I really do have the best job in the world. Over the past 2.5 weeks I’ve had the opportunity to speak about Creating Shared Value (CSV) at three different events in three different countries. At each event the context, the setting and the audience was very different. And yet, the same important themes surfaced time and again, demonstrating that in the journey to embed shared value into corporations, managers from Barcelona to Prague are facing the same opportunities and challenges.
I started my whirlwind tour in Barcelona in mid-May at the ESADE Spring Event on Emerging Markets and Developing Countries. I had the pleasure of sharing a panel with representatives from the Heineken Africa Foundation and P&G. The audience was filled with MBA students, wanting to know how to embed shared value thinking into their classrooms and cases. We lamented together about the existence of dedicated “CSR” classes and hoped that soon they would be a thing of the past. The successes and challenges of companies embracing CSV should be taught in “normal” business classes and not viewed in the context of CSR, but in the context of what it means to be a business in the 21st century.
Last week, I spent two days in Prague. The first day I gave the keynote speech at the country’s flagship CSR conference, hosted by Economia. A passionate thirty minute debate ensued about how to move companies from traditional philanthropy and siloed CSR to a creating shared value mentality embedded in the DNA of the company. The importance of CEO leadership and buy-in was raised time and again. Further, the incredibly inspiring US Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Norman Eisen, encouraged the CSR managers in the audience to think of embedding these principles as a “political campaign”. He stressed the importance of needing a champion at the highest levels of leadership, but equally important, a champion at peer level that can help spread the message. He also reminded us all to be patient and persistent. Changing minds takes a long time.
The following day, I helped facilitate a Creating Shared Value Roundtable hosted by CSR Consult. Representatives from Nestlé, IBM, Bayer, Danone, T-Mobile, GE Money Bank and Adria, a cutting edge ecologically-focused hotel in Prague, spent over three hours discussing their own CSV journeys. Again the theme of internal engagement dominated the conversation. Even if the CEO buys into the company being an engine of shared value creation, how do you trickle this down to business unit and country leaders? Or, if the CSR department wants to reposition the company to CSV, how does the CSR manager build his or her campaign? The participants in the roundtable surfaced many promising tactics for both of these challenges, including some fascinating idea for changing HR practices to support a shared value mentality, including recruiting, leadership training, employee reviews and compensation. We also spoke about external engagement, including the need to train the media on how to report on CSV. Too often, journalists ask: “What % of your budget goes to CSR or philanthropy?” There is a need to teach them how to ask a better question. “How is the company serving society’s needs?”
Finally, just today, I provided an introduction to CSV at a conference in Geneva hosted by Impact Economy in partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative. Along with my co-panelists from Nestlé, Novartis and MyC4 we surfaced the topic of how to embed shared value into a company’s DNA. We stressed the need for partnerships, be it with NGOs or peers, to make big change happen We also talked about the topic of measuring CSV and related to that, how to get investors to understand the value of this approach. One of the panellists gave us a telling factoid: 25 years ago, stocks were held an average of 7 years. Today, the average is 3 months. Does CSV have a chance in the world of quarterly earnings reports?
My head is still spinning from all of the stimulating debate over the past weeks. But one thing is for sure: the CSV journey is well underway and practitioners have much to learn from each other.