The third annual Responsible Business Forum: The Economics of Mutuality took place on Friday 18th - Saturday 19th May 2018 at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. It brought together global companies, scholars, students, and policymakers together to share their experiences of tackling key challenges in their ecosystems to generate financial, social, and environmental value at scale. Creating this value for stakeholders is at the core of what we term ‘mutuality.’
Business and finance are undergoing profound change. As the size and influence of multinational corporations have grown to a level that rivals nation states, the importance of business for our prosperity, survival and wellbeing has never been more evident.
Traditional economic models based on scarce financial capital are increasingly irrelevant in a world of abundant financial capital and scarce human, social and natural capital. Economics is concerned with the management of scarce resources but its application to the corporate sector has failed to reflect these changes. Business leaders are ill equipped to manage the new complexities of today, and the financial sector, originally designed to provide funding for the real economy, has become increasingly disconnected from it.
The consequence of these profound changes is that we operate today with an out-dated and sub-optimal system, which is undermining the role of business in society. This system contributes to growing inequality, social unrest and environmental degradation. It also deprives business of significant opportunities for growth and value creation, as well as to make unparalleled contributions by both creating social impact and restoring the environment. Our understanding of business’ role in advancing the common good brought us together at the 2018 Forum.
Today, there is both a duty and an opportunity for business leaders to reflect the changing needs of society and the environment, restoring trust in business. The purpose of this conference was to pursue ways in which business both stays true to its nature, which is to deliver performance, while also delivering positive benefits for all stakeholders and addressing the loss of trust in corporations.
Since 2016, the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School and Mars Catalyst have organised the Responsible Business Forum as part of their joint Mutuality in Business research programme. The programme explores the concept of mutuality in business and develops a business management theory for The Economics of Mutuality, teaching curricula, new management practices, and business case studies.
The Forum brings together C-suite executives, leading academics, foundation leaders, NGOs, investors, government officials, and MBA students to share and explore innovative ways to transform business performance and practice for the common good. Past contributors have argued that responsible business practices that benefit individuals, communities, and the environment, while sharing financial capital, are at the core of how business must operate in the 21st century.
In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be... This is the inter-related structure of reality.
Martin Luther King Jr
US Civil Rights Activist
In 2018, we built upon the success of the previous two years, using the third Responsible Business Forum to focus on two key areas: the need to change the business practices of today to increase trust and reduce negative impact, and, looking forward, the new challenges and opportunities that are being brought by the fourth industrial revolution. Over two days, the Forum explored these topics through keynote speeches, panel discussion, case study presentations, and master classes.
The first day began with an introductory session and a series of master classes that explored key aspects of the Economics of Mutuality. In the afternoon of the first day and the morning of the second day, the Forum examined a series of cases that describe specific examples of the ways in which companies have attempted to adopt mutual approaches to business. These companies satisfy two criteria: they expound explicit purposes or values that reflect objectives beyond pure financial performance, and they demonstrate a serious commitment to implementing them through their ownership, governance, leadership, measurement, and management practices.
In addition to the cases and master classes, there were panels and keynotes on mutuality, presentations by MBA students and the Forum closed with a student-led Oxford Union-style debate on mutuality.