A Safari to Understand Business for Good: USD’s Global Executive Seminar

Paula Cordeiro

When we hear the word safari, we think about going to see wild animals somewhere on the African continent. But, the Swahili word ‘safari’ means any type of journey*, not just to see animals.  So, for the last five years I’ve been on a safari to understand business for good and here is part of that journey.

Our planet faces existential treats, particularly climate change and the growing inequality in our communities. And, societal norms are changing; employees, investors, consumers and other stakeholders increasingly want companies to address social issues. 

According to the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer report, “…[the] latest research reveals that employees want employers to commit to action on societal issues, [and] leverage voices within the organization that employees already hear and embrace the employee base as information amplifiers.”

Given this outpouring of demand, companies and organizations are pursuing – instead of just talking about – sustainability strategies. A growing number of socially oriented businesses are beginning to:

  • address human rights issues in their supply plans
  • engage employees in decision-making
  • work towards zero carbon operations
  • design products and processes to minimize waste, promote recycling and extend the lifespan of products
  • invest in employee reskilling and development programs that can demonstrate commitment to employees’ long-term well being

The sustainability movement is not a fad, and it’s rapidly taking hold. And just as when a 14 year-old Norwegian (the indomitable Greta Thunberg!) shook the world’s establishment on climate change, a similar tusami is underway in how we do business – consumers and stakeholders are increasingly demanding change in business practices.

To address these issues, we at the University of San Diego developed the Global Executive Seminar (“GES”) to empower executives to address these goals.

The goals of GES include:

  •  To empower later-stage/second career executives in creating organizations that are both economically feasible and do good.
  •  When planning and implementing a company’s footprint in this brave new world, leaders need fresh, proven (evidence-based) ideas, as well as examples of what is possible. GES is designed to encourage participants to “get up to the balcony to see the patterns on the ballroom floor” (to use leadership guru Ron Heifetz’s powerful metaphor) by visiting companies, communities and organizations on three very different continents that are “cracking the code” of “doing well commercially by doing good.” Simply put–Business for Good is Good for Business.

Our Research

Over a twelve-month period, GES founders at USD interviewed nearly one hundred people from around the world to seek their ideas on what topics a seminar should include and who the target audience should be.  We visited companies in both Rwanda, Spain and in Southern California that are marque examples of contemporary ‘models of business for good.’ Many of these organizations have different legal structures – such as benefit corporations, or employee-owned businesses – but all create innovative ideas applicable to their organizations or community.

A Practical program for seasoned practitioners

There are lots of opportunities for students seeking undergraduate and graduate degrees to explore business for good theory and tradecraft; however, practical learning opportunities for mid to late career professionals are severely limited. Typical university programs in this field focus deeply on one topic (e.g., leadership, strategic planning, etc.) They are typically held on campus and in classrooms, so learning is limited to lectures, discussion, and case studies. That’s a good start, but not as effective as visiting sites, asking questions, and reflecting with peers on practical experiences. Our target participants are people who already have experience but want to transition their organization to new levels of social consciousness. After weeks of immersion, they will work with experienced practitioners to develop an action plan to apply those experiences in their community or organization.

15 days over 10 months in Southern California, Spain and Rwanda

We’ve developed a program that lasts ten months and has a total of 15 days spread out over that time.  We’ll begin the learning safari in January 2024 with three days in San Diego, where we’ll learn about evidence-based models and frameworks to examine the many companies and organizations we’ll visit throughout the seminar. Topics will include forms of employee ownership, what it takes to become certified as a benefit corporation and successful ways to collaborate with government and nonprofit organizations. We’ll discuss social enterprises, microfinance and impact investing. Then, we’ll conduct two ‘guided’ visits to companies and meet with guests from various companies in Southern California. 

We’ll then have two online 90-minute sessions – one in February and one in March. These sessions will prepare us for our journey in April to Spain.

In Barcelona and Mondragon, we’ll spend five days visiting some of the premier ‘business for good’ companies in Europe, including the Mondragon Co-ops, which are the leading co-op business corporation in Spain and one of the largest in Europe. It operates throughout the world, with 141 production plants in 37 countries, commercial business in 53, and sales in more than 150. Here we’ll explore how employee-owned companies create life-changing wealth for workers and their communities.

In May and June, we will have two additional online sessions, and then in July we travel to Rwanda. Known as the land of a thousand hills, Rwanda’s stunning scenery and inviting business environment make it what some call the ‘Singapore of Africa.’ Here we will examine how government policies can support innovation and economic development. We’ll visit a certified B corporation, owned by the employees and helping to transform a rural community. We’ll delve into how a foundation can wisely invest in the local community and what’s happening at numerous local centers of innovation and entrepreneurship.

In August and September participants will work on their Action Plan –either for their company or another organization. Our Program Consultants will set up ‘office hours’ with participants and serve as coaches and consultants as the participants develop their plans. 

Finally, we will come together for two final days in San Diego and share those Action Plans while celebrating with the many new people we’ve met on this learning journey.

Why attend the Global Executive Seminar?

If you are interested in:

  • exploring business models that prioritize social and environmental impact alongside financial success.
  • considering incorporating worker ownership structures into your organization to foster employee engagement and improve performance.
  • learning essential ESG skills.
  • exploring how nonprofits can integrate social enterprises into their operations to generate sustainable revenue streams and advance their mission
  • looking to enhance your understanding of the benefits and challenges associated with implementing certified B Corps and worker ownership models and impact investment strategies within your industry
  • visiting successful examples of companies that have integrated social responsibility and sustainability into their core business strategies
  • examining partnerships between businesses, nonprofits and government
  • networking with peers to discuss pressing challenges while building a global network
  • preparing yourself for future executive and board positions in corporate and nonprofit boards.

In the ever-evolving landscape of business, the quest to create meaningful and positive change is more vital than ever. As we embark in this seminar on a learning safari to explore “business for good” in three diverse regions of the world, we’re convinced that there’s no better way for adults to learn and truly grasp the essence of this concept than through visiting sites and talking with people. Classrooms undoubtedly have their place, but when it comes to understanding and immersing oneself in the world of ‘business for good,’ nothing compares to the transformative power of experiential learning.

Join us for real-world relevance, networking opportunities, inspiration and motivation. And, along the way, enjoy fabulous travel experiences…

Here’s a link to the website  to learn more.

*I would like to thank my friend & colleague– social innovator Roshan Paul– who in his commencement address at USD in 2015 explained the meaning of the Swahili word safari.

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