Today, many of the world’s most powerful organization are large firms with a global reach and influence that few countries can match. It is not surprising that in this environment, the public is looking to business to not just take greater responsibility for managing its impact on society, but to play a greater leadership role in addressing societal challenges. As we see in the graph below, this includes addressing a wide range of social challenges well beyond the company’s fence line, including narrowing the gap between the rich and poor, solving social problems and reducing human-rights abuses.
Taking Leadership on Social Issues
Over the past twenty years, we have seen companies both individually and in partnership with others outside the firm work to find new ways to bring corporate expertise and resources to tough societal challenges. From the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the World Economic Forum to local business alliances working on STEM education, there are now a broad range of business leadership initiatives working on social issues that 25 years ago would have been seen as the domain of governments alone. CEOs of global companies now find themselves in the position of statesman on the global stage, expected to work with governments and others to find new ways to use their companies’ expertise to solve the world’s diverse challenges from climate change to poverty.
Public-Private Partnerships: The Challenge Ahead
While there are many disparate corporate social initiatives doing good work, there is often poor coordination between them and in some case duplication and overlap. More importantly, many companies still view their contribution to addressing social challenges through the lens of traditional notions of corporate philanthropy that do not yet engage the business in driving change. Public-private partnerships working at scale on social issues remain relatively few in number. Equally importantly, there is little attention to linking the learnings from these initiatives to structural reforms in public policy that can encourage greater participation and leadership from business as an integrated part of public policy strategy.
We are currently conducting landscape research on the state of corporate leadership on social issues and the role of business leadership in public-private partnerships working to deliver public goods and services and address systemic challenges.
For further information on our work in this area and links to related resources please click here.