Lise Kingo: The Woman who wants to turn the SDG’s into business opportunities

The former Novo Nordisk executive has proved that sustainable business practices can improve a global company’s bottom-line. Now, she will lead the UN Global Compact.

As the seasons turned and August became September, Lise Kingo took over the reins as the new Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact. She succeeds Georg Kell, who retires after over 25 years of service to the United Nations. Lise Kingo joins UN Global Compact after more than 25 years in the Danish pharmaceutical company, Novo Nordisk. During her last 12 years with Novo Nordisk, she was a member of the company’s Executive Management with responsibility for Sustainability, CSR, Communication and HR.

Proven track record
Her results are indisputable. During her 12 years as a member of the Executive Management at Novo Nordisk, the pharmaceutical company grew to become world-leading in her areas of responsibility: Sustainability, CSR, communication and HR. Like few other senior executives before her, she has succeeded in proving sustainability and business aren’t irreconcilable opposites, but rather each other’s prerequisites.

Her work at Novo Nordisk is praised by both former colleagues and stakeholders. In particular she is praised for the positive impact her work has had on Novo Nordisk’s strong image – both internally and externally. One of her former colleagues, Henrik Aagaard, explains: “Lise has truly been a pioneer in terms of positioning this agenda internally at Novo, and to a very high extent it is her accomplishment that Novo Nordisk is continuously among the highest ranked companies on the Dow Jones Index for sustainability and CSR”.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) also praises Lise’s work at Novo Nordisk: “The Company, and Lise Kingo in particular, have always been very open-minded towards our ideas and initiatives. One example is from about 10 years ago, when we started engaging corporations in the fight to overcome global warming. We (WWF) wanted corporations to commit to reducing their CO2 emissions. Novo Nordisk was one of the first and largest companies to sign up, and they delivered impressive results by quickly reducing their emissions significantly, and to a larger extent than what they had promised” tells John Nordbo, Head of Climate and Environment for WWF Denmark.

Devoted CSR Crusader
Lise Kingo’s efforts to make sustainability, social responsibility, employee care, and societal relations an engine for growth in Novo Nordisk are characterized by dedication and perseverance; traits which she will find plenty of use for as she takes on her new role as Executive Director for UN Global Compact. The UN Global Compact, whose members include more than 8000 companies and 4000 other societal actors across more than 170 nations, is a self-owned fund and not a part of the UN’s budget. The ambition of the network is to engage businesses around the world in achieving the UN’s goals of fair and sustainable development of the global economy. The backbone of the UN Global Compact is 10 principles, covering amongst other things human rights, workers’ rights, environmental protection and corruption.

Lise Kingo is determined to make sustainability and CSR a core business issue; “it is evident that not everyone in businesses executive managements necessarily has the same understanding of the value of investing heavily in these agendas, but that is exactly why it is critical to continue to take the debate on how responsibility and business can be combined. This has always been my great interest. There has to be an element to this that is good for business. That is the message you have to be able to present and document, and at Novo Nordisk, it was a concept everyone rallied behind.”
Lise Kingo will be tasked with spreading this logic globally as she settles into her new role as Executive Director for the world’s most influential network for sustainable business management: UN Global Compact.
“There has to be something in this which is good for business. That is the message we have to continue to present and document.”

Getting USA onboard
While the UN Global Compact has a strong membership base in Europe, South-East Asia and Latin America, membership in the USA has room for improvement. In the USA, only approximately 550 companies have committed to the UN Global Compact. In Denmark alone, there are more than 300 registered member organizations. Winning the commitment from American businesses will be key for Lise Kingo and the UN Global Compact’s efforts to achieve their ambitions. “I will work hard to investigate what Americans think about responsible business. There are proportionately few American members of the UN Global Compact, so I need to understand how they think about the societal model and the market model. We need to engage in a dialogue and find out why they are reluctant to join the UN Global Compact. The Republican Party has a strong stance against unions, and part of the UN Global Compact is about professional organization – perhaps that is part of the explanation,” says Lise Kingo. Lise Kingo in particular has high hopes for engaging the large American tech companies out of Silicon Valley in the UN Global Compact, because they often have a more modern approach to how they run their companies.

However, before Lise Kingo can focus her efforts on overcoming the obstacle of securing more American support, she will first need to move all her attention to the UN General Assembly in late September. Here the world’s heads of state will convene to adopt the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 SDGs are the result of a comprehensive consultation process, stretching over several years, where companies, NGOs, governments and civil society organizations have been invited to share their ideas and give their inputs on the UNs overall objective for the years to come. “I have followed the entire stakeholder process, and I have never seen anything like it. Everyone who has been interested in voicing their opinions has been invited to do so. Therefore, there should be a strong sense of ownership of the goals across regions and sectors. However, at the same time it is also evident that we are faced with an extensive communication task. One thing is to develop and agree upon the new goals, but it is something completely different to make them all so easily understandable that companies can integrate them in their business and discover how they can be the fulcrum for future growth. “ Lise Kingo explains.

Parallel with her focus on the communication and implementation of the sustainable development goals, she Lise Kingo will work, over the next months, to ensure that global business is involved and engaged as much as possible in the UN Climate Change Conference, COP 21, in Paris this December.

This article is an edited and translated version of the article “Den stille pige i verdensklassen” originally published in Mandag Morgen no 27. 2015.

Author: Claus Kragh, journalist at Mandag Morgen, [email protected]
Edits & translation: Martin Larsen, [email protected]

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