Viewpoint: Why Is Good Governance Important?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Last week I had the privilege of participating in “The Future of the Corporation: Business for Society Conference” held in Santiago. The conference was organized by the ESE Business School of Universidad de los Andes and the International Academy of Management. This conference brought together leaders from the Chilean business, investor and government sectors, together with civil society represented by NGOs and experts on the role of business society from around the world. I’ve been to a lot of conferences in my time, but I can honestly say this was one of the best I’ve ever attended. One of the reasons for this was the commitment of Professor Alfredo Enrione to position the conference as a starting point for ensuring that the Chilean business community contributes to a Chilean society that is sustainable over the long term.

All speakers were excellent but I was particularly captivated by the address “Moral Challenges to Business and Society,” given by Cardinal Peter K.A.Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. His talk built on ideas published in a 2012 guidebook called Vocation of the Business Leader (VBL) and the already often-cited 2015 encyclical on climate change Laudato si’, on Care for our Common Home by Pope Francis, with an emphasis on the role of business in society.

Since I am not a particularly religious person and strongly believe in the separation of Church and State, I wondered how well the Cardinal’s view would square with my own very secular one regarding the role of business – both companies and investors – in contributing to a sustainable society. While there were a few points that were specifically relevant for the Catholic segment of the audience, it was a speech that was both moving and compelling, and one that raised an issue I have been working on for some time—the role of the board of directors.

Cardinal Turkson discussed three objectives of business: (1) To produce GOOD GOODs, (2) To provide GOOD WORK, and (3) To achieve GOOD WEALTH. Each of these objectives has what he called two “practical principles.” As the Cardinal was explaining each of these, I was asking myself: “Just how practical are these principles given how grounded they are in the Catholic faith?” My conclusion is that they are all eminently practical and doable in the secular world. But they can only be put into practice with the strong support of a company’s board of directors. Let me explain.

Producing GOOD GOODS has the principle that businesscontributes to the common good by producing goods and services that are truly good and and that truly serve. While values are inevitably involved in making this choice—take gambling for example—the point is that the corporation makes choices about what it does and doesn’t do. Similarly, the principle of maintaining solidarity with the poor by being alert for opportunities to serve deprived and undeserved populations and people in need is not simply charity. Scholars like Professor Stuart Hart, another one of the excellent keynote speakers, have made a compelling case for the opportunity businesses have in serving the “Base of the Pyramid.”

Source: Forbes (link opens in a new window)

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