Bobbi Silten - Managing Director, Shared Value Initiative
I’ve found that whenever I start a new job, the first 100 days go by quickly and it was no different stepping into the role as the leader of the Shared Value Initiative. I spent my first few months getting immersed in all things shared value, meeting with SVI members and collaborators, and talking with practitioners and thought leaders in the field to understand our challenges and opportunities. In all these encounters there was a common thread: the belief in shared value is strong.
I joined the SVI because I’ve experienced first-hand the benefits shared value can create for society, the environment, and business. As a business leader it gave me a sense of purpose and a powerful reason to pour myself into my work.
I became a shared value practitioner more than a dozen years ago while at Gap Inc., inspired by the early writings of Michael E. Porter and Mark Kramer. Before the practice was known as “shared value” I began to experiment, make mistakes, learn and celebrate small wins using this new business discipline. I also learned how to be patient with the naysayers, build a coalition, and advance a shared value culture. I believe deeply in the potential of shared value and know that we are still early in the lifecycle of this idea and unleashing the possibilities it holds. Our vision is that one day shared value is the way successful, sustainable business is done.
On this one-hundredth day in the job, I want to share my early thoughts about the work of the SVI and how we can contribute to the momentum of the shared value movement.
1. Fulfill the promise of purpose
To do shared value well, it starts with a clear social purpose. Purpose beyond profit is a popular topic in business these days with 90% of executives recognizing the importance of “an aspirational reason for being which… provides benefit to society,” according to a recent EY Beacon Institute/Harvard Business Review Analytic Services survey.
But merely stating a purpose, while positive, is insufficient. In all likelihood a purpose statement may be an aspiration that we will forever seek to fulfill, so we should use the tools we have at our disposal to make the proclamation matter. Philanthropy, volunteering, and social responsibility programs play a role in realizing purpose, but I believe that having a shared value practice at the core of a company’s efforts is the most powerful way to deliver on the promise of purpose and to do it in partnership with P&L owners. Shared value is a potent engine of change with a built-in incentive for the business to sustain its support for social and environmental outcomes while driving growth.
2. Talk to investors
Since 2011, the number of S&P 500 companies reporting on environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters increased four-fold from 20% to 85%. It’s also been shown that companies that perform well on material ESG measures substantially outperform their peers financially. Now it’s time to move the conversation to the next level. I have heard from many of you that we need to talk directly to investors about shared value so they better understand the concept and its relevance to long-term value creation for business and society.
We have an opportunity to highlight shared value as a strategy that isn’t just about risk mitigation, but one that creates value for shareholders and long-term benefits for all stakeholders. In the coming months we will share more on this important topic as we work with experts in the field and hold conversations with investors and business leaders.
3. Share the messiness
There’s something liberating about acknowledging when things didn’t go exactly as planned. Oftentimes it’s the first step of learning. I recently talked about the notion of sharing the messiness of our shared value work at a Knowledge Exchange in NYC and it resonated with folks. We’ve all read case studies of shared value successes that inspire us, but the imperfections have been polished out of the learnings. We can learn different and important things about shared value and its practice by revealing the challenges, missteps, oversights, and stories of recovery from such mishaps. It’s also a way for us to build a stronger community of leaders and thought partners, and provide one another fuel as we work to advance the practice and deliver greater impact.
4. Build an ideas pipeline
New ideas and innovation are critical for competitiveness, especially if you lead a business. For shared value to stay relevant and keep pace with business, we need to remain current and push the practice. To better serve the shared value community, the SVI will more intentionally seek out ideas and innovations useful for all of us. I know there are many important stories out there waiting to be told that highlight the practices, progress, and sometimes the pain of our work.
In addition to sharing practitioner stories, we plan to bring new programs to the SVI community starting this winter.
5. Spread the word
This last early thought is one that speaks to the marketer in me. “Ideas that spread, win.” This insightful truth was uttered by entrepreneur and best-selling author Seth Godin 15 years ago and his words couldn’t be more true today. Shared value is an idea worth spreading and we’re actively seeking ways to make our message more accessible, exciting and shareable to capture the attention and imagination of those we need to convince that shared value is a smart business discipline. More to come on this front as we move into 2019 and work to spread the word.
To wrap this up, I want to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who has taken the time to share with me their thoughts, ideas, frustrations, and hopes for shared value and the SVI. Your generosity will help evolve our work as we leverage the strong momentum of this movement and amplify our efforts to positively impact society, the environment and business.