The Movement for Social Business Impact blows out its first candle
November 9, 2016 witnessed the official launching of one of HEC Paris’ most ambitious initiatives, the Movement for Social * Business Impact, MS*BI. The far-reaching project seeks to accompany business and entrepreneurs in a joint mission to build a more inclusive global economy. MS*BI also aspires to help businesses to maximize their social impact while improving their economic development. Knowledge analyzes the developments in the past year of a Movement hoping to help build a new type of capitalism.
The Movement prolongs and reinforces what was initiated by the Social Business/Enterprise and Poverty Chair. This was founded by Danone, Schneider Electric and Renault back in 2009 and is currently presided by Professor Yunus and Martin Hirsch, former French High Commissioner for Active Solidarity against Poverty. Last year, three new firms joined the Movement: Sodexo, Veolia and Total. “The Chair has been teaching how business can alleviate poverty,” Danone CEO Emmanuel Faber told the packed audience at the November 2016 launch. “This new Movement gives new impetus for academics to rethink their theories for practitioners to find evidence of the impact of their actions. It allows teachers to spread the right questions. Together with researchers, they are re-writing all source codes of the economy. Its purpose? To answer one central question: profit or social justice?”
The Movement is driven by three levers, THINK (SnO’s research), TEACH (HEC’s pedagogy) and ACT (the Action Tank).
Think: contributing to a “European way of thinking”
The “Think” pillar the MS*BI is built on centers on the academic investigations led by HEC’s SnO Center. “Our research involves rethinking the horizons and roles of organizations,” explains SnO founder and Academic Director Rodolphe Durand. “New inclusive business models place the person at the center of their strategy and contribute to the creation of new entrepreneurial activities.”
“New inclusive business models place the person at the center of their strategy and contribute to the creation of new entrepreneurial activities", Rodolphe Durand
From its inception, the Executive Director of SnO, Benedicte Faivre-Tavignot, has been overseeing the Movement’s development, as it aims to contribute to a “European way of thinking” on the role of business in society. The MB*SI is involving some of France’s leading industrialists in a new vision where economic, political and social logics merge. “Now it is a time to scale up these projects,” continues Faivre-Tavignot. “Our research tries to answer one central question: can firms with pro-active Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) / Social Innovation programs improve their economic performance in the long-term, making them more competitive? We are encouraging our researchers to seek out the positive impact of combining the two. We also analyze the subsequent qualitative improvements on social and environmental sectors of society.”
Teach: training a new generation of leaders
Already, there are encouraging signs that the five research projects SnO has launched are bearing fruit. And they are being complimented by a growing engagement by the HEC student body, an integral part of the Movement’s objectives under the “Teach” umbrella. “Our objective here is to train a new generation of managers and leaders,” underlines Faivre-Tavignot, “making them more aware of today’s challenges, driving them to become game-changers. To achieve this, we try to integrate a societal perspective in core courses and programs and we develop innovative teaching methods such as experiential learning.”
Act: experimenting new business models
Jacques Berger’s Action Tank experiments with new social business models allying the public and private sectors with civil society actors. “Our activities are threefold,” explained the Tank’s director, “we design programs with social impact, we help companies to identify the social parts of their programs and we encourage these firms to work collectively.” Since its inception in 2010, the Action Tank is built on two central principles: global access to essential goods and services; and the universal right to jobs or economic initiatives. In the context of the MS*BI, this non-profit association is starting the internationalization of its activities, in order to spread its “experimentations” in seven fields of action including mobility, health, housing, baby food, into arenas on the African continent. It also helps countries like India, Brazil and Germany to create their own action tank.
“New inclusive business models place the person at the center of their strategy and contribute to the creation of new entrepreneurial activities.”, Bénédicte Faivre-Tavignot
Breaking the silos
One of the six company backers of MS*BI, Schneider Electric, has gained widespread credibility for its willingness to promote Corporate Social Responsibility. But does CSR disclosures influence the probability of inclusion in a major sustainability stock index? This is at the heart of the research project conducted for the Movement by HEC Associate Professor Luc Paugam. “Like all major firms, Schneider does its utmost to portray itself as CSR credible to its stakeholders,” explains Paugam. “One way of gaining credibility is to be recognized by external rating agencies. I have been studying a major rating organization, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, DJSI, to see if the firm, by using disclosure practices can influence the likelihood of being recognized as this leader in CSR.”
But, beyond his results, he is enjoying rarified exchanges with colleagues in departments that rarely cross paths. “The researchers in the Movement have monthly meetings to share results, and the cross-disciplinary approach is one of the more exciting aspects of this project,” Paugam underlines. “It’s been refreshing to break out of our respective silos in this important movement.”
These transgressions are very much one of MS*BI’s aims. “Researchers must reach out to each other and open up to international networks.” emphasizes Bénédicte Faivre-Tavignot. “HEC’s role is to create links between the major business actors, local activists, researchers and academics who can transmit the Movement’s philosophy to the up-and-coming generations of entrepreneurs. This, we hope will transform the mindset amongst entrepreneurs and managers and impact the business community.”
The next major stop for the Movement is at the Global Social Business Summit in November in Paris. That is followed in March 2018 with a meeting between all the six major corporate players and the Movement’s donors aimed at sharing their findings.