We wanted to bring your attention to what is, in our opinion, one of the most important editorials for the business community we’ve seen in years: the “Schumpeter” column in The Economist Holiday Edition, which proposes that the business community must better engage the global dialogue.
The global business community too often stands aside as various interest groups set a divisive public discourse that casts business against the interests of humanity. Of course, businesses must do the right things, but even that is not enough. People with both noble and ignoble objectives will attempt to move the public dialogue, impact public opinion, legislation and regulation sometimes regardless of the actions of business people. We must be more active in the dialogue, and less reactive.
John Voeller, CTO of Black & Veatch and a former White House Fellow, made the case well when he asked, “Why do we so often witness picketing against free trade when free trade is fundamental to global well-being? Why do we so rarely see picketing in defense of free and open markets?” No community can thrive without commerce, but it is quite simple to take its benefits for granted. Business must no longer be reticent in the public discourse, and we must become better at engaging with leaders from across sectors.
The Schumpeter editorial poses even more urgent implications for business schools. Few missions should be more clearly ours than helping the broader public explore and understand the role of business and management in creating and sustaining prosperity. We and our colleagues at other business schools spend most of our time talking with ourselves and at best with business leaders. We must do better. Outside the halls of management exist the customers who experience our products and services, and the governments that both enable and impede our ability to satisfy their citizens’ needs and wants. Without these constituencies, commerce cannot proceed.
At the Kellogg School, I’m proud to say we’ve been expanding the definition of a business school’s mission for some time, from Social Enterprise at Kellogg (SEEK) and the Global Health Initiative to the Ford Motor Company Center for Global Citizenship. Our Kellogg Innovation Network (KIN), a group of innovation leaders from global companies, hosts the annual KIN Global Summit regarding how we must all be part of building sustainable prosperity in the world. At KIN Global, we engage all sectors—business, government, academia, non-profits and the arts. It is part of our mission and means.
While the KIN has been around for seven years, the KIN Global community is just beginning our journey. KIN Global is about action. Since our first KIN Global, June 1 – 3, 2009, a number of delegates have partnered to achieve meaningful change. The KIN and the Nordic Innovation Centre (NORDEN) are collaborating to help define a long-term path for the Country of Iceland post-economic crisis. We’ve expanded our engagement with the Country of Colombia to help that nation enhance its entrepreneurial and innovative capacity. Our KIN Global delegates donated nearly $50,000 to help Kimmie Weeks and his organization Youth Action International, build two women’s centers in Sierra Leone and expand their programs in six African countries. KIN Global Delegate Tom Tuohy, founder of Dreams for Kids, has partnered with a number of KIN delegates to rollout his organization’s powerful program to over 30 countries worldwide. A current Kellogg student, Bryan Law, is working with a group to build a new university in the Highlands of Angola, and he’s bringing the KIN along with him.
But doing great things isn’t enough. Even if we know what we do serves an important purpose in the world, it’s not good enough if others don’t know or understand. One of our KIN member firms refers to one of their primary objectives as “retaining our license to operate.”
Through media and government, others both munificent and malevolent will influence the parameters and conditions within which we must operate as businesses, universities and non-profits. The business community must do both what’s right and constantly explore the rights and responsibilities of operating as a business with constituencies beyond business– the consumers, governments and organizations of all types with whom we share the economy and the planet. This is fundamental to retaining our license to operate and sustaining true global progress.
Read more from Robert Wolcott and Michael Lippitz on how corporate entrepreneurs can take their vision to market and help their companies Grow From Within.
Robert Wolcott and Michael Lippitz are leading authorities on innovation and corporate entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and co-authors of Grow From Within: Mastering Corporate Entrepreneurship and Innovation (McGraw Hill, 2009). In the past six years, they have studied more than 30 companies across industry sectors and developed an ongoing dialogue with them about corporate entrepreneurship through the Kellogg Innovation Network (KIN).