Businesses Need to Get Religion

The following post is part of TriplePundit’s coverage of the 2011 Net Impact Conference in Portland, Oregon. To read the rest of our coverage, click here.

By Kathryne Auerback

OK, well maybe not “religion” exactly. But something’s gotta give or, as Lord Michael Hastings reminded us, according to the Chinese proverb, we’re going to end up where we’re going.

In his bold and impassioned welcome keynote address at the 2011Net Impact Conference, Lord Hastings, KPMG’s Global Head of Citizenship and Diversity, challenged a hall full of over 2,500 MBA students and professionals from across the globe to consider the question, “What is the single most effective way to change our world?”

How do we fix our broken society? This is not the universally agreed upon province of business, but a question many feel the business world has not only the capacity, but the responsibility to answer.

Lord Hastings shared Jeffrey Sachs’ answer: “by overcoming cynicism.”

No easy task in a country that spends $250 billion each year on its prison system, a figure Lord Hastings pointed out would resolve the Medicare shortfall.  Or one, as he stated as delicately as possible, whose government responds to the deaths on 9/11 of 2,700 people by spending over $1 trillion and sacrificing over 6,700 US soldiers.

How do we change our course? Lord Hastings compels us to listen, to pay as close and careful attention to the world around us as Daniel Kish, blind from infancy, but able to move through life as well as any sighted person through a keenly developed sense of hearing.

Channeling luminaries such as Robert Kennedy, Lord Hastings explains that we must rebalance ourselves, take personal responsibility, and leave behind the “culture of the free lunch.” And most importantly, we must seek to find our common purpose.

That common purpose, he explains, can be found in the common values of the world’s religious traditions. Americans, Lord Hastings urges, must stop fretting about faith. Faith – spiritual and religious codes – can provide us the social map to finding our way out of this very fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. These traditions can frame an approach to leadership, for example, based on serving the most vulnerable among us. They can guide us to what he calls a “communitarian spirit.”

Net Impacters understand the importance of making the business case for sustainability, calculating ROI to prove that it’s possible to do well by doing good, or that as Porter tells us, we can “fix capitalism” by creating shared value. But Lord Hastings reminds us that it’s only through rediscovering our shared values, shared moral values, that we can best live our Net Impact mission to put our business skills to work for good, tackle the world’s toughest problems and  create transformational change.

[Image credit: Lawrence OP, Flickr]

Kathryne Auerback helped develop and launch the Edgewood College Sustainability Leadership Graduate Program. She is an instructor in that program as well as in the School of Business, where she serves as the Director of Program Development. In this role, she supports program and curriculum quality, growth and retention, and community building among students and alumni. Kathryne has over 20 years of strategy, corporate responsibility, sustainability, marketing and public relations experience, most recently as principal at Generation Strategy LLC and previously as vice president at Madison Environmental Group, Inc. She serves as vice chair on the Board of Directors of REAP Food Group. Kathryne earned her MA and MBA degrees
from UW-Madison.

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2 responses

  1. The point that Lord Hastings made, is indeed true. The sustainability crisis we are faced with is at the same time a crisis of the human spirit and a reflection of what we have made of the rich value systems and traditions that we inherited from our predecessors.

    Yes, we need the language of a new set of responsibility codes and we need the regulatory measures to ensure their implementation, but most of all we need the restoration of the values and virtues that enable us to live in harmony with nature and our fellow human beings.

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