Business leaders used to be considered successful if they produced the slickest gadget, provided the best services or made their shareholders wealthy.
Those measures are still important, but they’re no longer paramount, said Ron Grzywinski, ShoreBank Corp. chairman and co-founder, during an Oct. 3 keynote address at the Kellogg School’s Innovating Social Change Conference, whose theme was “Awareness to Action: Empowering Socially Responsible Leaders.”
“Business leaders are also expected to be citizen leaders,” Grzywinski told an audience of students, academics and practitioners at the James L. Allen Center. They are expected to use the many resources at their fingertips to take on humanity’s toughest problems.
ShoreBank, for instance, was created in 1973 out of a desire by Grzywinski and his colleagues to find out “what would happen if a neighborhood bank reversed the flow” of investment dollars so that instead of moving from poorer communities to wealthier ones, funds might flow where they were needed most. The experiment turned out to change lives for the better. Today, the bank serves disinvested urban and rural communities in five states.
“[Social responsibility] starts at the top. When the chairman or CEO supports social responsibility, it sets the tone for the company,” said Grzywinski at the daylong student-run event. “Of course, the opposite is also true. If the commitment’s not there at the top, the employees know it.” Given institutional support, Grzywinski added, employees from the top down will look for ways to incorporate social responsibility into their day-to-day work:
“When they are empowered in this way, very exciting things begin to happen.”
He noted that “business leaders are in a unique and rather enviable position” in that they wield the power to affect change in individual people’s lives as well as in national and international policy. He urged conference attendees to explore their spheres of influence. “Anything you can do to expand your knowledge of the world, to re-examine your place in the world, is inherently valuable,” he said.
Following Grzywinski’s address, a group of accomplished leaders whose work requires attention to geography and economy discussed the business of global health. The panel discussion, titled, “From Creation to Convention: Institutionalizing Innovative Approaches to Global Health Challenges,” was moderated by World Resources Chicago President Michael Diamond, who has worked with humanitarian partners in more than 150 countries.
The difficulty in connecting new drugs, devices and treatment programs with people who need them most is fraught with “chicken-egg problems” — problems that can only be solved by making simultaneous changes to the supply-side and the demand side — said panelist Dai Ellis, director of the drug access team in the William J. Clinton Foundation’s HIV/AIDS Initiative.
Steve Brooke ’89, adviser for commercialization and corporate partnerships in PATH's Technology Solutions Strategic Program, agreed. “A lot of people in the public health world think only companies have monopolies,” he said. “They don’t think of buyers having monopolies.” A buyer monopoly can be just as destructive, added Brooke, because it may keep prices artificially low and discourage the development of important new products and services.
Led by moderator Marianne Woodward — adjunct professor of social entrepreneurship at Kellogg — participants in another panel, “Taking the First Step: Creating Social Impact through Entrepreneurship,” explored the intersection of business and nonprofit management.
“We actually look more and more for MBAs in Nicaragua,” said panelist Kevin Marinacci ’96, who earned his Kellogg degree after working for several years with poor and orphaned children through the Fabretto Children’s Foundation in Nicaragua. “Without losing the passion and the mission, we want to make sure we’re on track to help the people we serve.”
Kelli Moore, director of strategic partnerships for social-entrepreneur investment firm Ashoka, said one difference between the for- and nonprofit sectors is that nonprofits tend not to be as protective of their proprietary information. “You’re really trying to inspire competition in social enterprise,” said Moore. “You’re dying for people to replicate your process.”
The conference, in its eighth year, also included four afternoon panel discussions on corporate social responsibility (“Putting Corporate Social Responsibility into Practice: Strategies for Sustained Corporate Impact”), education (“Closing the Gap: Innovation in Urban Education”), microfinance (“The Impact of Commercialization on the Microfinance Industry”) and the environment (“Greening the Corporation”). A networking reception at the Allen Center concluded the day.