Just like trust and sustainability, ‘inclusive growth’ has become one of these expressions that no company, no state, no decent expert can today avoid referring to. It’s the new buzz word. 

There is abundance of evidence showing how conflicts are linked to structural inequalities. With the current distrust towards the public and private sectors raging around the world, inclusive policies are invaluable to both the public and private sectors. Companies are increasingly admitting the need to become inclusive. And they certainly believe it. But in the absence of genuine dialogue with –and participation of– the public, how can any inclusive policy be perceived as genuine? No wonder why the expression ‘purpose washing‘ is growing so fast.

The pace of change is too slow as alternatives are not clear or not proven to work. [participant in our London Public Value Lab]

Why a Public Value Lab?

Distrust is one of our main enemies. At Your Public Value we believe that corporations can build trust when they address the needs of society and the environment, while making profit. Such approach should be core to any corporate strategy. It is neither marketing, nor altruism. Public value creation is based on the way corporations implement their own values.

What are the corporate values that could lead to inclusive growth? Relying on co-creation, we are asking sustainability experts across Europe what principles they trust should be at the core of modern accountability and inclusive growth.

Public Value Labs are one-day events, during which responsible and impact investors, as well as sustainability experts from both the private sector and civil society co-create public value principles. These principles are not meant to replace any of the existing UNGC principles, SDG performance indicators, or Environmental, Social, and Good Governance standards (ESG). They contribute to drafting a public value narrative that all –investors, corporates, and the general public– should be able to easily refer to. Their purpose is to demonstrate how business can at the same time address the needs of society and the environment, and generate inclusive growth. 

The global construction company Multiplex hosted our London Public Value Lab. Morning conversations focused on why a value-based corporate strategy can lead to inclusive growth and shape a common good.

It was agreed that businesses are today more ambitious than most governments. As one participant put it: “Public Value is the outcome of business impacting everyone in the world“. Another participant mentioned that developing public value would help shift society from individual to public goals. Someone else added: “Improving public value in everything we do [as a business representative] will create a better world for everyone“. 

Values leading to inclusive growth

Asked why they cared about public value, participants answered with the following keywords:

  • Shape the common good;
  • Justice; Poverty alleviation;
  • Reduce inequalities!
  • Understand your impact and try to do no harm to society;
  • Bring sustainable positive benefits to society on a scale that expands across countries and supply chains;
  • Personal Values = Public Value
  • Because the public form the foundations of companies;
  • Avoiding the loss of value is a priority, rather than creating new ones;
  • Because cost-saving is adversely affecting the environment;

Your own values should be reflected in how you run your business

Interestingly, the conversation quickly addressed our personal values. One participant mentioned that personal values should equal the values of the company, as they are intimately linked. He added that companies should always launch discussions on personal values and the way they are implemented before shaping the corporate ones. It was agreed that public value is about conscious thinking and that it is crucial to be self-aware of one’s own values before exporting them to the world: “Public values reflect our collective values. One should start with oneself!”

Instead of the current tendency of isolation and introspection, public value demands being outward-looking and considering our place in  society“.

Would inclusive growth restore trust?

The concept of ‘just transition’ was also mentioned in the discussions and defined as the necessity to take into consideration the most vulnerable and disempowered. Asked to reflect on who would be the invisible stakeholder in their respective business/field of activity, participants started to mention the poor, the sick, the disabled, and the mentally impaired.

Further, they mentioned those who are left invisible inside companies:

  • the site workers;
  • people with low skills, who belong to the old economy and keep following old habits;
  • those who continue to install polluting equipments, brokering, aggravating our planet even if they don’t see it.

Focusing on ‘Who are the Invisible?’ led to a deeper discussion. Participants considered that people needed to be trained to tackle the difference of treatment of the invisible. Such systematic training would enable to work on a more inclusive access to the public space and infrastructures. As one participant put it: “Reducing inequalities is crucial to all of us. Any unhealthy society leads to unhealthy business“. It is in everyone’s interest to actively shape inclusive growth.

We should consider the public as one stakeholder.

One participant highlighted that public value still needs to be defined in the context of value creation: “Broadly, however, we should consider the public as one stakeholder“. 

Public Value is a way to include every stakeholder in growth and well-being.

A new narrative for public value

To convince the majority of companies that don’t yet create public value, one needs a new narrative, one that would demonstrate how collective interests –particularly the need for inclusive growth and the common good– is in everyone’s interest.  

When it comes to public value creation, today’s narrative articulates the added value, the support of stakeholders, and access to new talents. Some participants mentioned they were already able to articulate a business case based on public value. They could also demonstrate access to new capital sources. But challenges remain, notably the –too slow– speed of corporate transformation and the –too fast– development of ‘purpose washing’.

Experts said they urgently needed a universal validation system –with sanctions being visibly implemented– to develop trust.

For such a validation system to be efficient and accepted by corporations, investors, and the public, it has become urgent to define purpose washing.

A potential solution could be to rely on companies’ employees as ambassadors on their company’s purpose, and even consider them as their own drivers. This would mean developing a single value chain from every employee to everyone in the public. It would also represent a risk of losing focus and any comparative advantage.

Another possible approach is to develop a set of principles that would be globally understood and accepted by all to increase inclusive growth and enlarge the space for common good.

The main objective set for the Public Value Principles is therefore to aim at a universal understanding of these principles in order to shape the best narrative describing how to shape the common good. Considering the current trust deficit with the public, target setting and trust creation were at the centre of the preoccupations for the creation of such principles.

Public Value is about moving away from dystopia towards utopia [participant in our London Public Value Lab]

London Public Value Principles

Here are the principles co-created in London at Multiplex.

  • Business and governments to minimise their environmental impact and give back more than they take environmentally in order to support repair and regeneration, and positively rewards individuals in that way.
  • It is the purpose of business to serve society, ensuring decent quality of life for all; we tackle inequality in the workplace.
  • We pay a fair price on environmental and social externalities (e.g.: carbon, water, clean air, etc); some public goods are protected.
  • We live by and espouse humanistic values, which also respect the values and wellbeing of stakeholders.
  • We consider, acknowledge and engage with groups that are affected by the decision-making process.
  • We choose renewable resources and circular design; in other cases, we disclose why not and what we have done.
  • We treat everyone fairly (our workforce, customers, suppliers, local communities, and third parties): with respect, dignity, and without prejudice or bias.
  • We commit to being transparent and accessible in our disclosure. We are accountable and encourage dialogue. We commit to continual improvement.
  • We foster an inclusive environment where all people within our sphere of influence can reach their potential capabilities.
  • To accelerate progress towards our social and environmental goals, we will raise awareness with the public, advocate to government, and cooperate with partners.

Your Public Value continues organising Public Value Labs in Europe in order to co-create the best possible narrative on public value and the common good. Our next Public Value Lab in scheduled on 24 February at EY Switzerland in Zurich.

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