I first met, Simon Mainwaring, author of We First: How Brands and Consumers Use Social Media to Build a Better World, at a SANG event. He immediately impressed me with his ideas. Simon is exceedingly smart and personable-the kind of person you’d like to drink a beer with. As a columnist for Fast Company with extensive global branding experience, he is a leading edge thinker in this new world of business so I asked him to contribute a guest blog based the book which releases today:
Mark has kindly invited me to share with you a vision I have been formulating over the last several years. This vision seeks to transform the business world into a powerful force for social transformation in the world. Our planet is in dire straits, with myriad crises plaguing the advancement of humankind. The private sector has the resources, expertise, leadership and management skills to be the game-changer here. It is time for corporations and businesses to rise to the challenge and become a real “third pillar” of change in the world, assisting the first two pillars, governments and philanthropies, which are unable to cope with the scale of problems we face. Corporations and private companies of all sizes—along with consumers—must act as partners in this mission, working together to put the entire private sector into the service of building a better world.
I became interested in this when several years ago I read a speech Bill Gates gave at the World Economic Forum at Davos in 2008. In his talk, Gates challenged corporations to be more creative about how they could respond to the needs of the world’s poor. He entreated had to create new methods to account for making money so they could do business in the poorest regions where profits might be as scarce as clean water and regular meals.
Gates speech inspired me to contribute my thinking. First, I reflected on the myriad crises of the world and what needed to be done to solve them. What quickly became clear to me was that we needed to perform a significant reengineering of capitalism—overhauling it, tempering it, and transforming it to shift it from what I called a Me First into a We First economic system.
The shift from Me to We entails persuading corporations and their leaders to modify the current practice of capitalism and its business models in order to adopt new ways of thinking about commerce and profit. The basis for this shift is not abstract or utopian; it is predicated on the truth that we now live in complex, interlinked globalized world where our lives touch upon and influence each other as never before. We simply can no longer practice capitalism the same way.
The We First approach adheres to four different operating principles:
1. Recognize the benefits of mutual self-interest. We can no longer define our self-interest in immediate narrow and selfish terms. In a world of 7 billion people and 120+ countries fighting over the same resources, we must learn to recognize when mutual self-interest is more rewarding, or at the minimum, that sometimes our self-interests lie in ensuring that everyone wins something.
2. Integrate purpose into profit. We can no longer maintain our short-term, myopic focus on profit-for-profit’s sake to the neglect of purposes. The future of profit is purpose. Corporations need to make profit, of course, but we can no longer overlook that they must also play a role in contributing to society.
3. Expand our notion of sustainability. Corporations are slowly coming around to adopting environmentally sustainable behaviors, but we need to extend the notion of sustainability into other domains. For capitalism to survive in this global world, we need it to be economically, morally, socially, and ethically sustainable as well. All five domains go hand in hand.
4. Re-instill values. Many agree that capitalism has lost its values and it is time to reinstate them. We need to infuse values such as accountability, responsibility, global citizenship, and fairness of rewards back into the daily practices of companies.
You may be wondering, how can we conceivably implement the transition from Me First to We First? This is where my background in branding and social media led me to the answer.
We are now witnessing a new dynamic emerging between brands and consumers due to social media. Consumers throughout the world are connecting as never before, gaining access to communication tools that allow them to talk amongst themselves, share and publish their ideas and opinions, and organize social activism in ways more powerful than ever in history. Through social media, consumers now have the ability to talk back to corporations and expose bad behaviors. They can increasingly act on their desire to see corporations take on greater social responsibility in the world—using their voices and wallets to reward conscionable and well-intentioned brands through their referrals, reviews, recommendations, and purchases. They can also use their power to spread the word about not only those companies that produce bad products, but also those with inauthentic messaging, false promises, and unsustainable and irresponsible social behaviors.
But at the same time, social media also offers brands new opportunities as well. Through social networks, they can reach out and engage their audiences in deeper, more meaningful ways. They can find out what makes their customers tick, and use social media to build stronger relationships and earn greater loyalty from them.
Social media is thus providing the driving force that can bring about the change we need from Me First to We First. It offers consumers a powerful voice and leverage to help change capitalism, and yet it gives corporations and their brands a motive to engage with consumers in the process to win something as well.
This is my mission and I invite you to join the We First movement. Whether you are a CEO, executive, or consumer, there is a role for you to play, using your leadership skills and your commitment to We First principles to help all of us build a better world.
Simon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, a social branding consultancy that helps companies, non-profits and consumer groups build a better world through changes to the practice of capitalism, branding, and consumerism using social technology. More information is available in We First: How Brands and Consumers Use Social Media to Build a Better World (Palgrave/Macmillan, June 2011). Or visit www.wefirstbook.com. Note that 10% of book proceeds go to the United Nation’s Girl Up Foundation that supports education for young women in the developing world.