The world’s largest food company is now Nestlé, where John Elkington is a member of the Creating Shared Value Advisory Board created by the company’s Chairman, Peter Brabeck Letmathe. The focus of the work is on creating ‘shared value’ across three linked areas of risk and opportunity: water, nutrition and rural development. Other current challenges include sustainable palm oil. Like other major companies, Nestlé is driving new requirements deep into its value chain.
“To be honest, I was more than a little surprised to get the invitation to join the Advisory Board,” John recalls, “given Nestlé’s complicated reputation in areas like breast milk supplements and substitutes, and the fact that I had had reasonably recent, quite challenging and very public exchanges with Peter Brabeck in Davos and at the London Business School. But my sense is that the company’s top management is determined to embrace and address these great challenges.”
The Nestlé shared value agenda and experience is now informing the wider business leadership and management debates. “I see the ‘creating shared value’ concept as a significant step forward,” John says, “though at one level it’s a rebranding by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer of long-standing concepts in the field of sustainable business, including Jed Emerson’s blended value.
“Perhaps it’s a question, once again, not of what’s being said but who’s saying it—and where. The fact that the creating shared value agenda got onto the front cover of the January/February issue of the Harvard Business Review is hugely helpful.”
Fine, but what about the sheer number of boards and advisory boards that Volans is involved in? How does this make sense? “This is something that really took off during the period of our funding from the Skoll Foundation,” John observes, “and, yes, we do get a bit stretched at times. But, in addition to the help we give trailblazing innovators and organizations, we see two critically important streams of benefit flowing from these relationships.
“The first is the access to people and conversations—I wouldn’t have met the late C.K. Prahalad, for example, if it hadn’t been for the Nestlé role, and that’s something I value hugely. But, even more importantly, Volans aims ‘to help the future take fligh’t—and we do that best when we can find, map and co-evolve new, you could even say mutant, business mindsets and models.
“Evolution feeds on mutants,” John concludes, “and while many are found on the fringes of today’s economic system, as Pamela Hartigan and I argue in The Power of Unreasonable People, “growing numbers are now also to be found in the boards and C-suites of major, incumbent companies. That’s why we’re delighted to be involved in the Nestlé initiative.”
As part of Volans’ involvement in the Nestlé Advisory Board, John has spoken at conferences organized by Nestlé, chaired a stakeholder session with stakeholders at the top of London’s Gherkin skyscraper, and helped senior executives to explore the implications and applications of the creating shared value concept. John became a member of the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Advisory Board in late 2009.