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What 2020 Reminded Us – Shared Value Leaders

February 8, 2021

Often it’s useful to look back to look ahead; leveraging the lessons learned as a blueprint for how to achieve the future we want.

And 2020 was just as much a year of important reminders as it was new insight – encouraging us to not only embrace change and innovation, but to not lose sight of the fundamental principles of business; which exists to serve communities.

We asked seven shared value leaders what 2020 taught or reminded them . . .

Damien Mu, AIA Australia & New Zealand CEO

“2020 reminded me . . . that when we have a shared purpose, great things can happen. We saw evidence of this in how government, society and business united in their problems, and came together to create holistic solutions to address the pandemic. 

“Governments and business were quick to step in to support the national workforce, and now business needs to continue to revive the economy to meet the community’s needs for the long-term. As a life and health insurer, AIA has the privilege and opportunity to help our customers return to work and life after a serious illness or injury. Beyond this however, through shared value, we believe we can proactively empower our customers and the community to take proactive steps to look after their physical and mental health, so that they can stay well and lead healthier, longer, better lives, even when facing unexpected life events.”

Hugh Foley, shared value expert

“2020 reminded me . . . how deeply the success of business and society depend on one another. Business relies on the health and prosperity of our community, just as our community relies on the strength and resilience of our economy. It is a reciprocal relationship in every respect.

“Companies that recognise the nature and importance of this relationship – and practise contributing to community prosperity in a meaningful way – will benefit. Companies that discover how to apply their skills, assets and expertise to meet society’s challenges in ways that their competitors do not, stand to benefit even more. 

“COVID-19 has presented unimaginable challenges across the community and to different sectors. It has also driven an incredible transformation in the way we work. While many challenges remain, I have emerged from 2020 optimistic about the resilience and pragmatism of our communities and business.”

Michelle Cheah, Arup Australasia Community Engagement Manager, Social Impact Leader

“2020 confirmed for me . . . the importance of having a clear and activated purpose. At Arup, that means creating positive social impact by meaningfully contributing to sustainable development. This has been our lodestar, guiding us through the seismic events we have been experiencing. It has been crucial in allowing us, as individuals and as an organisation, to balance remaining true to our values and the outcomes we seek to achieve, yet also being adaptable when the path to get there may need to change. It helps our teams feel connected to communities, other collaborators and to each other — even in the midst of being socially distanced and apart through remote work. It enables us to continue focusing and connecting our efforts in shaping and delivering projects that are contributing to the change we want to see.

“The world continues to face a raft of compounding and unprecedented challenges – from climate change to resource scarcity, and a tightening knot of social inequalities that became even more stark in 2020. Yet we are also living in a moment when there is greater awareness than ever about how our actions affect the wider world. As we rethink the way we power and get around and inhabit our cities, how we value and build resilience to maximise social benefits, and consider ways to integrate regenerative design into our practices, we recognise the urgent need for this transition and also see the great opportunities from doing so.”

Rosalie Wilkie, PwC Australia, Partner, Social Impact

“2020 reminded me . . . that everyone has a role to play in helping to solve societal issues. COVID-19 was a major catalyst for change and disrupted so many aspects of our lives – from the way we work, spend time with loved ones, manage our health, look after the planet and support those most vulnerable in our communities.

“For me, personally, the Black Lives Matter movement really struck a chord; as we saw individuals, corporates and governments respond in various ways to create a more inclusive society. This serves as a reminder of the need for all Australians to work together towards reconciliation for our First Peoples.

“At PwC, we have had more than 90% of our people commit to better understanding Australia’s history as part of our focus on amplifying voice and truth telling. However, there is much more work needed. Societal issues are complex and require collective action to make headway. But we’re determined to build back better, using PwC’s Reconciliation Action Plan as a cornerstone to advancing this high-priority challenge.”

Helen Maisano, Optus Director of Group Sustainability

“2020 reminded me . . . that despite many of us going ​through what was a very tough year, having an attitude of thankfulness can help us to stay optimistic for the future – which is critical to innovation, perseverance and a productive company culture.

“I was also reminded of our human need to connect, which reinforced the importance of a number of initiatives Optus has underway, such as Donate Your Data, Digital Thumbprint and some of the solutions within the Optus Future Makers program, like Virtual Psychologist and StandbyU. These programs helped to enhance inclusivity and empathy when we need them most.

“More than ever, we need to recalibrate and embrace our dreams – whether personal or professional – about what is possible for a better future for all. And ​then have the courage and drive to achieve them.”

Phil Preston, shared value expert

“2020 taught me that . . . many CEOs are keen to put purpose into practice, however they often need help in shifting mindsets to  bring their leadership and staff  along.

“While purpose-led business made some great strides forward in 2019 – with the likes of the US Business Roundtable committing to stakeholder capitalism – the pandemic in 2020 validated the need for such an approach. We also saw a tipping point in mainstream investor behaviours, which now more readily connect social purpose with shareholder value.

“Business leaders can make sense of these trends by seeing stakeholder capitalism as the system (the what), corporate purpose as the primary means for navigation (the why) and shared value as the conceptual framework to respond (the how).”

Margo Lydon, SuperFriend CEO

“2020 reminded me . . . that visible leadership – even when remotely,  under challenging circumstances – is essential to connect people with purpose and meaning (a key ingredient in creating thriving organisations). 

“When people and communities thrive, organisations thrive; and vice versa. This is what shared value is all about. And when leaders are visible and able to create a safe and positive space for this to happen – by communicating effectively and granting a social licence to their people – the benefits are shared among their employees, society and companies’ balance sheets.

“As Australian businesses continue to adapt to 2021’s opportunities and challenges, robust  leadership will be a critical lever to keep the wider workforce engaged in purpose-led corporate solutions.”