I went to the Social Impact Showcase at St. Paul’s University College where I saw Cassie Myers of SheLeads offer great advice to young leaders: “Fall in love with a problem,” she said, “not with a solution.” I loved this advice and reflected on it.
I had my first crush on a problem when my media-studies-teacher mom brought home some early copies of AdBusters in 1992. I was infatuated with the way they turned corporate narratives upside down and inside out, asking “who benefits from corporate free speech?” It wasn’t long before I fell in love with the problem of how to hold powerful organizations to account for their actions in a manner that is fair, transparent, and effective.
Problems in business mirror our human interdependence with natural systems.
The problem I’ve fallen in love with is an old one, and yet new approaches are always needed because systems are complex, change is constant, and power always wants to find ways to keep itself free of accountability… including our own power to hold others to account. That implication of having to understand our own, personal relationship to power is part of why I love this problem. It’s poetically reflexive—and mirrors our interdependence with natural systems that defies our frail, all-too-human desire to be forever at the apex of a hierarchy, beholden to nothing and no one.
We cannot examine the social and ecological consequences of powerful international corporations without also inquiring into our own deeply held personal values—if we want to do it well, that is. Laws and regulations are necessary for accountability, of course, but as Jonathan Swift said, “laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.” Other solutions, tools and approaches are needed: effective governance, context-based strategy, measurement systems, culture change.…
Once I fell in love with this problem of power and accountability—and got to know it more intimately—deeper questions started to bubble up:
Who is consulted, involved or empowered in the governance, strategy, goal-setting and management processes for social purpose organizations? I say “organizations,” and not “corporations,” because all organizations—businesses, nonprofits, coops, etc.—have a moral and ethical duty to act responsibly. That said, business corporations have been the ‘corporate persons’ accused of acting like psychopaths, so business corporations are the target audience of approaches to restore ‘social purpose’ to strategy and management practice. The United Way’s Social Purpose Institute is doing great work at rehabilitating corporations to govern and make strategy in a purposeful way, and we’re pleased to be able to support them.
Junxion Strategy is proud to be an Advocation Partner for R3.0.
How are organizational goals created, framed in relation to a real world context so that they are meaningful, in the face of the challenges we face as communities, societies, and a species? Reporting 3.0 (recently renamed R3.0) is coming out with really inspired and inspiring work that integrates impact reporting, accounting, data management and business model generation (four fairly siloed business disciplines) into a coherent whole that is all based on how we measure, evaluate and compare performance of organizations, which leads to a number of methodological questions and also some significant technology challenges.
I am particularly inspired by two recent developments in this arena: the convergence on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a shared set of global goals, enabling better collaboration and comparability in change efforts (a common language of sorts), and the work of the Common Approach to Impact Measurement project as a shared approach and data platform to support impact measurement aligned to the SDGs.
There’s at least another couple of posts worth of writing to do about the Common Approach. In brief, it reinforces essential practices in impact measurement and stakeholder engagement with community governance, centres of excellence, an open data standard, and a flexible indicator system aligned to the SDGs. It’s the latest spark in my love affair with accountability!
To successfully apply the SDGs or any system of metrics to a program for accountability to a social purpose, that purpose must be grounded in a personal and authentic story that reflects sustainability values (inclusiveness, equity, connectedness, prudence, and security). Easy to say, but challenging to actually pull off. That’s where the Triple Bottom Line often failed to deliver, and devolved into a technocratic box-checking exercise for a lot of big corporations, and failed to deliver the systemic shifts we need.
The (triple?) bottom line for my love affair with the problem of power and accountability is that love itself is the answer—appreciative inquiry, open and honest engagement, honest—even audacious—critique, selflessness…. These are all manifestations of love made visible in our personal and working relationships. In one way or another, isn’t love always the answer?
Garth Yule is a Managing Director at Junxion. He can be reached via [email protected].