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A just and flourishing society requires deep collaboration across businesses, policy, and academia; we aren’t there yet

This is the main takeaway of Professor Maurizio Zollo, Scientific Director of the Leonardo Centre on Business for Society after a week of side events and conferences during NYC Climate Week and the 77th meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York City, 19th -23rd September.

During the week, the Leonardo Centre co-hosted two roundtables at Goals House with Accenture, Salesforce, and Google, attended by leaders from the private, public, and charity sectors.

Reflecting on the week, Professor Zollo commented on the separation of policy and business conversations:

“The Goals House facilitated fruitful cross-sectoral conversations, but this week showed me that we need much more of that. By not bringing these voices together we miss a critical point:

the only way that policy interventions can have an impact is through a better linkage between business, policy, and academia.

"If we want businesses’ behaviour to be influenced by policy, we first need to understand how policy influences corporate behaviour. The Leonardo Centre is fully committed to working systemically and building this bridge.”

The ‘Transforming Education through Public and Private Sector Collaboration’ roundtable discussed the global crisis in education and the job market brought about by the pandemic and explored how businesses can support employees to not only succeed in the workplace but engage as global citizens and changemakers.

Livio Scalvini, Executive Director of the Leonardo Centre highlighted the cost of not adequately preparing leaders with a sustainability mindset:

“we are living in disruptive times, and as we accelerate efforts to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, leaders need new leadership skills and knowledge to transform their business to become stakeholder-centred and sustainable. This means fostering long-term thinking, collaboration with the ecosystem, radical innovation and self-transcendence.”

Professor Maurizio Zollo identified the need to approach professional development in a more rigorous way: “often we simply measure satisfaction with the programme which doesn’t address the question of whether the programme is having any impact on behaviour. If we can demonstrate evidence, we can make a better case for investment in our leaders.”

In the ‘Design the Future’ roundtable, participants were asked to consider - if we had the chance to start again and redesign a world in which humans and nature thrive within planetary boundaries, what would we design differently? Sandrine Dixson-Decleve, co-author of Earth4All and co-president of the Club of Rome told us that the future is too late: we need to redesign our systems now. Written by an international group of leading scientists and economists, Earth4All uses computer modelling to explore policies to transform our economic system so that it achieves prosperity for all. And people want change. In fact, 74% of people living in G20 countries want more ‘wellbeing economies’ according to the 2021 Global Commons survey supported by Earth4All.

Professor Zollo explained that businesses are critical in any economic transformation:

Every fibre of the business needs to be transformed - purpose, leadership and culture, strategy, governance, incentives, and control systems.

"The fundamental problem is, however, that we don't know how to get there. We don't know which interventions are most effective in transforming businesses towards a new stakeholder logic of business.”

For Livio Scalvini, business-research partnerships are needed now more than ever: “The combined effect of the pandemic, the energy and food crisis, the Ukraine conflict and inflation has deeply impacted the wellbeing of our society and is deteriorating our natural environment."

Breakthrough or breakdown. This is what leaders are asked to face now: more than ever we need business and academia to work together.

At the Leonardo Centre, we collaborate with committed leaders to understand what the most effective change interventions are, and to accelerate their transformational journeys towards sustainable and inclusive logic of business.