Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to interview Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever and now Co-founder & Chair of IMAGINE, at our FutureX Social.
Paul spoke frankly about the socio-economic repercussions from COVID-19, and its impact on inequality across the world, particularly among ethnic minority communities, women and girls. The notion that the pandemic is a ‘great equaliser’ might make for a neat soundbite, but it’s simply not the case.
The interview reaffirmed my belief that if we’re to ‘build back better’ or work towards a fairer, greener and more equitable society post-COVID, it’s time we recognise the crucial role that business must play. It’s not enough for companies to wait for government legislation that forces change. We have the capacity to lead that change ourselves today.
Business and society, like humans and nature, are not separate from each other, they are one and the same – interlinked and interdependent. The decisions we take in our businesses have a direct impact on the wellbeing of our people and planet. We must now challenge all our assumptions and ask – is what we did yesterday fit for today?
Our recovery from COVID-19 is going to rely in part on entrepreneurs – but my fear is that if we don’t learn the lessons from the past, then we’ll miss this opportunity to create a more diverse, inclusive and progessive attitude to business. How many people today want to start a business but feel it will never be in their grasp? How many people are told their business idea is ‘not going to work’? Far too many in my experience.
It’s not for me to tell you that your business won’t work. After spending a number of years in Silicon Valley, I’ve long since discovered that no one is qualified to tell you that. Ideas are cheap, but having the determination and vision to bring something to life is what really counts.
Post-pandemic, we need to get more comfortable with risk. It’s only when we accept what we don’t know, that we’re ready to learn and open our minds to new possibilities. We need to recognise both our strengths and our shortcomings, and build towards the goal of a society where everyone benefits from innovation and entrepreneurship.
I believe that for this to happen, every company should have a purpose greater than profit. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t create a profitable business. However, excess capital should not be the goal, but the byproduct of achieving your purpose. When financial success is interlinked to human and planetary success and wellbeing, we’re on to something really exciting.
Now is the opportunity to reflect and adapt for a new world, in the knowledge that great innovation can and does come from anywhere, when people from different backgrounds are given equal opportunities.
When we have the collective will there is nothing that can’t be achieved. When we believe that we can, then we will. Now is the time to be bold, ambitious and unapologetically purpose-driven – and together we can make business one of the greatest forces for good on earth.
— Bruce Walker, CEO and Co-founder, FutureX