On the eve of the Annual Meeting 2012, the business community is faced with a unique opportunity – an opportunity to demonstrate the positive role it can play worldwide and to define its new covenant with society. This covenant is needed in part because business’s role has shifted dramatically in recent decades. Not only are its impacts felt more broadly by an increasing number of people around the globe, but society’s expectations of business have also grown. Indeed, in today’s resource-constrained world, the challenge of providing prosperity to 7 billion people can only be accomplished if business plays a positive role in the creation of new models of sustainable growth. Business must be part of the solution.
Today, the Global Agenda Council on the Role of Business releases a report that calls on the private sector to broaden perspectives from short-term shareholder returns to generating value for a wider set of stakeholders. The needs have never been greater for renewing business’s license to operate, as frustration and uncertainty linger regarding the effects of business on communities around the world.
Defining the covenant is only one part of the challenge. Determining the “how” is also essential. What are the mechanisms for changing behavior? What concrete steps can be taken to reward companies that adopt long-term strategies to generate value for a wide range of stakeholders?
The paper – “Defining the New Business Covenant” – outlines actions that can help bring about this change. For example, incentive structures can reward shareholders who hold stakes in companies for extended periods of time. Reporting systems can measure the full externalities of corporate activities in terms of environmental, social and governance factors, both short- and long-term. Boards can ensure companies address the systemic risk that their new products, services, or technologies could create. Partnerships among governments, businesses and civil society can leverage the creativity, the capacity and the capital of business to address critical societal needs in new economically sustainable ways.
These strategies outlined are by no means comprehensive. They represent the start to a larger discussion we are initiating in Davos and beyond. We invite you to follow the conversation – by participating in our World Economic Brainstorming: Business, Governance and Leadership – New Pressures and Realities on Wednesday 25 January. RSVP to watch the session live at: http://www.livestream.com/worldeconomicforum?rsvptoeventid=426265, and join the debate on Twitter at #WEFbrainstorm.
What concrete mechanisms do you suggest in order to incentivize business to uphold this covenant? Send me your thoughts via Twitter @RobertGreenhill or leave a comment below.