What does future leadership in post-COVID-19 world look like? Jacqueline Novogratz has a suggestion.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world,” may or may not have been exclaimed by Mahatma Gandhi. However, that is the takeaway I got from listening to Jacqueline Novogratz. Jacqueline is the founder and CEO of the impact investment fund named Acumen. She was interviewed by the CEO of IKEA Foundation, Per Heggenes, about future leadership.
In many ways the COVID-19 crisis has shown that as a human race we can do better. As Jacqueline put it: “Discomfort is a proxy for progress.” We can already see the change within ourselves and in our communities.
Due to drastic lockdowns, we were cut-off from our usual communities and activities. Therefore, we have had time to think and to re-value our lives. The massive global support for Black Lives Matter campaign is an example of this.
Furthermore, the capitalistic model based on excessive consumerism had already started to change.
We had become more aware and conscious of wider social and environmental impacts of business activities. And, putting our money into companies that are more aligned with our values was already making a positive impact in the world.
However, on a bigger scale, are companies really ready for this new way of doing business to achieve success and growth?
In a rapidly changing, but increasingly complex world, what does a future-proofed business look like? What models do we have for this more conscious, stakeholder-inclusive, and environmentally-aware capitalism? What does the leadership in this new breed of companies entail?
Jacqueline suggests that the new business models are still to be developed, but she has a clear message for the leaders.
The future leadership according is about practices (rather than principles which would be very much easier to agree upon but less so to act upon). We can all adopt these practices regardless what our roles are in the society.
Future Leadership requires us to become:
- Deep listeners who are willing to understand not just physical needs but emotional needs. If you truly are heard, you become understood at the deepest levels, you become important and strengthened, and even feel loved. Listening fully and enquiring instead of trying to convert or change means that the true transformation is possible.
- Audacious to stand up and speak up. With this audacity comes courage to work within the systems to create institutional and effective partnerships outside the box. Falling into the old, disserving ways of blaming or apathy can be left behind.
- Humble to admit own weaknesses, mistakes and failures. Humility creates vulnerability that opens up powerful collaborations through complementing each other’s talents and shortcomings. In effect, the mutual ‘North Star’ of shared values provides a strong foundation for partnerships.
Partnerships and moral imagination
The success for these companies practicing new leaderships skills for the future lies on one hand in partnerships, and on the other, in moral imagination. As Jacqueline commented on the reasons why the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 7, Affordable and Clean Energy, has been so slow to progress:
In 2007, there were still 1.5 billion people without access to electricity. The traditional markets and investors did not see the opportunity to invest in these markets. And unfortunately, some well-meaning charities gave electricity for free without realising that they also took away people’s ability to make their own choices with dignity.
Acumen—that has invested $130M in 136 companies and impacted over 300 Million low-income people—partnered four years ago with the IKEA Foundation to tackle energy poverty. By funding mini-grid and off-grid projects, they have not only given energy for homes but also provided livelihoods for the poorest communities.
They are also working with scalable social entrepreneurs that want to make a bigger impact in Eastern Africa. The deadline for the applications is 8.6.2021 and the application form can be found here.
This new ‘frontier capital’ allows organisations at the early stages to fundraise for further capital. It has encouraged new ecosystems of success, talent and partnership to be created.
But, there is a great need for more investors seeing the opportunities of patient capital in a rapidly changing world.
The role of consumers and governements?
Businesses and investors have a strong role to play. But what are the roles of governments or consumers?
If we take the energy poverty again as an example, despite the efforts of patient capital investment and social enterprise solutions, there are still people in the world who cannot afford the 5 cent per day cost of solar power.
The state aid and governmental subsidies can easily solve that problem if there is moral will. They can also create enabling ecosystems where businesses can not only survive but thrive.
As consumers, we can all continue to put pressure on governments. and also, we can lead with our purses and wallets, buying things that align with our vision for better world whether it is renewable energy or sustainable coffee or chocolate.
But, what if we cannot yet afford that? Then, Jacqueline encourages: “Talk about it and think about the ways in which you can give more to the world than you take from it.” After all, we have creativity and ability to take action!
In Jacqueline’s words: