BFP: What do you do?
GB: I am Senior Adviser at the International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF). I currently focus on two areas of IBLF’s work, namely inclusive businesses and the leadership agenda.
On inclusive business, IBLF partners with a number of organisations on a range of initiatives. I am deeply involved in the work we do with the UNDP’s Business Call to Action. In addition to being one of 8 partners supporting this international initiative, IBLF is specifically responsible for managing the Call to Action’s outreach efforts in India and South East Asia. We also partner with PwC and Accenture Development Partners on the Business Innovation Facility, created and supported by the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), which is currently run as a pilot in 5 countries – including Malawi, Nigeria and Zambia. The IBLF contribution centres around our partnering capability and the expertise created via The Partnering Initiative.
We are also partners in the Swedish Development Agency, SIDA’s Innovations Against Poverty programme (IAP) which was launched at the end of April. Here our emphasis is on the importance of cross-sectoral partnerships and how they can contribute to successful business innovations that address development issues effectively.
BFP: What is the best part about your job?
GB: I get a kick out of working with businesses and business leaders who recognise the major contribution they can make to development, especially in emerging markets, through their core business. Whilst CSR is of great importance and corporate philanthropy has a critical role to play, it is most satisfying when businesses realise that they can also make a huge difference to the lives of poor people even as they pursue their normal business objectives of competitive advantage, greater market share and profitability - as long as they do it responsibly and inclusively.
BFP: What has been your greatest challenge?
GB: One of the greatest challenges we encounter is to get businesses to sustain their commitment to inclusive business models. Very often, there is an individual in an organisation who “gets” inclusive business, who understands fundamentally that both business and development benefit could be achieved by working in a particular way, and this individual would drive the company’s efforts. But when that individual leaves for say another position or another company – as inevitably happens – the momentum can be fatally lost and the initiative can wither on the vine.
This inclusive business work isn’t easy – if it were, everybody would already be doing it! We are asking businesses to do something that is difficult, that might be different from what they know, that requires perseverance and patience; and so support for businesses who embark on this journey is crucial.
BFP: How have you overcome these challenges?
GB: We can help businesses sustain momentum by championing the cause, so that benefits are appreciated externally which would help to ensure ongoing support internally. We can also help the organisations understand the benefits of this kind of investment to the business – some of these business models and programmes are a bit slow to deliver, and the payback is often longer than what they may be used to, so a great degree of patience is required. The slow return also makes such programmes more fragile, of course, especially in straitened economic times.
IBLF can help by amplifying the message through its networks and facilitating partnerships with other organisations on similar journeys. We also provide access to a mutual support group, which gives businesses engaged on this journey the opportunity to join a community of practice where they can share experiences learn from each other in a non-competitive environment.
BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where should they start?
AW: Do it from where you are. For example, I started as a geologist in the oil and gas sector, then became a commercial manager and later a communications professional in the corporate responsibility area of the business, before I became more involved in inclusive business. I can only do this job because I understand business and how companies operate. My advice would be to get as much experience as possible in the business world – it can be difficult for someone coming from the outside to relate to the challenges that companies face. It doesn’t really matter which part of the business you started in, or even if your company has a footprint in a developing country. Any aspect of business gives you the opportunity to explore the interface between business and society, and to consider how you can extend activities to have a greater impact.
BFP: Finally, what do you hope to get out of being part of this community?
AW: There is nothing like a good story, and people are inspired by other people – reading about their experiences, hearing about their successes and disappointments, watching video footage of projects they’ve worked on – this is by far the most inspiring way of interacting. BFP provides a platform for that kind of powerful personal interaction, and has a certain freshness. The challenge is to optimise the opportunities for sharing; to retain that freshness; and to avoid becoming a venue for impersonal corporate speak and self-promotion.
Thank you to Graham Baxter for taking the time to do this interview.
Read previous Member of the Week interviews here.