The world has changed – and will undoubtedly continue to do so.
A new focus on balancing purpose and profit was already emerging, and in the wake of a global pandemic will arguably become even more relevant.
So, what role has tech to play? Is 'tech for good' just the next wave to ride or is it a true mission we all should be following?
We recently held a panel event that brought together some pioneering industry leaders to explore just this.
Who we heard from
The event was hosted by Herb Kim, Founder & CEO of Thinking Digital Limited and curator of TEDxLiverpool and Liverpool Binary Fest.
The panel were:
Funmi Alassan – Chief Product Officer at Together All
Following an education in computer science Funmi moved into product management because she wanted to drive real change. Passionate about using tech as an enabler to solve real problems she now works at Together All, a social impact business focused on the digital mental health space.
Albert Howard – Head of Sustainability at Sourceful
With a background in economics, and 5 years consulting at Accenture under his belt, Albert decided he wanted to work more on the things that mattered. A secondment to a think tank working on industry and climate projects followed, before he moved to Sourceful to help them make better supply chains for people and planet.
Jennifer Lee – Head of KPMG Liverpool
Jennifer joined KPMG as a graduate and with a background in tax she now heads up audit, tax and advisory services at the Liverpool office. The KPMG culture and values have played a big part in why she's stayed with the business for 20 years.
Mark Apter – Head of Innovation and Digital Services at L’Oreal UK
With a background in concept development and e-commerce Mark previously held roles at B&Q, Tesco and Moonpig.com. Much of his work at L’Oreal is focused on enabling and accelerating innovation within the organisation.
Some of the themes we explored
Is positive change happening?
Jennifer: Yes, most businesses we work with are looking for a model that delivers profit and positive impact. The key thing is to know what you stand for and communicate it to all internal and external stakeholders. But it has to be authentic and run through your whole organisation.
Herb: It does feel like that focus purely on producing shareholder value has shifted. It seems like we've driven that to the edge and that thinking has run its course. You have people like the CEO of JP Morgan Chase talking pretty openly saying, listen it can't go on forever, inequalities have become a huge issue that can't be ignored.
How can we measure good?
Albert: At the heart of all this I think there's a bit of a data problem. How do we measure improvement? How do we measure progress to make sure we are doing ‘good’ as well as driving profit?
It’s one of the biggest barriers. There is starting to be progress - big public companies are starting to do better ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) analysis and investors are taking more notice. But it relies on companies being open and honest and telling their story through the right data.
On a micro level the thing you can do first as a business is to understand your environmental, social and economic footprint. Without that you don’t know how you can improve it. Baselining activity gives you an idea of what progress can look like.
Herb: Food companies are forced to put nutritional information on their products, this information has been hugely helpful for people on food products. Can we have a carbon footprint label for products and services?
Albert: Early mover brands like Allbirds are starting to do this but the problem is what does it mean? Can we make it relevant and understandable? I heard someone talking about the success of Weight Watchers being built around one metric, one value – should we move forward with one number and build awareness and education around that?
Funmi: It’s an interesting one for us, there are metrics but it's tricky to measure the impact of a lot of our work which is essentially 'de-escalating risk'. We've stopped something bad from happening but it’s hard to measure, as it didn’t happen.
As more people use our platform we are starting to measure more. We’re exploring ways to use metrics that are understood by everyone – and a clinically approved metric we can share. We can then see and show the impact on our population.
Mark: L'Oreal has been working on sustainability and it's much more visible and measurable than anywhere else I've worked. Our work is independently evaluated and we’re the only company globally to get had a triple AAA rating for 5 years in a row from CDP.
What are the barriers to progress?
Herb: When I started in tech at IBM in 1997, the first 15 years or so in the industry, we thought we were starting a new utopia – with the internet, the explosion of devices and free services, but the view on tech has become more critical, that’s a problem.
Jennifer: We should be showcasing those businesses who successfully manage to get this balance right, to find the 'double bottom' line, and say look at these businesses and how well they've done. To encourage visibility and share success stories.
Where does new tech innovation come from?
Mark: At L’Oreal innovation really runs through the whole culture, and tech acts as a gateway to discovering products and being a problem solver for us. We want to continue to move more into a tech for good space. Our brands are already starting to do this through really diverse innovations, things like a salon water saver, a UV skin tracker to track UV exposure.
The potential for positive change
Tech has the potential to help tackle global problems. To meet people's needs better, to tackle inequalities and to protect our planet.
The world has changed and with it the expectations of relationships between business and society. While challenges around metrics and long-term sustainability remain, there is undoubtedly opportunity and reason for the tech sector to not only be good corporate citizens but to put 'good' at the centre of their mission and purpose.
Gather is a community of like-minded leaders. We’ve carried on this conversation there, why don’t you join us. Find out more about how to join.