The future of business is the future of public health

Crisis had been a feature of capitalism even before Marx gave it its name. The abundance of theories intended to explain crisis — from Marx to Keynes and beyond — demonstrates the centrality of disruption to production and profit.1 And, despite these many theories, cycles of crisis continue to mark our history: the Great Depression, the energy crises of the 1970s, the bust of the dot-com bubble, and the financial crisis we call the Great Recession.

The shock of crisis can give way to something better. The deprivation of the Great Depression ended in the social contract of the New Deal. The energy crisis gave birth to the modern environmental movement. The dot-com bust sowed the seeds for the transformative technologies that connect us today. The slow recovery and persistent inequality that followed the end of the Great Recession in 2008 suggest that we do not yet know what may come of this latest crisis.2

The future of business must overcome the social, environmental, and economic challenges of these crises. The transformation of business begins with the personal transformation3 of the leaders of companies, a conscious commitment to build a business as a participant in an ecosystem to endure disruption and move beyond profit to purpose.4 These leaders must find a way to meet the needs of all stakeholders, not just investors or shareholders by managing multiple bottom lines that track the impact on the well being of employees; the communities we touch; the environment and the resources we use; the crises we prevent; the services we provide: the health of the public.

When leaders consciously design their businesses to elevate society first, they help foster a more equitable and sustainable environment that promotes development and empowerment, builds capacity, and strengthens social networks and trust within a population. Positive social impact works well when it is participatory; it increases understanding of change and capacities to respond to change; it seeks to avoid and mitigate negative impacts and to enhance positive benefits; it engages in sustainable practices; it improves the skills of its workers, and it enhances the lives of vulnerable and disadvantaged people.5,6   

Public health is everyone’s responsibility, and no one is better equipped with the platform, the resources, and the access to markets than the business community. By infusing public health principles into a corporation’s mission and values, we all benefit.

  1. Shaikh, Anwar. “An introduction to the history of crisis theories.” US capitalism in crisis (1978): 219-241.
  2. “IMF fears ‘social explosion’ from world jobs crisis – Telegraph.” 2011. 30 Apr. 2016 <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financialcrisis/8000561/IMF-fears-social-explosion-from-world-jobs-crisis.html>
  3. “Whole Foods’ John Mackey: Self-awareness on Aisle 5 …” 2014. 30 Apr. 2016 <http://fortune.com/2013/03/08/whole-foods-john-mackey-self-awareness-on-aisle-5/>
  4. “Conscious Capitalism” Is Not an Oxymoron.” 2014. 30 Apr. 2016 <https://hbr.org/2013/01/cultivating-a-higher-conscious>
  5. Esteves, Ana Maria, Daniel Franks, and Frank Vanclay. “Social impact assessment: the state of the art.” Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal 30.1 (2012): 34-42.
  6. “CSV Explained – Institute For Strategy And Competitiveness …” 2014. 1 May. 2016 <http://www.isc.hbs.edu/creating-shared-value/csv-explained/pages/default.aspx>

 

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