Just a few weeks ago, the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship held our annual International Corporate Citizenship Conference. More than 500 CSR experts joined us in Atlanta for nearly three days of insights, information, and sharing.
Now more than ever, taking the time to connect as we did at our Conference is important. Our jobs demand much from us. It is so easy to get stuck in siloed thinking, focused only on the tasks in front of us on any given day—or even a given hour. Our work as corporate citizenship practitioners demands focus on tasks related to employees, communities, executives, and our digital communities. This can take us away from our focus on the big picture and drive us deep into those siloes.
Breaking out of silos has never been more important. We are at a singular moment in the practice of corporate citizenship. Events like the signing of the Paris Agreement and the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) give us an unprecedented opportunity to advance our work.
The message I would like to deliver to all corporate citizenship practitioners is this: This is your moment. YOU are the people who will lead your companies—and our communities—to realizing the opportunity presented by the unusual attention and focus brought by these important events. It is not going to happen without thinking big. The universal goals established the SDGs and the Paris Agreement are enormous—to end poverty, to protect life, to ensure the rights of all. At times they may seem out of reach, but they are much less daunting if we work together.
My tenure as Executive Director of the Center has made me much more optimistic about what is possible, because I have gotten to know so many of you—the CSR professionals who work at our more than 400 member companies—and I have seen your excellent work. As I’ve encountered many of you in Center courses and events, I think I have identified what is at the center of your success. You are masters at building networks.
Science tells us that networks are at the heart of all adaptable structures. This system structure is replicated over and over again in nature and in any exchange system, including sustainable economy.
We know from research, including a study we did this past fall with GRI, that people from all sectors and regions see our global economy as an interconnected system. The surprising finding we uncovered in our study was this: Business was prioritized across the board as the network connection best positioned to lead us to sustainability—more prominent in the minds of those interviewed than government, civil society organizations, consumers, or activists. It didn’t matter whether the person being interviewed was an NGO activist, investor, business leader, or regulator and it did not matter which country or continent was represented. Everyone is looking to you for leadership.
A lot is written in management, too, about the importance of networks. Human networks provide flexibility, strength, and speed also. If you have a strong network, and one of your connections becomes unavailable, you will still have multiple paths to your goal.
As CSR professionals, you may sometimes fail to appreciate that you are master network navigators. You are so good at building networks that you take it for granted, but this does not come easily to every business person. Your instincts and skills bring value and advantage to your company.
You cannot probably affect the structure of your company or divert resources to get your work done, but you can structure your networks and your work so that you can keep your important efforts moving. Human networks allow us to move in multiple directions at once, to distribute work, and to connect to more ideas and deeper learning.
Networks provide the lifeblood of our work, Whether you are working to improve education, respond to a disaster, address poverty, or manage and disclose progress on sustainability goals, networks are the conduits through which we receive the ingredients of our success—ideas and information, expertise, effort, and financial support.
The opportunity and the challenge is to prepare your network to be able to respond as the context changes. As you are navigating your company network, you will be navigating also the connections you are forging around the globe. None of this gets done by one person, one company, or one country. These issues require networks of people and expertise and consciousness—at the local and global levels.
The Center should be a prominent node in your networks. We hope that you think of us as a resource for you to strengthen both your skills and your networks. In the coming months and years, I hope you will connect with the Center—connect with the content that we produce, connect with each other through us, and connect with our partner organizations such as GRI, CDP, USAID, and the UN. Together we can make the most of this singular moment and to create a movement that employs the assets of business to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and the SDGs.