Big Business, Bigger Impact – report from the Skoll World Forum

Skoll Scholar Mark Hlady gives us his perpective on this key session from Day 2 of the Skoll World Forum

Mark Hlady

Big Business, tadalafil Bigger Impact was delivered in an overflowing lecture theatre. Surrounded by an esteemed group of entrepreneurs and financers, sitting on stairs because all the seats were taken, I left excited and thoughtful. Excited because the people on the panel Kavita Prakash (Syngenta), Mark Davis (L’Oreal/Body Shop), and Tony Siesfeld (Monitor Institute) seemed to “get it”. Thoughtful, because a long-time social entrepreneur called out the contradiction between doing social good with one hand while doing social harm with the other.

I felt the panel “got it” because a consistent theme throughout the discussion was about moving social, environmental, and governance factors from a project basis, driven by a specialist groups (e.g., CSR groups), to a main business focus. Robert Annibale from Citi joked, we can’t commit 1% of our resources to “corporate social responsibility” – what does that mean we’re practicing the rest of the time? Corporate Irresponsibility?” Kavita from Syngenta had a more serious tone – she explained with conviction that small hold farmers in Africa represent a significant potential customer base, but they are largely inaccessible at this point. Kavita further explained that clearly Syngenta wants to help lift these farmers out of poverty because it mean they can purchase more seeds (a primary revenue source of Syngenta). The problem she explained was “How”. Similarly, L’Oreal has created a plan to fully integrate best sustainable sourcing practices it its innovation – and the question is “How”.

The Panel: Big Business, Bigger Impact

Robert Annibale, Mark Davis, Kavita Prakash-Mani, Tony Siesfeld

Overall – to see these executives from leading companies thinking hard about how to solve societal issues make me optimistic, though one audience question made me step back.

When a social entrepreneur implied a multinational food processor’s social initiatives were futile because the company’s main business was selling unhealthy products the audience’s shock was audible. Does a company need to be fully dedicated to a philosophy of positive change to do Good? Some members absolutely thought so. Other members thought the comment was quick to judge what was good and bad, and the source of each. Back to the issue in the comment, food processing. On one hand, it is easy to understand how unhealthy products may create more social harm (obesity, cardiac disease, and other health complications) than the social good they provide (immediate gratification), but does this mean these companies should stop their main business? Exploring the idea further it doesn’t seem to hold.

We must ask, is it really the company that is creating the social problem or is it the peoples’ consumption patterns? If it is consumption patterns, then are the patterns motivated by corporate marketing or is corporate marketing simply enabling people to realize an underlying motivation? This question  then leads us back to, what should corporates do to improve social well-being? The consensus in the room was that large companies should integrate SEG factors throughout the business, but should they also stop business lines that some perceive as harmful. If so, who should decide what is harmful?

These questions are appropriately large for the history of Oxford and the impact of the delegates at the Skoll World Forum. Now, regardless of the answer, it is clear that big business has a big impact and I am excited to be part of the conversation to figure out how that impact can be more positive.