Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Using business as a force for good

Published:Tuesday | December 13, 2016 | 12:06 AMSaffrey Brown
From left: Lanisia Rhoden, Terry Ann Clahar-Weir, Eva Forde and Natalee Parkes-Larmond display their message about the results of purpose plus profit.

Many people would say that 2016 has been a bad year for ... well, pretty much the entire world. It stands out as: The Year of Brexit, Trump, the Alt-Right, Aleppo, North Korea nuclear tests, the Bastille Day attack in Nice, the worsening refugee crisis in the Middle East, economic collapse in Venezuela, and the list goes on.

Closer to home, Haiti lost thousands of lives due to Hurricane Matthew; road fatalities in Jamaica continued to skyrocket; Trinidad and Tobago entered its first recession in decades; and most recently, the death of Cuba's Fidel Castro, who was a great antagonist of colonial rule.

Of course, a few people would say that it's been a bumper year. And I guess for them, it has been. In January, an Oxfam Davos Report highlighted that a mere 62 people owned the same wealth as half of the world. This number is down from 388 in 2010. Take a moment to let that sink in.

That same report also referenced the falling share of national income earned by workers in most developed and developing countries, leading to a widening gap. And, if you acknowledge this as fact, at the same time, chief executive officer (CEO)-to-worker ratio globally keeps rising, then the reader must also acknowledge that the inequality only continues to increase.

In the United States of America (USA), the ratio between CEO and average worker pay is 354. The country that comes closest to the USA is Switzerland, with a ratio of 148. Of course, you may say that this does not impact us in Jamaica. However, that would be incorrect as many of the companies cited are global; and their businesses and employees are scattered throughout the world, including Jamaica; and many of the other countries, which are facing massive disruption and national trauma.

But, while some of these CEOs and companies seem to be on a runaway train to, in my opinion, absolutely nowhere, because who really cares how many gold toasters you can buy! And yes, I know it's not that simple, and that extreme wealth creates more complex situations. Yet, there is an active recognition among some CEOs that personal wealth creation should never be the main reason for doing business.

However, changing your reason for doing business is about recognising that to solve some of the world's greatest challenges, one must do business differently. The idea that you can use business to create social transformation, or stakeholder value, is really about businesses becoming active participants in creating solutions for positive change, not simply using business for resource and wealth extraction.

 

'Creating shared value'

 

In Jamaica, financial organisations such as the Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS) recognise that its raison d'etre for doing business is about "creating shared value". And, as a mutual organisation, "creating stakeholder value is about creating national value, because they are one and the same".

Earl Jarrett, general manager of Jamaica National, believes that "What is good for Jamaica, is good for JN", and, therefore, if you ensure that your decisions towards your business will make positive impact on the country, then you will invariably make the right decisions for your business.

At the same time, the Virgin Group has "purpose" as part of its DNA, and explains: "If you are unsure about what your business' purpose is, except perhaps to make money, it might be a good time to rethink your approach." [Hence,] "great businesses are places where problems are solved and lives are improved."

Therefore, as we are faced with escalating local, national and global challenges, one of the first steps companies must consider in choosing to use business as a force for good, is to: Tackle the disparities in society including addressing the hopes and expectations of all stakeholders; thereby, creating a playing field of trust and opportunities for all. This approach will allow every player in the national framework the opportunity to participate in expanding earnings and thereby improving the economic outcomes for all Jamaicans.

- Saffrey Brown is a social innovator, and general manager, JN Foundation.

Contact: saffreyb@gmail.com