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Corporate Boards are critical starting points for implementing stakeholder capitalism- a new white paper

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Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum speaking in The An Insight, An Idea with Satya Nadella session at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2020 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 23 January. Congress Centre - Salon. Copyright by World Economic Forum/Sikarin Fon Thanachaiary

WED 13 JAN, 2021-theGBJournal- COVID-19 has led to global and systemic economic, social and environmental disruption, and an increasing number of companies are recognizing the need for pragmatic approaches to implement the principles of stakeholder capitalism.

A new white paper, The Future of the Corporation: Moving from Balance Sheet to Value Sheet, provides analysis about the important role boardrooms and corporate governance play in addressing the environmental, social and governance (ESG) challenges their companies face.

Focusing on practical tools for corporate leaders, the white paper, produced in collaboration with Baker McKenzie, provides a set of actions and stakeholder governance considerations boardrooms can take to reshape their company’s purpose and practices.

This includes leadership-level actions, such as aligning company purpose and incentives with transparent goals and KPIs, increasing board diversity and adopting the common stakeholder capitalism metrics to measure and manage global risks and opportunities related to business, society and the planet.

“Business leaders are increasingly implementing business models that create value based on stakeholder needs,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum. “While there’s increasing momentum towards stakeholder capitalism, many businesses are also looking for practical solutions to help them fully understand and address the concerns of all their stakeholders. The Forum is committed to providing measurement and governance tools that will help these leaders succeed, thereby advancing stakeholder capitalism globally.”

Effectively aligning a company’s practices with its purpose is another key role boardrooms must play when integrating stakeholder interests into their business models. Setting clear metrics for management, which align with company purpose is an important step for boards.

Ørsted, a company who successfully transformed its business from fossil fuels to renewable energy, is a clear example of how effective governance is critical to company-wide transformation  For example, in its transition to being a sustainable business, Ørsted made it a board-level priority to ensure its transformation was transparent, the journey was measured with concrete metrics and it was communicated to all relevant stakeholders.

“The pandemic, climate and inequality challenges of the last year were and continue to be unprecedented. Against this backdrop, how can companies drive long-term value creation and sustainable growth? A good stakeholder governance framework will help companies mitigate risk, build resilience and enjoy sustainable value creation and long-term success; at the heart of good stakeholder governance is clearly understanding who key stakeholders are, engaging with them and bringing their voice into decision-making,” said Beatriz Araujo, Head of Corporate Governance, Baker McKenzie. She added: “There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach; each company must embark on its own stakeholder governance journey and we have suggested some of the steps companies should consider taking on such a journey.”

In addition to the examples above, the white paper provides a stakeholder governance framework centred around four key areas of four key areas of leadership focus. These are:

Purpose

Purpose is returning centre stage as an enabler for long-term sustainable value creation for corporate success.

Boards should ensure their companies have a clear and well understood purpose, informed by their key stakeholders’ expectations, and regularly use this purpose as a guide in their strategic decision-making.

Strategy

Corporate leaders should ensure their company’s strategy is robust and designed to deliver the company’s purpose.

This strategy needs to be flexible to take account of changing stakeholder considerations. Periodic ESG risk and opportunity assessments are a tool that leaders can use to ensure they are pursuing an appropriate strategy in light of changing externalities and stakeholder feedback.

Culture/Values

A company’s culture and values are important in ensuring decisions and daily business practices appropriately reflect their stated purpose.

Ensuring incentives and renumeration packages for senior management support the strategy, culture and values of a company is an important tool that boardrooms can use to integrate purpose and strategy throughout their company’s practices.

Governance

Effective governance, which regularly addresses stakeholder input, is critical for running a sustainable, resilient business.

Board composition, diversity and inclusion are important factors in ensuring boardrooms are equipped with the skills needed adequately understand and consider the needs of their stakeholders.

Along with input from the Forum’s Community of Chairpersons, the whitepaper is based on interviews with senior leaders at bp, the Cambridge University Institute for Sustainability Leadership, Fidelity International and Ørsted.

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