Sustainability enthusiasts may already be familiar with the concept of "shared value" - the idea that a company's financial health and the health of the communities around it are mutually dependent. By growing a successful business, the community should become more successful as well. While shared value has a lot in common with other approaches to corporate social responsibility, it has a few key differences as well. Corporate philanthropy does not take center stage in the shared value philosophy, nor does stakeholder engagement (which is at the core of popular sustainability reporting guidelines from the Global Reporting Initiative.) Rather, the focus in the Shared Value framework is on the creation of meaningful economic and social value at the same time.
Of course, the devil is in the details - in this case, implementation. And that's the impetus behind the creation of the Shared Value Initiative.
The Shared Value Initiative was launched in 2012 by FSG, a non-profit strategy and research consulting firm (and the brain child of Michael E. Porter and Mark Kramer). The purpose of the initiative is to foster "a global community of practice committed to driving adoption and implementation of share value strategies among leading companies, civil society, and government organizations." To put it more simply, it's a community to help shared value advocates with implementation of shared value strategies.
The impetus for the Shared Value Initiative came from a desire to speed adoption of the principals of shared value. FSG had been focused on research, but the needle was not moving quickly enough - and community engagement was a great way to ramp up adoption. According to Justin Bakule the Shared Value Initiative's Executive Director:
"To accelerate progress on this emerging idea, we knew that it required openly engaging the various ecosystems of stakeholders around the world working on shared value strategies and implementation. And, when we asked leading companies, nonprofits, governments and even other consulting firms working on shared value, we found that they agreed with us. "
"The commitment we’ve made through the Shared Value Initiative is to help steward the concept, provide a platform to deepen the understanding and documentation of the ideas and contribute what we’re learning through our consulting work about shared value to advance the concept for all. The organizations engaging with us in the Initiative have made the same commitment – to advance shared value as a public good for all to benefit."
Along the way, one of the keys to challenging this assumption became the concept of creating shared value, which Kramer and Porter outlined in a landmark article published in the Harvard Business Review, Creating Shared Value: How to reinvent capitalism—and unleash a wave of innovation and growth. The article clarified the concept and issued a call to action for companies to find new avenues for value creation.
The article has become required reading for progressive MBAs and anyone interested in the practice of sustainability in business. The concept, and the article, struck a nerve, partly because Kramer and Porter laid out a case for the problems with the status quo that had not yet been described so succinctly:
"A big part of the problem lies with companies themselves, which remain trapped in an outdated approach to value creation... They continue to view value creation narrowly, optimizing short term financial performance in a bubble while missing the most important customer needs and ignoring the broader influences that determine their longer-term successes. How else could companies overlook the well-being of their customers, the depletion of natural resources vital to their businesses, the viability of key suppliers, or the economic distress of the communities in which they produce and sell?"
What does success look like?
The Shared Value Initiative has some clear ways to benchmark success, like increasing the number of organizations that adopt shared value thinking, and increasing the effectiveness of shared value strategies.
Bakule elaborates, "Metrics like the size of the community, the quality of information being exchanged by the community, and the number of initiatives being implemented are certainly indicators of our progress. From a shared value project standpoint, we look towards concrete measures of what business and social value is being created through the activities."
A whole host of companies have joined up already including: The Coca Cola Company, Deloitte, Hewlett Packard, pharmaceutical company Lilly, Medtronic, Novartis, RioTinto and Western Union. The Initiative also created a global affiliate network of certified shared value consultants who will be contributing to this series. But there are plenty of individuals as well, and you could be one of them. The Shared Value Initiative includes a growing community of practitioners looking to further the cause and push new strategies at organizations all around the world.
Want to learn more?
If you like this concept of shared value and want to learn more, think about joining up. Community members share best practices, get access to case studies, reports and other resources, and a whole bunch of other benefits. If this sounds interesting to you, sign up here. It's free!
Ed note: This piece was written as a part of a sponsored series on the Shared Value Initiative. The author's opinions are her own.
Jen Boynton is the former Editor-in-Chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and has helped organizations including SAP, PwC and Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. She is based in San Diego, California. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA (court appointed special advocate) for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.