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Building Shared Value

What's the State of Shared Value?


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By Meghan Ennes

If I were to sum up this year’s Shared Value Leadership Summit in one word, that word would take the form of a question: How? The conversations that took place in the ballroom of the Conrad New York earlier this month did not involve what shared value is and why organizations should consider it. Rather, the resounding question I heard discussed in that room – whether on the stage or in conversations between colleagues – was how organizations can execute on this strategy successfully.

The main point is that shared value – the approach that business can profit by doing good for society – is experiencing a shift from a conceptual idea to a full-fledged corporate movement: one that has budgets, spreadsheets and accountability. As Intel’s Suzanne Fallender put it, the next step is not as sexy as the first. Now is when we start the dirty work of implementation. Fallender explains in “What Is Strategy” for the CSR@Intel blog:

“Much of the discussions over the two days focused on the 'how' of shared value—how companies are building the concept of societal impact into their vision statements and executive compensation, organizing differently to increase internal collaboration and work toward shared goals, and collaborating in new ways with external stakeholders … as companies move into the implementation phase of shared value, it will be important for companies to share best practices, challenges, and case studies to advance learning.”

And it’s in this stage that we have to ask the tough questions about how we’re actually going to do this work. Shared Value Initiative consulting affiliate Phil Preston got to thinking about these execution questions (he posed 10 in his blog). For example: At the enterprise level do shared value initiatives need to be structurally protected? He followed up this list with a formal post on Asking Tough Questions About Shared Value. And for more on the nitty-gritty of implementation, Laura Palantone of APCO Worldwide wrote a very practical how-to post based on the common themes of the days’ speeches, panels and overall conversations.

In his keynote address, Prof. Michael E. Porter expressed optimism in the progression of what he himself called the shared value “movement.” But he acknowledged that there’s still work to be done. Devex’s Adva Saldinger reported, “One of the key challenges [Porter] raised is that there's really a reluctance on the part of business to talk about profiting by doing good.” This presents a barrier to making the business case, where you need to talk about where the money is coming from:

The next day, Saldinger followed up with another video wrap-up on Nestlé’s success with leadership buy-in, partnership lessons from Rockefeller Foundation and TechnoServe, and a sneak peek of new investor research from Michael Porter and Mark Kramer:

The event not only staged a conversation on shared value, but some exciting announcements for its presenters as well. Speaker Tony O. Elumelu held a press conference to discuss his recently announced Africapitalism Institute to promote economic and social wealth across the continent. In the Investing in Prosperity panel, Elumelu also stressed the power of governments – especially in emerging markets – to better enable the private sector’s role in development, which was covered in the Nigerian Tribune.

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) also announced at the Summit the launch of a database of the spending patterns of low-income consumers, reports Devex Impact. “Why do we care about these companies that include the poor?” asked Eriko Ishikawa, IFC global head of inclusive business, “Because we see that the needs are so huge, and governments and philanthropies can only do so much.” In a statement made that day, IFC CEO (and Summit speaker) Jin-Yong Cai stressed the importance of making this information “freely available in a form that is useful to the private sector.”

And on a personal note for our team, the Clinton Global Initiative also covered the Summit, a great reminder of the CGI Commitment to Action to launch the Shared Value Initiative back in 2012. CGI noted that the Initiative has surpassed those goals and helped others like Western Union and BD (also in attendance at the Conrad) shape their own.

For more summary of the Summit, I suggest taking a look at JWN Event’s recap of day one. And consulting affiliate Jocelyne Daw’s brief debrief” of both days is a meaty outline of five highlights which represent bigger developments in the shared value field.

Although the state of shared value is still in flux, this moment is a great one to note its progress. In his reflections on the event, TriplePundit’s Raz Godelnik muses that shared value could be the bridge where the elite Davos types and the 99-percenters can find common ground. And as we convened with 400 other eager practitioners at the Shared Value Leadership Summit last month, I couldn’t help but also notice that power of shared value to bring people together.

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