Archive for the ‘ Authenticity ’ Category

World Water Day: Watering “No business can succeed in a failed society”

On Friday, UN special rapporteur Catarina de Albuquerque warned that government delegates to the World Water Forum appeared to be watering down their human rights commitments to water and sanitation. These rights, formally recognized by the UN in 2010, must form the basis of any proposals to expand access to essential services, said De Albuquerque.

Water is a $400 billion global industry, the third largest behind electricity and oil.

Last week (in anticipation of World Water Day) The World Water Forum, a tri-annual event, assembled 18,000 water, environmental and sanitation leaders from 173 countries with over a hundred country water ministers attending the event in Marseilles, France.

Some Progress On Drinking Water Access

In the last two decades, over 2 billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said recently:

“Today we recognize a great achievement for the people of the world. This is one of the first MDG targets to be met. The successful efforts to provide greater access to drinking water are a testament to all who see the MDGs not as a dream, but as a vital tool for improving the lives of millions of the poorest people.”

Water will be on the Rio+20 agenda for the first time.

Our ability in the global north to turn on the tap and flush has resulted in water not rising to the same attention level as energy and climate change. This is changing as the interconnected global economy is demonstrating connections that have gone unnoticed, or at least unattended to, for decades. Circle of Blue’s strong work on Choke Point: China, Confronting Water Scarcity and Energy Demand in the World’s Largest Country, is one example out of many.

The Challenge: Getting the Right People To The Table

Part of the challenge that the World Water Forum and Circle of Blue are beginning to address is whether we can get the right people at the table. Eight billion person hours of conversation in Marseilles demonstrated the complexity of these interconnected challenges. What remains to be seen is the ability to keep these efforts going and attract participants who bring both demand reduction and supply production and conservation to the table.

The real learning may be around integrating conversations and obtaining commitments to bring new talent to the table especially around innovation and scaling solutions. At the synthesis session on water basin management I got the feeling that while the leaders were ecstatic to be collaborating with their peers, the absence of the non-participants was more visible.

ReachScale represented one of these ecosystems: social enterprise. The broad water industry is unaware of social enterprise and its innovation engine. Other missing participants included the non-water industry corporates, innovation design and related sectors like healthcare and agriculture— agriculture and food production consumes around 80 percent of water worldwide. There was a food security track that attracted Nestle, but most speakers were academics and NGO leaders.

In Marseilles, the opportunity to engage was aggressively pursued, and several session leaders mentioned lists of innovation ideas in the mid-five figures. I believe that many of these conversations will continue over the next three years (The next WWF is in Korea in 2015). However, optimism where it appeared was tempered by challenges in persuading current stakeholders to compromise and/or sacrifice to achieve sustainability.

The need for corporations to join the collaboration is essential and a number of efforts have attracted participation from the leading water users, beverage and food producers.

Companies Can Be Water Stewards

This is a huge opportunity for companies to demonstrate their commitment to successful societies through water stewardship. The reasons are clear, as are the advantages. So, here’s a starter set of suggestions:

1. Advocacy: In the global north, taps and toilets are automatic. It should be easy for us to align with water and sanitation as a human right. Instead we often leave it off the agenda.

2. Advocacy Action: Identify a natural water and sanitation advocate and encourage them to seek both talent and resources that the company could marshal for water and sanitation advocacy. Pick the most effective advocacy organization with which to partner.

3. Demand: Set corporate goals to reduce your water footprint and seek innovations to extend sanitation in globally relevant countries.

4. Demand Action: Marshal the talent and partnerships to meet the goals and join with the organizations that are most productive in assisting you.

5. Innovation: Identify the water intersections with your businesses and challenges that could use your innovation capabilities. If you work in healthcare or energy there are a myriad of possibilities. Consumer products and education suggest plenty of targeted opportunities.

6. Innovation Action: Identify the organizations innovating in these sectors and challenges, and pick one to support and grow, or a portfolio if the associated business opportunities are strong. A perfect example, courtesy Fast Company: Power From The Sun, Floating On Top Of Sewage.

7. Community and Watershed Stewardship: Space does not permit fully treating these and there are excellent examples of companies “doing the right thing” in communities. Nestle and Coca-Cola come to mind from Water Forum 6.

8. Stewardship Action: Watershed cooperation is newer and holds some of the greatest promise in achieving real sustainability. And now is the perfect time to engage, since the Alliance for Water Stewardship just released their first draft standard, open to stakeholder comment until June 15, 2012.’

9. From Incremental Gains to Social Innovation: As gains in footprint and community development continue and watershed collaborations develop, each company should compare the next set of incremental improvements with the opportunity to innovate more broadly to create healthy societies. This opportunity is not embodied in the water and sanitation stewardship progress to date, perhaps because identifying the alternative models and opportunities appears too daunting.

Social Innovation for Water Rights

Yet, the WWF had multiple tracks trying to examine and find alternative models and answer to social innovation. The most alarming statistic: 2.6 billion people lack access to improved (or any) sanitation.

Kamal Kar, founder and advocate for Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), made a strong case for creating access for the final billion people to both water and sanitation at the same time, as a way of ensuring healthier lives. CLTS and similar organizations represent one of the most important social innovation capabilities to replicate and scale today. Some brilliant marketers in the next decade will realize that stakeholder engagement around “Open Defecation Free” is more authentic and will engage stakeholders longer than many causes that make for pretty pictures.

The reason for CLTS’ scalability is simple. With modest interventions, communities solve the challenge themselves with local leaders moving on to other challenges. CLTS’ work results in leadership development every day on the community level. Companies that speak highly of their leader development capabilities could do worse than support a multiplicative effort whose core engine is leadership development.

Cross Sector Social Collaboration

Over half of the ministers – representing more than a 100 countries – at Water Forum 6 were from Africa.

The final Africa-centric session was lead by African leaders including Maria Mutagamba of Uganda. Mutagamba is an excellent example of the new, more transparent generation of leaders emerging all across Africa, often women, who driving striking progress in their communities.

However, celebration was not the main reason for their trips. These leaders were first to admit the work remaining to be done. ReachScale represented one such cross sector effort: Blue Planet Network (BPN), a social enterprise, and member International Lifeline Fund (ILF) are seeking partners for a water, sanitation and healthcare cross-sector effort to link village and health clinic access to water and sanitation.

Joining the team to create the health connection is Management Sciences for Health (MSH) whose health system experts already work in Uganda and many other countries to support local health systems.

MSH, BPN and ILF will link health and water committees more closely to seek direct impacts on both villagers and community health workers. The need was highlighted when MSH identified over 400 clinics in the 25 districts they serve that lack access to clean water. Coordinating between clinics and villages the needs of both can be better met and cost per water point can be lowered by as much as 30 to 40 percent.

These partnerships represent just two examples of many social entrepreneur and innovation opportunities that can be leveraged to improve societies in which companies desire a strong license to operate and grow. What is the private sector waiting for?

Note: This post originally appeared on CSRWire on March 22, 2012.

Summer Reading: The Holy Grail and the Greatest Bargain

One advantage of actively attending conferences is the opportunity to hear brilliant people argue their ideas, and often those ideas run counter to the conventional thinking. These leaders – in their thinking and doing – help us see how we can work together to do both.

In the spirit of the proverbial summer reading list, here are two books I recommend for bringing some of that nonconventional thinking to a beach or pool near you.

House on Fire: The Fight to Eradicate Smallpox, by William Foege.

“I don’t know much but when there is a house on fire in our village; we don’t poor water on all the houses.”

This simple statement was made by a village leader in India at a pivotal point in adoption of an innovative containment program for smallpox. Rather than trying to vaccinate everyone, this program used targeting of just six percent of the population to eradicate smallpox.

Author Mark Rosenberg wrote about William Foege, “The eradication of a disease has long been the holy grail of global health and Bill Foege found it: more than any other person, he was responsible for the eradication of smallpox from the face of the earth. This is a story told by a remarkably humble man, about the extraordinary coalition that he helped to build, and the most impressive global health accomplishment the world has ever seen.”

Listening to William Foege speak at the International Conference on Global Health recently, I was struck by his self-effacing tenacity. In response to the classic “what did you learn?” query, he responded with this wise advice: “You have to be able to consistently envision the end result while aggressively seeking the actual data, no matter how bad it is.”

From House on Fire: “One had to be an optimist with a feel for numbers to be ecstatic at the same time that Bihar had over 5,000 known smallpox outbreaks and had just reported over 11,600 new cases of smallpox in a single week.”

William Foege underlined this steady optimism by saying he held back from celebrating the triumph over smallpox in any individual country because he thought that would demonstrate surprise at the result which, at the beginning, he had so clearly envisioned.

Poverty Capital: Microfinance and the Making of Development, by Ananya Roy.

In the past year I have participated in a number of conferences focused on social enterprise, poverty alleviation and microfinance. The Skoll World Forum at Oxford and the MicrofinanceUSA Conference in NYC both featured distinguished moderators and microfinance leaders discussing the crisis in the microfinance sector. (This usually shows up as a critique of Comportamos or other successfully profitable MFIs.)

While Professor Yunus is a leading advocate for not profiting from serving the poor, a few realities are sometimes overlooked in this argument. Here’s my list of reasons why a more open view of this sector, including the option for profitability, is necessary at this point in time:

1. The microfinance sector would never have attracted $30 billion dollars without the option of profitability.

2. Microfinance grew out of pent up demand for access to loans that was immense. Servicing that demand has required infrastructure, trained personnel and distribution, all costs that are not trivial.

3. A bell curve of strategies – falling between the two poles of social impact and loan pricing/profitability – have been developed that include a variety of trade-offs. This has resulted in more variety and better choices for borrowers.

4. It is noteworthy that microfinance grew as long as it did before abuses (which would inevitability be encountered) became visible. While the lack of regulation aided the absence of visibility, it is still remarkable events of misuse in India are happening over 25 years of microfinance’s time span.

One of the best summarizing comments made at MicrofinanceUSA came from Ananya Roy, author of Poverty Capital and a professor at UC Berkeley. After extensive study of the specific trade-offs within microfinance, and the equally important trade-offs between microfinance and the other global development options, Ms. Roy pulled a balanced context together with this one line: “Microfinance is the greatest bargain in global development.”

As I mentioned in a question after Ms. Roy’s comment, any other development sector, healthcare, water, slum upgrading, would kill (pardon the expression) to have a thousand people gathered with recognized brand names like Comportamos, ACCION and Kiva, discussing the trade-offs from $30 billion dollars of global development—most of which was paid back! Likewise William Foege and leaders from the World Health Organization and a broad range of other organizations organized and innovated to avoid the deaths and maiming of millions upon millions. Both outcomes show the value of vision and innovation in attracting the human and financial resources and then making measurable progress in solving global challenges.

A version of this post first appeared on CSRwire.

Sustainable Brands and Authenticity

We are surrounded every day by the fallout from authenticity disconnects and dichotomies. The examples are glaring and particularly poignant right now, with “green branding” investments being made while the most elemental safety precautions were ignored.

At the Sustainable Brands Conference last week in Monterey, I spent three days hearing and seeing the positive side—real initiatives that are making a difference, shifts in fundamental thinking at the C-level in major enterprises, innovators inside and outside companies working together. It restores some hope in our global future.

Three themes emerged from that conference for me that can enable all of us to act and innovate more authentically:

License to operate
No matter how you view the ubiquitous presence of Starbucks in your neighborhood, Starbucks is coupling significant investments in reducing their footprint with jobs that offer healthcare as fundamental. Those are issues that are of importance to all of us. In talking about the Starbucks cup recycling efforts, Ben Packard acknowledged that while they have to deal with all aspects of their footprint, the real touch point of everything is the cup. If Starbucks can’t address that issue then they do not deserve to be in your community.

Responsible Profit
Jason Saul of Mission Measurement said it best: Donations and volunteer hours are no longer newsworthy unless presented in the context of strategic commitments to solve real problems. This theme was repeated in a number of sessions as forward thinking companies like Nike and Timberland admitted openly that they know their businesses are not currently environmentally friendly. Going forward they need to drive innovation to change their businesses drastically. In the future we cannot produce every day products like T-shirts the way we do today. The companies that do not exemplify this shifting reality do not deserve to be in the sustainable brands community.

Commitment and Authenticity
Most of the conference attendees are sincere proponents of improving the world and securing their license to operate. The most common question asked was a variation of this one: “How can we communicate our sincere efforts to be responsible?”

This is the wrong question. And if it is the question you are asking then it is likely that your sincere efforts cannot be communicated authentically. Sincerity does not guarantee authenticity. The plethora of recent green washing debacles include sincere companies as well as cynical ones. Corporations from either end of that spectrum were criticized—and rightfully so—for their lack of authenticity.

Seeking authenticity means carefully considering the capabilities you possess and the costs you impose. It also requires an answer to the following: “What significant challenge in the world can our leaders and stakeholders commit to solve that makes our commitment clear? How do we responsibly apply capabilities and budgets so that our customers, employees and the general public can measure our willingness to think big and to innovative solutions for serious social problems?”

If your organization is handing out money, leaving the selection and solutions to others and placing no reporting or measurement requirements other than check size, your authenticity is going to be minimized. If you are logging volunteer hours in ways that don’t leverage core competencies to solve serious problems, you are disrespecting your potential to shift the impact and really make a difference.

Collaboration is critical in navigating this new territory. One of the focal points should be on social enterprises already innovating to solve problems that improve the world and are core to your business at the same time. Partnering with the most innovative social enterprises can move you forward in becoming a leader that is making demonstrable progress towards solving real problems. Other approaches such as open innovation, mass collaboration and tri-sector partnerships can add further leverage to your talent and capabilities. Regardless of your approach, the license to operate will be much more rigorous in the future.

The #Promise Conference

GUEST POST by Deborah Barlow*


“Amazing New Yoga Poses,” with Rhett and Link in a “Get Healthy Challenge” video created through Howcast and GE.

Last Thursday I attended The #Promise kickoff conference held at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York. From the event website:

The #Promise kickoff conference will explore how the rise of social and mobile media is catalyzing innovation in corporate social responsibility from companies and consumers.

Recent events have moved corporate social responsibility to the center of the public discussion. And, the shifts in media are causing marketers to place a premium on strategies that encourage people to participate in marketing and to work together on social and environmental causes.

The #Promise will feature (1) original “promise” presentations from some of the most innovative global leaders in business and corporate social responsibility PepsiCo, GE, Nokia, MTV and Timberland; (2) panels curated by the leading media platforms for social innovation TED, Fast Company, and GOOD; and (3) formal and informal participation from leaders in business, technology and the public and nonprofit sectors.

All in all, a day well spent. Lots of highs, a few lows of course, but here are a few of my favorite moments.

In the corporate corner
Hearing Andrew Katz and Jeremy Cage of PepsiCo candidly describe the organic, learn as you go approach that Pepsi has taken in giving their now-legendary Pepsi Refresh Project the legs it needs to succeed. (For anyone who doesn’t know about this initiative, Pepsi took their Superbowl advertising budget of $20 million and redirected it to fund social enterprises based on consumer voting.) The initial response they received surprised everyone—6,000 proposals submitted, with 25 million votes cast. Now, says Katz, the challenge is how to tell the stories of the recipients. “Giving away money is the easy part, It is the ability to report back on the impact of that money that is hard.”

Hats off to PepsiCo. No, they aren’t currently a paragon of sustainability or an eco-friendly, healthy products company. But they get that they need to be a leader in rethinking business goals, practices and intentions going forward.

GE‘s Healthymagination campaign partnered with Howcast (how-to videos…with a twist) to create fresh, funny and engaging videos around general health themes. Amazing New Yoga Poses, a short video performance shown by Linda Boff from Global Marketing, was laugh out loud funny. This isn’t just a light bulb company anymore.

Margaret Morey-Reuner of Timberland is the paragon of sincerity and authenticity. She stated up front that being a bootmaker is not eco-conscious. But her candor was combined with a powerful story of Timberland’s efforts to make a difference.

Morey-Reuner told an interesting anecdote about an earlier Timberland campaign, “Stamp Out Genocide” which featured a boot with a map of Africa printed on it. Nobody bought the boot, and the campaign and product line were a failure. Timberland’s realization about the relationship between causes and products is a good one: “People come to a store to be delighted, not brought down. So we learned how important it is to properly contextualize our good works.”

Another anecdote she shared was spot on. A few years ago Timberland was involved in a number of initiatives. When the company’s CEO met with Bill Clinton (Clinton Global Initiative), the former President’s assessment was frank: “You have too many messages going. Pick one thing and focus on that.” With a tree in their logo and its suggestion in the company name itself, trees have become THE Timberland cause.

Other corporate-related insights
Great example of how brand advocacy can pay off: A few years back both Dell and Apple had problems with exploding computers. The Apple problem was actually much worse than Dell’s, but the media and consumers focused on Dell. “It’s like people wanted to hate Dell.” Apple had insurance against this sort of unexpected occurrence, building a strong tribe of brand advocates over time. That investment paid them back in spades. Apple got out of this bad news episode with virtually no dip in sales. Meanwhile Dell’s sales were very hard hit by the incident.

Heard in the social enterprise corner
From Rod Arnold, CCO of Charity Water:
Nearly one billion people on the planet don’t have access to clean drinking water.
80% of health problems around the world are the result of dirty water.

From June Cohen, Director, TED Media:
In talking about the very risky but ultimately brilliant decision made by Chris Anderson to open up web access to TED talks, June positioned their dilemma in one phrase: “ideas are free, bandwidth isn’t.”

From Jamie Daves, Executive Director of Think Social:
“The good companies go to school off of each other, learning from each other’s mistakes.”

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Tomorrow: More nuggets from the best and the brightest at The #Promise…

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*Deborah Barlow is a communications consultant with ReachScale whose other life is painting, writing and observing life online and off. She shares her personal point of view on her blog, Slow Muse, and her artwork on her website.

The Millennials: Pervasive Impact


So many ways to read the writing on the wall: The message can be Better History, Bitter History, Better Future, or Bitter Future. Pick one.
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In an earlier post I wrote about the two most frequently asked marketing questions—having a Facebook presence, and good citizenship in advertising. While many might argue otherwise, the very fact that those two questions are plausibly presented as the most frequent marketing concerns suggests a substantial shift in the corporate marketing landscape.

What is driving this shift? The generation that created Facebook and Twitter are referred to by social scientists as the Millennials. Don Tapscott prefers to call them the Net Generation, placing more emphasis on their “growing up digital” than on a collective psyche response to being born near the millenium. I used to work with Tapscott, and I used to agree with that point of view. But the last two years have shifted my view 180 degrees. In my new view the collective psyche of the Millennials is totally driven by their arrival at adulthood at the cusp of a millennial change that portended promise but arrived with a heavy mix of disappointment and disillusionment.

Despite the fact that this is the first generation that actually likes their parents (according to generation experts Strauss and Howe), they also see how badly their parents’ generation screwed things up. They understand that they are the ones who will be stepping up to fix the problems, to turn things around.

So whether you are trying to garner their votes or get them to pay attention to your products, you’d better understand that their view of corporate responsibility far exceeds anything you could imagine from your executive level purview. This is a call to pay attention in a completely different way.

The reason it is hard to answer the Facebook and citizenship in advertising questions is because the rules are being set by people with an obsession for authenticity. As Millennials create the venues you most need to use to promulgate your products, they also are requiring authentic action to participate. A good example is the ease with which inauthentic environmental “press speak” was greeted by disdain and labeled greenwashing by social activists who could prove that it in fact it was just that–a white washing of the truth.

As we progress through the next century, the pervasive impact of these Millennial-driven inventions and interventions will redefine every sector, from marketing to talent development, from social enterprises to politics.