How to Scale 'Justice Entrepreneurship' and Improve Global Leadership

Speculation abounds about the sources of global discontent. Unfair treatment of citizens across the world is one possible source. There is actually a great deal more of that around than we think. In fact, looking at the available data, it is surprising that there is not more discontent. Especially because there is something we can do about it. It’s time for a new deal on justice. Responsible leadership involving government, business, and civil society can make it happen.

Millions and millions of people who are experiencing a crisis in their lives cannot get a fair, effective and timely solution that allows them to move on, in peace with themselves and with others. Small entrepreneurs who can’t enforce a contract or properly hire or fire personnel go broke every day. Employees, who have no place to complain about unsafe work spaces or who have been fired abruptly, end up unable to earn what they need for their families. Families break up and abandon ties to their home, financial future, relationships to close relations.

The global discontent is visible in the 44% of Ukrainians, 25% of Tunisians, and 35% of Ugandans who do nothing when faced with a serious justice problem. The ‘not even trying’ figures for specific legal needs like employment disputes are even higher in all countries we survey.  Less than 1% of Ukrainians who had disputes around their employment relationship take it to court. A 2013 report by the Canadian Bar Association speaks of “the abysmal state of access to justice in Canada today.” It’s a global phenomenon. And it is connected to problems that most adversely affect people’s health and happiness.

It is time to recognize the elephants in the room. One: Procedures that provide fair, effective and timely solutions to conflicts are critical for economic development and social harmony. Basic justice care must be provided by government, just like healthcare, education, and infrastructure. Two: Current justice systems generally don’t produce enough value in this respect. Three: We can do something about it. Innovation practices developed in areas such a health, education, and climate change show us how. So we must act.

Leaders who are concerned about justice need to start with the needs of citizens. Not the structures and the systems. Business leaders who need to deal with markets understand this fundamental point: start with the need of your clients. In September last year the Justice Leadership Group organized a justice dialogue with justice leaders from the region to talk about rebuilding rule of law in Syria. The conclusion: we will need to start developing justice infrastructure to deal with the property issues that arise when millions of people return to their homes. Our data on Ukraine and Tunisia and the UAE tells us that employment justice is a priority. In Canada, the US, Netherlands and Uganda, people are struggling with good processes for divorce.

Once you know more about the justice needs, start innovating. Develop and implement the scalable delivery models of global enterprises - user-centred design, standardization and customization where needed - and support these models where possible with smart and user-friendly IT. We know from five years of scouting and accelerating in this field: justice entrepreneurs exist. Take Sauti, an SMS-based legal support platform for cross-border traders working on the Kenya-Uganda border. The app gives information, legal advice, and opportunity to anonymously report incidents of abuses. Or Rechtwijzer, a Dutch online platform that supports a new divorce procedure that is empowering, less expensive, and more comprehensive than what’s now on offer.

To make these innovations scale, we need to change the ecosystem. We need financial vehicles that support justice entrepreneurs, both within and outside of the public sector. This includes access to seed funding, money, loans and (impact) investment. Ministries of justice, courts, legal aid boards, law societies and bar associations have pitiful budgets for innovation. And there are few other sources. We have funds for malaria and tuberculosis – what about funds for justice innovation?

We also need new ways of organizing. Innovating justice is something ministries of justice, judiciaries, bar associations and legal aid boards are not very good at. They don’t have to be: innovation in the health sector is also not driven exclusively by the ministry of health and medical doctors.  We need new forms of organisation, new partnerships which allow government bodies and private parties to work together. We need to get rid of laws that limit innovation, like the virtual monopolies of bar associations. Why can’t an industry develop and run a conflict resolution procedure, together with civil society organisations?

 They probably don’t realize it themselves but business leaders have a lot to bring to the table to make this new justice deal happen.They have an interest that basic justice care is provided. They should challenge the justice sector to deliver on this. They can bring the networks and expertise they have to the table. In the past ten years we have seen amazing examples of business, government, and civil society cooperation that have ensured tangible progress was made in dealing with health challenges like malaria and ebola, education challenges for the poor, and the transition away from a carbon economy. It’s time this also happened in the justice field. I call upon courageous business leaders to join us.

This post is a part of a new series around responsive and responsible leadership in alignment with the World Economic Forum in Davos. If you’d like to join the conversation, please e-mail