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How business leaders can leverage trust to drive positive change

Building trust starts with stakeholder capitalism. Pictured here: Two people shaking hands in an office set-up

Building trust starts with stakeholder capitalism. Image: Unsplash/Cytonn Photography

Alain Bejjani
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Corporate Governance

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • One of COVID-19’s lasting legacies could be a radical shift in the expectations of capitalism, where organisations will not only need to, but will be expected to, rethink their role and purpose.
  • Trust is the essential foundation on which to rebuild our economies and successfully tackle the seemingly insurmountable threats facing the world today.
  • Stakeholder capitalism will come into its own in 2022, as we start to envisage a world beyond the pandemic, take onboard the lessons it brought and look towards COP27.

To wildly paraphrase Dickens, it has been the worst of times, and the best of times in recent history. Over the past two years, we have had to face the harsh realities of climate change and the associated and increasingly frequent extreme-weather events; a global health pandemic that has killed more than 6 million people, and left millions more facing terrible hardship; and most recently, rising geopolitical tensions and the potentially immense global repercussions of any outcome.

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Each of these seismic events has caused enormous suffering for many around the world. They have shaken global value chains and economies, creating significant challenges for governments, industries, businesses and individuals, alike. Every assault has resulted in setbacks and challenges, reaping swathes through our communities, spreading fear and worry. But they have also at times spurred the very best of humanity, forcing us to a tipping point that sees us drive meaningful, positive change.

Amidst the pandemic, stories of extraordinary human endeavour were rife. Our modern-day protagonists championed collaboration, innovation and strong, values-driven leadership. Others embarked on quests, building momentum toward achieving net-zero climate goals that continue to gather pace. Entire corporate tribes have united to find solutions that benefit us all – because it’s no longer only the right thing to do, but is imperative if we are to collectively build the future we dream.

In our uniquely human way, in spite of the incredible challenges in our path, we continue to slay a range of mythic-sized dragons, and as a result have become stronger, more resilient, more connected. In our own way, the challenges of the past two years have allowed us to uncover our inner heroes – a discovery that will prove critical if we are to successfully navigate the road that lies ahead and map a path for the generations to come.

Attaining this degree of sustained resilience, whether as a society or organisation, remains wholly dependent on its champions’ ability to focus on the entity’s core values during testing times and in doing so, restore the critical element of trust.

Building trust starts with stakeholder capitalism

Trust is the essential foundation on which to rebuild our economies and successfully tackle the seemingly insurmountable threats facing the world today. In taking a further step to embrace and embody the principles of stakeholder capitalism – that is to say, to consider and work towards that which services the needs of many – leaders are able to drive quantifiable and lasting positive change.

This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer found that despite a default sense of distrust, there is a greater degree of faith in businesses ahead and above other sectors, including NGOs, governments and the media. And with that trust comes a growing expectation for businesses to take a lead on issues such as climate change and economic inequality.

Building trust starts with stakeholder capitalism, and business is reaping its rewards.
Building trust starts with stakeholder capitalism, and business is reaping its rewards. Image: Edelman

But business alone cannot break the cycle of distrust and drive positive change. The World Economic Forum has long stressed the importance of stakeholder capitalism – where business leaders, politicians and NGOs all work together for the good of all.

This has never been more important than today, where we must strive to uphold common values and principles, including the rule of law and human rights.

Stakeholder capitalism will come into its own in 2022, as we start to envisage a world beyond the pandemic, take onboard the lessons it brought and look towards COP27 where our climate pledges will be held to account.

Taking action and staying accountable

As business leaders, we can’t hope to build and maintain trust without being transparent and accountable for our actions – proving our commitment to making a difference. We must do far more than talk the talk.

In 2020, Majid Al Futtaim, along with more than 50 other businesses including Unilever and Dow, committed to report on the World Economic Forum’s Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics. These are designed to align reporting on environmental, social and governance (ESG) indicators and track companies’ contributions towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Becoming part of this community aligns with our efforts to achieve a Net Positive business model by 2040. In August 2021, we secured our first sustainability-linked loan, as the result of our long-term strategic targets, which include increasing the number of women in management positions.

We have pledged to phase out single-use plastic in all countries across our assets by 2025, understanding that eliminating single-use plastic is essential if we’re to protect the world for future generations. But we need to go further and actively help educate customers on how they, too, can reduce plastic use at home.

Putting people and equality at the centre of our business

With the economic impact of the pandemic, as well as the societal shift it triggered, still rippling out across the globe, the social aspect of ESG has grown in importance as a result. Companies now have a responsibility to step up their training and reskilling of existing employees and reshape to fit the needs of current and new talent, ensuring workforces have the ability to thrive in a new work paradigm.

This holds particularly true when considering the invaluable and far-reaching benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace. The Forum’s “Future of Jobs” report shows coding is one of the key growth areas for jobs. In September 2021, our school of Analytics and Technology launched a Seed-Build-Lead programme to inspire more women into technology jobs.

It’s our hope that as more women develop these skills, not only will they benefit personally and professionally, but the impact of their efforts will be felt across the region.

A global blueprint for collaboration

In 2021, I wrote in a blog for Davos week that one of COVID-19’s lasting legacies “could be a radical shift in the world’s expectations of capitalism, where organisations will not only need to, but will be expected to, rethink their role and purpose.”

Now, in 2022, I am even more convinced that this is the case.

The pandemic has presented many great challenges. I would even say the concerted global response has created a ‘blueprint’ that will help governments and businesses respond more efficiently and collaboratively to crises in future.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing to help companies reduce carbon emissions?

And yes, our world today appears even more uncertain, uneven, unbalanced. But as we look back on the incredible grit, perseverance and determination that has seen us reach this point in time, it is my hope that we will be able to learn from the remarkable journey each one of us has taken, and step forward emboldened by a renewed sense of purpose.

For as much as it may seem we are in midst of a season of darkness, it is my belief that by working together, united and unified, this could be humanity’s season of light.

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Forum InstitutionalStakeholder Capitalism
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