The GOLDEN Global Network Sustainability Change Strategy

For over a year I’ve been working with an emerging academic research center – business network called GOLDEN.  It has produced a very powerful strategy to realize the depth, speed and focus necessary to transform business into sustainable enterprises.

GOLDEN starts from the position that capacity for realizing, and clarity about, the needed changes is a major inhibition in current corporate sustainable efforts.  This is a distinctly unique niche, different from those who are measuring triple bottom line impact, developing initiatives in the CSR tradition, or founding new social enterprises.  GOLDEN is about core strategic questions regarding the future of organizing wealth generating entities, and developing a broad change platform supported by the vision, discipline and rigor of academic thought leaders.

GOLDEN aims to stimulate capacity for corporations to change and to identify key change initiatives required to realize the “sustainable enterprise of the future”.  Behind this is the observation that there are many embryonic changes occurring – such as new ways of corporations and NGOs to work together – that collectively suggest that the iconic corporate model is transforming.   GOLDEN aims to dramatically speed up its definition and emergence globally.

GOLDEN’s strategy has three interacting components that work on the three critical levels of change that I identified in my 2005 book:  Societal Learning and Change: How Governments, Business and Civil Society are Creating Solutions to Complex Multi-Stakeholder Problems.  The societal learning and change “matrix” points out that many transformational change strategies are doomed because they do not tackle individual-, organizational- and societal-level change.  Classically, Americans tend to emphasize individual change, drawing on heroic leadership traditions.  Europeans in contrast tend to focus on social structures and institutions, seeing them as key to inhibiting or facilitating change.  Of course both of these views are true.

GOLDEN is addressing these three levels of change by developing three types of labs

Decision-makers (individuals) labs:  These will “map” the distance between current mental state and envisioned future and identify strategies for to develop the behaviors and aptitudes necessary for sustainable enterprise leaders.

Enterprises (organizations) labs:  These will experiment with innovative policies, programs and actions.

Industry eco-systems (societal) labs:  The collection of stakeholders in an industries’ operating environment (see Figure 1). 

These are called “labs” because they involve real-time experiments with innovations that can be broadly disseminated throughout the GOLDEN network. They are connected to two other key activities

  • The Observatory which is a data-base to initially assess corporate capacity to identify the (a) relevance of sustainability issues (set direction), and (b) effectiveness of functional change initiatives; and
  • Multi-level simulation modeling, that will use the Observatory data to forecast the impact of specific corporate strategy and policy choices.

Obviously this is a hugely ambitious undertaking.  It is led by the indefatigable (necessary quality) Maurizio Zollo, Director of the Center for Research on Organization and Management at Bocconi University, a leading European business school in Milan.  He is incredibly well-networked (necessary quality) in academia on both sides of the Atlantic, and President Elect of the European Academy of Management.  Microsoft and Telecom Italia are key corporate investors.

I’m particularly interested in the early stage development process of these types of networks. I’ve found that typically it takes 3-5 years from initial meeting around the idea of a Global Action Network, to doing something like the initiators envisioned. The first meetings around GOLDEN started in early 2010. This latest formulation is a huge leap forward that happened with a January meeting in Vienna, and saw the addition of the eco-system and decision-maker activities. Pilots are now being organized with companies around The Observatory and corporate participants for a broad 2013 engagement are being recruited.

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