As a fervent believer in the power of corporations to advance progress on societal issues, I read with great interest the sharp critique of Google DotOrg’s philanthropic track record that Stephanie Strom of The New York Times co-authored with Miguel Helft in late January of this year. That piece enumerated the implementation challenges faced by the DotOrg business unit of Google in its quest to flex the company’s creativity and innovation toward solutions to climate change, global poverty, and global pandemics, among other pressing issues. Those challenges ranged from a reported lack of executive leadership, difficulty integrating philanthropic staff into cross functional teams within the firm, and frustration with the long timeframe required for achieving change on societal issues. As someone who has worked directly with the CEOs of leading companies on their philanthropic endeavors for the past ten years, I felt some sympathy for Google as I made my way through the timeline of disappointments (Google is not a member company): I know from experience that selecting the right societal issues on which to focus is deceptively hard for companies, and implementing the best of intentions related to those issues is much harder still.
Coincidentally, in less than one week CECP will gather over 80 leading global CEOs at McGraw-Hill headquarters in New York for CECP’s sixth annual Board of Boards CEO Conference to discuss exactly this topic. Peer-to-peer, these CEOs will explore the ways that companies can overcome these and other implementation challenges as they integrate their business strategy with problem-solving on society’s toughest issues, like illiteracy and obesity. This executive forum, ranked among the top ten CEO conferences in the world by Weber Shandwick, is perfectly in synch with Ms. Strom’s laudatory article published in yesterday’s New York Times titled “For Pepsi, a Business Decision with Social Benefit.” CECP is proud that PepsiCo's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Indra Nooyi will join Accenture’s Chairman William Green in a candid session moderated by acclaimed interviewer Charlie Rose on the core idea advanced by Strom’s latest writing: that companies can simultaneously aim for higher profitability in ways that “also prove to be economically and socially beneficial for needy people.” I modestly believe that the title of our CEO conference could have been an equally good title for her article: “Business at its Best: Maximizing Long-Term Profitability and Societal Impact.”