Sep 14, 2015

Where Government Fails, Business Steps In

Photograph by Nilufer Demir

Around the world an amazing phenomenon is taking hold: where government fails, business is taking over. Indeed, as the world seems to be falling apart, groups of business leaders are organizing as watchdogs and taking action for the common good.

As officials, legislators, and other bureaucrats struggle to find consensus on nearly anything, leaders in the business community are proving to be a swift and powerful force for action. With moral clarity and enormous resources, influential business leaders are getting together and getting things done.

Consider these examples:

  • After the tragic, racist murders at the famed church in South Carolina, debate was sparked over the placement of the Confederate battle flag at the state capitol. Within 24 hours, major players in the US retail space stopped selling the flag, including Walmart, Amazon, eBay, and Sears. In short order, the flag was removed from statehouse grounds.
  • A star-studded assembly of businesses, led by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, pledged to hire 100,000 young people, ages 16-24, who are neither in school nor working. Schultz and his peers have re-framed the group known in policy circles as “disconnected youth” to “opportunity youth.” They will provide job training as well as outreach to help unemployed youth to enter the labor force.

Perhaps most striking of all is the third example, from recent days:

  • Big business is donating millions of dollars (euros) to get aid to the massive number of suffering refugees. As a divided Europe argues over what to do, corporate leaders are moving quickly and decisively to help. Google and other companies are giving a million dollars each to relief organizations. Uber is offering free rides to collect clothing and toys for Save the Children. As Germany opens its arms to welcome refugees, German automaker Audi is funding local emergency efforts. And on it goes.

Of course none of this takes away the damage that industries — like banking — have done in the past. And I’m not saying that Wall Street is suddenly overflowing with heroes and angels. At the same time, the contributions businesses are making to a range of social challenges are real, and worth noticing.

The problems we face today carry a mind-bending complexity. It’s an easy old habit to blame society’s ills on the evil ways of the “1%.” If you stop and look a little closer, you’ll find that in today’s world, many business people understand their leadership role as going far beyond generating quarterly earnings for their shareholders. On the contrary, the emerging trend I see in business circles is leaders taking quite seriously a return to their most fundamental role, as stewards of society.

Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse


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