Interviews

Is rewarding good behaviour enough to solve the sustainability crisis in business?

9 min read

08 April 2019

Features Editor, Real Business

Imagine if there was a system whereby investment decisions could be vetted and monitored in real time to ensure they're as sustainable and impactful as possible? Imagine if you could be assured that your 10-pound investment could go straight to the source of a billion dollar project aided by blockchain technology? Let's stop imagining this scenario, as Manjula Lee, CEO of World Wide Generation says it's about to arrive, and her company is the one that's doing it. She talks influencing decision making in businesses, tackling biases, and the economic future of Britain post-Brexit, (clue, it's going to be a marriage of fintech and sustainable investment technologies).

“For companies, the writing is on the wall. A long-term decline is obvious, and a forthcoming technology will probably make your product redundant.” – Those were the opening words spoken by Manjula Lee, CEO of World Wide Generation, at a recent data conference. But before we get into what her business does, and why it’s so innovative, let’s focus on what the business sustainability advocate meant by those words…

The sustainability investment crisis in business

What Lee was talking about is the issue of business sustainability. We’re at a bit of a frontier moment in the world of enterprise, where worrying environmental factors mean that business owners and CEOs have to look at how they can produce their goods and services with minimum ecological impact whilst communicating their ‘pro-green’ compliance to customers and stakeholders.

The sustainability issue is two-fold: It’s environmental and business based

On the other hand, sustainability issues are also striking businesses in terms of technology. Whilst new technological advances are set to create innovation in the business world, it also means that a number are going to have their services disrupted by this technology, meaning that many will get left behind.

So, in mid-2019, we are facing a sustainability war on two-fronts, will businesses go forth into this new frontier or will they flounder and fall off the cliff edge?

Businesses can change the world via sustainable investment – so why aren’t they all doing it?

“We’re the first and last generation that can solve the sustainability issue via technology,” says Lee. “We’re the first because we have these innovative forms of technology to play with, but it’s the last chance saloon for us because of climate change.”

“The U.N has set a series of Sustainable Development Goals to be completed by 2030, and businesses in the commercial sector should tap into these goals and see the space for innovation it provides,” she says. “If you look at poor societies, there’s a massive market to be tapped into there, with huge potential for growth, such as solving the affordable housing crisis in a pro-environmental way.”

So, what’s holding us back from helping the poorest in society, and boosting the global economy, and the health of businesses in the process? “The problem is that we are still working in silos,” says Lee. “We are all doing our own thing, and there’s increasing distrust between partners when it comes to delivering impact projects, we need to build up that trust again.”

Investors and CEOs: You’re all unsustainable in the way you’re making decisions

“Only 10% of our decision making is rational,” says Lee.”Thousands of our decisions are made subconsciously. So, with anything you’re hearing seeing or touching, your brain builds programmes into the subconscious,” she says. “It has a default mechanism about how it makes automatic decisions for you, known as cognitive biases.”

Whilst Lee’s comments might make a number of investors feel a little worried about their recent business decisions, she says we can make use of trusted and up-to-date data sources, as well as personal vetting processes to put a dent in the ‘human error’ component to unsustainable decision-making.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about belief systems,” says Lee. “If you have people making decisions who have ingrained negative ideas about women, for example, those beliefs will continue to influence the decision-making process.” If we don’t try and implement new programmes based on trusted data sources, history will repeat itself and unsustainable decisions will continue to be made,” she says.

The sustainability and impact investment sector, and where World Wide Generation comes in

“When the impact investment sector really got going in 2016, we started to see that philanthropy and investment could work together,” she says. “But a negative belief system endured, namely that impact investment projects were still risky and low-return.”

“This meant that sector didn’t really rise to the level that it could, but if you could prove the economic argument that it’s more successful than traditional investment, we would change ideas about it,” she continues.

But is impact investment really more successful? Lee says that if we build a supportive ecosystem around impact investment decisions, and make sure that the processes are compatible with human thinking, reward truth, and good behaviour, “we could change the world.”

“This is exactly what we’re doing at World Wide Generation”, says Lee, “we’re building a digital platform that can provide trusted data to create new belief systems that allow for faster and more sustainable decision making.”

How do can we really change the thought patterns of business leaders?

It’s all well and good setting up internal systems that prevent certain biases from taking hold in strategic decisions within businesses, but how can we actually convince business leaders themselves to think sustainably? Furthermore, with CEOs tenures being shorter and stakeholders ruling them with an iron fist, how can they hope to adopt long-term sustainable approaches to leadership?

“It’s definitely a challenge,” says Lee. “Considering ever-rising profit margins and the like, CEOs are pressured to come up with quick, short-term results all the time, it’s a little like the way politicians operate.”

The digital platform they’re building

“We’re building an interoperable tech ecosystem platform for other sustainable technologies, partners and frameworks to work with,” says Lee. “We wanted to develop this to solve the problem of how people measure impact. Everyone is measuring impact differently, so it’s hard to compare and know where we’re at for the U.N’s 2030 agenda,” she says.

But why should all businesses, regardless of their sector, be focused on the U.N’s 2030 angenda? “Because ROI is meaningless if there’s no planet to live on, climate change will affect all of us, businesses included,” she says.

“Anyone with a project or agenda will put it on the platform, they will do the appropriate due diligence and monitor that investment in real time,” she says. “Then, our panel interacts with that investment to see how it’s doing from the other side of the interface,” she adds.

“We will make it interoperable with social media platforms, so we can all interface and invest and volunteer with these great impact projects happening all over the world,” she adds. “Through blockchain, we can get your 10 pounds into a billion dollar project by interfacing with that particular stakeholder,” she says. “The system will then AI profile the project and get the funding right to the source without any third party interference.”

Sustainable development and fintech: New industries to define Brexit Britain

“I’ve told the prime minister that fintech and sustainable development are the industries that the UK should be getting involved in on a world scale,” says Lee. “It shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for us, (Britain), we built the World Wide Web, and the stock exchange, so we can definitely embark upon this new project,” she says.

“London will rise from the ashes, once Brexit over,” adds Lee. “Moreover, our real claim to fame could be this, we could be a city in a country that will build trust through trusted data.” – Well, that sounds like the light on the horizon we all need right now…