By José Vázquez
Big for-profits are ‘going good’ by infusing existing business models to address and mitigate social inequalities. Goldman Sachs elevates impact on social challenges in its 2014 Environmental, Social and Governance Report. Unilever intends to grow business while reducing environmental footprint and increasing positive social impact through its Sustainable Living Plan. Chevron is empowering women through business skills development in Brazil.
Going good, going social, what have you, is trending. And with new trends comes new research analyzing the advantages and limitations of this more ‘socially conscious’ way of doing business.
Some of this research is happening at Oxford University where the Saïd Business School and Mars Inc. have tied the research knot in a private-academic partnership intended to “... better understand the value of mutuality and its application in different organizational and economic contexts.”
Saïd and Mars should consider mitigating the potential for any ‘big brother’ effect and address other, non-economic needs of local communities in experimenting with different applications of mutuality, particularly toward supply chains
Mars isn’t the only one interested in making its supply chains more robust through investment. Amy Haimerl writes about Whole Foods and its loan fund which helps vendors finance their growth. Whole Foods has directly invested about $20 million so far. Consider this mutuality, but with a twist.
With this investment, Mars risks producing a ‘big brother’ effect. Poor supply chains may experience pressure to accept new investment and in turn produce higher yields. Since Mars is not providing seats at the table, how will this redefined form of mutuality assure some balance of power between the huge company and local farmers?
Mars should conduct public engagement to reduce a big brother effect. Engaging at the local level first provides a venue by which local farmers understand the intentions behind this research, rather than limiting mutuality to academic jargon between Mars and Saïd. Second, obtaining feedback at the local level makes this experimentation more significant in understanding other community needs and perhaps focus Mars’ efforts at investment.
The short answer is no. Apart from direct investment in new technology, Mars should also consider other, non-economic needs of local farmers in experimenting with mutuality. A glance toward the competition may be necessary, particularly Nestle’s Creating Shared Value program, which addresses social disparity in items such as: nutrition, water, the environment, and even corruption and bribery. Or, if Mars doesn’t want to go ‘too broad’ in identifying all social disparities faced by its supply chains, then maybe a more targeted approach to mutuality is a better fit. Similar to a Fair Trade model, such an approach attempts to incentivize producer activity when meeting labor, environmental and production standards.
Mars can really be a game-changer in applying mutuality -- again, not in giving shares of profit, or seats at the table, but in addressing social needs affecting the livelihood of communities such as healthcare or education.
Mars could start by gathering the opinions of local farmers, asking farmers: What’s in it for you? Back to the general sense of mutuality in business, this would be the starting point in developing a business relationship, right? And so, in not just redefining, but also in reframing mutuality, Mars’ approach becomes a trend worth supporting.
Image credit: Flickr/Department of Foreign Affairs
José Vázquez is a Master of Public Affairs Candidate at the LBJ School of Public Affairs specializing in Public Management and Leadership. Vázquez is interested in innovative solutions to address social disparities locally and abroad. Vázquez lives in Austin, Texas.
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