The meeting of the UN Global Compact’s Leadership Summit in September showcased women’s leadership, bringing sustainability values into business schools and promoting human empowerment.
By Hazel Henderson
Now that military force is proving ever less effective in our new century of asymmetric conflicts, cyber war and social media, once again, the United Nations takes center stage: the General Assembly is the forum for the new opening of negotiations between the USA and Iran. The Security Council will oversee their new resolution to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.
The UN’s Accomplishments
Many forget that the UN was founded in San Francisco in 1945 and that Eleanor Roosevelt led in the creation of its Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UN’s many special agencies address the rights of children (UNICEF), workers (ILO), refugees (UNHCR), women (UN Women), health (WHO), education (UNESCO), cities (UN-Habitat), climate (WMO), food security (WFP), population (UNFPA), the environment (UNEP), telecommunications (ITU), human development (UNDP) and the Universal Postal Union (UPU).
The World Bank, the WTO and the IMF, also UN agencies, often elude their responsibilities to the UN’s General Assembly. The UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted in 2000 have achieved much progress in targeting poverty, the empowerment of women and widening education and human development.
All this has been achieved with an administrative budget roughly equivalent to New York City’s Fire Department. In spite of constant harassment and disinformation by a vocal minority opposition in the USA, elsewhere the UN remains popular with the approval of large majorities in most polls.
The UN Global Compact Leadership Summit
Fast forward to 2013. The MDGs have been updated to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the theme of the UN Global Compact’s Leadership Summit I attended in New York City, September 19-20. This convened 1200 CEOs of its 6000 major global corporate signatories of the Compact’s 10 Principles of Global Citizenship, together with leaders of labor unions, the ILO, as well as civic groups, pension funds and investors, including Ethical Markets, associated with the UN Principles of Responsible Investing.
The conference opened with a spell-binding speech by Tererai Trent, PhD, from Zimbabwe. She recounted her dream as a child of going to school and changing her life and how her encounter with Oprah Winfrey led to the school she helped build in her native land.
Women’s Leadership to the Fore
Ban Ki-moon, the UN’s visionary Secretary-General in his opening address found Tererai Trent a hard act to follow! I was deeply honored to shake her hand. Other visionary women, including Jacqueline Novogratz of Acumen, Erika Karp of Cornerstone Capital and Huguette Labelle of Transparency International, spoke at the Plenary.
These are the new wave, following pioneers of socially responsible business and investing: Amy Domini, Barbara Krumsiek, Alice Tepper Marlin, Geeta Aiyer, Susan Davis and the late Joan Bavaria. In 2000 I personally introduced Barbara Krumsiek to the UN Global Compact – an important relationship still bearing fruit, including developing the Women’s Principles. Women are now seizing leadership, and the smartest men in the room are willing followers like Unilever's CEO Paul Polman, who emphasized listening!
Making Human Empowerment the Theme
This theme of human empowerment drove the conference with a session on liberating the creativity of all employees and that of students, children and today’s embattled youth who are inheriting the future.
The Summit was ignored by mainstream media except British-based The Guardian. I was one of many alternative internet-based media covering the conference’s many parallel sessions addressing the overarching issues of climate change and its threats to opportunities for accelerating the transition to low-carbon, cleaner, healthier, more inclusive green economies.
At the UN Rio+20 Summit, July 2012 in Brazil, 191 member countries pledged to this green transition, to eliminate their perverse subsidies to fossil fuels, correct accounting and GDP indicators to better measure health, education, poverty gaps and the environment. They pledged to steer toward these 21st century green technologies using the daily free photons from our Sun to power our cities, transportation, communications and industries, as we track in our Green Transition Scoreboard®.
A new priority of the UN Global Compact and the UN Principles of Responsible Investing is modernizing business school curricula and education. This means also adopting the new inclusive metrics beyond GDP and obsolete economics to steer humanity towards a more equitable healthier future, as in our Principles of Ethical Biomimicry Finance™.
The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are outlined in the Report on the High-level Meeting on Wellbeing and Happiness, following the UN conference led by Bhutan’s prime minister April 2012 and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and in the World Happiness Report 2013. Economic growth has proved too polluting and inequitable, and is no longer seen as the appropriate means to achieve human development or happiness, the goal set down for the first time in human history in the United States Declaration of Independence.
We humans still have far to travel and the UN is still a work in progress – but our goals are clearer and our vision still bright: another world is possible and achievable!