The opportunity was too good to pass up – spend 10 months immersed in a mid-career masters program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government (HKS) and have the entire university’s resources at my disposal. I jumped, and CBI graciously let me go on leave.
My plan was simple. I wanted to put a bigger frame around the project work we were doing at CBI, particularly our efforts to support meaningful engagement between communities, companies and governments in places like Nigeria and Latin America. How could I see more clearly the big picture around global governance, corporate responsibility, and public policy, and use this clarity to guide our future work?
With John Ruggie and Jane Nelson at HKS’s Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative I dove into the big challenges around global governance and corporate behavior. Ruggie’s Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, developed during the past five years under his United Nations mandate, are an important step forward in creating a clear set of international norms around the responsibilities of governments and companies. They are also a call to action for a variety of actors – including CBI – to help ensure that global business translates into enhanced protection of the rights of all communities, rather than a race to the bottom.
I got a different take on corporate responsibility at Harvard Business School, where I studied “Shared Value” and spent the spring semester with Michael Porter in his class on competitiveness and the way that a variety of private and public actors can come together to create prosperity in a country, region, or even city.
As a student I also had the space to experiment in ways that might be trickier with a client. In a class called “Solving Problems Using Technology” I found myself spray painting texting instructions on sidewalks (with chalk paint!) so that urban Boston residents could have a voice in designing much-needed streetscape upgrades in Dorchester. The class also opened my eyes to the incredible work being done by cities, states, and the White House to harness data and technology to provide innovative solutions to public policy challenges, and create new ways for citizens to interact with government.
The 10 months did, in the end, help me take perspective on CBI’s work. More importantly, they inspired me to take greater amounts of leadership in shaping our future focus, particularly as I direct our initiatives in Latin America. I’ll also stay involved with colleagues at Harvard as a Research Fellow at the Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative.
CBI has a particularly important role to play at the intersection of communities, companies and governments, assisting all actors to have a more meaningful interaction amid a rising tide of social disputes. And as Ron Heifetz and Dean Williams teach in their “Adaptive Leadership” courses, my role as a facilitator should not be about just making things easier, but rather assisting people to have the courage to walk through the really difficult conversations.