Published by Jake Bleicher
Social media has increased public awareness of serious issues plaguing our world and also provides an outlet for citizens to share their opinions. Problems like malnutrition, lack of clean water, pollution, access to basic healthcare, inadequate education and many more have been brought to the center stage. Despite a strengthening resolve to enact change, these problems are not being solved. Significant strides have been made and pockets of the world are beginning to emerge from poverty. However, the world remains afflicted by these challenges. Nonprofit organizations, philanthropists and even governments rely on donations and tax dollars to enact global solutions but their resources are insufficient. Today, more than 165 million children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition, 840,000 people die each year from a lack of clean water and 50,000 adults die annually from preventable diseases in the US. The issue is scale and the solution is business. Big business evokes such a negative connotation in our society and many view business as the problem. The widespread magnitude of these global problems is too great to combat with finite resources. Society must partner with business to solve the epidemics tormenting our world.
The root cause of discord between business and society originates from deep rooted mistrust of corporations. After decades of careless behavior and a misguided focus on maximizing profits, a fundamental shift is underway. Renowned Harvard strategist professor, Michael Porter, is helping businesses discover the vital symbiotic relationship between success and society. It is a revolutionary change to traditional thinking that maximizing synergies between business and humanity increases profits. The old thought process of saving money by skimping on workplace safety or dumping waste into public water is flawed. Short-term profits may benefit, but the cost of workplace injuries is far greater than implementing safety solutions. Businesses staunchly opposed regulations to eliminate pollution, yet today they have devised ways to eliminate waste and reuse these materials in innovative ways. Profits actually increased while pollution decreased. Change is inevitably slow, but adoption of these ideas is accelerating. Bad companies still remain and provide poster child examples for continued public mistrust. One thing is clear, as more and more companies align their business models with serving the social good, the businesses that remain entrenched in the old ways of thinking will not survive. It is far more profitable to operate for global good, and competition will eliminate those who do not adapt.
As businesses change, public opinion must shift as well. In order to really solve the plagues of the 21st century, business must be viewed as the solution. A company leading the way in solving global water scarcity is Dow Chemical. Poverty stricken nations struggle to obtain clean water for drinking and bathing while developed nations are depleting water resources at an unsustainable pace. Dow’s water solutions help to process 36 million gallons of clean water each minute – that’s 55 Olympic-sized swimming pools – around the world. The company is investing $1 billion over the next decade to continue developing solutions for global problems aimed at bettering the lives of 1 billion people. Yet when many people hear the name, Dow Chemical, the first thing that comes to mind is their involvement in Agent Orange. The Vietnam War ended 40 years ago and Dow has completely transformed over the past four decades. It is crucial for people to look at the facts and view Dow in a different light. Judge the company based on the actions of current employees. Philanthropy and nonprofit organizations still play an important role in addressing these issues but without the partnership of business, the solutions will never reach the scale necessary to change the world. Water.org, a nonprofit founded by Matt Damon and Gary White, received $15 million in donations and helped bring clean water to 1 million people in 2014. This is a great success story, but it is simply not enough. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will struggle to find clean water. Alone, Dow aims to bring water to 1,000 times more people than Water.org. It is very clear we must partner with businesses to deliver solutions at scale.
We are fortunate to live in an era where solutions to most of the world’s greatest problems exist. The next step in the challenge is scale. Scale is only possible when solutions are profitable. Profit is the only infinite source of financial resources, government and philanthropists simply cannot fund solutions at scale. When a business model is profitable, those profits can be reinvested into making the solution over and over again until every person in the world enjoys basic human rights. It is time to embrace business and partner with them to make meaningful change. Continue to speak out against businesses that don’t strive to promote social good, but advocate for the ones that do. Profitability is not wrong; it is the secret ingredient to scalability. Big businesses have made enormous strides in reshaping their opinion of society, it is time society reshaped their opinion of big businesses.
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