Richard Branson kicked off the closing panel for the Virgin Unite Next Decade event by talking about the mission underpinning The B Team. He explained it was simply about bringing like-minded business leaders together to debate the big issues of the day and work with governments to bring about change:
"Because even if we’re in the airline business we’re willing to take it on the chin because the greater purpose is a world our grandchildren can live in."
It’s a dynamic approach shared by all those who joined Richard in this discussion – founder and chairman of Econet, Strive Masiyiwa; founder of Reel Gardening and a Branson Centre South Africa entrepreneur, Claire Reed; co-founder and co-chair of The B Team, Jochen Zeitz; and co-founder and trustee of Forum for the Future, Jonathon Porritt, who led the panel.
Early in the conversation Johan observed that businesses that start with ‘baggage’ take longer to transform, but it’s too big a risk not to. He explained that leaders must innovate in order to be successful, whether they are in a traditional industry or not. He pointed to the luxury sector as a good example of a place where brands are injecting sustainability into aspirational items through the lens of durability and longevity.
Moving onto the social impact of disruption, Strive explored the untold consequences of the current energy deficit in Africa: "Most of the children born today are born in Africa, but 621 million people out of 900 million sleep without electricity every night… The energy deficit is one of the major crises of this generation."
Strive explained that renewables will unlock new energy distribution, the impact of which – like giving a solar lamp to a child to complete her homework – is not just transformative for Africa, but for the whole world.
Claire is acutely aware of the energy equality gap, remarking that in South Africa she lives through power-outages five nights of the week. Suffice to say, as a new manufacturer, it has made her challenge all the greater – pushing her to take production off-grid. She moved the debate to the common thread through all the discussions, the need for collaboration. She raised her approach towards convincing NGOs to partner with businesses, by breaking down the preconceptions that business leaders are only in it to take as much out as possible: “It’s about collaboration and understanding there is abundance.” She further explained, “If you focus on impact, money will always come.”
On the subject of trust between civil society and business, Johan believes it is about individual accountability, that we have to start with ourselves and not with other people:
I don’t trust, I believe. And I believe all of us individually can make a difference, and together we can make a major contribution.
Jonathan brought the lively discussion to an end by reiterating the enormous potential for change when public life and the business world comes together:
“As a representative of civil society, the arrival of business leaders has added a massive amount of energy. It’s a really fantastic moment for the combined efforts of everyone to bring solutions to bear.”
But it is perhaps a fleeting comment from Richard, alluding to his motto to screw business as usual, which will give people the boost they need:
If there are doubters, you just get on and do it and leave them behind.
You can watch Richard Branson in conversation with the panel here.
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