Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

How businesses can help to build trust in today's polarized world

In a crisis of trust and mutual understanding, businesses can play a surprising role in helping to rebuild trust.

In a crisis of trust and mutual understanding, businesses can play a surprising role in helping to rebuild trust. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Yo Honma
President and Chief Executive Officer, NTT DATA Group Corporation
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • 53% of people believe their countries are more divided than ever.
  • In this crisis of trust and mutual understanding, businesses can play a surprising role in helping to rebuild trust.
  • Businesses' central role in peoples' lives, as hubs of connection, mean they are positioned to help heal today's crisis of trust.

We live in a time marked by deepening divisions and eroding trust in our economic, social and political systems. This polarization, exacerbated by economic instability and rampant disinformation, has profound effects. A startling 53% of respondents to a global survey believe their countries are more divided now than ever. In this challenging landscape, which institutions can best restore trust?

Today, more than half of people think their countries are more divided than ever.
Trust: more divided today than in the past. Image: Edelman Trust Barometer 2023

The four pillars of building trust

Interestingly, the same survey identified businesses as the only entity seen as both competent and ethical. Many people worldwide trust their employers, placing a significant responsibility on corporate leaders. They must live up to this trust and work collaboratively to bridge the growing trust divide.

Trust is not just an outcome, but a process grounded in a proven past and a promise of an exceptional future. Businesses can lead in trust-building by focusing on four core elements:

1. Empathy in leadership

In our volatile world, marked by a pandemic, economic instability and climate crises, empathy is crucial.

In tough times, people will often turn to their communities as a source of support and stability. As global leaders, businesses need to cement their role within communities. They can and should ensure they act as a focal point to forge closer connections between people.

Businesses must become community pillars, understanding and addressing people's concerns. Take, for example, the challenges of biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse.

Businesses can show leadership and empathy by investing in nature conservation and restoration, a moral and economic imperative for us all. Today, businesses such as NTT are working with the World Economic Forum to promote the joint development of advanced technology solutions to support regenerative agriculture. By placing these issues at the centre of their efforts, businesses can enable mutually positive experiences that forge stronger connections and trust.

Businesses are perceived by the public as both ethical and competent — that gives them a special responsibility.
Businesses are perceived by the public as both ethical and competent — that gives them a special responsibility. Image: Edelman Trust Barometer 2023

2. Transparency and data management

The scourge of disinformation has fueled mistrust. People seek reliability and transparency in information. An intuitive and dependable ecosystem of knowledge, resources and technology can restore trust and transparency in information systems.

Businesses as data custodians must shift from the “data from you” to the “data for you” approach. To build digital trust, the concept of “trust by design” prioritizes privacy, compliance and user control right from the product design phase. For example, users should be able to provide and revoke rights to different applications and services based on their needs and preferences.

This shift not only builds trust but also enhances integrity and credibility. Businesses must use their influence and the strength of the relationships they preside over to encourage a greater responsibility towards transparency.

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3. Accountability in partnerships

Collaboration is key in addressing global challenges. Shared accountability and cooperation among businesses, NGOs and industry groups are vital to drive progress through innovation. For instance, initiatives like the IOWN (Innovative Optical and Wireless Network) Global Forum Inc., where NTT has partnered with entities like Intel and Sony, provide a case study in how to deliver collaborative projects — in this case, building smart cities and improving living standards.

4. Effective communication

Clear, honest, and consistent communication is essential. Over half of the population believes in the vision offered by businesses, compared to 28% who do not. Engaging in open dialogue with societal institutions and governments to develop clear policies and narratives can significantly boost public trust. People-centric policies can incentivize action to help raise living standards, education and reskilling, as well as a focus on data privacy and public safety.

Cooperation between the public and private sector makes for the best outcomes.
Cooperation between the public and private sector makes for the best outcomes. Image: Edelman Trust Barometer 2023

A commitment to trust

In a polarized world, trust is the foundation of all human interaction. It helps us to build stronger societal structures. It acts as the antidote to uncertainty and conflict.

As a trusted global innovator committed to these values, we pledge to work closely with our clients, partners, employees and stakeholders, upholding our promise to build a more trusting and connected society.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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