The world is changing at such a fast pace and disruption has become so prominent that now, for the first time in the history of humankind, we’re seeing what impact our actions - and inaction - have on our planet.
A few weeks ago, on the margins of the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly, the Goalkeepers event brought together participants pledging to support the ambitious 2030 targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to these people, there are solid reasons to believe the world has never been better: Tremendous progress has been made in recent years in women’s rights, equal marriage and equal life expectancy, while infant mortality, poverty, hunger and violence have also been reduced on a global scale.
But there is still room for improvement. And that’s an understatement. Progress is not an inexorable movement; resources are scarce, the risk of technology misuse is high, and threats are growing. Beyond personal perceptions or partisan beliefs, there are undeniable facts that should spur us all to take action to ensure a sustainable future. In other words, this agenda is not about philanthropy, but about human beings’ survival in an appeased environment. Choosing to remain passive and closing our eyes on the urgent need to support the SDGs is no longer an option, if we want to leave a peaceful and sustainable world to the next generation.
Once convinced of the need for action, not only to sustain one’s business beyond current industrial transformations but also to actively shape a better world, questions remain for business leaders: How should they define the type and direction of reforms, and, more importantly, the pace of the reforms they want to implement?
In our modern business world, the choice lies between two contrasting leadership styles — acting like a ‘Unicorn’ or engaging like a ‘Zebra’. Unicorns often embrace an exponential-growth goal, a zero-sum worldview of competition, individual interests and quantity. Unicorns often take the form of start-ups that praise technology for the sake of disruption.
Zebras, on the other hand, develop a purpose of sustainable prosperity, a win-win worldview emphasising collaboration, quality and benefits for communities. Zebras try to engage with everyone, including the ones often forgotten, and shape businesses and NGOs of a new type. Zebras seek innovation and technology for the public good.
Both profiles bring transformation. And both will impact our world.
For Your Public Value, the way forward is clear. We are Zebras. Our goals are to enable dialogue between business and society, to promote public value, and support the SDGs. In a time of widespread distrust of elites (be they in government, business media, or NGOs), rebuilding trust in corporations is a major endeavour and an urgent need for the sustainability of our world. Examples abound of companies destroying financial, social and brand value because of their disregard of society’s opinions, needs and expectations. Beyond their reputation, will this endanger their business sustainability? Yes, we believe so.
Corporations that focus on short-term shareholders’ benefits and ignore the views of society and the needs of the environment ultimately put their own legitimacy at stake. Public value considers both the environment and society as active stakeholders of any corporation. Multiple examples in the past few years have shown that this is where a corporation’s legitimacy is formed. It is time to encourage corporations to pursue both profit and purpose. It’s time for them to include all their stakeholders in a transparent and participative process. It’s time to create and share public value.
Now is the time for Zebras.