How to B good

Business leaders such are spearheading a new movement of forward-thinking entrepreneurialism to tackle global challenges such as climate change and extreme poverty

Can capitalism be caring? A new generation of business leaders believes the concept is not an oxymoron, and is hoping to use their entrepreneurship skills to tackle world challenges such as economic inequality and climate change. One powerful exponent of this new global movement is the B Team, with a motto an incongruent triad of “People, Planet, Profit”.

The not-for-profit initiative states its mission is to “catalyse a better way of doing business for the well-being of the people and the planet”. Sounds vaguely utopian until one realises that the B Team founders and co-chairs are not dreamers but doers, two of the finest examples of entrepreneurial spirits of the day: British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, and his German counterpart Jochen Zeitz, a champion of sustainability and Director of Kering, a company that owns some of the world’s most powerful retail brands: Gucci, Stella McCartney, Balenciaga and Puma to name a few.

Positive market incentives operating in the public interest are too few and far between, and are also up against a seemingly never-ending expansion of perverse incentives 

Mo Ibrahim

Branson and Zeitz have a dream team of equally impressive luminaries from the world of business, the media or politics such as Arianna Huffington, the founder of The Huffington Post, Unilever CEO Paul Polman, Mo Ibrahim, the mobile communications maverick, and Professor Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi social entrepreneur who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for pioneering microfinance.

With the support of all this talent and experience, the B Team hopes to address three key challenges it has identified. First, the “future of leadership”, which aims at ensuring that leadership is inclusive, positive and creative, hoping to generate long-term value for society, the economy and the environment. Secondly, the “future bottom line” will try to shift the current focus on financial “short- termism” towards the long term and expand corporate accountability beyond financial gains. Finally, the third challenge, the “future of incentives”, will develop new corporate and employee-incentive structures to shift market and business behaviour towards incentives that maximise social, environmental and economic benefit.

“Positive market incentives operating in the public interest are too few and far between, and are also up against a seemingly never-ending expansion of perverse incentives and lobbying,” said Mo Ibrahim. “There are models that can help change this, and we will work to create new incentives in dialogue with businesses, the social sector and governments.”

Global Handwashing Day
Frank Braeken, Executive Vice President of Africa for Unilever,helps to promote hygiene during Global Handwashing Day

Unilever, headed by Paul Polman, is one of the multinational corporations included in the B Team’s member circle and one example of what a responsible, and profitable, large business could look like in the future, with the right steering. As part of its Sustainable Living Plan, which aims “to make sustainable living commonplace”, the Anglo-Dutch giant of consumer goods has taken several actions to achieve its vision: doubling the size of the business, while reducing its environmental footprint and increasing its positive social impact.

Key achievements highlighted by the company include: the use of 48 per cent of agricultural raw materials from sustainable sources, up from 14 per cent in 2010; training more than 570,000 smallholder farmers; increasing the number of Shakti women micro-entrepreneurs in India who were recruited, trained and employed to 65,000; and the implementation of Lifebuoy, a hygiene programme that helped 183 million people improve their hand- washing habits.

With good ideas, compassion and a drive to succeed, for money or just for a smile, the movement is pushing forward its mission to make capitalism the saviour of the world’s many problems and will announce a set of initiatives in 2015. These include work on scaling new metrics and helping to create an eco-system that supports ‘Plan B’ companies and entrepreneurs.