EPISODE 72: Forward-leaning business can weather storms

During the pandemic, unusual partnerships appeared among businesses, notes the head of the UN Global Compact: «In times of crisis, you are really able to test your principles», Sanda Ojiambo says.

«On a very practical level, when the pandemic hit, the United Nations Global Compact expected a shrink in activity. But membership has grown at the highest rate during the pandemic period, and some local networks, including the one here in Norway, has seen unprecedented growth», Sanda Ojiambo says.

She is the head of the UN Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability network. With more than 15 000 members, the network guides many of the world’s most ambitious enterprises, across all key sectors, aiming to transform the world economy and to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Testing your principles in times of crisis

Amid crises, the Global Compact applies a gold standard for business to contribute by themselves, as well as forging new partnerships to solve common, global challenges.

The pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the climate crisis are just some of these challenges.

«I think that now, more than ever, businesses are seeing that our principles and a lot of the work we do really helps provide guardrails in times of crisis. What do businesses need to have as a strong foundation to build their resiliency through crisis? As we’ve always said, the Ten Principles are really a foundation for strong, resilient and sustainable business. So businesses that are forward-looking and forward-leaning in issues such as human rights, labour, the environment and climate and anti-corruption, are certainly able to weather a lot of the economic, political and other storms. In times of crisis, you are really able to test your principles», she says.

Being prepared certainly helps, but weathering storms and supply chain shocks amid the current crises are nothing compared to the effort required of forward-leaning companies in adapting to the climate crisis: this entails the urgent need to speed up the transition to green, responsible business models that can handle looming regulatory pressures.

«A remarkable set of years»

Hopefully, many companies may have learned a lot during a tumultuous period.

«It’s been a remarkable set of years. We’ve seen partnerships unusal. We’ve seen business competitors come together to address pressing issues. I think we saw that in the pandemic: We saw businesses quickly repurpose supply chains and distribution lines to respond,» Ojiambo says.

«I recall a lot of companies that previously produced juice, ice-cream, a lot of consumables and fast-moving consuming goods, were very quickly able to shift their production lines to make hand sanitizer, and things that were relevant to addressing the pandemic. Businesses that did clothing shifted their production lines towards developing PPEs, the protective gear that was used by many health workers.»

Now it remains to be seen if companies can use this thrust to adapt to the challenges ahead.

«What I hear from business leaders is that people are no longer asking what business should be doing. There is a growing recognition that respect for rights, attention to one’s environmental footprint, and doing good business and good governance is really important for business now,» Ojiambo says.

Listen to the episode to hear the whole conversation on transformative business, private sector commitment to sustainability in the global south and Ojiambo’s guiding star in Kenyan telecoms company Safaricom:




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