Developing a Flourishing World for All — Healing the World

By Sandra Waddock, Professor at Boston College, Author

This article was originally published on Sandra Waddock’s blog “Healing the World”

In mid-June 2017 I attended a conference at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland that brought together several hundred people from a number of companies, who came in teams, as well as academics, NGOs, activists, and others interested in Discovering Flourishing Enterprise, as the conference title indicated. The conference was all about taking action, within companies in the case of the multiple company teams in attendance, and in different types of venues (like, for example, business schools) for the rest of us. We were organized into working group that used an appreciative inquiry design to help foster collective thinking and, ultimately, action on issues of common concern to team or working group members. Appreciative Inquiry (AI), developed by David Cooperrider and colleagues at Case Western, attempts to bring out the positive, the best, in people, organizations, and communities, that is, what brings life, health, and excellence to the system of interest.

Run out of the Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit headed by Chris Laszlo at Case Western, the conference used AI’s process of 4D’s, discovery, dream, design, and deliver (or, sometimes, destiny) to organize participant working groups around building commitment to self-designed initiatives that somehow foster flourishing within their scope of activity. Using an approach that resembles positive deviance, the AI process focused teams and working groups on dreaming a better future then designing initiatives that they could commit to actually working on when they returned home.

The conference was aimed at demonstrating the good that companies can do in the world, in keeping with the theme of “Business as an Agent of World Benefit.” It provided multiple examples of companies already doing work to help their employees flourish, including Greyston Bakery, whose employees are hired without vetting if they are willing to bake brownies and other goodies. This approach is what Jonathan Halperin, head of external affairs at Greyston, called an open hiring policy. This policy means that even individuals with troubled backgrounds can find productive employment. They’ll also know that at least some of the product they produce, specifically Greyston’s brownies, will make people happy — because for years they have been used in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

Other companies at the conference reporting on how they have been putting the premises of AI to use to make their own organizations flourish, including Fairmount Santrol, a company that produces sand-based products, Clarke, a company that works to control the spread of mosquitos, and IMC Pan Asian Alliance Group, among others.

Perhaps even more notable were 17 AIM2Flourish prizes awarded to business leaders, students, and professors in recognition of businesses or social enterprises that are working towards achieving one (or more) of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are called global goals and they aim at eliminating extreme poverty, providing education for all children, gender equity, and clean and safe water and sanitation for all, among other goals. Student teams all around the world discovered the prize-winning enterprises, wrote stories about them, and submitted them to a distinguished panel for judging. The 17 winners were selected from among 425 overall submissions in recognition of their contributions to building a better world through their business operations. One example of a winner is Conceptos Pláticos in Colombia, a company that takes waste plastic and converts it into blocks that look like Legos, which can then be used to build affordable, fire-, and earthquake-resistant homes. Details about the other 16 prices can be found here.

It is easy to get discouraged about the state of the world. Sometimes I certainly do. But one thing to be learned from this conference, and the one the Regenerative Future Summit that I attended in Boulder, CO, in May 2017 (see blogs here and here). Despite the ecological, societal, and organizational problems that too much of business practice generate, there are many businesses, often small and medium-sized enterprises, that are working hard to give dignity to their employees, meet real customer needs, innovate for the betterment of the planet, and provide goods and services that real serve the world. The key to a successful future is to find ways for all businesses to take the turn towards creating a flourishing world for all.

Originally published at Healing the World.