Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ceres conference day 2: Multi-stakeholder dialogue for systemic change

This morning started bright and early with a 7am panel consisting of American members of GRI's Stakeholder Council - an elected governance body that provides policy advice to the Board of directors. The panel comprised representatives from a company, an investor, an NGO, and a consultant. The question posed to them by the moderator - Paul Freundlich, GRI Stakeholder Council Chairperson, was on the value of the multi-stakeholder collaborative approach for solving complex problems (in this case, the example of inventing a global language for sustainability reporting was presented as a case study).

The panelists were able to share a wide variety of insights from their work as stakeholders not only in the GRI system but in other working groups and collaborations for a wide variety of other issues. The basic message I took away from the session was that in order to cause systemic and lasting change in the way the world works it will take the agreement and buy in of all stakeholders. Step one is to come to some agreement on the expectations of each party (ie. where do responsibilities lie for sustainability issues - with governments, businesses, investors, consumers, etc. we all have a unique role to play) and then what we are going to collectively do about it.

The GRI process is about 10 years old, and I had the opportunity in the session to applaud those on the panel and in the room, and the other several thousand stakeholders from 60 countries not here at the Ceres conference who have volunteered their time for the long haul. The only thing they ever have in common with each other is that they agree that there should be a framework for sustainability reporting - but exactly what should be in that framework is something that takes many hundreds of hours of dialogue for some level of consensus to be reached. Many of the stakeholders in the GRI process keep coming back to the table even though the process is slow - because they see the establishment of globally accepted Sustainability Reporting Guidelines as being one vehicle for lasting change.

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