Saturday, January 28, 2006

Seeing Red

Peter, thanks for your question about the recently-launched "Product RED" founded by AMEX (launched by CEO Robert Shriver and endorsed by Bono at Davos).

"One percent of money that customers spend on the card will go to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tubercolosis and Malaria, which supports nearly half a million people on AIDS treatment and a similar number of children orphaned by the disease." - From Reuters Foundation

I think that this is a great idea - and a more direct approach to what has been doing for years. It should be viewed as an essential aspect of any triple bottom line (TBL) approach.

According to the BBC, Bono warned that the project has to beware of "link[ing] up with the wrong partners." I am glad to see this word of caution at least mentioned.

Also, there may be concerns that companies will try to "cop out" as TBL responsible companies by subscribing to Product Red while continuing main operations that at the same time are detrimental to society. That, however, may be a problem with any TBL effort, mitigated somewhat (perhaps and hopefully) by efforts to establish and maintain certain TBL standards (perhaps like the UN's Global Compact for Social Responsibility).

And I know that there can be problems with enforcement of such standards. I think that the best we can hope for is to raise awareness about the TBL (to customers and to companies - and particularly young people, the "next generation" of customers) and support companies that truly do abide by its basic principles. By adopting a roster of popular items in its fundraising efforts, RED may be able to raise some awareness among youth about the importance of giving back to society. But it will be up to those who recognize that TBL is not only about "seeming good," but about "doing good" to call attention to changes that must take place.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


In my studies of innovation clusters, talent was always one of the indicators of the success of economic development. Thus, attracting, training, and retaining talented innovators and entrepreneurs seems to be a key ingredient for regional growth.

In a recent Globe & Mail commentary, Roger Martin, the Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, attested that Canada does not have a problem in churning out talented scientists and innovators. The problem, according to Martin, is a shortage of skilled managers.

I agree with Martin; managerial (and entrepreneurial) talent is in shortage (not only in Canada). An MBA or in-classroom education is only one of the ways to develop successful managers. The other component is on-the-job training and the bestowing of responsibility (and, thus, being tolerant of occassional failure).

Job training through internships, mentorship programs, and fostering of start-ups among MBAs complements the financial, human resource, and marketing skills honed in an MBA program. There is much to be said for a standardized and organized processes learned in a classroom. But there is much to be said for the unpredictability of managerial circumstances. (Can entrepreneurship be learned, for instance? That's a topic for a separate post!).

Corporations are beginning to set up mentorship programs for those on managerial tracks (both pre- and post-MBAs). The transfer of tacit skills learned as apprentices to mentors can be invaluable to young innovators, entrepreneurs, and managers. (I must mention that mentorship programs are inherently difficult to structure and implement; there must be a strong committment from both sides to achieve specific and measurable goals).

My hats off to the many corporations that offer mentorship to employees (check out Sun's SEED Program) and students (like the University of Toronto's Rotman School).

Triple Bottom Line

I'm currently planning a conference at MIT to engage student innovators in developing a business development plan for an entrepreneurial company with a focus on the triple bottom line - fiscal, environmental, and social benefits and accountability.

The concept of the triple bottom line has always fascinated me. I first came across it in my work in the corporate philanthropy department of a Canadian corporation. More and more large corporations are focusing on the triple bottom line, which is encouraging. The United Nations has even created the Global Compact, which sets out guidelines for establishing the triple bottom line.

I am very excited to be part of an initiative that helps start-up enterprises to focus on the triple bottom line from the outset, particularly because the Global Compact does not admit companies that have fewer than ten employees. My thoughts: foster the start-ups and educate young entrepreneurs about starting enterprises that benefit the world. Perhaps the triple bottom line will be come the only bottom line for the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, and managers.