Interbrand Corporate Citizenship at Harvard

I was honored to have been invited to give a talk on the Double X Economy yesterday at the Interbrand conference being held at Harvard. This is a small group of people, many of them foundation folks or corporate sustainability officers, who meet annually to share learning and form coalitions that support pro-social corporate initiatives. My talk was very well received, partly because the cause of women is a pretty well accepted priority among corporations these days–many in the room, such as Verizon and Coca-Cola, already have important programs in place or in preparation, both in the US and globally. However, I feel I did offer a larger framework for them to think about women’s issues, by talking about the statistics on gender inequality around the world and then going deeply into one example–sanitary care in Africa. So it was good to think what I said was useful. I was followed by Nada Dugas, who is my colleague from Procter & Gamble’s Pampers, and she presented the results of the campaign against maternal neonatal tetanus, which impresses audiences, especially from the corporate world. Pampers and UNICEF have really pulled off something that is an good example to follow. (The case materials can be downloaded from this website as well as the Said School site. Look under “Research Projects” on the Double X Economy website, scroll down under the Pampers spot for the links.)

But I want to share something that happened in the evening. We had a public panel with executives from McDonald’s, Starbucks, Nissan, and Interbrand sharing with us quite candidly their own struggles and visions to pursue sustainability and community service. It was noted several times that their work was particularly important in an environment where so many Americans have lost trust in their institutions (corporations, but especially government). I found it a moving moment because you could see so clearly how deeply the speakers cared, on a personal level, as citizens, about the things they were trying to accomplish. But, in the middle of all this, a group of (apparently) Harvard students began a little chant all about how corporations are not citizens–they delivered this loudly and then left the room. We all just sat there, speechless. It wasn’t that anyone was offended. We are all world citizens, too, and most of us are Americans. I would guess that the corporate group generally sympathizes with the feelings of the students. But the irony was just so poignant, given the context of the testimony we had just heard. It was a sad moment, but, in the end, it only underscored, for everyone, how important it is that that citizens who work in corporations find ways of integrating social missions into corporate life. It simply must happen–and continue to happen in the many leading companies who have already adopted this stance in a committed, long-term way.

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