Business leaders see social challenges as among the most pressing risks they face. Of the more than 5,500 leaders surveyed worldwide, 42 percent answered that wasting an entire generation of youth to unemployment was at the top of their concerns among this year’s five risks. Looking at the broader risk landscape, a similar trend emerges of societal risk being a top concern most notably unemployment, poverty, and hunger.
We tend to assume that business leaders are concerned only with short-term profits and not with societal well-being. However, the above findings demonstrate that social unrest and economic disparity damage everyone’s prosperity. Indeed, today’s most pressing risks are all concerned with human needs that we all share; a job for a life without poverty. It is the social glue of our societies. Poverty, hunger, and youth unemployment are eroding the foundation of progress – not only in the world’s poorest countries, but within almost every country around the world. More than ever before, businesses must keep an eye on the wider risk and opportunity landscape in order to ensure current and future profits.
Business leaders can be the change makers COP21 asked for. The message from Paris is clear that we need to mobilise new drivers of change. In addition, that business holds important keys to solving a major global challenge like climate change. This report documents that businesses have broadened their view on what is best for both society and for business.
SYSTEMIC RISKS PRESENT GLOBAL OPPORTUNITIES
As with every risk, there are opportunities to be pursued in this apparent crisis – indeed, this is the foundation of the Global Opportunity Network. Pursuing these opportunities is not simply a matter of making a bad situation a little better, it is a matter of turning it around. Our future depends on the opportunity mindset.
The interconnected and complex nature of the five risks in this year’s report call for systemic solutions. Youth unemployment is an urgent example of the threatening ripple effects of a generation without prospects.
Unemployment rates have reached particularly alarming heights in the Middle East and North Africa, where the lack of prospects for young people threatens to waste an entire generation. The untapped potential of millions of people has repercussions far beyond their immediate societies.
The good news is that opportunities for change can be found if a systemic approach is applied to solving the youth unemployment crisis. Tomorrow’s professionals are today’s children. A systemic approach looks at how the schools and higher education systems interact with youth and how policies and corporations mold youth and their skills and culture of working. We present concrete examples of systemic opportunities getting youth into work that relates to several of the Sustainable Development Goals.
With new thinking about education, knowledge-sharing, and entrepreneurship, aided by digital innovations, entire societies can be uplifted and several global risks mitigated.
BUSINESSES ARE THE NEW ACTIVISTS
So where do we go to pursue these opportunities for systemic change? The survey data shows that business leaders are perceived to be the new advocates for systemic changes, alongside civil society. While the task of tackling entrenched social problems once firmly belonged in the realm of government, a clear shift is taking place: progressive businesses are working for the society they want to operate in. This is not motivated simply by altruism, but rather by an increasing recognition that social risks are detrimental to the bottom line and may present business opportunities in addressing them.
A growing number of businesses must take the long view and look beyond their immediate interests to thrive. To this end, a new alliance is emerging between progressive businesses and civil society actors, who strive to achieve the same sustainable goals. This promises to strengthen the social bottom line on the sustainability agenda, together with the environmental and economic bottom lines, ushering a new kind of social capitalism. It is large scale societal change from the bottom up.
Governments, on the other hand, exhibit a lack of political will to catalyse change. A particularly strong example is South America, where our data shows that the capacity to pursue change is consistently ranked much lower than the potential suggests. Low perceived political will is holding the region back, and trust is necessary for citizens and businesses to operate. Generally, in the survey, the governmental sector is perceived to have low capacity to act on opportunities, to demonstrate low political will, and to be least likely to pursue opportunities. When governmental bodies become hamstrung and do not see themselves as active players in an increasingly complex risk landscape, they become reactionary rather than proactive.
Successful pursuit of opportunities requires an optimal interaction between political regulations and innovation across sectors and frontiers. This interplay between government and business is exemplified by this year’s top opportunity, smart farming. Governmental regulation of the use of water, fertilizer, and other inputs has encouraged farmers to turn to technology to help producing more food with fewer inputs. Innovation, at its best, is encouraged by the right framework, and governments can help drive this change.
TECHNOLOGY IS YOUR TOOL
This year’s opportunities also show how much can be achieved despite hamstrung governmental leadership. Technology is perceived as a powerful tool in this regard, as the survey shows leaders globally believe technological capacity is availiable to pursue opportunities. This year, as well as last, the top opportunity was based on people using technology to use fewer scarce natural resources and to ensure the fulfillment of basic needs. Technology plays an important role in all of the top opportunities this year. We see this exemplified in efforts to address youth unemployment by closing the skills gap via digital learning and large-scale health initiatives. In these efforts, the opportunity mindset is the driving force, while technology is the vehicle.
At its core, the opportunity mindset is about embracing risk to see opportunities. The challenges we face are more complex and interconnected than ever before. Whether we are tackling poverty or resource depletion, we must be smarter about how we organise ourselves.
The opportunities in this report show there is great reason to be optimistic. After all, creativity was never about an abundance of options, but about being imaginative within the constraints you find yourself under. The best opportunity leaders embody this mindset, and the world needs them more than ever.