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Corporations need a reset to drive global innovation

We don’t have a decade to wait until corporations figure out stakeholder capitalism.



By Samira Khan

Published: Wed 27 Jan 2021, 12:09 AM

We currently live in a time during which nothing is more important than the individual and his or her well-being. Yet, we have chambers rife with the echoes of grandiose conversations on stakeholder capitalism. This global pandemic has laid bare the cracks of old power, rooted in institutions — however much the power may shift from government to corporation to community interest groups. New power is about lifting populations with a global lens toward development, human rights, and equality — getting down to the individual level, involving well-being and quality of life indicators.

And it’s about time that the majority of Western corporations who operate globally wake up to this reality. It’s a beautiful notion to only focus on philanthropy in one’s backyard, but ultimately, never before in recent times has this globe shown to be more interconnected than now. Hence, catalysing social good in various international and cultural contexts is essential as well as measuring the impact on individuals in those diverse markets. And there is a special place for hubs like Singapore (where Davos will be held this spring) and the UAE in this ecosystem to bring both businesses and harder-to-reach community interests together.

Collectively, we will only meet the $2.5 trillion annual financing gap of the sustainable development goals (SDG) gap with purpose, passion, and more specifically, as a result, innovation. This includes around products, who we design for, and the partnerships with which we bring them to market, in a holistic way, addressing the systems failures that are causing the root problems — whether these are innovative financial products like income share agreement (ISAs) to models that enable harder-to-reach communities to better access and use technology. For example, the industry guides launched by Dubai Startup Hub could be an entry point to making these tools of change accessible. And further impressive is the significant investment that Singapore has made in innovation, talent development, and attracting foreign business and capital.

Our greatest existential threat is not the absence of stakeholder capitalism, but dire polarisation at the level of individuals and groups that stunt social innovation, due to lack of a common agenda and transparency around progress. The SDGs provide a universal language, but without teeth the words do not get us far.

We don’t have a decade to wait until corporations figure out stakeholder capitalism. The time to recognise the importance of human empowerment and thus new power is now. Our energies must be focused on ensuring that individuals have credible information about today and their future to make decisions in the best interest of all of us.

Ideally, this would partly involve storytelling from those on the ground and virtual reality. It would involve monitoring sentiments and levels of knowledge. Such initiatives or movements at scale seem impossible today. Yet, it is the time for every corporation to implement ways to listen to individuals, to predict, analyse, and empower.

There are many factors beyond ability that go into the sustainability of a career. Workplaces need to invest in mapping out their needs and hiring and building a workforce with diverse talent that represent the communities in which they operate, which are increasingly global. Climate change doesn’t seem like an existential threat when one is fighting to put bread on the table. Chronic health conditions and barriers faced by populations are another manifestation or reflection of dire inequality.

Whether we like to admit it or not we currently live in a world that is shaped by the rules of capitalism manifested in various institutions. Considering stakeholder capitalism will only lead to incremental innovation to structures that define who thrives and survives. We need radical transformation, going well beyond The Business Round Table.

We need strong, radical and revolutionary transformation to demand action. This must come from executives who have the mindset to influence the culture throughout the organisation. Simply put, global executives need to grow talent that are global changemakers.

Salesforce has a 1-1-1 model, in which we give 1 per cent of our equity, 1 per cent of our people’s time, and 1 per cent of our product for social good. I would love for us to build on this model so that each individual has time, funds, and access to a broader set of partners and experts to create solutions for social good or the SDGs by interacting with harder to reach populations. The gap is an innovation gap and requires enabling a changemaker culture both within corporations and across businesses and other sectors. We are currently witnessing trends like science driven by citizens. We also need to demystify investing, pitching for funds, and bringing solutions to market. Changemaking should be a part of every curriculum and training in the future; We know that changemaking is intrinsically tied to securing capital.

Global corporations need a reset that is rooted in Changemaker Capitalism to drive global innovation. Stakeholder capitalism and changemaker capitalism are complementary; yet, the latter is critical. Yesterday’s, cross-country dialogues must become today’s global innovation platforms; and it starts with Davos. This involves a culture of inclusion, listening, insights, resources, and models deeply rooted in solving a core challenge: a chasm of human empowerment and equality.

Samira Khan currently works on impact and technology for good at Salesforce. Samira is working to deepen relationships between corporations and social enterprises, globally, through the World Economic Covid Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs and has a strong passion for the Asian & Middle Eastern market. She used to work and live in Abu Dhabi, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and India, apart from the US.

Samira Khan currently works on impact and technology for good at Salesforce. Samira is working to deepen relationships between corporations and social enterpris-es, globally, through the World Economic Covid Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs and has a strong passion for the Asian & Middle Eastern market. She used to work and live in Abu Dhabi, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and India, apart from the US.


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