It was standing room only on Tuesday at Buenos Aires’ MALBA modern art museum, for the second of two ‘InFocus’ events this year by the Sustainable Brands Buenos Aires team. Last month’s event at MALBA presented “Good to the Core” as a collective construction that can be achieved when all of society’s stakeholders work together to achieve it. The theme continued this week, with the 250 attendees hearing speakers from brands, NGOs, accelerators and academia from Argentina, Israel, the UK and beyond shared examples of how each are working to achieve a “Good Economy.”
First up was Omri Boral, co-founder and professional director of TechforGood – an Israeli startup accelerator focused on social-tech startups using technologies to address social and environmental problems. Home to the most startups per capita in the world, Israel is a hotbed of innovation – with over $4.5B invested in startups (twice the amount of the U.S.); Boral likened the entire tiny country to a startup, as she says it’s becoming a laboratory for solving some of the world’s most complex problems.
To illustrate, she showed a video highlighting a few ingenious Israeli innovations, including a cardboard bicycle, a mechanical exoskeleton for disabled people and wounded soldiers, and the first major solar power plant in Rwanda – now supplying 10 percent of Rwanda’s energy.
Examples such as these explain why TechForGood is leading the social-tech revolution, where entrepreneurs are using the ‘Startup Nation’’s best practices to embed intentionality and scale impact. While Boral asserted that not all innovations are a success (“We fail a lot!” she admitted with a smile), the country’s wins point to Israelis’ tendency to look for creative solutions to problems.
Boral also highlighted a common issue with purpose-driven innovation: the fact that many people hear ‘impact’ and still think they must compromise profits. She called out global corporates including Unilever and Danone as proof that combining business with impact is working. For its part, TechForGood has developed a series of metrics for quantifying the added financial value that mission-driven innovations can create for a company: Startups currently creating quantifiable, game-changing benefits for corporates in many areas include Moodify (HR), EggXYt (efficiency in production), Valiber (enhancing brand value), and CoreOne (expanding to new markets).
Boral asked attendees, “How can you use your business expertise to maximize impact?” – and challenged them to inspire others to lead change.
Jacqueline Pels, Professor of Marketing at Buenos Aires’ Universidad Torcuato Di Tella Business School seconded Boral’s sentiments and wondered aloud why this concept of ‘better’ business is just now coming to fruition. She pointed to the belief in cultures the world over that being #1 is of utmost importance – so it’s no surprise that in the economy, emphasis is on highest stock price, etc. She called out the ideas of great thinkers and how they’ve manifested in the economy and the business world, including Darwin (“survival of the fittest”), Adam Smith (“logic of maximization) and Descartes (what if, instead of saying, “I think, therefore I am,” Descartes had said, “I empathize, therefore I am”?).
All new economies (or ‘better’ businesses, such as B Corporations), Pels said, expand these frameworks to acknowledge the presence of many more players, an ecosystem of stakeholders. The goal in a “good economy” is no longer to be the fittest, but to be fitting – and the underlying logic isn’t that of maximization – it’s the logic of co-viability, a win-win.
We are seeing the emergence of new systems, she said, but for them to become institutions, we need to share ideas, discuss and take action.
Next, Unilever’s Amanda Sourry shared the company’s strategy around fixing our broken global food system, which is rife with waste, polluting processes, unhealthy offerings and ineffective distribution systems. With its presence in 190 countries and 2.5 billion consumers touching its brands daily, Unilever has committed to using its reach to “really be a force for good.”
Last month, on World Environment Day, Unilever launched a manifesto around sustainable nutrition, which includes acknowledging the company’s responsibility to produce food that enhances health and wellbeing; improving the nutritional profile of its products; and distributing information so consumers can make smart choices. Sourry also highlighted Unilever’s commitment to food fortification in developing areas, helping consumers learn to cook healthily, and reducing food waste from sourcing to packaging (ex: Hellman’s new Red & Green Ketchup aims to not let under-ripe tomatoes go to waste).
Next up were presentations of three case studies from organizations doing their part, from very different angles, to create a Good Economy by rethinking traditional commercial models.
Luisa Weber, director at Matriarca – which creates collaborative value chains for over 4,000 female artisans throughout Argentina – discussed how the organization fulfills the gap between the market and the country’s mostly rural artisan communities.
Next was Cristian Perez, Public Affairs and Communications Director at Coca-Cola Argentina, who detailed the brand’s “road of discovery” creating win-win relationships with citrus growers throughout the country, and the longer-term thinking that is helping to bring value to Argentinian SMEs along the value chain; he emphasized the importance of collaboration and maintaining close relationships with stakeholders to meet their needs and expectations, and create long-term value for all.
And Cecilia Hecht gave us a glimpse into the possibilities of Bioecon – a platform exploring a new, non-monetary model of commerce – a “more human economy” based on “a peer-to-peer, growth-sensitive, self-regulated economic agreement between parties.” Since 2012, Bioecon has been something of a social laboratory, developing a system of exchange that doesn’t require money – an agreement between people who agree to offer and receive products and services through reciprocal ‘payment’ – participants determine their offerings/‘currency’ based on the needs of other users (ex: a grocer offering fruits and vegetables that will otherwise go to waste; users offering delivery services, haircuts, house painting, etc). The platform not only creates a new model of reciprocal value, it is fostering new levels of community connection.