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Responsible and Sustainable Business Leader

Article

Alfred Landecker Democracy Fellow Ireen Kars is a consultant at Russell Reynolds Associates, which helps companies identify, select, and grow sustainable leaders who will thrive and succeed over the long term.

The COVID-19 pandemic and global unrest have brought to light the vulnerabilities of our current social and economic systems and revealed to us that our old systems are simply not sustainable in the face of crisis. Around the world, this crisis has led to a decrease of democratic space, an increase of inequality, sent economies into freefall and unemployment is sky rocking. The COVID-19 pandemic has only served to sharpen the urgent need to address these challenges.

With her project, Ireen wants to build back better on our society and systems instead of building it back. Businesses have a key role to play because they cannot succeed in societies that fail because of widening inequalities, social degradation, and destabilization. More and more companies understand that things need to change, and they want to be part of it. Some companies are broadly moving in the right direction but not at the scale and speed needed. 

Ireen wants to accelerate the transition towards an inclusive, resilient, and sustainable economy, where businesses move beyond pure financial performance and ‘avoid doing harm’ mentality to real measurable positive impact on society.

Ireen wants to accelerate the transition towards an inclusive, resilient, and sustainable economy, where businesses move beyond pure financial performance and ‘avoid doing harm’ mentality to real measurable positive impact on society.

Goal/ Objective

To objective of Ireen’s project is to build a network of responsible and sustainable business leaders who are actively changing behavior and systems within their companies, improving sustainable practices, and impact on people, workers and communities. Her aim is to raise awareness and create an action-oriented platform, providing concrete guidance on how to change behavior and internal systems.

Sustainable leadership

Ireen considers a sustainable leader to be someone with a sustainable mindset and who takes all her/his decisions from there.

Sustainable leadership is an extremely broad term that is used many times in different ways. Ireen considers a sustainable leader to be someone with a sustainable mindset and who takes all her/his decisions from there. Their sustainable mindset is a purpose-driven belief that business is not a commercial activity, separated from the broader societal and environmental context in which it operates and that to be successful in the long term, leaders must innovate and manage across societal, environmental, and commercial outcomes. Leaders with a sustainable mindset align all aspects of running their organization with these core values and beliefs.

With this project Ireen is specifically focusing on the Social transformation that is needed, because this forms the basis on which the other transformations (environmental and economic) can be built. 

Social transformation

By social transformation Ireen means achieving universal human development by respecting human rights, promoting equality, and empowering people to pursue opportunities and choices they value. 

Social transformation means achieving universal human development by respecting human rights, promoting equality, and empowering people to pursue opportunities and choices they value. 

The UN has set up a robust framework to address many of these inequalities, called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). Most of the companies refer to the SDG’s in their long-term vision, or 2030 planning. In the run-up to the 2030 Agenda of the UN, in which the SDGs should be achieved, 92% of CEO’s believe integration of sustainability will be important to further success of their business. However, only 21% of the CEO’s actually feel that business is currently playing a critical role in achieving the SDG’s.  In total the UN identified 17 Sustainable Development Goals. To narrow the scope and based on input from business leaders, Ireen will focus specifically on number 3 (Good Health and Well-Being and 5 (Gender Equality).

The most senior leaders of the organization are ultimately responsible for the success of failure of the organization. They alone are uniquely positioned to drive the needed transformation by integrating sustainability into business strategy and operations. Therefore, Ireen is working with 15-20 business leaders who will start in a Sustainable Leadership program where we have several meetings over six months to conduct the dialogue, learn from each other and come to concrete actions, facilitated by various experts. The meetings will be focused on Good Health and Well-Being, Gender Equality and Improving Sustainable Leadership. The goal is that this group of business leaders will create a spin-off to the broader market and can help other business leaders with the Social Transformation of their business.