In this month’s member interview series, we feature Ross Piper, CEO of Christian Super and ex-Chief Field Impact Officer at World Vision Australia. Ross shares his experience with shared value, his background working in mining, investment banking and not-for-profits, and the role he plays at World Vision building market opportunities to support the organisation’s field programming through institutional markets, traditional donors, and innovative partnerships with the private sector.
What does shared value mean to you?
Recognising that all businesses and organisations create social value, whether they recognise it or not! This can be closely linked to an organisation’s purpose, and if well leveraged, can be a key point of competitive advantage that can amplify mission and purpose.
What lead you individually to the shared value idea? How did you come across it?
In terms of my career background I’ve had an interesting career trajectory. I started in mining, working in various parts of remote Australia in the area of Indigenous community engagement and enterprise development, negotiations, then moving on to World Vision and working in various parts of the former Yugoslavia after the Kosovo conflict, then pivoting back into the corporate sector in Australia with Macquarie Bank for a number of years, and then coming back to World Vision International, based in Cyprus in a regional leadership role across the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and then more recently back to Australia, again with World Vision. Throughout my career I’ve often found myself working at the interface between corporate, not-for-profit and government sectors. The significance in the overlap across those areas continues to expand – recognising that licence to operate is increasingly contingent on being able to understand and engage effectively with dimensions of social impact. This is sustainable business and development in action. There is a significant ongoing shift happening in all of those sectors, in particular with banking and finance, mining, and in the not-for-profit sector to recognise that we can do much more together than working in isolation. Shared value is a good framework to support this type of engagement.
What does shared value success look like at World Vision and where are you at on the journey?
For us as a very large international organisation with a very deep and broad reach across communities around the world, I think often people are quite surprised to learn that the organisation does much more than traditional child sponsorship, with a variety of other programs and activities around economic development and community empowerment. Helping communities advance through business and economic opportunities is a significant part of what we do in different economies and contexts all around the world – and so clearly for us engagement with the private sector is a fundamentally important part of that.
We have a number of areas where we have robust and successful programs bringing traditional development activities and interventions together with the private sector. We recognise that as a child focused organisation seeking to improve the wellbeing of children, building robust and growing economic businesses and with related market opportunities will be a key part of achieving this mission. Therefore, the private sector clearly has a key role to play.
From a maturity standpoint organisationally, this is always a journey and we are continuing to learn, but we are working to leverage our existing capabilities and relationships in communities, and we see significant opportunities already taking place and with projects already underway. We see this space expanding across all parts of our global work, but particularly in in the Asia Pacific region.
There are a number of public-private sector partnership opportunities that we are involved in, it is a journey but we are seeing good progress and we see huge opportunity ahead as well.
What is your role individually within World Vision to support the company along its shared value journey?
In my role as Chief Field Impact Officer, I’m responsible for oversight, direction and leadership of World Vision Australia’s field work on the ground. This includes work in around 50 countries, and also domestic work in Indigenous communities. I also lead the teams and functions that develop resources to support our work, working closely with a wide range of institutional donors and also developing innovative private sector partnerships. Our work covers the full spectrum of long term development programming through to emergency relief and support to communities in crisis.
There are a number of good examples where we are seeing shared value in our wok. For example, the Lumkani fire protection device that we presented at the 2017 Shared Value Forum has been very successful, and is currently being rolled out across many slum communities in South Africa and is now being piloted in Bangladesh and other countries. This project is a good example of an innovative public-private sector partnership supported by a sustainable business model, enabling growth and scalability. Another example is our work with enterprise development in Sri Lanka, providing close support, mentoring and loan capital to small and growing businesses. This includes a range of activities to strengthen market access, along with provision of loan capital through Visionfund International, which is World Vision’s microfinance organisation. Visionfund is one of the largest providers of microcredit in the world.
How has practicing shared value helped you individually in your role or career more generally?
I think historically there have been gaps between the not-for-profit sector and the corporate sector. A view that if you are in business, then social impact considerations take a back seat, and that working for the not-for-profit sector is just about social impact (without commercial considerations). This binary view has never been my perspective. Of course there are some differences in terms of goals and core organisational mission and purpose, however there are also significant commonalities in terms of capability requirements to deliver, and also a need to deeply understand the social dimensions of our work. For business, drivers such as licence to operate, managing and exceeding shareholder and employee expectations, facilitating increased market access and building sustainable and effective businesses will all be key considerations and also sources of potential competitive advantage. For an organisation like World Vision, our bottom line will always be impact and how we can maximise our ability to serve the needs of the most vulnerable, but we also face similar issues to any business including managing operational complexity and risk, increasing efficiency around our systems and processes, and generally seeking to run an organisation with excellence. The objectives of an organisation like World Vision, and the objectives of any business are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they can be highly complementary. This is what shared value means to me, and the key is to actively explore and leverage opportunities where the respective capabilities of each stakeholder can be maximised for sustainable positive social impact. Having had a career spanning mining, finance and NGOs, I see the collaboration space between all stakeholders continuing to expand, and this has to be a good thing for sustainable societal social and business benefit.
What do you think are some pertinent issues in Australia that could be solved through creating shared value?
I think first and foremost there is a recognition that the need to address social issues is enormous. Whilst under the UN’s Millennium Development Goals there was significant progress in identifying a large number of issues to be solved, including lifting people out of extreme poverty, and under the Sustainable Development Goals the task is still massive and it is not a task that can be achieved by one sector alone.
I think first and foremost there is a recogniton that the need to address issues of poverty and inequality remains enormous. Under the UN Millennium Development Goals there was significant progress in extreme poverty reduction. However, much work still remains, and the the Sustainable Development Goals clearly frame the task ahead. It is clear that these goals cannot be achieved by by one sector alone.
We see the issues that are effecting our own region. As countries continue to advance economically, there are still the chronic and extreme impacts of deep and systemic poverty in many of these places. Development actors clearly have a significant role to play, government has a role to play, but the real call out here is that the private sector can be a significant actor in that space, whilst still holding true to their mission and purpose as businesses. It only takes a change in point of reference by a few degrees to see that businesses can actually achieve their commercial purpose but also deliver a sustained and positive social impact. Part of it is a frame of reference question, part of it is clearly driven rightfully by the expectations of shareholders to companies that are successful and profitable, but equally is working through the lens of long term sustainability.
These challenges and issues continue for us, and from an ideological standpoint I celebrate the fact that we have NGOs, corporates, and government sitting at the same table and looking at how we leverage respective capabilities and strengths for improved social outcomes. This to me is one of the key imperatives of shared value.