5 Inspirations from the Shared Value Leadership Summit
The Fourth Annual Shared Value Leadership Summit was an inspirational lineup of examples, speeches, case studies and snapshots all pertaining to what’s happening in the emerging field of Shared Value. No longer must we ask, “What proof do we have that companies can unlock opportunities for innovation, growth and new streams of revenue by addressing social problems as core business objectives?”
Held in New York May 13 - 14, the summit was attended by corporate, non-government and government thought leaders from around the globe. As a practitioner and member of the affiliated professional network of the Shared Value Initiative, I am pleased to give you a brief debrief of my top five inspirational takeaways, as well as a few lingering questions.
1. From shared value initiatives to enterprise-wide adoption:
Shared Value has moved from a concept to a strategic approach. We’re now seeing the emergence of the Shared Value purpose-led enterprise. One outstanding example is Pearson, a global education business. The company’s CEO, John Fallon, presented its new efficacy framework — a set of tools for assessing if proper conditions are in place for an education program to deliver promised learning outcomes to students. Pearson has committed to measuring societal gains in learning—not just financial returns.
2. Shared Value synonymous with “Africapitalism”
African business leader Tony O Elumelu presented examples of Shared Value within Africa. As Chair of Heirs Holdings, he oversees a pan-African proprietary investment company with interests in strategic sectors of Africa’s economy. Elumelu coined the term Africapitalism, which is an economic philosophy that posits, “The African private sector has the power to transform the continent through long-term investments that create both economic prosperity and social wealth.” Africapitalism is also a call-to-action for Africans to take primary responsibility for their own development and for non-Africans to evolve their thinking about how best to channel their efforts and investments in the region. As a former student of Harvard Business School’s Michael Porter (co-author of the Shared Value model), Elumelu insists that Africapitalism is not capitalism with an African twist; it is a rallying cry for empowering the African private sector to drive the continent’s economic and social growth. To learn more visit Africapitalism.
3. SME’s embrace shared value
Shared value is not just for large global consumer companies. Small and medium sized enterprises have also begun to embed Shared Value strategies into their business mandates. Put simply, solving social problems as a way of doing business is the responsibility of business of all sizes. Cart-Away Concrete Systems presents an inspirational example of this. Cement is the most consumed product on earth after water. In his story “Death by a thousand shovels”, Bruce Christensen of Cart-Away explains that most cement is not properly mixed in developing countries. Shovels are used instead of modern machinery, resulting in inconsistent and weak concrete. The devastating and debilitating collapse of Haiti’s infrastructure in the 2010 earthquake can be largely equated to this. Cart-Away Concrete Systems designed a simple, portable machine that insures reliable, strong concrete. The new cement mixer is a social innovation designed specifically for use in developing countries. Next steps for the initiative? Building a business model that includes finding the right international partners to help scale and distribute the product.
4. Unusual partnerships at the heart of Shared Value success
I have experienced first hand the power of unusual cross-sector partnerships to create mutual benefit and tangible social results. It’s comfortable to work with people who look, think and act just like you. But breakthrough innovations—or innovations that move the needle—happen when we break out of silos and work together with diverse interests and unusual partners. For example, collaboration between Results for Development and Sumitomo Chemical resulted in a business model and social solution to address the fragmented mosquito bed net business. The initiative opens new markets for Sumitomo Chemical and addresses the need for consistency in bed net production, a product that has dramatically decreased malaria in developing countries.
5. Nestlé declares “Shared Value is real”
"Shared Value is real” proclaimed Nestlé’s Janet Voûte, Global Head of Public Affairs. She discussed the concrete progress Nestlé has made in transparency, measurement, and in better translating their value to mainstream investors. The newly released Shared Value report was positive proof of the potential to make a measurable difference, increase business competitiveness and innovation while delivering immense social benefits. I encourage you to explore the report and see the tangible progress that is being made for both the business and society.
While numerous positive examples were provided over the two days of sessions, several questions remained. Where are the failures? We learn as much from what doesn’t work as from what does. As the Shared Value field evolves and matures, these types of honest stories will be equally important so mistakes can become learning opportunities and as a means of authenticating the field.
To be successful, shared value must be more than a simple campaign with a catchy slogan. It requires a meaningful, long-term commitment from companies, and it will derive strength to the degree that internal and external stakeholders will be deeply motivated by the Shared Value model.
But one question remains: Can investors embrace shared value’s long term thinking?
Quarterly, short-term investor thinking forces executives and boards to focus on short-term results over long-term commitments. “How do we get the investor community on board” is a question that needed more exploration within the summit.
In the end, the Summit was invaluable in bringing together practitioners from around the world. Learning from real-world examples showcased how this nascent business discipline is taking hold and gaining traction. Philanthropy and CSR-as-usual do not fundamentally strengthen business or deliver social change to community. After the summit, I am more convinced than ever that Shared Value will.
For more updates and resources for implementing shared value, join the community at sharedvalue.org/community.