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How businesses can heal a fractured world

If he were now alive, Charles Dickens would said, “We have the best of technology and we could turn into victims of the worst of it as well.” Technology has made many billionaires, created countless jobs, re-defined growth, democratization and globalization. At the same time, it also aided cyber-crime shrouded in anonymity, and widened the skills gap.

Pol, Eco & Fin Fractures

Disruptions, technology and otherwise, have an innate quality to bring in positive, long-lasting change. Yet, our archaic global governance systems are incapable of dealing with the rapid changes brought in across spheres.

The world is fractured with isolationist policies that threaten the livelihoods of developing nations, populist agendas of governments, and complicated trade policies. As a result, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting hungrier and angrier.

Recently, Frenchmen wearing yellow jackets protested the rising burden of taxes and others on the working and middle class. According to Paul Poleman the former CEO of Unilever, philanthropist, “The Frenchmen were speaking for all of us. Lack of participation will result in revolt,” he explained. But, who can heal this politically, socially and economically fractured world caused by governments and businesses who spent generations pursuing self-fulfilling agendas?

Fix Thy Mistakes

Poleman believes that businesses rather than governments have the power to drive real change. They can start by weaving sustainability and climatic goals into their objectives. “The solution to this complex problem can start simply by decoupling environmental impact, stopping deforestration and increasing the social impact of their actions,” he said at a fire-side chat on role of businesses in a fractured world held at NASSCOM 2019 in Mumbai.

A large part of the economic crises that have risen now come from excessive focus of businesses on maximizing profits. Businesses find it hard to weave in developmental agenda due to their own myopic view of short-term financial gains. Publicly traded companies build business models which can deliver shareholder value, every quarter. A sustainable agenda can bring in monetary benefits only in the long-term, which might not catch the fancy of investors. In this sense, family-owned businesses and privately held companies are capable of making moves for the long-term goals in a planned manner.

‘Don’t outsource accountability’

Instead of consciously building a sustainable agenda, a large number of businesses tend to ‘outsource’ the accountability to other businesses across nations. This behaviour translates to irresponsible landfills, oceans which have more plastic than fish and small island nations which face starvation. According to Poleman, organizations should take responsibility of total impact of their business models. Spending two percent of profits or using renewables for data centers will only assuage guilt, he says, but not solve the problem.

Years back, when Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote a book ‘To heal a fractured world’, he wanted humans to shed preoccupation with self and engage with human conditions. The time has now come for businesses to work for the world around them, along with themselves and their shareholders. Many thinkers believe that we now stand at the end of a cycle, and we can only work to reverse it. So that, our fractured world does not end up broken for good.

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