The mobilizations throughout the world in 2011 have certainly set a precedent that will remain in the history of the beginning of the XXI Century. From the outraged from Spain, Occupy Wall Street, and even the Chilean student movement, we find a common factor, a discontent with a system that has now acquired a global character, marked by individualism and a material well-oriented vision, where power is not in the hands of people and with large inequalities. I don’t think there’s lack of resources nor of technology nor means to achieve a greater overall welfare. On the contrary, I feel there are injustices lying deep in the whole system: why do some people have access to certain privileges only because of their power positions while others watch them astonished?. We shouldn’t forget that the financial crisis was generated by investment firms who took extremely risky practices, speculating on the boom, caused by the relaxation on credit on the U.S. housing sector. It is fair that the rest of the planet is paying with higher unemployment, poverty and debt caused by this speculation? Did the companies involved loose? No, people lost. How should firms read this new scenario? What actions should they develop?
These two questions should be habitual among executives, entrepreneurs and directors of companies that currently run our economy. This is because the people who protest in the streets, or those that criticize our systems, will happen to become our new labor force soon or late. Still, we have to bear in mind the fact that they are also the new consumers, who apparently have a different paradigm of what it means to live in society. For these and other important reasons, companies have put their focus on events that are happening day by day on the streets.
Despite some firms see those events as risks, I can say they clearly represent an opportunity but, to be properly addressed as such, companies must undergo a major paradigm shift, a change of focus that should move from the financial utilities to the generation of common good or social added value. What do we understand for the concept of “a company generating common wealth”? For me, it means the following:
- Economic: the good or service sold is really satisfying the needs consumers intend to satisfy while investing their money on it; products and services will not only be a mirage for making money.
- Social: the company is proactive towards the generation of tangible benefits for its employees, customers, the community where it materializes its operations, and the rest of society. It worries about health, education, skills, opportunities, and labor welfare, of all the people with whom it interacts every day.
- Environment: the good or service produced is capable of advancing through the chain value of the company with a net environmental impact equivalent to zero. This is not only because people are increasingly demanding environmental measures, but also because of the company being a “common good generator” that implies understanding the environmental damage as something that damages society as a whole.
Clearly, the issues just discussed, are not going against the desire to pursue fair profits. Some may say: “but these actions involve greater efforts, and therefore a reduction in financial returns”, this thought is wrong, because taking these actions will generate multiple benefits that are going to be reflected on profits in the long-term. The company, when generating social goods, gives meaning and significance to the everyday work of its collaborators, and this will be highly valued by society. It will create a better working environment, as people will have a positive emotional relationship with the company, giving as much of themselves, because they will see that there is a greater purpose than just sell and produce to make money. Also, firms could retain more and better talent, a key challenge in today’s organizational context. The issues just discussed can generate a synergistic relationship that can replicate this high productivity, as in Google or other companies. Finally, this paradigm shift, it becomes an investment in people working in the company and its surrounding community.