I was an attendee at the very first edition of DLDwomen in June 2010. Although this is 3 years ago I still remember one specific moment very clearly. I was sitting in a session and Gabi Zedlmayer came on stage. She spoke as Vice President of Sustainability and Social Innovation of HP, and was presenting the company’s work around the world; how they were using their technology to solve issues of health and education, especially in Africa.
Her passion and ambition for her work were contagious. To me her talk alone justified the DLDwomen theme “The Female Decade”. On a personal note, this was really an eye-opening moment for me. Gabi’s work was the proof that businesses can do good AND do well, that profit and social impact are not incompatible. On the contrary, from that day I was convinced that the world would not be changed by politics, or charity, but by business, sustainable business.
A year later I decided to quit my job, to pursue an MBA at IE Business School, focusing on the business aspect of sustainability. During the MBA I was elected President of the 2012 Social Responsibility Forum: a two-day conference in Madrid that brings together almost 300 people from different aspects of CSR, social business and impact investing. Witnessing representatives of big corporations such as Nestle, HP or Danone admitting the strategic importance of social responsibility, and representatives of a new generation of entrepreneurs, who create companies that have inclusive models in their DNA, confirmed my belief that something big was happening.
This trend is slowly changing the way business is done in Europe and the US. However this is nothing compared to the impact it is has and could have in countries like India and Brazil. Studying the Brazilian market for a few months now I can confidently say that some big players are starting to understand, that inclusive business models could raise a significant portion of poor classes into a weak but emerging middle class - a class which is driving consumption and hopefully will increase living standards permanently. Companies like Coca-Cola are investing in education, cosmetic retailers are creating sachet packaging to sell in the favelas. Brands are beginning to understand that they have a responsibility AND a business interest in thinking sustainably.
Moreover, Brazil is receiving an increasing amount of international attention with international events coming up like the World Cup 2014 and the Olympics 2016; but also for Brazil’s strategic importance due to natural resources like its rain forest and oil reserves. The world is also looking at Brazil to see if it will maintain the growth rates it has projected. This year was a disappointment on that front. The big question yet to be answered is, whether Brazil manages to take a turn to a socially and environmentally responsible economy – fighting against inequalities, reducing pollution, deforestation and waste of resources - or if it will take a so called “Chinese” approach of growth with higher social costs.
It’s a huge challenge we are talking about. Showcasing success stories and examples of companies who address this challenge is a way of contributing to a positive movement. One story I heard 3 years ago changed the course of my professional life, and now I’m telling my story hoping it will convince somebody else of the importance to grow sustainably and with social responsibility in mind, as a factor of economic growth.