How The Power of An Entrepreneurial Mindset Is Helping Unite Societies
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How The Power of An Entrepreneurial Mindset Is Helping Unite Societies

An entrepreneurial mindset is prized by companies for leadership, but can it also help unite divided societies? The partnership between Credit Suisse and Bloomberg explores how today's business leaders can help forge a more positive, social direction.

As world leaders prepare to descend on Davos, Switzerland for the 48th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, the mood is undeniably fractious. Divisions loom large in socio-political discourse, and strategic fissures have emerged across multiple international fronts. Delegates in Davos are being encouraged to confront the challenges head-on under this year’s ambitious theme, "Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World." But how realistic is the idea of a united vision, and who should we be looking to for leadership?

Amid polarized views—amplified in the age of social media—a compelling new narrative is starting to emerge around the role businesses can play when steered by purpose-led individuals. Today’s more socially conscious and connected corporate workforce has made a company’s ability to galvanize people around socially minded goals one of the best ways to attract and retain talent.

According to David Jones, cofounder of One Young World alongside Kate Robertson, the not-for-profit organization empowering the next generation of leaders to collectively tackle solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues, the millennial generation is a key driving force behind the more socially-minded corporate thinking today. 

"Smart CEOs now understand that morally good decisions are invariably financially good ones, too. It is being driven in large part by millennials; we see these young leaders coming through One Young World, and they are much better informed than any preceding generation, much more socially responsible."

The Mindsets Driving Social Change

Even the most corporate companies are waking up to the shift in motivations. Paul Polman, Chief Executive of Unilever has been a vocal ambassador for companies taking on greater social responsibility. The Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company has made numerous, costly changes in factories around the world in an attempt to create a more sustainable, environmentally-friendly operation.

Polman was chosen by Ban Ki-moon, then U.N. Secretary-General, as the only business executive to help craft the 17 Sustainable Development Goals for the United Nations. Introduced in 2015, the U.N.’s SDGs include eliminating poverty and rectifying gender inequality. The approach is having a positive commercial impact too, with Unilever reporting that its Sustainable Living brands grew more than 50 percent faster than the rest of the business in 2016, and now contribute the lions share (60 percent) of total company growth.

As a global financial services provider, Credit Suisse is also committed to making a positive contribution to the SDGs in a variety of ways, for instance by promoting more inclusive access to financial services and providing capital to companies addressing global challenges through impact finance.

This socially conscious approach to business is not only taking shape in consumer-facing organizations. In Switzerland, for example, responsAbility, a private investor in microfinance and SME finance co-founded in 2003 by Credit Suisse, has built a strong business around supplying debt and equity financing to firms in emerging economies and developing countries. Every investment made by responsAbility is designed to contribute to inclusive growth and to create shared prosperity. The company measures its positive environmental and social outcomes against the U.N. SDGs.

The new direction of business leaders across many sectors has become clear, according to Nile Giles, cofounder of campaigning company Seven Hills. He believes the environment for business has changed, and that the scope of successful companies has evolved along with it.

"Listening to Simon Sears announce 2030Vision, it struck me how he is being influenced by Paul Polman and others in a way that I don’t think you would have seen even five years ago," says Giles. "The social impact and the positive influence that they can have as highly visible leaders cannot be underestimated. They can both influence communities and get them thinking about sustainable development goals that would not have been at the top of corporate agendas in the past."

Giles believes that the reasons why entrepreneurially minded leaders are doing this are multifaceted, and acknowledges that the economic impact in addressing these challenges means there is a commercial opportunity at play. "I think that it is dawning on many companies that their workforce, investors and prospective employees are expecting them to do the right thing," he says. 

A New Sense of Responsibility

This new social consciousness in business is supported by many of the world’s most established and successful entrepreneurs, who may not have been so socially minded from the outset but who are now helping to propel the rise of philanthrocapitalism globally.

Elon Musk is an example of a famous entrepreneur with a big vision who is making headlines. Having made his fortune in e-commerce with PayPal, Musk has turned his attention to new forms of transportation, and the sky is no longer the limit; while his Tesla electric vehicle is leading the transition away from polluting combustion engines, SpaceX is allowing Musk to pursue his dream of colonizing Mars.

The driving motivations and traits of these entrepreneurial leaders are something Credit Suisse and Bloomberg are currently exploring on a global scale, through research due to be unveiled in H1 of 2018. Whether these apparently altruistic actions of the world’s elite are driven by legacy/ego, profit or the greater good is arguably a moot point, as society stands to benefit all the same.

The reshaping of business around serving society is something Microsoft’s Gates celebrates as "creative capitalism," and the allure is strong for businesses of all stripes. In 2017, a comprehensive study by marketing giant Havas of 300,000 people and 1,500 brands, identified a direct correlation between a brand’s success and when it improves a customer’s well-being or quality of life.

"Only brands that form more meaningful connections with people will prosper in a world where every day 500 million tweets, 4.3 billion Facebook messages and 500 million hours of YouTube footage are sent, posted and uploaded," says Havas Chairman and CEO Yannick Bollore. "Brands need to know why people care, and what makes their brands meaningful."

A more demanding and caring consumer is at the root of this change. We are moving beyond corporate social responsibility, as we know it, toward companies adopting broader strategic visions of social change, and embracing brand purpose as a major competitive advantage.

The leaders gathering in Davos have never had more reasons to place social purpose at the heart of their businesses. The direction of travel is set, but as ever, actions will speak louder than words.