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Business – a force for good in unsettled times

March 15, 2024  By John Blyth

INSEAD, a world renowned international business school, has identified four major commercial and society issues that it predicts will affect businesses in the near future.

While many in INSEAD’s academic community say climate change is the biggest threat to business in 2024, INSEAD also firmly believes that this is an area where businesses can be a force for good.

Climate change

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF’s) Global Risks Report 24 based on a survey of 1500 global leaders gave a similar perspective. Two-thirds of respondents rank environmental risks as “most likely to present a material crisis on a global scale” in 2024.

At the WEG annual general meeting in Davos, the patron of INSEAD’s Hoffmann Institute, Andre Hoffman, spoke about the need for long-term thinking in managing the environmental impacts of organizations.

Hoffmann said. “It’s the question of a functional economy… We need to make sure we understand the consequences and dependencies we have on the three main capitals: the social, the human and the natural. The idea of a business that is completely independent of nature [doesn’t] go very far.”

Geopolitical crises

The threat of geopolitical crisis looms large. Conflicts in Ukraine, the Middle East, and Sudan are obvious contributing factors, but other variables are at play. This year, 64 countries have elections, entitling about half of the world’s population to vote. Outcomes may intensify geopolitical tensions and lead to more conflict.

Social instability

Social instability can be the spark for, and a consequence of, geopolitical crises. It is also an area where businesses can have a positive impact.

The surge in AI-generated misinformation and disinformation is one of the catalysts for increased societal and political division. Furthermore, civil society is becoming less trusting towards leaders and institutions. The ingredients for polarisation and unrest are clearly present.

Income and wealth inequality

INSEAD sees income and wealth inequality as both a risk to business and an area where business can make a positive impact. The World Bank’s Gini Index indicates that income inequality has worsened following the Coronavirus pandemic. According to the World Bank, poorer countries took a bigger economic hit than richer countries in 2020. And generally, poorer households lost jobs and income at slightly higher rates than more affluent households, contributing to greater worldwide poverty and inequality.

These global trends suggest a challenging time ahead. However, with its critical role in society, business (a more competent and ethical institution than governments, NGOs, and the media, according to the 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer) has power. With this power comes responsibility. The responsibility to function as a force for good. In fact in the Edelman Trust Barometer, 62 per cent of respondents expect CEOs to manage changes occurring in society, as well as in their organization.

So, we are in a testing period no doubt. But not without agency. Business leaders, in print and elsewhere can make a difference, levering and justifying the trust that the general public has in their competence and ethics. By promoting responsible choices, by implementing sustainable practices and sourcing, by taking part in community initiatives and sponsorships, and by supporting charities and just causes. And also, very simply, just by continuing to set an example in terms of integrity and passion, your business sits on the right side of the line, a force for good.

John Blyth is marketing and communications manager, Graphic Communications Group, Ricoh Europe

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