtiar. "All the attention on Africa is focused on alleviating poverty, but the only real way to alleviate poverty on this beautiful continent is to build a middle class that includes fair paying jobs. The more shoes sold, the more fair jobs will be created at local factories where Oliberté works, which ultimately changes lives for the better."

By 2015, Oliberté looks to work in over 10 countries in Africa to source material, accessories and manufacture its shoes that will be sold from Canada to USA to Europe to Australia to Japan. "If we wanted to make cheap shoes, we'd simple go to Asia, but this is NOT about cheap shoes or labour. This is about premium quality and fashionable footwear that creates fair paying jobs in the poorest countries of the world. Pride. Power. Liberty. This is the real Africa. This is Oliberté."

Changing the world to the better with every shoe!?

11 June 2009

The Necessary Revolution - Climate Change boils our HOME

"20% of the world population consumes
80% of the world resources."
Business as humans are part of wider systems, we all share the same home, one planet. Unfortunately, the way we do business, the way of our cherished materialistic development has been seriously bringing these systems out of balance.
"We spend 12 times more on military than on aid to developing countries"
Personally, I have struggled the last 10 years to bring the puzzle pieces of my life experiences together to see the bigger picture. And the picture is ugly. Despite being an optimist: 'we f*cked up'. Sorry for my language but our limited consciousness of the timeless universal truth - everything is linked is everything - has separated us from nature. This led to our "extract, make, waste" approach.
"We only have 10 years to revert the greenhouse gases trend"
Climate Change is real, it's right in our face... and we can do something about it. Recently, a book and a movie have helped me to see the bigger picture clearer and today I want to share them with you:

1. HOME - In my view the best documentary movie since Inconvenient Truth and Baraka... amazing footage (watch in high quality) I am still holding my breath, it even features Mali.

2. The necessary Revolution - A timely book by management guru Peter Senge, Bryan Smith et al. It gives inspiring examples on how individuals and organizations are working together to create a sustainable world.

'Systems thinking' illustrations paint a clear picture on how we need to change our 'exploit, make, wast' consumerism. A great follow through after you regain your breath from the HOME movie.
"We all have the power to change.
So what are we waiting for?"

28 May 2009

Business and Development: UNDP's Growing Sustainable Business Initiative

I have been quite about my latest assignment so far... but since a Financial Times article came out yesterday, it’s time to talk about UNDP’s Growing Sustainable Business (GBS) initiative:

Enterprise introduces a whiff of revolution
In her book Dead Aid, Dambisa Moyo calls for the end of aid to Africa within five years. Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda – which has halved aid as a percentage of its gross domestic product in the past decade – recently argued in the Financial Times that aid creates instability and dependency while failing to reduce poverty or disease. Ms Moyo and Mr Kagame are among those questioning traditional models of development. While not all favour the pure for-profit approach, many argue that there is a greater role for market-based approaches to global problems. If such models prevail, the question for big non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and international public sector institutions is how to fit into the new development landscape…

“Business and society have to go through this utterly profound management transformation to move away from a few people running everyone else,” says Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka the pioneering social entrepreneurship non-profit. “Because that model can’t function in a world with rapid change coming from all directions.” In contrast to the more nimble social entrepreneurs, organisations such as the World Bank and the UN can seem lumbering and out of touch. Some believe this stems from outdated management processes and sprawling bureaucratic structures…

Some institutions are also recognising their potential convening role in market-led initiatives. This is something the United Nations Development Programme is doing through its Growing Sustainable Business initiative. The idea behind the GSB is that the UNDP can broker partnerships between companies and NGOs or local government agencies to accelerate the provision of goods, services and employment in poor countries.

In Africa, one of the GSB partnerships – between Unilever, the consumer products group, and social and environmental institutions – is developing the Allanblackia tree into a new crop that will be a supplementary source of oil for Unilever products as well as an additional income stream for farmers…”

12 May 2009

12 Simple Things You Can Do to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Some of these tipps might sound trivial but I do scratch my head when colleagues in my office do not turn off their PCs in the evening or car drivers let their engine run while waiting in their car for long...

Let's lead by example, therefore 12 Simple Things You Can Do to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint from UNDP (see full ad here):
  1. Turn it off
    Turn off lights, televisions, videos, stereos, heaters, cars and computers when not in use - they can use 10 to 40% of the power when on standby. Also, unplug chargers as soon as they have finished charging.

  2. Be exact
    Fill the kettle with only as much water as you need.

  3. Close it
    Don't leave fridge doors open for longer than necessary.

  4. Check your tires
    Properly inflated tires can improve your car’s fuel efficiency.

  5. Use no plastic
    Use cloth bags when going shopping and avoid buying products which use too much plastic.

  6. Fan up
    Instead of using air conditioners in the summer, wear cool clothes, and use a fan.

  7. Drive less
    Do your weekly errands in a single trip or pay your bills online. Walk, bike, ride the bus or carpool.

  8. Optimize your speed
    You will consume up to 25% less fuel if you drive no more than 90 km/hr.

  9. Drive hybrid
    A hybrid or other fuel-efficient car emits less carbon dioxide.

  10. Replace them
    Replace your incandescent bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL). CFLs cost 3 to 5 times as much but use less than a third of the power. Also, replace old fridge and other appliances with energy-efficient ones.

  11. Watch what you eat
    Choose food produced close to your home.

  12. Recycle
    Consume less, and re-use old products.

Refer this site to a friend: www.12simplethings.org

What else is missing? I'd add:
13. Insulate your home, so you need less heating... and snuggle more ;)
14. Plant a Tree!

01 May 2009

Yunus: The Authenticity and Simplicity of a Noble Peace Winner

Recently I attended an inspiring talk by peace noble laureate Prof. Muhammad Yunus. This blog has covered him extensively because ever since I am exploring the cross-roads of business approaches to social and sustainable development Yunus has been an idol for me. The talk - which was facilitated by Jeffrey Sachs - was inspiring on two fronts: scale of achievements and his personal charisma.

First, how many example in the development are do you know having positive benefits for millions of people? Frankly, I do not know many. Even now working for UN's Development Programme, I see how even multi-million programmes of the largest development agencies and biggest brands in the world struggle to deliver tangible results, let alone of that scale. Now he has already touched nearly 8 million lives, mainly of marginalized women.

Second, I am touched at heart how humble and authentic Yunus is. A man sitting in Bangladeshi textile with a near Dalai Lama smile talking about over 30 years of his life with such an empathy for his country women and simplicity. He doesn't use any jargon, theories or buzz words. Yunus says, he just wanted to be of use for at least 1 person. Isn't that an example to follow?

Let's make a difference to at least one person and the world will be a better place. Yes we can! A wise man said once "If Not Me, Then Who? If Not Now, Then When?".

06 April 2009

Natural Entrepreneurs: Following the flow to find the career of your dreams?

Does business need to be profit-greedy and your work hard? Of course not. Instead, your career is part of your life and we are no victims but creators of our own circumstances along the path we decided to walk.

"This economic crisis may be just the push you need to find the career of your dreams." is the subtitle of an interesting article in Ode Magazine. Author Dave Pollard contrasts the "natural entrepreneur" to the hard-working factory or office laborer. I myself did feel like an assembly-line worker in a factory with the only difference that I was chasing my email inbox.

So it it very refreshing to see Pollard's six points on how Natural Entreprenerus are different:
  1. "They had found their sweet spot, the work where their gifts, their passions and their purpose intersected.
  2. They had found the right business partners, people who shared their purpose and whose gifts and passions complemented their own.
  3. They did world-class research to identify real needs that weren’t being met by any other enterprise in the marketplace.
  4. They used a rigorous, continuous process to invent and commercialize products and services that met those unmet needs.
  5. Instead of planning for the future, they had learned how to improvise, to adapt easily to changes in the economy and demographics.
  6. They acted with integrity, operating in a way that resonated with their values, and made principled decisions, not opportunistic ones, in the long-term interest of their partners, employees, customers and communities."

Read the full article here, including the reference to his book.
Which side are you on?

26 March 2009

Social Entrepreneurs make it into The Economist: Global heros saving the world?

When the conservative economic magazine The Economist is picking up a trend then it can't be a hype anymore. They run specials on (Social) Entrepreneurship and - wow - their titles even go overboard: "Global heros" and "Saving the World".

The first hero-article describes how - despite the downturn - entrepreneurs are enjoying a renaissance the world over. It brings back the famous phrase of “creative destruction” by Joseph Schumpeter from 1942. Then it busts five myths on entrepreneurs and covers the who-is-who o (American) entrepreneurs.

The second article 'Saving the world' covers how entrepreneurs are trying to do good as well as make money. Key messages resonate much with me such as "Social entrepreneurs often blur the distinction between making money and offering charity. Some use the profits from their main business to cross-subsidise their charitable work." (This mix I have lived the last two years). With dozens of comments it's a hotly debated article.

Also interesting: "In the long run, however, the best thing that entrepreneurs can do for the poor may be simply to see them as workers and customers." This - in an empowering, integrating way - is what UNDP's Growing Sustainable Business Initiative, who I am currently working for, is trying to do. Stay tuned...

27 February 2009

A social technology to connect to the future: "Presencing"

Do you want to know how to create your future out of the present moment? Sounds like a spiritual question but MIT lecturer Dr. Otto Scharmer has formulated a ‘technology’ called “Presencing” that describes the process how creative leaders give birth to the future that wants to happen.

Recently I attended the first online class of Otto and his Presencing Institute. Out of the MIT he gives interactive lectures accompanied with group work with like-minded people from all over the world. I was very impressed how Otto describes 'soft' and spiritual processes in a language that “mind-people” can understand.

Otto has German roots but lives in the US and has extensively described the process and examples of Presencing in his ‘Theory U’ book. You can read the executive summary here. As illustrated below, the U stands for going down into the source with an open mind, open heart and open will, and then coming up by sensing and letting emerge visions of the future:

I have tried similar techniques in an ‘inspiration coach’ training and must say that this stuff actually works! ‘Going with the flow’ has been one of my recent mantras and plays a new major role on my work and private life. Have you made any experiences in this area?

04 February 2009

World Economic Forum on Businnes & Climate Change

"UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underscored this connection in his address. "Climate change threatens all our goals for development and social progress," he stated. "On the other hand, it also presents us with a gilt-edged opportunity. By tackling climate change head-on we can solve many of our current troubles, including the threat of global recession." The Secretary-General cited the UN Global Compact, a voluntary initiative for companies vowing to uphold social and environmental principles, as a prime example of efforts to solve simultaneously multiple problems. He called for a new phase of the program – which he dubbed Global Compact 2.0.

The key, according to Ban Ki-moon, is credibility - which Compact companies earn and maintain through annual Communication on Progress reports. Recent polls - for example the Edelman Trust Barometer - show that only a third of people in the world trust business to do the right thing: "half what it used to be," Ban Ki-moon says. ...

While few trust business now, Ban Ki-Moon points out the irony that two-thirds of the world's people "think business should be fully engaged in tackling our common problems."

From CSRWire

26 January 2009

Spirit in Business: The Expanded Consciousness of Inspiring Leaders and Entrepreneurs

Global crises such as the climate crisis, the poverty crisis or the financial crises are also “value crises” and symptoms of a “consciousness crisis”. Our motivation and capability to address such issues depends on our awareness of the bigger picture and our consciousness how we individually are linked to these issues. New leaders and entrepreneurs in the fields of Social Entrepreneurship, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability have become aware of this bigger picture. They have an expanded consciousness and followed their life-mission to be change agents and leaders in changing the world.

Change due to expanding consciousness can be seen in various academic, economic, societal and political fields. In economy, change can be seen in social and spiritual entrepreneurship, CSR and new forms of visionary and conscious leadership. In medicine, it is the trend towards holistic medicine including the growing acceptance of alternative healing. In physics, it is quantum-physics and in politics the election of Barack Obama is energizing globally.

There are many open questions: For instance, how has peace nobel-prize laureate Prof. Muhammad Yunus seen potential rather poverty in Bangladesh when establishing Grameen’s micro-finance scheme? Why did Microsoft founder Bill Gates change his life mission from for-profit seeking towards fighting global illnesses? How are we transforming capitalism to make our global economy sustainable?

My thesis is that they have in common an expanded consciousness which is the foundation for extraordinary mission-motivation, leadership and achievements. What do you think?