Can and Should Enlightened Global Businesses Solve Real Global Problems like War and Poverty?

By Philomena Blees

World headlines show the global community is faced with serious problems of conflict and instability: 10,000 or more deaths per year from the Mexican Drug War, Syrian Civil War, Iraqi Insurgency, and ethnic violence in South Sudan. 1,000-9,999 deaths per year in Gaza and from civil wars in Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria, Northwest Pakistan, Egypt, and Libya; plus the war in the Ukraine. Gangs in Central America, terrorist activities by ISIS and Al-Qaida, and clashes between police and protesters in Hong Kong.

The global economic cost of violence in 2012 was $9.46 trillion, representing 11 percent of Gross World Product, according to the latest report from the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP). These non-productive expenditures inhibit peace and prosperity.

I offer that business must be part of the solution to war and poverty as it is the greatest force for good the world has ever known. [1]  And, it can’t do it alone. These problems require effective partnerships between business, civil society and government. The challenge is how and when will this happen given these communities work in silos? It will happen when business, government, and civil society co-operate (not merely operate) and co-generate justice, prosperity, and sustainability. When these three conditions are present, they can co-generate a self-balancing, self-correcting ecosystem of sustainable peace and prosperity. How and when will business, civil society and government co-operate? When a sufficient number of informed conscious citizens learn what the best practices are for healthy commercial, sociocultural, and legal subsystems.  

Also business quite simply has incredibly effective and well-honed skills for tackling global problems. It thinks more readily in terms of sustainability, tolerance, well-functioning business environments, and “peace through commerce.” Single businesses can mimic whole countries. If Facebook were a country, it would be the 3rd largest after China’s 1.34 billion people and India’s 1.2 billion. Business expertise in creating successful and peaceful agreements is foundational; conflict resolution practically a job requirement. It can provide important cross-border diplomacy and leadership and is often better equipped to find shared goals in times of crisis. For example, a high-profile effort was waged in August by Richard Branson, who helped to bring Ukrainian and Russian corporate leaders together.   

How does one become a conscious capitalist? How do businesses join the enlightened global business community? How do business, government and civil society learn the inter-workings of their individual silos and operate at a higher order level of consciousness?

Aspiring conscious capitalists can look at the teachings of Conscious Capitalism, Inc., a nonprofit co-founded by Whole Foods Market co-CEO and co-Founder John Mackey. It is dedicated to teaching the four pillars of Conscious Capitalism®: higher purpose, multi-stakeholder orientation, conscious leadership, and conscious culture. Businesses manifesting these enlightened practices include Whole Foods Market, the Container Store, Southwest Airlines, Costco, Google, Panera Bread Company, Nordstrom, and UPS.

Businesses can become conscious of their impact on human rights, labor, the environment, and anti-corruption by joining the United Nations Global Compact. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says, “the Global Compact asks companies to embrace universal principles and to partner with the United Nations. It has grown to become a critical platform for the UN to engage effectively with enlightened global business.”

Businesses can learn how to co-create ecosystems of sustainable peace and prosperity by studying the Matrix of Peace™, a systems model developed by Peace Through Commerce, Inc. It identifies the key systems in a community necessary to create sustainable peace and prosperity--the commercial, cultural, and legal subsystems—and the level of consciousness of the citizens designing those systems.

There are many international frameworks to promote and support businesses in their role as responsible corporate citizens: ISO 26000, OECD Guidelines, UN Guiding Principles, the Hague Approach Principles, the Global Compact, and Partners for Democratic Change.”[2]

Yes, enlightened global businesses can and should solve real global problems like war and poverty and go further to co-create self-balancing, self-correcting ecosystems of sustainable peace and prosperity.

Philomena Blees is the President of Peace Through Commerce, Inc. a global, nonprofit, strategic organization committed to creating a world in which all people enjoy peace and prosperity. PTC fosters peace and prosperity through teaching about the Matrix of Peace,™ and gives special attention to women in its Accelerating Women Entrepreneurs (“AWE”) Division. She is a Trustee for Conscious Capitalism, Inc., having served as founding general counsel and Vice President, and is co-founder of the American Creativity Association – Austin Global organization.

[1] See excellent review of epic achievements of capitalism in not only solving the problems of war and poverty, but also in providing effective means to sustainability and soul-fulfilling employment in Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation 2013). See also, Be The Solution: How Entrepreneurs and Conscious Capitalists Can Solve All the World’s Problems (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons 2009)

[2] Thanks to Julia Roig, President of Partners for Peace, who compiled this list in her excellent blog Business for Peace: We Know Why, But How? Published on October 9, 2014 To learn more, click here.

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This article appears in: 2014 Catalyst, Issue 21: Enlightened Business