How NGOS Can Help Sustainability Professionals Promote the Social Case Inside the Business (Speech)

Bond Annual Conference on International Development
Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, London
March 2017

Hello, I am Kristin Hughes and I want to thank Klara Kozlov and Charities Aid Foundation for inviting me to be a part of this discussion today. Thanks also to Bond for organizing this insightful and powerful gathering. It’s terrific to see so many people interested this topic and looking to build on the anecdotes and insights we share as well.

I’ve had the good fortune to have been in the position of driving corporate external strategies for a number of different multi-national companies over the past 20 years, including Mars, HP and The Gap. And in the last decade, I’ve started to see a shift in businesses.

Many companies now recognize a need to be creative about how they approach many aspects of their work. Not only does the bottom line matter, but these companies need to attract and retain the best talent they can find. The old stalwarts I mentioned from my past are competing with cool, edgy organizations.

I read last week a few statistics about millennials that I believe exemplify this. The article I read noted that millennials are already the majority in today’s workforce, and that by 2025, they will make up three-quarters of workers.

The reason I find this statistic so interesting is that millennials are also motivated to work for a business that is socially minded and therefore businesses need to be socially minded if they are going to attract the best and the brightest from this generation.

A study from the Stanford Graduate School of Business revealed that 90 percent of MBAs from business schools in Europe and North America prefer working for organizations committed to social responsibility. Ethics and integrity are more important than financial gain.

As such, companies need to rethink their approach to their business and how they will attract and retain these up and coming stars.  Having had the privilege to work for a number of corporations, I have directly witnessed this transformation – and the need for the business to be more socially and intentionally focused. However, when you look at a company’s core strengths, it’s would be unusual to find the direct link between profits and social engagements.

So then, we ask, how can we shift a company’s values while building on their core assets to recruit these passionate individuals?

Jeffrey Hayzlett, writing for Entrepreneur, shares these four tips:

– make your work visible

– decide on a clear & authentic purpose

– encourage & engage employees in social responsibility

– bond social responsibility with your brand and culture

This sounds easy, right? But not necessarily so. These are some pretty big items to bite off and so as more and more private sector leaders are seeing the need to engage on a social level, they are learning they won’t succeed alone. This is where working with the civil society can help them to be successful. And when we think about successfully addressing the Sustainable Development Goals, we are going to need business to be engaged, along with civil society and government. So how can civil society help businesses to promote the social arguments inside the business?

Three critical first steps come to mind when a business wants to integrate sustainability into its company mandate, and there is a way our civil society partners can us achieve these goals. That is:

crafting the narrative

engaging directly on the ground

keeping us honest

Crafting the narrative: Understanding what sustainability is and specifically what it means to the company so that every part of the business has integrated sustainability into its practices is key.

From procurement to design, from marketing to logistics. In order to get sustainability embedded into the business, we need C-suite buy-in and an understanding /awareness of the benefits of sustainability.

Civil society can help articulate this based on their many observations in the field and then we can help to translate that story into a meaningful strategic approach that makes sense for the business.

Raising C-suite awareness of sustainability benefits is a critical initial step before we consider how to create a roadmap for longer term success.

Engaging directly on the ground with various projects and stakeholders: When it comes to putting a project together that is long-lasting and impactful, there is no way a business that is focused on building and selling PCs knows what is needed on the ground in South Africa or India.

But this company can work directly with civil society members who work directly in these countries to better understand the situation. Then together they can craft and implement a meaningful engagement strategy.

I’m sitting on this panel today with Laurie Lee, of CARE UK. When I worked for Gap, CARE was perhaps our number one partner for the efforts that were undertaken by the PACE Initiative – the personal advancement and career enhancement program to positively impact women workers in Gap’s supply chains.

Gap had recognized that the majority of the workers in its supply chain were women sewing in factories. They wanted to find a creative way to support these women further. Under the leadership of Dottie Hatcher, the PACE initiative was launched. PACE was an inspirational approach to this situation and GAP was recognized for doing something positive for its supply chain.

However, the initial impact was minimal and Gap wanted it to be bigger so Dottie struck up a relationship with CARE International who helped fine tune the program and take it from being an inspirational one-off to being a hugely successful and engaging initiative.

Similarly, when I was at Mars we saw an opportunity to focus on a few key raw materials and work to improve the supply chain of those raw materials. I had the pleasure of working on rice – as you may not know, Uncle Bens is owned by Mars and is the largest global rice brand. So, we set out to source our rice more sustainably.

Without going into too many details, we knew there was no way we could do this on our own. We worked closely with Utz and the United Nations Development Programme to understand better what it would mean to be “sustainably sourced.”

Once we learned that to be more sustainable, certain farming methods might need to be adopted. Thus, we partnered with WWF Pakistan to draft a program and help engage locally with the farmers and to craft and implement a training program that would help everyone involved to achieve the goals at hand. Moreover, with these partners we also hope to be able to reach additional rice brands and rice farmers beyond those who farm for large companies.

As Mars works toward its sustainability goals, it is partnering very closely with a number of civil society organizations as these are the experts in the field, on the ground who can help draft and implement programs for greater success. There is no way we could manage these on our own or be successful without their engagement.

And finally, an important way civil society can help businesses engage in sustainability is by helping keep us honest.

This might be better understood as helping us put into place the right metrics and monitoring programs and then helping us to stay on top of those.

The greater the data and information we have on what it is we are trying to do, the better our chances are of improving further and raising standards generally.

Furthermore, we all benefit from a greater level of transparency.

How can we identify risks in our programs and then craft the right solutions to fix those for the good of the business, for the communities in which we are operating and for the partnership we have with you.

Allowing stakeholders to critique us honestly pushes us to improve our programs and helps us develop our thought leadership platforms.

A great example of this kind of work can be seen from another one of my panelists, Laura Keely, from Ethical Trading Initiative. ETI created the Base Code of Labour Practice and this has helped many companies stay on top of their activities on the ground and specifically in factories.

Again, thinking of my time with Gap and our implementation of a Supplier Code of Conduct. We still encountered issues, and ETI were there to help us understand better what those issues were and how we might go about addressing those and improving them.

Through this partnership we learned many lessons about where we could – and how we could – improve our supply chain. I am no longer at the Gap but read an article this week about how Gap is starting to be more transparent about who its tier 1 suppliers are. This is a huge step – and no doubt was one brought on by ETI’s leadership and engagement.

For every company like that has embedded sustainability into their core business, there are dozens of others that are struggling with the implementation of corporate sustainability strategies. So, if a business needs to focus on its core business, how can it engage more in a socially-invested way? Enter the civil society, who know what the needs are and how to address them and how to tell the stories that can help link the business and the social needs.

Throughout my two decades working in the space of sustainability and development, my colleagues and I could never have been successful without the engagement and support of various members of the civil society.

Thank you.

 

By |2018-01-12T22:11:35+00:00March 21st, 2017|