The World is Changing – Are you leading or following?
A Case for Stakeholder Inclusion

By Marit Ouwerkerk, Founder and Coach at One Purpose Circle

people holding hands

By now it’s clear that 2020 will get its own chapter in history books. We’re experiencing a pandemic that shook the world awake, protesters are swarming the streets for equal rights following the homicide of George Floyd by police, Australia, the Amazon and California were burning, and we’re facing what has already been coined the worst recession since the great depression by the IMF.

While times are wild and uncertain right now, this global shakeup also creates space to assess if what once was even fits our true values and purpose, and to put our society back together in a way that serves not just a few, but all of us.

“We need much less than we think we need” — Maya Angelou

The turning point for sustainability

Fashion has been hit especially hard recently with retail operations shutting down, supply chains cut off, and consumers forced to unlearn their habits of instant gratification. Many are considering for the first time in a long time what is truly meaningful and what is perhaps just a fleeting pleasure.

Interestingly enough, corporations that have been stakeholder focused are currently outperforming peers who were blinded by short-term shareholder returns. A stakeholder is any party that has an interest in a company and can either affect or be affected by the business, think customers, employees, suppliers, competitors, communities, and the planet. Stakeholder inclusion is a core component of a sustainable business, a buzz word often thrown around in the consumer industry. Especially in fashion.

Today the realization has finally set in that sustainability can and should be much more than an afterthought and is crucial to ensure resilience & relevance of a business: Creating real value for people and the planet leads to long-term value for businesses.

Their financial success is a result of their ‘outward looking’ approach to business. By constantly assessing relationships with ALL their stakeholders, and looking for ways to improve them, they can uncover risks before they arise and discover opportunities for innovation and new markets before competitors do.

Stakeholder-focused companies are trained to shapeshift when change happens in their ecosystems, and this skill pays off. Research by Just Capital indicates how companies that provide fair and equal pay, strong benefits and work-life balance, and a safe work environment during the COVID-19 crisis are experiencing higher financial returns: the top 25 of companies responding well to the pandemic saw a 7.8% return while the bottom 25 saw a -9.6% hit to their bottom line.

In short, stakeholder inclusion is the difference between making or breaking it.

Stay true to your purpose

Sustainable companies are driven by their unique purpose to improve something in the world. It is their north star and guiding light that influences and directs every decision made within the company.

Eileen Fisher mentioned how the crisis inspired her clothing company to reassess what is truly important to them. In an interview with Vogue she shared: “we’ve discovered that even though we are all about simplicity, sustainable materials, recycling, and all those important things, we still have been producing way too much product….We have lost track of the centre of our concept, a little.

This is a great time to return and reassess our foundations. As founders, business owners and team members: What were the things that fired us up when we started? Are we still working on that, or did we lose track? Are we trying to please too many people? Who are our stakeholders that we (could) truly impact? How can we become more relevant for them right now?

Marit Ouwerkerk

Bigger need, greater opportunities

The greater need of stakeholders creates huge opportunities to make a bigger difference and become more relevant. It’s time to listen, adjust, and stand back up as a bigger version of yourself. How can your business offer true understanding, connection and meaning? How can we serve?

The organizations who address today’s disruptive global challenges and find ways to pivot to speak to their key stakeholders’ new needs, are the ones that are becoming stronger companies. While trust in political systems seems to decrease by the hour, businesses have an opportunity to take a firm stance and come up with meaningful offerings and solutions. The ones that do hold the future.  

“You may live in the world as it is, but you can still work to create the world as it should be”  Michelle Obama

Amidst the chaos, fear and uncertainty, this global shakeup presents an opportunity to put our society on a track where not just the privileged few, but everyone is seen and benefits. The actions we take right now are already determining what our future normal will look like. This is our chance to be leaders and push our societal structures forward into an economy that is more fair, sustainable and resilient, and to create a world that benefits everyone and generations to come.

Sustainability is not a zero-sum game, quite the opposite: To be a leader in doing good means to do well. 

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Marit is a freelance writer and life coach based in New Jersey, NY. We’d love to hear from you so please share your comments and thoughts below and, if you’d like to reach out to Marit directly, you can find her on LinkedIn or through her coaching business, One Purpose Circle. 

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