Time for Business to Step Up

Time for Business to Step Up

World-changing forces threatening our people and our planet demand a strong and urgent response. The job is one uniquely suited to business.
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Monday, October 19, 2015 - 6:30pm

CAMPAIGN: Thought Leadership


David Abney | UPS 

As valuable as different perspectives are in any meaningful discussion, there has never been a greater need to see the world through a common lens.

That’s because we have never been subject to more world-changing forces coming at us from more directions and at greater speed. Everything from connecting technology to diminishing resources, from diverging demographics to the well-being of humanity. They all come together in a loud and insistent global demand for response.

We simply cannot continue on our current unsustainable path. Pope Francis said as much during his recent U.S. visit, calling on world leaders to take immediate action to address issues posing a threat to humanity. “We cannot permit ourselves to postpone certain agendas for the future,” the pope said in an address to the United Nations General Assembly.

But who will lead us on a different path?

“Revitalized Partnership” with the Private Sector

Governments are cash-strapped and largely divided. Civil society has the motivation and information, but not the operational muscle. In ways and to degrees unique in commerce, the job of leadership change now falls more squarely to business.

Recently the UN released its list of Sustainable Development Goals. They center on inclusive growth, social equity and environmental protection. But they also are tied directly to business goals, including revenue growth, resource productivity and risk management.

Why is the UN talking about business revenue? The answer is in its call for a “revitalized partnership” with the private sector to confront the planet’s most pressing problems.

The logic of that partnership is clear. Business has the reach, resources and big-project management skills. It clearly has incentives to create a world that is strong enough, fair enough and healthy enough to support business growth. It is also the nexus for innovation.

Stepping up to the needs of a global society starts with our ability to understand the forces that confront us.

Environmental issues start with a changing planet that is threatening the health and well-being of generations to come.

We’re also in an age of sweeping demographic change. In many areas of the world, populations are growing younger. Will there be enough jobs to sustain this younger generation? Social stability in countries around the world hinges on the answer.

People see the potential of business every day. They see businesses innovating, changing and growing larger and more powerful.

We’ve come a long way from the days when economist Milton Friedman said, “The only social responsibility of business is to increase profits.”

Connecting Business Opportunity and Societal Need

Capability and need come together in specific communities – including Detroit.

Several years ago, our company was introduced to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy. The Prosecutor’s office had discovered that more than 11,000 sexual assault kits were sitting in police storage units. Some had been there for decades.

Working with Wayne County and utilizing what’s known as business process reengineering, we evaluated the chain of custody. A UPS team recommended a number of steps and systems to maximize integrity, credibility and accountability. Wayne County now has a more efficient and reliable way to track and monitor this evidence through the chain of custody. It’s a great example of public-private partnership.

I’m very pleased to say that thanks to the success in Detroit, we will be helping municipalities across the nation spread this program to their communities.

Of course, there is likely no better example of the connection of business opportunity and societal need than the auto industry’s innovation in electric and hybrid vehicles and overall fuel efficiency.

You see it across Detroit and across this great nation – companies and organizations with very different aims – tied together by the shared needs of business and society.

We’re all in the midst of a great step forward in the work and role of commerce and capitalism itself. Business stands at the center of humanity’s response to a planet in trouble. It’s time to step up.

This commentary was adapted from a speech given by David Abney, Chief Executive Officer of UPS, at the Detroit Economic Club on September 29, 2015.

David Abney is chief executive officer of UPS.

This article first appeared on Longitudes, the UPS blog devoted to the trends shaping the global economy.