Real Leaders

Business Leaders Ready to Tackle Social Challenges

The Global Opportunity Network shows us how to turn risk into opportunity.

How we see the world

The Global Opportunity Network Report is rooted in the tension between global risks and opportunities. The concept of opportunity offers a perspective of the world where change is beneficial, even on a large societal scale. From the two concepts of risk and opportunity emerges the third and final ingredient  – opportunity leadership. In combination, these three ideas inspire a fundamentally new way of looking at the world and exercising leadership. Opportunity leaders are what we call those who react to risks from the perspective of opportunities. Systemic risks are fueled by globalization and the rapid rise of technology. Opportunities create value for societies and the planet, not just for individuals or businesses.

Business leaders see social challenges as among the most pressing risks they face. Of the more than 5,500 leaders surveyed worldwide, 42 percent answered that wasting an entire generation of youth to unemployment was at the top of their concerns among this year’s five risks. Looking at the broader risk landscape, a similar trend emerges, most notably unemployment, poverty, and hunger. We tend to assume that business leaders are concerned only with short-term profits and not with societal well-being. However, the above findings demonstrate that social unrest and economic disparity damage everyone’s prosperity.

Indeed, today’s most pressing risks are all concerned with human need that we all share; a job for a life without poverty. It is the social glue of our societies. Poverty, hunger, and youth unemployment are eroding the foundation of progress – not only in the world’s poorest countries, but within almost every country around the world. More than ever before, businesses must keep an eye on the wider risk and opportunity landscape in order to ensure current and future profits. Business leaders can be the change makers that COP21 asked for. The message from Paris was clear – that we need to mobilise new drivers of change. Also, that business holds important keys to solving a major global challenge like climate change. Businesses have broadened their view on what is best for both society and for business.

Systemic risks present global opportunities

As with every risk, there are opportunities to be pursued in this apparent crisis – indeed, this is the foundation of the Global Opportunity Network. Pursuing these opportunities is not simply a matter of making a bad situation a little better, it is a matter of turning it around. Our future depends on the opportunity mindset. Youth unemployment is an urgent example of the threatening ripple effects of a generation without prospects. Unemployment rates have reached particularly alarming heights in the Middle East and North Africa, where the lack of prospects for young people threatens to waste an entire generation.

The untapped potential of millions of people has repercussions far beyond their immediate societies. The good news is that opportunities for change can be found if a systemic approach is applied to solving the youth unemployment crisis. Tomorrow’s professionals are today’s children. A systemic approach looks at how schools and higher education systems interact with youth and how policies and corporations mold youth and their skills and culture of working. With new thinking about education, knowledge-sharing, and entrepreneurship, aided by digital innovations, entire societies can be uplifted and several global risks mitigated.

Businesses are the new activists

So where do we go to pursue these opportunities for systemic change? The survey data shows that business leaders are perceived to be the new advocates for systemic changes, alongside civil society. While the task of tackling entrenched social problems once firmly belonged to the realm of government, a clear shift is taking place: progressive businesses are working for the society they want to operate in. This is not motivated simply by altruism, but rather by an increasing recognition that social risks are detrimental to the bottom line and may present business opportunities in addressing them. A growing number of businesses must take the long view and look beyond their immediate interests to thrive.

To this end, a new alliance is emerging between progressive businesses and civil society actors, who strive to achieve the same sustainable goals. This promises to strengthen the social bottom line on the sustainability agenda, together with the environmental and economic bottom lines, and is ushering in a new kind of social capitalism. It’s large scale societal change from the bottom up. Conventional thinking sees entrepreneurship as an alternative to the conventional corporate world, but bringing the two worlds together through corporate incubators is an opportunity to generate jobs and futurepreneurs. Futurepreneurship empowers youth to take charge of their employment situation with the support of more experienced entrepreneurs.


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