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Global Forum Attendees Design 'Flourishing' Solutions to Real-World Challenges

One of the Design Studio groups reporting on their action plan after 2 days of work at the Global Forum conference | Image credit: Case Western Reserve University

On Thursday, the first full day of Flourish & Prosper: The Third Global Forum for Business as an Agent of World Benefit in Cleveland, Ohio, the morning’s plenaries and CEO panels explored how business can move beyond how social and environmental responsibility are thought of today, to a new mindset of "full-spectrum flourishing" where “companies prosper, people excel, and nature thrives.

By the afternoon, it was time to get to work. “Speakers give you seeds of ideas and food for inspiration. Now it’s time to get us going in a different direction,” said David Cooperrider, author and professor at the Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University.

He invited conference attendees to split into eight smaller “design studios,” where each group used Weatherhead’s Appreciative Inquiry (AI) summit method and facilitation to design, and work on, a specific, real-world innovation challenge.

A similar process at past Global Forums has resulted in breakthrough developments. At the 2006 event, participants designed the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) with the UN Global Compact Office. PRME is a global network and framework for academic institutions to advance corporate sustainability and social responsibility. Launched in 2007 by Ban Ki-Moon, PRME signatories today include 500 leading business schools and academic institutions from more than 80 countries worldwide.

In each of the studios, attendees created an action plan for moving forward on a project or challenge, based on the dozens of ideas and work of everyone in the room. Attendees worked with facilitators to go from the brainstorming stage of collecting ideas (ideation), narrowing these ideas down into promising concepts, generating workable prototypes for discussion, and then into the final design phase with an action plan. After barely eight hours of work total, the teams presented draft — but tangible — vision statements, timelines and next steps on the main stage late Friday morning.

The studios worked on:

  • Cities as centers of full-spectrum flourishing
  • Regenerative agriculture
  • Transitioning to 100 percent clean energy
  • “Consciousness of connectedness” in the workplace
  • A “U.S. Grand Strategy” based on sustainability
  • New metrics for sustainability-as-flourishing,
  • Transforming the linear economy into a circular one, and
  • Showcasing businesses working for good, with Nobel Prize-like awards and recognition

In the renewable energy group’s report, spokesperson Matt Renner, executive director of the World Business Academy, shared the group’s plan to accelerate a pathway to a 100 percent renewable energy economy. The group proposed using existing technology based on micro-grid platforms, funded by a global energy bank.

The U.S. Grand Strategy project has been in motion for several years starting with a 2003 whitepaper commissioned by the Pentagon and authored by Patrick Doherty. The team is now housed at the newly launched Strategic Innovation Lab at Case Western with co-directors Mark “Puck” Mykleby and Doherty. Their group shared ideas for engaging businesses, regions and citizens across the country to work on a U.S. grand strategy based on sustainability.

The final studio, “Showcasing Business as an Agent of World Benefit” opened with the inquiry to find ways to change the stories we hear about business and the world. As a whole, we mainly have negative ones that dominate our media and conversations. Instead, business can help elevate the larger, truly positive stories that are out there, but unheard, of companies doing well by being good for their customers, society, employees, and the environment. By sharing and scaling up these stories, “they can become known and become living reality in business and society,” said Cooperrider.

To this point, Harry Halloran, Chairman and CEO, American Refining Group and ARG Resources said, “People would be astonished to find out all the good things already happening in business.” (Halloran Philanthropies supports the Fowler Center for Sustainable Value at Case Western.)

Work on this initiative is already underway at Case Western and other institutions. Business students are conducting thousands of business leader interviews about innovations, breakthroughs, and excellence, using the Appreciative Inquiry method.

In the group’s report to the conference, they shared ideas for an online platform to house the stories, an app to share them, a MOOC, exhibitions, and global business awards.

While the conference concluded on Friday, the design studio work and all the connections made at the conference will continue, to create a flourishing world.

More about “full-spectrum flourishing” can be found in the new book, Flourishing Enterprise: The New Spirit of Business by Chris Laszlo, Judy Sorum Brown, John R. Ehrenfeld and others.


Claire used to do corporate communications for the world's largest insurance company. Then she saw wild orcas off the coast of British Columbia and quit her job to go sea kayaking. Ever since, she's been freelance writing for companies such… [Read more about Claire Sommer]


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