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Shifting roles: How shared value can deliver social capital and prosperity.

November 24, 2011

Fifty years ago, succesful corporations were a source of pride for local communities.  The workplace was an essential aspect of social life.  By meeting the needs of employees and society, companies fostered trust, loyalty and patronage.  Prosperity was directly tied to the health of employees and the wellbeing of communities in which businesses operated.  Fast-forward to today and role of business has changed dramatically.

Let’s examine how these changes have occured, their implications, and why shared value practices can realign social prosperity with financial gain.


  • Companies take on broad range of roles in meeting the needs of workers, community, and supporting businesses. They are a sense of pride for communities.
  • Government Plays a lead role in regulation, and provision of universal health care, education, and social support.


  • Companies focus on selling ever more, face growing competition, short term performance pressure from shareholders; managers resort to waves of restructuring, personnel cuts, and relocation to low cost regions, while leveraging balance sheets to return capital to investors. Communities see little benefit in profits.
  • Government encourages self-regulation by industry, and progressively transfers responsibility for the success and growth of health and higher education sectors.
  • Community organizations, funded by community and government, assume greater responsibility for functions such as social welfare, training, and health.


  • Companies are under fire for gaining soaring profits at the expense of workers, environment and community. Triple bottom line and corporate social responsibility concepts arise as a result.  An even greater loss of public trust following the Enron scandal leading to a fourth bottom line: governance.
  • Government adopts business models, resulting in downsizing and restructuring as in business sector. Bureaucrats become lobbyists with influence. Minimum intervention and regulation comes to head with the global financial crisis.
  • NGOs depend on government and community handouts to provide important services. Leads to combative relationships with government; services suffer. NGOs struggle to restructure and realign business for sustainability.

The Result:

In the wake of the global financial crisis, the legitimacy of business has fallen to a level not seen in recent history; capitalism is increasingly cast as the enemy of social and environmental prosperity. Despite advanced technology and widespread education, we live in a time of more uncertainty and, often, less dissatisfaction that ever. We need a new approach and practice, that delivers returns to all sectors of society, growing the economy while solving social problems and balancing governments budgets.

A Shared Value Alternative:

The concept of shared value presents an opportunity to transform the way in which corporations interact with society.  The framework understands that the roles of government, business and community have changed significant over the past 50 years.  Shared value seeks to once again redefine these interactions.  By reframing corporations as engaged businesses, rather than simply charitable givers, we unlock arguably the most powerful force for addressing many of the pressing issues facing our society and are granted a chance to legitimise business once again.