At the end of October, the World Forum Lille held its 7th edition, centred on the theme “Yes we change. Another way to do business and consume.” The World Forum Lille is a series of annual three-day events that aim to “advance the Responsible Economy through showcasing best practices adopted by corporations (whether SMEs or large groups) that exercise their activities responsibly, anywhere in the world, while setting the stage to promote their example.” The World Forum Lille also has its own Institute, a think tank on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
Additionally, its efforts in favour of sustainability are reflected in the fact that it assisted the launch of the Global Union for Sustainability, an international initiative coordinating the commitments of all actors promoting sustainable development.
Lille and Nord-Pas-de-Calais region are also aiming to be the first French region to transition into the Third Industrial Revolution and massively adopt renewable energies, in collaboration with the American economist Jeremy Rifkin (you can learn more about the Third Industrial Revolution here.)
Highlighting the responsibility of companies to foster change
Launched in 2007, the World Forum Lille is organised by Réseau Alliances, a network of entrepreneurs who work on sustainable growth.
It has already brought together nearly 23,000 participants interested in CSR issues. Over the past 6 years, 500 speakers, representing 65 nations, have shared their views and their best practices
(700 of which have been submitted for dissemination and to serve as inspiration by Réseau Alliances on its website).
The choice to focus on CSR – and thus on what companies can do to foster change for the world – was reinforced after the Rio+20 Summit, where it became clear that governments would not rise to the challenge of their own accord. “Rio+20 (…) revealed a tremendous level of mobilisation on the part of civil society. In response to their inability to take the necessary step forward, governments will now have to be pushed,” wrote the organisers of the World Forum Lille. Faced with the evidence that “the Western way of life is incompatible with the planet’s resources,” the Forum has made it its mission “to see that the world changes.” It is convinced that change will occur with the support of governments, of course, but first and foremost thanks to a myriad of initiatives, everywhere in the world, carried out by people and organisations who acknowledge their responsibility towards the future. To investigate in detail the role of these companies, the 2013 edition explored four topics:
“- Changing the corporate model: redefine the corporation’s mission, its purpose, role in society, relations and cooperation with the territories where its subsidiaries operate,” and how it is organised;
“- Changing the relations held with consumers: Stimulate dialogue, seek collaboration, revise product lines, improve product sustainability, work on product accessibility and relevance;
– Changing business practices: reconsider the channels of communication with customers, suppliers and commercial partners, ensure universal adoption of practices, demonstrate ethical behaviour;
– Changing human resources management: redesign workplace organisation, optimise employee potential, enhance diversity, grow as a team.”
Cooperation, a new way to do social business
The themes developed at the World Forum Lille exemplify how one important thing has changed along with the growth in environmental awareness: where companies used to jealously conceal their practices and ideas, they are now willing to share them and to co-create solutions with other actors. “Cooperation serves to accelerate progress,” say the organisers of the World Forum Lille.
This idea resonated through the YY Cocktail that danone.communities held at the event, on October 23rd. YY Cocktails are named after Muhammad Yunus, the inventor of micro-credit and co-founder, with Danone’s CEO Franck Riboud, of danone.communities.
Several times a year, they gather entrepreneurs and members of NGOs together to discuss social business and innovation. (You can read about previous editions of YY Cocktails here and here.) On this occasion, the danone.communities team, in cooperation with Enactus Lille (a worldwide community that supports social entrepreneurship projects carried out by students), chose to adopt the theme of the Forum and work on the idea of “entrepreneurship and meaningful consumption.”
Five social entrepreneurs were involved:
– Helène and Benoît, from Sideways, a webshow that highlights original and positive social initiatives, and tells their stories,
– Steffi from PlayAble, a non-profit organisation that supports the rights and abilities of people with disabilities through sport,
– Lilly from Enactus Lille,
– Pierre-Antoine, who was representing Simon from Imagination for people, a platform and social network that structures a citizens’ community around creative projects to build concrete solutions.
The participants were asked to divide into four groups and work with the entrepreneurs on specific challenges:
How to make “doing business another way” a way of life? How to achieve social impacts with a business? How to develop projects and become an entrepreneur? How to design new solutions to create collaboratively?
These themes sparked reflection and conversation between the entrepreneurs and the participants, and helped the latter better understand the concrete aspects of the entrepreneurs’ lives and projects. As the vast majority of the attendees were students, it is likely that the ideas and enthusiasm they shared that day will infuse their own initiatives to build sustainable and pertinent social businesses. And maybe these businesses will one day be cited as examples and inspirations at the World Forum Lille!
Photo: © Danone Communities