Stakeholder Capitalism

Here's how business needs to change for a new decade

inequality, technology, inclusivity

Business has a responsibility to help build better communities worldwide Image: UNSPLASH/Markus Spiske

Chuck Robbins
Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Cisco
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Better Business

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Running a good business carries a responsibility to think about the communities in which they operate.
  • Businesses have the advantage of being able to take risks and quickly deploy resources.
  • But they have to get close to these problems to really understand how to solve them.

As we enter a new decade, we’re seeing a collective agreement that running a good business goes beyond generating profits, caring for customers or delivering solutions to our markets. It also carries a responsibility to think about the communities in which we operate around the world and our role in helping them thrive. Leaders globally are speaking up about this, employees are demanding it and we know our world needs this now, more than ever.

In the face, however, of rising distrust, wage stagnation, widening inequality, technology’s impact on jobs and trade wars, people expect more from businesses than just talk – and they should. It’s time to stop talking about the issues and start taking real action. To do that, we need to get close to these problems to really understand what it will take to solve them and then roll our sleeves up and get to work.

Businesses have the opportunities to act, including working with local governments and organizations to solve challenges within communities, bringing together networks of people to address an issue from different vantage points and giving back in our communities.

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Bridging the gap

Government strategies for improving economic competitiveness or addressing community challenges often face challenges as they move towards implementation. Businesses can help resolve these issues, reflecting their position in communities. They can assess where the problems are and help address them by providing technology, business expertise, financial catalysts and more.

At Cisco, we’ve worked with government leaders in 30 countries to develop a Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) programme. This type of public-private model helps turn public agendas into action with digital tools, workforce training, business partnerships, joint funding and start-up investment. The results of this approach have, among other things, given female entrepreneurs in India access to the global economy, brought healthcare to remote regions in Germany, protected hundreds of thousands of small businesses in Italy and trained a future cybersecurity workforce in Latin America.

Address problems like businesses do

When companies face a business challenge, they quickly attack it from different angles, bringing innovative ideas, long-term sustainability, necessary resources, critical stakeholders and appropriate policies, all supported by clear goals and metrics. We need to take this same approach with our communities’ needs. We should think of our communities as our customers in this case and having a vital, healthy community benefits us all.

Opportunity International is taking a digital, business-minded approach to support its mission to provide financial products and services to people living in poverty who lack access to loans, savings accounts and other critical tools. The organization has designed, tested and scaled up new types of products and adopted data analytics for better client targeting, new product development and business insights. Now it can use data in much the same way as for-profit companies do to improve the services it delivers to communities.

Businesses also invest in their employees helping them build careers, gain different experiences and learn new skills. We need to make that same investment in the people in our communities, inclusive of all backgrounds. This is critical when some research suggests by 2030 there will be a global talent deficit of more than 85 million workers and that only one-third of all countries are spending the recommended 15% to 20% of government expenditure on education.

Businesses need to step in and consider how they can expand education opportunities. The good news is that many companies have programmes in place to help address the gaps. Our Cisco Networking Academy programme engages educational institutions to develop relevant curriculum and help connect students to employment opportunities. Since its inception, the programme has helped educate and reskill more than 10.9 million students in 180 countries and the programme’s reach has been expanded by bringing the curriculum into non-traditional settings like rehabilitation facilities, refugee centres and most recently, prisons.

By giving people inside and outside the company different educational opportunities, we can help equalize access to jobs and support the development of entire economies.

Advocate for and invest in

Every company can make a difference locally and globally, whether its a multinational organization or run by a single entrepreneur. Businesses can take risks and quickly deploy resources, including money, time or people, when the need arises.

One such example is the issue of extreme poverty. Many businesses are partnering with Global Citizen to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. Global Citizen works with businesses and non-profits, activating a global community to take action. To date, Global Citizen has collectively impacted 880 million lives.

Man holding card with seeking human kindness text
Making a difference involves addressing each community's problems Image: UNSPLASH/Matt Collamer

Another pressing issue is homelessness. Santa Clara county – the heart of Silicon Valley and one of the wealthiest counties in the US – has witnessed the number of homeless increasing by 31% in the last two years. It’s been encouraging to see how local businesses like Apple and many others are stepping up to use their resources and expertise to solve this issue and help build more affordable housing. Last year, Destination Home and its local partners opened 135 affordable housing units ending more than 400 collective years of homelessness. With support from business, including Cisco, the organization has also laid the groundwork to build more than 600 additional housing units for the county’s most vulnerable residents and prevented homelessness for more than 1,100 families.

From core strategy to higher purpose

Giving back to our communities is no longer simply a nice thing to do. It is an imperative that must be core to every business strategy. The world is facing a number of crises that will shape our future in a negative way if we don’t step in and take action now. I absolutely believe that a healthy business is interdependent on a healthy community. If we all shift our mindsets to be action-first, we can create a better, more inclusive future for everyone.

History shows that there is always a time and a place to make a difference. That time is now and there are many places where the private sector can get more involved and positively change the trajectory of the world. Let’s redefine what running a good business means. Let’s use our seats at the table where some of the most important conversations are happening today to think bigger, be bolder and act as advocates for those who need it most. If we get closer to some of these problems, we will understand them better and be more inclined to find ways to solve them.

Most importantly, I have tremendous hope that if we work together for the greater good and a higher purpose, we will make a significant difference to the lives of people all around the world.

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