This summer marked the 15th anniversary of the first Global Compact Leaders Summit at the UN Headquarters in New York—convened by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on June 24, 2004. That summit was the beginning of a dialogue about the global struggle for corporate responsibility that has expanded to involve tens of thousands of business leaders, and contributed directly to the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2012.
In late August I attended the Founding Forum of the Flourishing Enterprise Institute (FEI) at the amazing Evolv1 building in Waterloo, Canada. The FEI has taken up the vision and intentions set out by the UN Global Compact, and brings together the leading research centres in the world that are looking at how SMEs and entrepreneurs can play their role in making systemic change.
This inspiring conference brought together academics, practitioners, entrepreneurs, and consultants to the University of Waterloo for two days of deep and wide-ranging discussion about how to achieve a “flourishing future” where businesses have broken the cycle of destructive overconsumption where they are stuck now.
The Institute is the evolution of the Strong Sustainable Business Models Group, founded in 2012, which has worked to “develop approaches, frameworks, methods, tools, practices and techniques that can link into organizations’ decision-making, and help guide it toward holistic sustainability: Flourishing (from John Ehrenfeld and Positive Psychology), Strongly sustainable (from macro-ecological economics), Thriving, Future Fit, Resilient, Regenerative, Integral, Strategically Sustainable (from the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development), Living within the donut (from Kate Raworth), Sustainable Prosperity (from Peter Victor, Tim Jackson).”
The 2004 Global Compact Summit was unique in that its design employed the (still fairly new at the time) methodology of Appreciative Inquiry, which was created by David Cooperrider and his colleagues at Case Western Reserve University. David came in person to open the Founding Forum with a keynote address that traced the story, from the original 2004 Summit to the present day, of our “once in a civilization opportunity” to eradicate poverty, develop renewable energy sources, build circular economies, and educate everyone, everywhere.
Cooperrider framed the collective effort towards a flourishing earth as “the most significant Organization Development (OD) opportunity of our time,” highlighting the ways that investing in building “a flourishing world” (by the conference organizer’s definition) inspires innovation, leadership development, and deeply personal changes in consciousness and culture that “makes it stick,” where other more one-dimensional sustainability efforts may have a limited shelf life.
The Context for ‘Coopetition’
My key takeaway from the conference is that while the moral and social case for quitting “business as usual” is clear, there is no “one size fits all” approach to strategy, policy, culture change, brand, etc.—whatever is your issue at hand—that will reliably lead to strongly sustainable outcomes. Context is supremely important and your choices have to make sense in your market, your industry, and your bioregion.
But this is not just “making the business case for sustainability” at the level of the business—this is too narrow a view. There is an emerging opportunity, strengthened by advances in shared data and shared governance of impact data, to work at the level of the bioregion, and have businesses address themselves to how needs are met at the population level.
Businesses at the leading edge of this kind of thinking are asking: what models—other than traditional small business models and traditional competitive markets—could or would meet these regional needs within the carrying capacity of human and ecological systems? There are interesting examples of ‘coopetition’ and business-ecosystem-design thinking coming out of the Flourishing group and their associates.
Business, Value, and the Flourishing Mindset
The framework and tools that they have developed, like the Flourishing Canvas, are valuable for practitioners (i.e. entrepreneurs and their advisors) to grapple with a new way of understanding how value is created (or destroyed) in a practical way that can inform day-to-day business decision-making.
This week, I’m attending Making Global Goals Local Business – Canada. This two-day business sustainability summit is organized jointly by the United Nations Global Compact and Global Compact Network Canada, and will bring together Canadian business leaders, sustainability professionals, government officials, impact-driven entrepreneurs, NGO leaders, and the United Nations to catalyze collective action and accelerate progress on the UN Global Compact’s Ten Principles and the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) here in Canada.
I will be there championing the Flourishing ‘mindset’ in terms of taking a holistic approach to enacting the SDGs as targets for a strategic plan or business model. We at Junxion strongly believe that applying the SDGs cannot just be a technical exercise in measurement and data collection—it must be grounded in a personal and authentic story that reflects our own deeply held values.
We look forward to future posts, when we’ll share more about specific case studies and leaders putting this vision for a Flourishing Future into action.
Garth Yule is a Managing Director at Junxion. His work includes discerning the right tools and approaches organizations and leaders should use to help advance their bold changemaking agendas. You can reach him via [email protected].