Panel on System Leadership

Speakers: Anna Swaithes; Nira Desai, World Cocoa
Anna Swaithes and Nira Desai used examples from work in the cocoa sector in West Africa to illustrate the interplay between individual and organizational leadership. They discussed those pivotal moments that lead organizations and individuals towards significant change, and when it makes sense to organize and lead multi-organization collaborations. Anna described the motivations for companies to tackle systemic issues like poverty or deforestation, in ascending order of significance:
  1. short term crises, such as NGO and media attention to child labor;
  2. a general desire to enhance reputation;
  3. a powerful operational risk, such as decreasing supply of raw materials; and
  4. a commercial opportunity to grow the business.
Sometimes people in an organization work patiently over a long time on sustainability issues, and suddenly a confluence of challenges such as supply risks can create an opportunity to dramatically increase organizational attention and commitment to sustainability issues. When the issues rise in importance, people in each organization then face the inefficiencies of working alone and might consider multi-organization collaborations.
Those who lead sustainable sourcing strategy need to be ready for the moments when these issues rise in importance. They need to cultivate trusted relationships internally and externally. They need to manage conflicts among competing goals and agendas and manage complexity with at least the appearance of grace! One way to think about this internal management is to have one eye on very pragmatic business objectives and the other eye on “what it would really take” to manage risks and solve systemic challenges.

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