Changing the World can be Good for Business
While many organizations promote and publicize their ESG (Environmental, Social, & Governance) efforts, still there exist significant gaps between concepts and execution. This is especially true for the Social and Governance dimensions.
Environmental initiatives are generally maturing. However, the Social aspect is receiving preliminary, and sometimes misguided, attention, and the Governance aspect is often no more than a few paragraphs in the annual report. Why is this so, and how can performance be improved?
For Episode # 52 of my podcast, The World Class Leaders Show, I was honored to host Miriam González Durántez. Miriam is an international trade lawyer who currently leads the trade and EU regulation practice of US law firm, Cohen & Gresser, and is a founding partner of Altius. Her extensive legal experience includes advising clients on intricate EU regulatory, compliance and trade matters, and Miriam serves on several influential boards and advisory committees.
Miriam is the Founder and Chair of Inspiring Girls International, a global charity dedicated to raising the aspirations of young girls around the world by connecting schoolgirls and women role models. The campaign operates in nearly 30 countries across the globe and has led the highly praised global campaign #ThisLittleGirlIsMe.
Environmental, Social, and Governance
The three aspects of ESG initiatives are integrally linked and are all equally important in delivering a positive impact on global and societal concerns. The Environmental dimension has received more intellectual support, and a higher level of media attention for a longer period of time. These circumstances have generated more activity and greater focus — even though some of the work done could be considered ‘greenwashing’.
With respect to the Social dimension, companies are beginning to realize and accept their existence has an impact on society, and that whatever they do should take that impact into account. This activity must go beyond simple charity bequests and should involve financial analysis and goal-setting that deliver visible returns in order to be sustainable.
The Governance dimension needs to support the change in organizational emphasis, bringing the initiatives into focus and ensuring close integration into an organization’s DNA and executive oversight.
Monetization of ESG Initiatives
Can ESG efforts be monetized? This is presently easier to do on the Environmental axis, given the establishment of carbon goals and target objectives that are quantifiable and time-boxed. With the level of brain power that has been applied to date, combined with evolving emissions-tracking capabilities, we can see and forecast the potential for success.
However, this is less so for the Social axis. What is needed is for acute financial services intellect to be dedicated to the work of establishing a strong financial framework and governance. Additionally, we would have a greater impact over the longer term, if we could provide guidance, examples, and education for other companies to benefit from.
One outcome of this missing attention to the Social dimension has been the lack of a pipeline of ‘good’ project ideas for investment, Important elements would include:
- Multi-year investments
- Allocation of employee time and attention
- Long-term vision and monitoring of results.
Realistically, companies will only truly commit to and support these initiatives if the efforts can be clearly laid to their account — in other words, a visible return or goodwill benefit to the business itself.
A Common Pitfall
It’s critical to recognize differences between potential issues, countries, and cultures. A common failing with companies and advisory entities is that they throw several different initiatives together at the same level. Initiatives may be developed to address concerns about gender, race, disability, LGBTQ+, etc.
When issues affect minorities and the rights of minorities, a great deal of care is required to ensure that solutions presented to each affected group are unique to their specific situations and geographies.
Making a Global Impact
Discussing the scale and success of the Inspiring Girls initiative, now in 29 countries (with more to come) and affecting thousands of girls, Miriam shared with us some of her hard-earned wisdom.
- The idea must be simple. If it’s too complex for people to grasp quickly and easily, you lose momentum quickly.
- The central admin layer should be kept small and nimble, avoiding slowdowns or missed targets due to bureaucracy. Focus on the impact on the target audience, and not on the bureaucracy that delivers it.
- “Franchise” the idea across multiple countries to increase leverage and accelerate adoption. Utilize volunteers heavily to maximize influence.
- Recognize and respect that different countries and cultures will do things differently. With a country-specific focus, it’s easier to ensure meaningful support that is carefully tailored for the audience.
- Meet your audience where they are. Inspiring Girls makes heavy use of mobile technology, Social Media platforms, and short-form video formats.
In closing the interview, I asked Miriam my favorite questions for guests:
Q: Could you tell us the most important thing that you learned in your career?
A: For me, the main thing has been that I discovered that I love strategy and leadership, perhaps more than the management side. I think sometimes it takes a long time to find what you’re really good at, and what you really enjoy. So yes, probably the main thing that I have learned throughout my career is to learn more about myself.
Q: And could you share something that you might have done differently?
A: I think that partly due to my background, it has taken me a long time to understand that risk can be a good thing, and you need to know how to deal with it. It has taken me my whole life and a move to Silicon Valley to realize that I need a different approach to risk, such as starting my own companies versus working for others. If I had discovered that 20 years ago, I think my career might have looked very different.
Q: Would you be able to define the conditions in place that led to your greatest performance?
A: I have been very lucky to be a few times in my life in the right moment, at the right time. There have been a handful of people that have been very crucial in my life. I think having people who believe in you at key moments, when you’re thinking, “Wow, I can really do this”, that that push at key moments of my life has been absolutely crucial. It’s so important to know who is your small crowd, there to push you in the right direction.
Q: Would you share with us if there’s one book that has impacted your life or career?
A: There was a book that became quite famous in terms of management, called “Who Moved My Cheese.” It was all about movement and change, and I go back to that a lot. I think that is so important to understand and to feel comfortable with it. And to realize that it’s a constant journey. It doesn’t matter how successful or not successful you think you are, tomorrow is going to be different. And you need to be ready to change your parameters to deal with it.
If you’d like to know more about Miriam and her work, you can find her on her website, https://miriamgonzalezdurantez.com/about,
on Instagram, https://www.instagram.com/miriamgonzalezdurantez/,
or on LinkedIn, linkedin.com/in/miriamgonzalezdurantez.
If you are interested in the Inspiring Girls initiative, https://inspiring-girls.com/
To learn more about me, Andrea Petrone, and my work with leaders and organizations, to subscribe to my weekly newsletter, or to take a free assessment of your leadership level, please drop me an email at [email protected], or go to my website at https://www.andreapetrone.com/.
I would also very much appreciate hearing from you about your thoughts on this episode, or suggestions for future topics for this podcast.
Listen to the podcast related to this article: https://www.andreapetrone.com/how-to-monetize-the-social-element-of-esg-with-miriam-gonzalez-durantez-podcast/