October 19, 2019

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When Power Meets Purpose: 6 Ways Corporations and Activists Can Unite

Gently hold all sides accountable to find the truth and their deeper purposes. Then, you can deal systemically with the problem.

Bill_shireman

By Bill Shireman, President & CEO, Future 500

Over and over, I am bewildered by the anger and vitriol that often divides groups that love to hate and demonize each other – Republicans and Democrats, Rush Limbaugh conservatives and Michael Moore progressives, and above all, the world’s biggest corporations and its most passionate activist groups.

Often, that anger ends up being directed toward my colleagues and me at Future 500. We resolve conflicts between stakeholders from across corporate, activist, left and right communities. Some fear we must secretly be in the devil’s camp as well.

My first instinct is sometimes to throw up my hands, and give up. These people are fanatics, I think and trying to talk sense to them can drive me crazy. But better sense almost always prevails because no cause is more important than bridging the bitter conflicts that divide our nation and world. This is what companies, non-profit groups, and government agencies ask us to do: forge impossible alliances.

Impossible Alliances…

What works is humanizing both sides. Break the process of demonization, where both sides in a conflict look at one another as fiends that need to be eradicated. Undermine the bigotry of those who are afraid. Find the source of their fear, the often-rational cause that lies beneath the rhetoric, the self-interests that often masquerade as ideological beliefs. 

Gently hold all sides accountable to find the truth and their deeper purposes. Then, you can deal systemically with the problem. 

It isn’t easy. 

It requires patience, and because I’ve been a crusader for causes I believe in all my life, I have very activismlittle patience. I want wrongs righted, right now. So I understand the emotions that both conservative and liberal activists feel so intensely. But I find that if I try to rush a solution to a complex conflict, I actually set back the process. 

So because I am impatient, I act as though I am patient. Only my family, friends, and close colleagues know how much I burn for solutions to the conflicts we enter. 

The stakeholders we engage come from many sides of multiple issues. I have learned to understand and respect them all. People worried about big government versus big corporations, moral decline versus moral fundamentalism, food security versus obesity, financial collapse versus ecological collapse, national security versus personal freedom. We work with leaders from all spheres – business, activist, political, professional, religious and more. 

…and Odd Bedfellows

Odd bedfellows can make for extraordinary alliances.  We unite the power and purposes of odd bedfellows like:

  • The Climate Debate: The political and financial power of free market conservative Charles Koch, with the technology optimism and social mission of Bill Gates. Together, Koch and Gates fund research that is helping bring together true believers on both sides of the climate debate.
  • Energy Policy: The Republican credentials of former Secretary of State George Shultz with the Democratic influence of top Clinton and Gore officials. Together, they are bringing together the right and left to support smart energy and tax policy. 
  • Recycling Law: The environmental dedication of consumer crusader Ralph Nader, with the deforestationfiscal conservatism of brewing magnate Bill Coors and the religious conservatism of retail entrepreneur Charles Collings. Together, these three won the nation’s most effective and least expensive major recycling law.
  • Deforestation: The global market power of the Mitsubishi companies with the ecological aspirations of Rainforest Action Network (RAN). Together, their bold partnership saved forests from Asia to the Americas, and took “the biggest step forward in North American forest protection in 17 years,” according to the now head of the Sierra Club.
  • Genocide & Social Justice: The global infrastructure of The Coca-Cola Company with the human rights dedication of anti-genocide activists.  Together, they collaborated to use the company’s business and buying power to help fight repression, oppose genocide, and build civil society in Sudan.
  • Environmental Costs of Business: The environmental influence of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. with the business savvy of Nestle Waters North America Chairman Kim Jeffery. Together, they teamed to advocate what few business leaders would: to internalize the environmental costs of the food, beverage, and consumer products sector.

The key to these partnerships is the alliance of power with purpose: The power of business and political leaders, with the purpose championed by social activists on both the right and left.  Together, these comprise the how and the why of engaged citizenship. They help dedicated stakeholders step beyond the frustration that often leads to rage and fanaticism. They enable them to advance their worthy ends, but responsibly, disciplined by an understanding of the costs that need to be considered when seeking social change.

Stakeholders – even those who hate and fear one another – can find common ground.  In future posts I will explain how this is possible and being done every day.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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