More About Corporations as Engaged Citizens: A Reflection from Italy
I write this entry while living and working from Cefalù, Sicily, a town not only steeped in centuries-old tradition, but part of one of the countries currently struggling to survive as a member of the European Union.
Evidenced by the hand waves and chatter in the streets, people in Cefalù know each other and have a communal identity and spirit. Because of an old-world way of working, supermarkets sell limited amounts of vegetables and fish, allowing the truck farmers to sell their wares on the street and fisherman to sell their catch off the boat or in small fish markets. Here, the "new" and the "old" forms of business work together so all have jobs in a region where work and opportunities to earn a wage are limited. Inherent in this practice is a sense of commitment to the larger community; an understanding of social and economic systems that strives to ensure that all have a livelihood and that the town can prosper as a whole. While not to romanticize small town living or ignore the issues with Italy’s continued dependence on small, family-owned businesses, there is an insight into business' role as a community citizen that is of value for the wider, modern world steeped in a notion of competitive advantage where often a business strives to be the "winner that takes all" while not always being concerned about the sustaining of the community in which it resides.
My last post, "Corporation as Community Citizen," outlined how corporations are part of a larger system, including local and global communities, and need to act as concerned, responsible, civic members. This post furthers that conversation by focusing on an important shift in organizational image and business mindset that can aid this evolution to continue.
If new mental models give rise to new behaviors and practices, what are the characteristics of the organizational image that can enable corporations to transition into being responsible civic members? How can they expand their organizational purpose and their business principles to include being a global citizen concerned about enhancing the world while reaching their organizational goals?
To begin, due to the distributed nature of corporate organizations and the world-wide supply chains they draw upon, being a community citizen means corporations envisioning themselves as valued members of a complex interdependent global society not just a global marketplace focused on generating wealth.
Next, to be active citizens in this global society, corporations need to "be in the world" in a new way by, for example, making sense of who they are and what is required of them from a different vantage point. Being a global citizen means accepting that they cannot be aloof from the community or only give back to society in a philanthropic manner. They will need to embrace themselves as actual contributing members of a network of global communities and as having intrinsic roles and responsibilities just like other citizens. To accomplish this, the shift will entail:
- Identifying with, taking an interest in, and becoming a visible civic member of the various local and national communities in which they function;
- Becoming committed, as sincere community members, to the flourishing of the communities at all levels and the prospering of their economies;
- Being authentically concerned about the overall welfare and livelihood of the people in those communities not just the workforce with whom they are engaged; and
- Ensuring that the organization not only enhances the quality of life, but also safeguards the natural environment for current and future generations.
Finally, as corporations take on this image, they will need to develop organizational cultures and integrity hallmarked by:
- Having a cosmopolitanism identity, which includes a shift of perception from being a "national" entity to being a "citizen of the world" that is localized in a particular home country, but is to benefit the global networks in which they operate.
- Developing ethical decision making practices rooted in communitarianism, which involves an integrating of both self-interest and equity for all stakeholders into the fabric of their organizational vision and mission.
- Working for a global society that is civil, equitable and just, which involves striving for a just, worldwide, social order rooted in a respect for human dignity, a sense of caring for all people, a desire for their flourishing, and an equitable distribution of resources.
- Fostering sustainable operations and business practices across the entire organization, including the workforce, supply chain, environment, and future generations.
- Providing meaningful work, or work that not only involves accomplishing the organization’s goals through high performance, but also the obtaining of personal fulfillment, the enhancing of the quality of work and employee’s well-being, and the enabling of working with passion at a job that enables a quality and sustainable livelihood.
While this shift in organizational image is a challenge because of its idealistic and altruistic nature, [certified] benefit corporations, rooted in sensitivities and practical wisdom similar to old-world business practices, are beginning to aid corporations evolve in nature, purpose, and commitment to benefiting the greater common good. They are a bridge to a future form of business that is more socially responsive, sustainable, and just.