The President has gone to Davos, where the elite of the elite are gathering at the World Economic Forum. Many of his supporters (and not a few detractors) are uncomfortable with the notion of Donald Trump cavorting with business titans from around the world.
Much has been written about his defense of “the little guy” who toils in the valley of the shadows while he cavorts with the very rich and powerful on a mountaintop in the Swiss Alps. But this post is not about the President, his policies or his peccadillos.
Rather, it is about the role that business can play in making the world a more just and compassionate place for everyone. In Nick Kristof’s OpEd in the New York Times, “Is the Business World All About Greed?” the commentator shifts the frame away from global deal making and geopolitical power plays to remind us of the often artificial divide that separates sectors in our society, thereby creating an added burden to those who seek the good.
He begins with a personal anecdote: “I’m periodically asked if students who seek jobs in the business world are immoral, money-grubbing sellouts. I don’t think they are, for businesses can be a hugely important force for progress.”
On a personal level, I spent a substantial part of my career as a small business owner. The organization, Creative Connections in Media, was a for-profit company with about 85% of our clientele from the not-for-profit sector (70% from the religious community).
I often encountered the attitude among our clients similar to the thinking that lies behind the question Kristof periodically encountered. The assumption was that since I was “in business,” my interest was primarily driven by the bottom line. There was a self-righteousness to this attitude that I found demeaning and often came to resent. Our top-line priority as a company was to create quality media that would help our clients make an impact for good in the world. In our business-to-business dealings, we encountered many companies who shared similar values. By exacerbating tension and suspicion between these two vital sectors, people of good will–in both the corporate or non-profit worlds–encounter an extra hurdle in their efforts at cooperation, rendering progress toward addressing deep-rooted problems ever more difficult.
Before citing excellent examples of corporations large and small that do well by doing good, Kristof affirms the following: “The business toolbox is too important to give up on. To me, the most interesting people in Davos aren’t the presidents or celebrities, but the social entrepreneurs — those using business tools to address social problems — and their work offers an inspiring window into what can be accomplished… That’s the advantage of a business approach: It is often more sustainable and scalable than a charity.”
He concludes by reminding us, “When companies with hundreds of thousands of employees elevate women, fight for Dreamers, adopt environment-friendly packaging, when they serve not only shareholders but also the larger society, the impact can be transformational.” He then challenges his readers to celebrate the power of entrepreneurship and hold corporations accountable in using that power to benefit all humankind.