Recently, I’ve participated in two distinct forums with a recurring theme: focusing on innovative solutions to the challenges and opportunities of the future.
Nothing epitomizes these challenges and opportunities like the Internet. Whether the Internet will be a force for positive change and progress or for repression and tyranny is the worrisome question facing governments, policymakers, businesses and the citizens around the world that it has finally given a voice and outlet to.
This is a pivotal issue and we were so pleased to host our friend Alec Ross, Secretary Clinton’s senior advisor for innovation, last week to shine some light on it. Alec came to attend Stockholm’s Internet conference on Internet Freedom spearheaded by Foreign Minister Bildt, an early and enthusiastic pioneer on this issue. Both Ross and Bildt gave prescient and insightful speeches and sat on a panel together addressing questions on how to positively harness the Internet for international development, freedom from political repression and economic progress.
The theme of the day really struck a chord with me as I truly believe the language of individuality, openness and expression espoused by social media and the identity of the Internet writ large is universal and increasingly becoming more integral to self-identity for the young generation than the language of their homeland. The Arab Spring brought this to the forefront, and even today we see young Egyptians from across the political and religious spectrum fighting for common values of transparency, anti-corruption and opportunity for all.
Ensuring the future for the young generation by harnessing our common values was a key theme at another event I attended yesterday. Save the Children in collaboration with Unicef organized an inspiring seminar on children’s rights and business principles. I attended at the invitation of Ambassador Lisa Svensson, Sweden’s dynamic Ambassador for Corporate Responsibility and the youngest Ambassador in the Foreign Ministry.
Protecting and supporting children around the world is a passion of Queen Silvia’s, and Her Majesty gave a strong set of opening remarks calling on businesses to take greater responsibility for the lives of children and safeguard their rights through the ten principles developed by the United Nations “Global Compact” on corporate responsibility.
Sweden has a cultural legacy of helping those in need, and it’s no surprise that its companies are consistently ranked as having the highest levels of corporate responsibility through carefully developed and targeted programs. Many of the corporations here have been able to strike a healthy balance between making money while doing something good for society.
Children’s rights are directly tied to levels of female empowerment since women are predominantly responsible for the livelihood of young children in the developing world. If women are able to make their own money, it’s been proven that they will use that money to educate their children. For this reason, I believe promoting women’s entrepreneurship is critical to the plight of children.
It was incredibly heartening to learn about the large-scale initiatives many Swedish companies are enacting to help women start their own businesses, secure loans and get their goods to the marketplace.
In places like Bangladesh, H & M is educating women on their rights such as simply asking for maternity leave and safe places to breastfeed. While touring Ericsson’s headquarters last week at the invitation of two of its top female Vice Presidents, I learned of the many ways Ericsson is empowering women in Africa, for example, through the “Connect to Learn” initiative that brings women and children quick access to broadband. In partnership with the UN Development Program, IKEA is sponsoring the education and empowerment of women in over 500 villages in Uttar Pradesh, India to learn how to start their own businesses. These are just a few examples I have heard about recently of the many, many Swedish companies that are taking the lead on this issue. It is a rich area where both Swedish and American companies can share best practices and collaborate.
Values-based leadership with a strong foundation in social innovation will be the dominant business model of the future, in my opinion. Today, the young generation entering the workforce is demanding that their companies care about something beyond just the bottom line. Business schools are slowly moving away from a financial, investment-based “Wall Street” focus to one rooted in imagination, innovation and corporate responsibility. I have deep faith that in the next 10-20 years we will have furthered the progress of women and children around the world through innovative public-private partnerships and the dedication of both sectors to empowering women and girls.