The Importance of Being Businessworthy

On Wednesday, five of the world's most civic minded business people will be celebrated in a public ceremony in Oslo City Hall, as winners of the 2015 Oslo Business for Peace Award.

Juried by Nobel Laureates in Peace and in Economics, The Business for Peace Foundation is the nonprofit that administers the annual Oslo Business for Peace Award, recognizing outstanding leaders who are engaging in everyday business practices that also substantially benefit society and peace. These are not greenwashing tactics or separate CSR initiatives; these are leaders who are making change through their core business operations, proving daily that profitability and the progress of society are not at odds with one another.

Nominees are selected through a worldwide search process with partners that include the International Chamber of Commerce, the United Nations Development Program and the United Nations Global Compact, and are then subjected to a rigorous vetting process.

The Business for Peace Foundation was started with a simple premise. That the contributions of individual business leaders were often ignored, that corporate social responsibility suffers from being corporate and from focusing on company performance.

While how a company behaves is of the utmost importance, it is also necessary to recognize that this behavior is often determined by how a company is guided and inspired by its leadership.

Companies that focus on "the business of business is business," often look for shortcuts in their relationship to society and to the environment and unfortunately, often try and escape responsibility for their actions. There is no shortage of examples of this. Sadly, we see them every day in the media. But what we don't often see are the more complex stories about enlightened business leadership; the companies that work in the long-term, that consider all stakeholders in their business dealings, and that actively seek collaboration instead of conflict.

Good business practice is dependent upon example. We emulate what we are taught, and the Foundation's mission is to show that a more enlightened approach to doing business can achieve the bottom line goal of profitability, while at the same time add value to society, and in fact contribute to stability and peace.

The 2015 Business for Peace Honourees -- Juan Andrés Cano, Merrill Joseph Fernando, Zahi Khouri, Poman Lo and Paul Polman -- are remarkable examples of what is possible when business aims higher than just the bottom line - when purpose marries profit, when being creditworthy is replaced by what we at the Foundation call being businessworthy: applying one's business energy to creating economic value that also creates value for society, through ethical and responsible practices.

Each year, we receive numerous nominations from all over the world. There are many enlightened business leaders out there -- the Award is intended to give them more attention, and to make others understand that there are better ways of doing business. The world needs it now. The global economy is not stable, nations around the world are struggling with social unrest as a result. There is growing uncertainty about the future, economic indicators show that we are seeing a decline in social conditions. The welfare systems of many countries are being cut back, while unemployment is on the rise. Young people finishing their education are facing brutal job markets. And then there are concerns about climate change, the effects of globalization, about growing inequality. There are many threats to the stability and peace we all seek and want.

In 1919, coming out of a terrible world war, a group of business leaders got together and founded what would become the International Chamber of Commerce. They came to be called The Merchants of Peace. They were convinced that adversaries would be better able to bridge their differences if they engaged in trade.

Cynics will laugh, and say "what good did that do? Look at the world today!" A few years ago, Harvard professor and author Steven Pinker persuasively argued in his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, that the world is less violent than ever, in spite of what the drumbeat of conflict in the news media may have led us to believe.

Pinker was asked whether commerce had helped, whether trade had contributed to peace, and responded: "Commerce, trade and exchange make other people more valuable alive than dead, and mean that people try to anticipate what the other guy needs and wants. It engages the mechanisms of reciprocal altruism, as the evolutionary biologists call it, as opposed to raw dominance."

We want the world to know: there are better ways of doing business -- effective ways -- that lead to stability and peace. Just look to the 2015 Oslo Business for Peace honorees. We need more like them now.