Some healthy recommendations, why we need more purpose and moral inspiration

Health innovators: overcoming obstacles

Irked by great-sounding health innovations that come to naught, Stanford University embarked on a research project to identify the hurdles that health entrepreneurs face. Taking examples from the developing world as its baseline, the Stanford team has come up with a list of what works – and what doesn’t.

The result is a series of recommendations. Although some sound a little trite, all carry profound implications. “A prototype is just the beginning” runs one example. The advice is aimed at those who look at a problem, provide a smart solution but don’t stop around long enough to see how it plays out. Another recommendation runs: “You can’t do it alone.” In a call to collaboration, the authors urge entrepreneurs to recognise the benefits of “tapping into informal relationships and working with local power structures”.

The influence of private-sector thinking is in evidence, too. “Customers must come first,” the paper suggests. Rich or poor, people value choice. Tying health innovations into individual preferences, aspirations and desires is therefore critical. Then there’s the observation that “business models matter”. Too often, entrepreneurs’ creative energies focus on designing an intervention, but neglect how to bring it to market. Setting up a new business venture isn’t always the answer. Indeed, the authors suggest that early-stage teams would be “well served” if they integrated their interventions into an existing organisation.

A last word goes to investors, both philanthropic and commercial. Be willing to provide enough resources over a long enough period, which “means moving away from short-term grants and toward multi-year commitments”. As the paper concludes, what really builds health-minded entrepreneurs is the time and capital to learn, iterate, and settle into the “right product-market fit”.

Denend, L et al (Spring 2014), “Meeting the Challenges of Global Health”, Social Innovation Review, 12 (2): 36-41.

Find your purpose

Leadership used to be all about performance: squeezing more out of your team, eking out more for the bottom line, innovating your way ahead of others. The tables have turned. Now it’s all about “purpose”. Find your purpose and, the theory goes, performance will follow – not only at work, but in your personal life too.
The term “purpose” litters corporate ethics codes and vision statements, but what about the individual purposes of those tasked with implementing such charters? Corporate responsibility professionals tend to have a higher degree of self-awareness and mission-mindedness than most. For those behind the curve, however, this fascinating HBR essay shows how to draw up a “specific and personal” statement of your own. The key advice? “Your purpose is your brand, what you're driven to achieve.”

The paper then provides a step-by-step implementation guide. Individuals are advised to map out a “purpose-to-impact” strategy. Ideally, this would force you to “envision long-term opportunities” for living your purpose (three to five years ahead) and then help you to work backwards from there (with specific goals at two-year, one-year, six-month, three-month and 30-day intervals).

Mark Twain famously said there are two important days in everyone’s life: the day you are born and the day you discover why. Can you define your purpose? And, if so, are you living it?

Craig, N and Snook, S (May 2014), “From Purpose to Impact”, Harvard Business Review, Vol 92 (5): 104-111.

The African way

Responsible business theorists are always on the lookout for inspiration on how to construct a more moral economy. Today, non-western philosophies are very much in vogue. Recent peer-reviewed studies have propounded alternative business models based on everything from Confucianism and Gandhism to Taoism and “buen vivir”.

This latest in this sequence looks at the African philosophy of Ubuntu. Described as an “ethics of virtue”, Ubuntu stresses the importance of communitarian and humanitarian themes such as tolerance, harmony and inclusiveness. Previous studies, for example, have drawn attention to the philosophy’s advocacy of empathy and the capacity to forgive. Others have described Ubuntu’s capacity to draw together otherwise disparate groups in an interconnected whole.

The philosophy’s “narrative of return”, as recently identified by Christian Gade, raises reflections around Ubuntu’s role in post-colonial nation-building and reconciliation. Gade argues that the end point of the philosophy’s historic trajectory is a golden age in which Africans restore the continent by returning to traditional, humanist, or socialist values. In this context, its application in post-apartheid South Africa is worthy of note. “It is perhaps in this context of inequality and historical division that Ubuntu has global relevance,” the author concludes.

Serious hurdles await researchers, however. For starters, the literature is fraught with epistemological assumptions that make defining Ubuntu a tricky pursuit. Nor are academics able to agree how widespread or distinctive the philosophy actually is. More empirical research is clearly required, but, if successful, an Ubuntu-inspired form of business ethics may just emerge.

West, A (April 2014), “Ubuntu and Business Ethics: problems, perspectives and prospects”, Journal of Business Ethics, 121: 47-61.

Campus news

The UN-backed Principles for Responsible Management Education has launched a new website. Among other features, the site will host Primetime blog posts and links to relevant academic resources.

IESE Business School will host its 18th International Symposium on Ethics, Business and Society on 30 June and 1 July 2014. The conference will take place in Barcelona, Spain.

Academic news  Business School Bulletin 

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