How an NGO report inspired a business woman to reinvent luxury

Can an NGO report inspire a new enterprise? An enterprise which after just 3 years is booming and winning business awards for turning waste into luxury accessories? The WWF report Deeper Luxury helped Kresse Wesling identify a market niche, turning waste firehose into high-end design. You can hear Kresse explain how she sees creative opportunities where others see trash, in her TED talk. Her success with Elvis & Kresse demonstrates how a shift in perception uncovers new opportunities. Given how the big brands mostly grumbled about the Deeper Luxury report when we launched it at the end of 2007, its gratifying to see how such ideas can be generative in the right hands.

With Fair Jewelry Action we recently followed up the report with “Uplifting the Earth” which maps out a progressive agenda for the jewellery industry. Once again, we heard grumbles from incumbent brands about our analysis, and it is the newer, smaller brands who are leading the way with innovations in responsible sourcing.

So let incumbent executives can grumble… the future is for people like Kresse. Indeed, it’s time for more “disruptive luxury”. Which is the name of my talk at the launch of the world’s first sustainable luxury awards, in Buenos Aires this coming November.

Where is the Movement?

This week is the 10th anniversary of the mass protest against the G8 in Genoa, Italy. Hundreds of thousands of protesters called for a systemic change in the global economic system, forming something called an ‘anti-globalisation’ movement by the mass media, or what was known by many activists as the global justice movement. In Genoa, behind huge metal barriers, leaders met while anti-aircraft missile launchers scanned the skies. We thought it a bit of an over-reaction; but we didn’t have the benefit of memos about Bin Laden. The (now proven) agent provocateurs helped the black block protestors create conditions for police to then brutalise many peaceful protesters. One protester, Carlo Giuliani, was shot and killed by a policeman. The violence led many people, myself included, to question whether they wanted to be involved in such demonstrations in future. Perhaps that was the intention of the reactionary elements in the Italian government. Yet there was another limitation to the protests. The movement had become defined by the media as the protest, because the cameras showed up at demonstrations. Yet a movement is motivated by the values and awareness of people, and that exists all year round, not just during a protest. It was the values and vibrancy of the activists that was key, and expressed in many other ways all year round, such as choices of work, ways of working in the community.

10 years on its a good time to look back, recall the mood and spirit of the activism, and see how the vibrancy of that time throws light on the choices many of us have made since. To conjure up a sense of the feelings involved back 10 years ago, here is a snippet from my last book:

“Rolling onto my back, I lay my head on a rucksack, staring into the night sky. The tarmac still pushes up through my sleeping bag, but somehow it feels more comfortable this way. I think of the few times I have slept out in the open, in fields after parties, or on beaches while travelling—times when I could revel in the sense of floating through the immensity of space, secured on the edge of a cosmic plan, or comic fluke, called planet Earth. But tonight I can’t drift away with thoughts of the infinite expanse of space. Police helicopters hover above, their cones of light traversing the car park like manic stilts. Dreaming is not permitted. It’s the G8 Summit in Genoa, 2001. I stretch my neck. My face feels sticky with the residue of vinegar I was told would help me during tear-gas attacks. Are we being searched for or spotlighted, I wonder? If they shine their lights on us for long enough, perhaps they’ll discover what they’re looking for? Perhaps we’re all here to discover what we’re looking for—something different, something possible? I can’t sleep and turn to Rik, a guy I met on the streets during the day. ‘D’you want to hear my poem?’ he asks. ‘Yeah, why not . . . ?’

Possessed by possessions
Lord and Master of all we owe
Belonging to belongings
It’s a disaster, I know
Chained to the mundane
Our reference frame is physical
Every day the same old same
Nothing metaphysical
And if God’s not dead
He must be mad
Or blind
Or deaf and dumb
Or bad
Still smarting over Christ, perhaps
The way the people have been had
But in our defence
I’d like to say
We nearly chose the proper path
But lost the plot along the way
You’ve got to laugh
It’s not our fault
It’s just the toys we made
Made such a lovely noise
And girls and boys
Are high and dry
Time to bid
All this

Rik Strong’s The Sermon, which he recited to me as we ‘bedded’ down in a carpark during the demonstrations at the G8 Summit in Genoa, captured some of the emotion that drove many of us to protest. There was certainly a lot of anger at the suffering being caused by economic systems, and the lack of accountability of political systems to the people. There was also an angst about something more deeply wrong about modern life. Western society didn’t relate to how we felt inside. Publicly people didn’t seem to care for each other, yet we knew that deep down they must do—surely? For us there had to be more to us than working, shopping and looking out for Number One. This was a holistic critique, and one that connected professional and lifestyle, the political and personal.

Yet 10 years on its difficult to say exactly what or where “the movement” is now. Many people who were active in protests back then have this nagging thought: We were everywhere, we went everywhere, but we got nowhere. What was it that led to the weakening of what seemed at the time to be a global awakening?

The level of violence certainly turned many away from protesting. But there were other factors that helped to corrupt some of the creative spirit. As the old Left woke up to the new wave of anti-capitalism sentiment and became involved with groups such as ‘Globalise Resistance’ they brought with them their hierarchical we-know-what-you-really-want-and-how-to-win politics. For some, this was a politics of envy not personal liberation. This led to splits and aggressive criticism from those who rejected instant political solutions freeze-dried in the 19th Century. And so egos clashed. When, during a demonstration in Brighton I mentioned to one activist ‘leader’ that his organisation was critiqued in a Schnews pamphlet, he just asked “was I name-checked?” Meanwhile career-conscious band-wagon jumpers leapt like crazy on to talk shows and into best-seller lists and newspaper columns, and misrepresented some of the core democratic anti-hierarchy values that permeated much of the organising and the aspirations of protesters.

But the biggest impact was 9/11. Soon after, the protest groups refocused on anti-war campaigning. The mass media closed ranks around the march to war. The critical analysis became more about the dreadfulness of one President, rather than a more informed critique of the whole system and its alternatives. The “war of terror” knocked the global justice movement aside, by making activists focus on symptoms, not causes.

For many people, the political philosophy that was shared by activists from very different walks of life, concerned about different issues, was a sense of everyday democracy, where all processes, whether political or economic, should be open to their participation and mutual control. John Isbister has noted that “an ideal democracy would give a voice to everyone who is affected by a decision. The real democracies with which we are familiar cannot reach this
standard.” For example, poor children are affected by welfare systems but have no vote. Women in poorer countries are affected by family planning funding decisions in the United States but have no vote in their elections. Instead, we can remember that democracy is an aspirational goal, for situations where individuals and communities participate effectively in shaping the social limits that define what is possible for them, without impairing the ability of others to do that for themselves. The goal is therefore an everyday democracy where all organisations enable participation. It is also inherently a global goal, because it is an organisational response to a universal principle of people being able to pursue their individual freedoms.

The 1960s student leader Gregory Calvert has reflected that in their student movement they came to understand that their commitment to democratic principles came from the heart, and had a spiritual dimension. Activism inspired by this consciousness seeks to challenge large incumbent unaccountable institutions, whether in the public, private or civic spheres of life. What excited many people in the process of campaigning, was that they were connecting to a sense of purpose greater than themselves, a story of a common humanity. It filled a need, because there was, as there remains today, some angst about the purpose of our lives, the story of our existence. For some people our story of existence is one of a secular, scientific, mechanical world without meaning. For some it is the story of a God creating us to struggle to return to ‘Him’. For many people that story seems more like a fairytale – a nice idea, something they don’t really believe but find it helpful to entertain the idea, perhaps once a week or so. To others this story seems like a nightmare with a “blind, deaf, dumb, mad or bad” God. Thus Thomas Berry, writing in 1990, felt that we had lost faith in the story of our relationship with a God and, therefore, who we are; “We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it… sustained us for a long period of time. It shaped our emotional attitudes, provided us with life purposes and energized our actions. It consecrated our suffering and integrated our knowledge. We awoke in the morning and knew where we were. We could answer the questions of our children.”

This faltering between stories has sometimes been talked about as the ‘death of God’. Hence the angst and spiritual void captured in Rik Strong’s The Sermon. Set against this angst there was a real energy and hope, perhaps similar to the hope felt by people in the recent protests in the Arab world. On the streets of Genoa the T-shirts read “Another world is possible” – a world that would enable us all to be all we could be. In our hearts we felt that world already existed, but we didn’t really have a way of speaking in chorus so that the rest of society could hear us and join in the singing.

So what is this new story? I picked up some ideas from discussions of activists 10 years ago….

First, is creativity. In the west pop-culture gurus like Pat Kane were talking of a play ethic to replace the work ethic. By this he meant that the most natural, and perhaps highest, state of being is to play – to be creative, to be expressive, to test, try, experiment, to have fun in becoming all we can be. As Jean Paul-Sartre said, “As man apprehends himself as free and wishes to use his freedom, then his activity is to play.” The parallels with eco-centric thought on the irrepressible diversity of the natural world are clear. Pat suggested that this play ethic comes from the new generation of young professionals, who: “have shaped their identities through their… cultures of play – a whole range of self-chosen activities that have anchored them in a different orientation towards a meaningful life. These are the backpackers of Alex Garland’s The Beach, using cheap flights and travel literature to make the world their playground. The ultimate playfulness is to help each other to play together.”

Second, is a global consciousness, a sense of a common community of mankind. For many people nationalism is no longer a belief system and just a bit of fun, to be enjoyed in an ironic sense. Nationalism is being replaced for many by a planetary patriotism – we might call this Planetism. This means a deep concern for the health and well-being of the planet and all its peoples. Another aspect to this Planetism is a spiritual reawakening, as people see a common essence to all the world’s spiritual teachings, no matter how twisted they may be through religious institutions. This reawakening has been helped in secular society by the club culture, as ‘ravers’ grew up but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) “forget those blissed-out moments of transcendence, when drugs and beats blurred the boundaries of their selves”, according to Pat Kane. These states of consciousness were something that ecocentrist Thomas Berry pondered. If the universe is not alive in a psychic spiritual sense as well a material one, then “human consciousness emerges out of nowhere… an addendum [with] no real place in the story of the universe” he wrote. Thus the potential for a common storyemerges amongst the diverse traditions of eco-centric, religious and secular thought – an autonomous yet interconnected spirituality that supports self-expression. The new story of humanity is about our growing understanding of our relationship to our planet, including all its people and their spiritual selves. Therefore it is the story of our relationship to ourself – who we really are. The new story is that there will be infinite stories to unfold. Thus, in protests around the world people were saying one No and many Yes’s. “We’re not going to play your games anymore – thrill to your icons, your hip soundtracks, your latest double-stitch or lycra mix. We’re going to play our own games” wrote Pat Kane. And so play we did, from our use of the web to co-ordinate global protests, to the subversion of advertising, from the rave atmosphere of street parties, to the humour of slogans, from the creation of alternative currencies, to the launching of our own social businesses.

So what happened to this story of global creativity? What happened to the anger at a controlling exploiting system? What happened to the confidence that rejected the legitimacy of incumbent institutions and leaders and the old politics of left and right?

The rent. The mortgage. The debt. The pension plan. The fear of being left behind. The insecurities that make us want to be accepted and respected in the mainstream. The temptation from the story that integrating our hopes into the mainstream is the best way to live our values, to honour our memories of higher states of consciousness by our cold-light-of-day choices.

And so, if there’s anything to learn from the last 10 years, its the need to change the system that creates this apparent necessity for compromise. Jessie J may write cool music, but it IS all about the money, money, money, because if we don’t change the monetary systems, we will be subject to the incentives and disincentives that draw us into stultifying compromise. We cant rely on mass levels of mindfulness to escape the day to day corroding pressures that arise from debt-based monetary systems. Redesigning the way money is created, to remove the debt burden from our governments, economies, communities and own families, will be key to unleashing a creative globe of local and international democratic communities.

Getting Ambitious About Partnerships

Cross-sector partnering for sustainable development has been around a while now.. its 13 years since the first book on this came out, that I co-wrote with David Murphy, and 10 years since the first edited collection on the topic, which I rather artistically but confusingly titled “Terms for Endearment”.

To mark the 10 years, but also to kick start some reflection, I asked some of the contributors to Terms to provide reflections 10 years on. They all talk about how partnering became a key part of the landscape of civil society, of corporate responsibility and of sustainable development policy, but how its not achieving enough, and not as much as what we felt it could when we got excited enough to focus our time on it, as either practitioners or analysts.

That’s not to knock cross-sector partnering and the work we have done in the past or what partnerships are achieving today.. for instance, helping create the Marine Stewardship Council remains one of my career achievements, even though it was still my first year after Uni (not sure what that says about the subsequent years!) The MSC, a sustainable fishery accreditation council, is doing well, but it wont save the world’s fisheries, and so we have to reflect on what these partnerships can achieve in future to meet the scale and urgency of the challenges we face. We will be hampered in those reflections if we fall into a trap of what I call “partnerism” in a special issue of “Business Strategy and the Environment”. By “partnerism” I mean a belief, a mood even, that partnering with others is good in and of itself, so people favour being convivial and forever hopeful to keep the partnership going, rather than critically reflecting on whether it is delivering sufficient change on the ground (or in the water).

To help with that, and call for more ambitious partnering, later this year my 3rd book on the cross-sector partnering topic comes out. It seemed about time, 10 years after the last, as teaming up on the world’s problems still seems to make sense to me, and many other people, but now we really have to team up to change the rules of the game, and level the playing field…. excuse the metaphors… I borrow them from one chapter in Terms for Endearment, by Uwe Schneidewind. Back then he was writing about the need for partnerships to create coalitions for re-structuring economy and society, rather than seeing these are entirely voluntary initiatives that wouldnt impact on regulations.

Uwe is now President of the Wuppertal Institute. Indeed, the contents of Terms for Endeaarment reads like a Who’s Who of innovative thinkers in the sustainable business space, with Georg Kell now Head of the UN Global Compact, Kumi Naidoo now head of Greenpeace International, and Professors Crane, Newell and Ali all leading analysts in their field. These 3 academics, along with the world’s leading advisor on social change networks, Steve Waddell, have all provided reflections on partnering to mark the anniversary. You can read them on my consulting site:
Critical thinking on partnership: Free chapters mark ten years and
Reflections on 10 years of cross sector partnership/

You can also get a copy of the book for half price until the end of the year, as well as accessing a number of the chapters for free.

Unfortunately the first book on the topic is now something of a collectors item, if the prices on Amazon are anything to go by… Ill see if I can put in online by the end of the year.

My new book wont go over old ground, so read up on this older stuff first! Sean Ansett, who was CSR boss at Gap at the time and now has gone upmarket, with a British Luxury brand, thinks that Terms is still very relevant today…

“Ten years after Terms for Endearment was published it continues to be groundbreaking, as it provides a more nuanced analysis of cross-sectoral partnering than many studies on the subject, and maps out an agenda for corporate citizenship that continues to inspire us today. A decade ago Terms for Endearment was critical in helping me to realize the power of partnerships and that in order for sustainable development to be effective collaboration by stakeholders from distinct sectors sharing their respective experience, expertise and resources was the only way forward and that we could no longer go it alone. The partnership examples where invaluable to formulating our approach.”
– Sean Ansett

No (Luxury) Logo

When I saw a video of designer Tom Ford saying last week that he doesn’t have a logo in his menswear collection, it reminded me of Naomi Klein’s book No Logo. That might seem like a weird connection to make between an ex Gucci luxury designer and a famed anti-capitalist. In that book Klein wasn’t criticising the power of marketing and brands so much as the exploitative economic system they so effectively hide. Marketing is communication, and involves finding out what peoples needs are. And brands? We have used symbols since we walked upright. If brand marketing can promote awareness of the realities of production and trade then thats a good thing, because it’s our consumption habits that are chewing up people and planet and have to change. Its just got to be done authentically. That was one of the ideas behind the luxury industry project I worked on during 07 for WWF-UK. They spend the most on advertising and are the most aspirational brands… so if they could be the most sustainably and responsibly produced, traded, distributed, advertised and used, conscious consumption might spread further and faster. What follows is the press release put out by my company today on the reaction to the report so far…

Media Response to WWF-UK Report on Luxury Brands Could Be Tipping Point for the Industry.

(Media Update, Thursday 6th December 2007, Lifeworth, Geneva, Switzerland)
Last week over fifty newspapers and magazines from Britain, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Italy and Switzerland reported on the corporate responsibility of the world’s largest holding companies of luxury brands. For the first time they had been ranked on their ethical performance in the report Deeper Luxury: Quality and Style When the World Matters, which was published by environmental group WWF-UK. The news went ‘viral’ through trade journals and blogs on fashion, jewelry, and celebrities.
The report “could herald a huge change in the way global luxury brands operate,” states Fashion UK.(1) “The luxury goods industry looks like it’s having its own Nike moment,” suggests UN corporate reporting expert Dr Anthony Miller, referring to the mid-90’s criticism of labour practices in Nike’s supply chain that made the company invest heavily in its corporate responsibility programme. Within days, reported that “PPR Group commits to improving sustainability” as a result of the publication.(2)
Leading industry executives speaking at the International Herald Tribune (IHT) conference on luxury, in Moscow, on the day of the report’s launch, portrayed a growing awareness of the importance of ethical performance. Laurence Graff, chairman of Graff Diamonds, and Yves Carcelle, chairman and chief executive of Louis Vuitton, spoke positively of their company’s responsibilities. However, in Conde Nast, Lauren Goldstein Crowe contrasted “the words v. the reality,” citing the WWF-UK report as an opportunity for needed leadership on this agenda (3). Not surprising then that IHT had earlier refused an offer to launch the report at their conference. The newspaper did not feature the report, with the international business coverage being scooped by Vanessa Friedman at the Financial Times.(4)
“Press coverage has focused on the ranking, and on what these companies are failing to do right for the environment,” noted WWF-UK’s Anthony Kleanthous in The Guardian. “However, the main thrust of the report looks to a future in which the very definition of luxury deepens to include not only technical and aesthetic quality, but also environmental and social responsibility,” says the co-author of the report.(5) The longest chapter in the report focuses on the business reasons why that new approach to luxury is commercially viable. “We examined key commercial challenges facing the industry and found that greater depth and authenticity is a strategic response to many of them,” explains Dr. Jem Bendell of Lifeworth Consulting, the responsible enterprise consultancy contracted by WWF-UK to manage the research project and co-write the report.

“Modern technology means that what’s on the catwalk today can be copied and in the shops tomorrow, so brands need to offer something deeper than purely appearance. The same goes for counterfeiting.” says Bendell. “Sales growth in societies with high social inequality means that luxury brands face a crisis of legitimacy and a regulatory backlash, so their products will need to benefit the local economy with good jobs. The increasingly youthful profile of luxury consumers means luxury brands need to find ways to build in value to casual fashion items, without making them non-casual, with sustainability and ethics an obvious approach,” he explains. “The increasing availability of luxury items means that brands must find new ways of maintaining their cachet, rather than relying on the memory they were once scarce and exclusive. Deeper luxury is the strategic answer to all these challenges.”
Also an Associate Professor of at Griffith Business School in Australia, Dr. Bendell stresses the need for a paradigm shift in corporate strategy: “Consumer awareness should no longer be assumed as the only commercial driver for ethical excellence. Though counter-intuitive to traditional corporate strategists, this shift in thinking is fundamental to the contemporary business environment of global communications, where successful brands are behaving more like social movements.”

Tom Ford, the former Gucci top designer said on the eve of the report’s publication that “we need to replace hollow with deep.”(3) Ford’s business instinct rather than telepathy is key, according to Bendell. “There’s no one better than Tom Ford for spotting trends in consumer mood. The report details a variety of strategic commercial imperatives for deeper luxury. If executives don’t get it, that could be because they’ve had it so good for so long and have become complacent.”

At the IHT conference Tom Ford explained his emphasis on depth means that his own clothing label does not carry – a label. “In the report we explain that ‘no logo luxury’ is a growing trend that responds to consumers’ desire for authenticity as well as responding to the availability of counterfeits,” says Dr Bendell. If luxury is having its ‘Nike moment’, then “executives could do well to hire expert advice on the stages of corporate response to social challenges over the past 10 years, to learn from the experience of others,” says Sao-Paulo based sustainable enterprise advisor Roland Widmer. “Lifeworth is working with research and consulting partners to offer solutions to those executives in the luxury industry who really believe in achieving social and environmental excellence as part of the identity of luxury brands” says Dr Bendell.

And what of the reaction? “Some executives might be stung by the coverage, and some environmentalists confused,” notes Lala Rimando of the Authentic Luxury Network. “But WWF-UK should be applauded for sticking its neck out by publishing this report” says the Manila-based business journalist and consultant. “The scale of the environmental challenge is so great and pressing, and the reach of NGOs into Asian societies currently so limited, that if the brands that affluent Asians love can excel in sustainability, then awareness of sustainable living may grow in emerging economies fast enough to offer a chance of curbing global consumption and pollution within environmental limits.”
Lifeworth has launched the Authentic Luxury Network to bring together executives, designers, analysts and entrepreneurs who want to lead the creation of more sustainable and ethical luxury ( The company has also launched a site for people to keep up to date with celebrity reaction to the report and its proposal of a Star Charter for responsible brand endorsement (

Dr Jem Bendell will be presenting his analysis on the future of luxury at seminars in Singapore (in January 08), Manila (February 08), Brisbane Gold Coast (April 08), Dubai and Geneva (May 08). To be invited email luxury(at) In addition, a few places are available at a CSR Geneva dinner on sustainable luxury on December 10th 2007 (email tiago.pintopereira(at)
To download the report:

To contact Lifeworth Consulting:





Press coverage of the report includes:
FT Online

Tribune de Geneve


The Telegraph

What’s an NGO to do?

Around the world entrepreneurs are saying they can end poverty and save us from climate change, while turning a profit. Meanwhile politicians are often saying more radical things about wellbeing, quality of life, and a new direction for humanity than most mainstream NGOs. And recently the mass media and entertainment worlds aren’t ignoring the seriousness of key social and environmental challenges. In such circumstances what is an NGO to do? Over the last 20 years we have seen more advocacy from NGOs who recognised you couldn’t end child labour or tropical deforestation project by project, one factory or forest concession at a time, and so sought to influence government, intergovernmental and private sector policies. Perhaps the current responses, at least at the rhetorical level, indicate some success with advocacy by ‘global civil society’. Yet some suggest it means charities should step aside, because they aren’t competent to work at technical levels of implementation on issues like financing, auditing, and good governance. Many NGO people have agreed, perhaps, with their feet, by joining businesses, consulting firms and financial institutions.

It’s time for NGOs to work out their new niche. Some are nervously moving back towards a charity mentality of saying to people “give us some cash and we will feed those people or protect this animal”, or asset stripping their own brand through big bucks partnerships with companies that don’t address how the corporations internal practices worsen the problem the NGO is meant to be solving. This isn’t the way. Instead, its time to be more ambitious and more systemic. To see how the new interest from business and government can be leveraged for broader and deeper change. To try out new ways of solving problems and propose fundamentally different ways of organising things. Unfortunately lots of senior managers in NGOs don’t see that, or are scared of it. Some seem almost scared of their members, worrying that being more ambitious might upset them, lose them. Others just don’t have time for any creative ideas, as they are busy with time sapping form-filling to demonstrate to big donors how they’ve been good at following proper procedures. All this promotes a culture that doesn’t want to risk failure, and settles for projects that can help tick the boxes for funders. “The revolution will not be funded”, as Incite aptly put it in their book published in April.

This was the basic thinking about the need for new NGO approaches which I brought to my work with WWF-UK, as a senior strategic advisor to their work on business, trade, finance and international development. At the start the crucial thing for me was to work out ways for WWF to leverage other sectors, which have a lot more power than even the world’s largest environmental NGO, to transform markets so they function in ways that create more just and sustainable outcomes. Going back to the old model of merely moaning about stuff wasn’t an option. Engaging other organisations to reduce barriers and create incentives for systemic change was my main aim. Yet seeking to engage organisations poses its own set of conundrums. It’s key for an NGO not to fall into the trap of being a cheap consultant to industry or government, or get access by selling out the brand to a ‘partner’. And it’s key to have a strategy rather than just get hooked on a particular method or tactic. We shouldn’t think that partnership with a company or a company attending our meeting is a sign of success. It ain’t. Change is. Too many NGOs think you chose just one club to play a round of golf. Nasty reports and column inches – thats the 7 iron. Stakeholder dialogue and happy reports – thats the putter. But the clubs aren’t the game. You have to respond to the terrain. And so what is that terrain? Its society, stupid. So, NGOs have to get more savvy with their understanding of what society is and how it changes. I have a simplified model in my head based on integrating some insights from extremely boring social and political texts about things with pompous names like structuration theory and neo institutional theory. I see society as about people interacting with things and each other in ways that can be helpfully describe in 4 categories: assumptions, beliefs or norms, rules and resources. It’s a bit farcical that often people in the social change profession don’t have a sense of the terrain or a strategy for changing it. It leads to people becoming addicts of a particular approach, thinking that working only on values, or only on new ideas, or only on regulatory reform, or only through dialogue and networks, or only through protest, is the way. Dumb…. which wouldn’t be any of my business except when they take up scarce resources in organisations that should be innovating change.

Is this all easier said than done? Yep. But one way to illustrate what I’m saying is to give examples of the projects I helped set up at WWF, before I returned to Lifeworth Consulting.

  1. Stopping stupid lobbying: I worked with SustainAbility and Blueprint to shape up a project that would look at whether investors are asking companies to be coherent and progressive with their public affairs and lobbying activities. The aim being to encourage this in the investment world and thus in the corporate world and hence reduce the short termist and ideological crap we hear from some companies and trade associations on needed regulatory innovations to promote more long term real value creation (not just a derivatives bubble). And promote good lobbying too, like some are doing on climate change. The report has come out this week “Coming In from the Cold” and a range of follow up activity is being planned with investors who get the idea we need to see companies supporting value creation across an economy, not externalising costs onto other companies in their same portfolio. See for more info and talk to Seb Beloe there. Great clarity and style.. just like the head honcho.
  2. Getting money where it’s needed: I created a partnership with UNEP Finance Initiative to explore how to reduce the risks of investing in SMEs in the global South, and make it easier to do so. If we come up with ways of using philanthropic and government schemes to then leverage billions of dollars of private funds into clean tech in Africa which also creates lots of jobs and cash into the local economy then Ill be happy. So Im pleased to still be working as a consultant on this project. We even generated 40K funding from the Geneva government and then got nominated for a prize… already ( See for more info on our event on September 26th 07 and talk to Inderpreet Chawla there. A real spiritual warrior bridging the consciousness of his “rustic” Indian upbringing with global IT, finance and UN life. Love also to Jen Morgan, Andrew Gaines and Oliver Karius for helping bring this project to life.
  3. Getting corporate lobbying on the agenda in India: With the deputy director of UNRISD, Peter Utting, we devised a project researching how Indian firms are lobbying state and federal government and the implications for sustainable development. This will end up as a programme paper sent free to academics around the world, and hopefully some decent media coverage in India in order to put this issue on the agenda. Then, perhaps, once everyone has the info, we can help Indians to stop stupid lobbying in their own country, and promote more transparent and accountable lobbying. After all, what happens in a country with about 17% of the worlds population is more important than what happens in a country with about 1% (India vs UK). UNRISD are hosting a conference on these issues in November 07 in Geneva. See for more info. Your contact there is Peter Utting, a rare species in the UN system… which one? Perhaps an elephant… big brain, long memory, higher view, and always returning to the same ground of basic truths about power and democracy… so needed amongst a flock of sheep.
  4. Getting iconic brands and celebs to promote sustainability in emerging markets: The world needs sustainable consumption to become sexy in Asia, and fast. Otherwise we will all be stuffed by an inflationary resource crunch and climate chaos. What to do when NGOs really aren’t very sexy or known in much of Asia? Encourage iconic brands, celebrities and the mass media to do the job. So, one sector that is powerful in shaping aspirations, and using a lot of celebrities and advertising, is the luxury industry. Fortunately it’s also a sector known by decision making elites in very hierarchical societies. So, we have been looking at commercial reasons why the luxury industry might want to become champions of sustainability, and then how to engage celebrities with that. I’m pleased to be leading this project now with Lifeworth. We will launch our report on the future of luxury in November 07, along with an industry initiative bringing together those in the sector who want to lead change. More information will be coming soon at The chap championing this now at WWF is sustainable brands guru Anthony Kleanthous. Got even more style than Seb. Whatever do they teach them on that environmental course at Imperial? But if you think you can help with this project, please contact the much less stylish me.
  5. Enabling more transformative partnerships: Sometimes partnerships between business and NGOs are piecemeal and hinder not help broader change. Its time for a greater focus on partnering to achieve change not just within the partners but within wider society including market frameworks. So I created a project with the UN System Staff College who teach UN and NGOs and business people around the world about partnering, which is looking at the last ten years of learning on partnering and will provide strategic planning tools to help people plan more transformative partnerships. I’m glad to be putting in some pro bono work to co write the final report, which should be out by November 07. Hmm… that month is beginning to look a bit hectic. Your contact at is Dr Partnership himself, David Murphy, a man who taught me how to write and helped launch my crazy portfolio career.
  6. Enabling more big picture planning by NGOs: All those projects are external, but there is also an internal need in WWF to help the staff be strategic in their planning… and to work towards deeper and broader change. I thought systems science would be useful for this so brought in systems illustrator Rupesh Shah to help people with this approach and come up with some tools. Ajay Barai at WWF-UK is your contact for that project. A man who puts the echo into eco tourism if the photos of his bar nights at his own resort in Tioman are anything to go by: Was there in April…. wow…


jem in tioman april 07

For me all these projects are about promoting sustainable international development. But you won’t read anything about this kind of work in the development journals at the UN where I work as a Visiting Fellow. It’s as if the development profession prefer to think non westerners have only livelihoods not lifestyles, and that to promote a just and sustainable form of world development you’ve got to fly somewhere hot and poor like a modern day missionary… or perhaps tourist with ‘refined’ tastes.

I was only working with WWF part time and had to do lots of form filling and internal blah, as well as deal with the helicopter tragedy and then restructuring (see blog posting in September 06), so didn’t get to work more with them on public policy issues, responsible mass media, emerging markets, or business education reform. On the latter issue I’m pleased to be working with the Globally Responsible Leaders Initiative in my role as Associate Professor of Griffith Business School. The aim is to promote a transformation in business education offered by business schools. i.e. the institutions that too often turn out hardnosed hard hearted management robots. Lots of work to be done there then. See

If you are interested in this issue of how NGOs can carve out a new niche in their advocacy and bring a new level of professionalism to their social change work, let me know. The project I’m doing with UNRISD is looking at how NGOs work through networks to influence policy. Im planning on integrating the findings from this, the UNSSC Partnerships work, and my internal strategy advisory work at WWF, into an NGO strategic planning 1 day workshop. I will offer this in Australia in March 08 and London and/or Geneva in May 08. Ill be presenting some of the initial ideas to the strategy group of Global Action Networks Net in Geneva in November 07. See and your contact there is the effervescent Steve Waddell. He’s the Pope of new international community organising. Or perhaps the Madonna.

Opinion about Business will reach a ‘Tipping Point’ Worldwide

Hi Blog subscribers, Im sending you a sneak preview of what Lifeworth are publishing on wednesday…

LW Logo B&W

Interest in ‘Moral Markets’ Significant, says Review of Global Business Trends.

People’s deepest assumptions about both business and work could be changing in cities around the world, with major implications for future competitiveness. A more subtle shift than the widely reported growth in entrepreneurialism across Asia, it is nonetheless significant. It is a shift towards moral markets. This is the suggestion from Lifeworth’s 6th Annual Review of Corporate Responsibility, published today.

In the foreword, Professor Michael Powell explains how “the dominant paradigm for business success is changing to recognize the absolute necessity of social and environmental sustainability in tandem with financial viability.” Dean and Pro Vice Chancellor of Griffith Business School, Professor Powell is leading the Australian university’s effort to play a leading role in this new approach to business in the Asia Pacific region.

The Review argues this shift is partly the result of changes in technology and industry that are leading to greater ‘work-life blending’ which erode barriers between what we aspire to in our lives, who we work for and what we work towards. It is also the result of growing awareness of the scale, urgency and depth of the challenge posed by climate change. “Last year views on Climate Change ‘tipped’ in much of the Western world,” explains lead author of the review, Dr Jem Bendell. “It used to be a nerdy issue of scientific interest and environmental concern. Now it is a personal issue, of political interest and humanitarian concern.”

The Review, entitled ‘Tipping Frames’, introduces a strategic model for people working on social change, which combines the concept of a ‘Tipping Point’, involving the rapid dissemination of ideas, with that of ‘Cognitive Frames’, involving the assumptions and ideas triggered by key words and terms. Other frames identified as on the verge of tipping concern finance and international development.

A plethora of initiatives such as The Marathon Club, Enhanced Analytics Initiative (EAI) and UN Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI) are reshaping what finance professionals understand as material and relevant to their fiduciary duty. Also important is the emergence of a positive connotation to the environmental challenge of consumption. As the social and environmental impacts of economic growth intensify, new visions of sustainable development may be emerging in China and India. As Rajesh Sehgal, Senior Law & Policy Officer at WWF-India explains in the Review, “Indian companies can become leading exporters of and investors in sustainable goods and services, whilst emerging as key actors in promoting a proactive international sustainable development agenda.” Whether this will lead to a tipping point in the way Asian nations generally view and pursue ‘development’ is currently unknown. A counter process of reframing has been underway for sometime, with the shift to individualism and materialism most clearly illustrated in 2006 by the economic boom in Vietnam, which is chronicled in the Review.

Therefore Dr Bendell argues that “although important, the trend towards moral markets is not the dominant one in many parts of the world, such as the rapidly emerging countries. If we want to end poverty and protect the planet we must make it the decisive trend. Although we can’t legislate for personal morals, we can legislate to create market frameworks, enabling conditions and incentives that support moral behaviour.”

Bendell suggests business leaders should both track and become involved in progressive changes in cognitive frames, for strategic reasons. “Changes in basic assumptions about the nature and purpose of business and work will have major knock on effects for the behaviour of consumers, staff, investors and regulators.” Consequently he calls for more research and analysis of these assumptions in societies around the world.

The Lifeworth Review “illustrates well how many assumptions and values in society are shifting as the scale and urgency of the challenges we face finally sinks in,” concludes Professor Powell.

Publisher information:

Incorporating trends analysis from the leading academic journal in its field, ‘The Journal of Corporate Citizenship’ the Review is sponsored by Griffith Business School and the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at the University of Nottingham. It is published by the professional services firm Lifeworth, in association with Greenleaf Publishing, both of whom specialise in organisational responsibility, accountability and sustainability.

‘Tipping Frames: The Lifeworth Review of 2006’ can be downloaded for free at from March 28th 2007.
The ideas in the introduction are in development… what do you think of the model?

If I can Make it There (by video), I’ll make it Anywhere…

I’ve never been to New York. I even lived in America, but never made it to the 2nd largest financial centre in the world (London rules). So an invitation to launch my new UN report at the UN HQ was great. Kinda. I had just been in the pub with a colleague from WWF talking about climate change and his concerns about flying. It’s the fastest growing form of carbon pollution, and by making it far easier to whiz around great distances it means we maintain personal and work relations over greater distances… and so lock ourselves into a new pattern of pollution. Argh! I couldn’t go and launch my book on ‘NGO accountability’ and in the process add more crap into the atmosphere… I’m working with WWF, for God’s sake.

UN Launch

Already at +0.6 degrees, human-caused Climate Change is causing water and food shortages, increased storm damage, and river bank erosion, leading to millions more refugees. Hundreds of thousands of plants and animals are now under threat of extinction. Scientists say we have to keep climate change below 2 degrees otherwise it will go beyond our control. That will require a halving of global carbon emissions in the next 2 decades, which means that people like us (presuming you are in the consumer class) have to cut our emissions by over 2 thirds right now.

Yes, that’s unlikely. Especially when much of our emissions come from products from companies whose actions we don’t directly control. Which means our current form of civilisation is unlikely to see out this century. So why bother? Two reasons. First, we have to try, and if we slow the pace of damage the suffering will be less. Second, because I want us to be worth saving. There are various sides to the human character, we are all saints and sinners in different ways at different times. I have a hope that the loving, caring, thoughtful side of human character is our defining one. Climate change is a symptom of us losing touch with who we are, as part of nature, and results from the desire to consume stuff, as if more stuff makes us who we are. With this view, the means for combating climate change also become the ends.

This is not to say there are difficult balances to be struck. Some blithely say “my work to save the world offsets my emissions”. In some cases they may be right…. but whether someone’s policy or advocacy work stops tonnes of carbon being tipped into the air is impossible to judge, by them or anyone else. And the time and effort to work it out would be a wasteful exercise. To make the right decisions about this people need to understand the challenge, and be working on this for the right reasons. No flight is essential. But there are also other ways to reduce your own carbon emissions such as not running a car or keeping your heating down. Ultimately, personal lifestyle change is not the whole solution. I could fall under a bus and reduce my emissions to zero, but that wouldn’t change climate change one bit. We need major changes from industry and government to meet the challenge. But living more lightly and consciously on this planet is consistent with a demand for systemic change from business and government, not a replacement for it.

It’s for this interest in the way to live that I worked on NGO accountability. I think debates about accountability could help NGO staff to connect with a common purpose in promoting collective benefit. It’s time for NGOs to begin describing themselves not in terms of what they are not (such as non-governmental and not-for-profit), but in terms of what they are commonly for. There’s many ways to describe this common ethic, which is about expressing oneself in ways that help rather than hinder others’ expression, and the basis for all of Life’s expression – our planet. I also hope that by engaging in questions of accountability, NGOs will become clearer about issues of power, given how unaccountable power in society underlies many social and environmental problems that NGOs address.

To get a grip of accountability, we need to be clear on the type and means. There is bad type of accountability. “I was just following orders” they say in war crimes trials. But there is a good form of accountability to the intended beneficiaries of our work, and others we affect in helping them, if they have less power than those beneficiaries. In my dossier I call this ‘democratic accountability’, which is a situation where people affected by decisions or indecisions can affect them. An organisation can either promote or hinder democratic accountability by i) helping hold powerful organisations to account to those they affect ii) so long as when doing this they are accountable to affected 3rd parties with less power iii) so long as those 3rd parties are accountable in the same way. Once that bigger picture is established of the type of accountability needed, then we have to focus on the means. Too much has been done in this field that is about binding us up with paper and reports, or creating new hierarchies of reporting to people who don’t know how to be agents of downwards accountability. Instead, effective accountability processes need to encourage people to connect with their sense of purpose, be reminded of it, encouraged to explore it and what it means, to be clear on the WHY not just what and how. So I’m pleased at WWF a colleague of mine has launched a project on what the organisations beliefs are. That’s more important than additional form filling.

Last week I had lunch with someone from an international environmental organisation comprised of NGOs and governments, and she said they only just had video conferencing installed – and she didn’t even know where it was. As I walked out through their car park full of 4x4s, I thought if organisational accountability is seen in terms of paper, not people, and doesn’t encourage us to be more authentic and reflective in our work, then it will hinder us in meeting the challenges we face.

Thanks Elisa and NGLS for making it possible for me to walk the talk. As ol blue eyes almost sang… New York, New York, If I can make it there (by video), I’ll make it anywhere…

The UN webcast of the launch is at:

The report is at:

The UN did their own press release, edited version follows:

As NGOs Multiply, Study Urges More Public Scrutiny, by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 22 (IPS) – Just after the coastal regions of South and Southeast Asia were devastated by a disastrous tsunami in December 2004, hundreds of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) descended on Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives armed with relief supplies — and good intentions.

The massive humanitarian effort, according to a new study, was “testimony to the skills and power of many NGOs.”

“But it also heightened concerns about opportunities for the misuse and abuse of humanitarian funds,” says the 102-page report, titled “Debating NGO Accountability”, released here.

Within months, says the study, there were complaints in Sri Lanka about corruption in aid distribution, and the lack of strong political will on the part of the government to address the challenge. A series of about 30 articles in U.S. newspapers also raised the issue of ethical failures — including “sky-high salaries of top executives and expenses for offices, travel and perks” — while disputing the motives of some of the so-called humanitarian missions. “They highlighted conflicts of interest, failures to adhere to an organisation’s mission, questionable fundraising practices, and a lack of transparency,” says Dr. Jem Bendell, author of the study, which was commissioned by the U.N. NGO Liaison Service (NGLS).

Tony Hill, coordinator of NGLS, points out that the heads of 11 leading human rights, environmental and social development international organisations publicly endorsed the first global accountability charter in June last year — perhaps as a result of the increasing number of scandals involving charitable organisations. The organisations that signed the Charter included ActionAid International, Oxfam International, Amnesty International, CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Transparency International and Save the Children Alliance….

However, Bendell, an associate professor at Griffith University Business School in Australia and director of the consulting firm Lifeworth, argues that “accountability” in itself is not simply a good thing, as it so often assumed. Rather, he says, it must be clear that groups must be accountable specifically to those that are affected by their decisions and actions. It is this concept of “democratic accountability” that lies at the heart of the study, and will allow NGOs to continue to develop as effective and important actors in the international arena, notes Bendell, who is currently advising the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the world’s largest environmental organisation, on strategic development…

Asked if all international NGOs should sign the charter, Bendell told IPS: “Yes, it would be great for every major international NGO to sign the Accountability Charter.” He said the charter provides a basis for NGOs to come to a greater awareness of their common purpose in promoting public benefit, not private profit. “We need innovative approaches to be shared amongst charter signers, to find out the least bureaucratic and most meaningful mechanisms for promoting coherence with the human rights and democratic principles it states,” he added.

Yet these NGOs can only be as effective as their donors allow, he pointed out. So the study “emphasises the importance of the accountability of donors to those they identify as their intended beneficiaries.” He also said that too much money is spent on pet causes and political meddling, and not at all responsive to the needs of people affected by the giving. “And too much of these funds are generated from investments in companies and financial products with damaging impacts on society.”…

Asked about government regulation of NGOs, Bendell said that charity law and tax law are key mechanisms that governments use to regulate NGOs. “We would benefit from more sharing between governments on the best practices in these regulations to promote vibrant civil societies, with NGOs that are accountable to their intended beneficiaries and broad principles of human rights,” he added. (END/2007)

Thank you Jill


On Monday 25th, at the start of my first day in the WWF-UK office, the death of WWF-UK’s Director of Programmes, Dr Jill Bowling, was confirmed along with 23 passengers on a helicopter in Nepal.

Jill was the reason I joined WWF. I have mixed feelings about NGOs, given the tendency for big egos to badly manage, sometimes confusing their public purpose and the values from which this arises, with their own status or that of their organisation. But Jill embodied a different approach. In the three times I met her, and few times we discussed on the phone, I found someone who was focused on the imperative of positive change for people and planet. Someone who wanted to support and enable talented and decicated people to achieve more than they could on their own. I was really looking forward to working with and learning from her.

Jill was in Nepal to mark a historic event, which illustrated both the need for and practicality of people living in harmony with nature and with eachother, to gain welfare, wellbeing and meaning from our living planet. “This historic step is an important landmark in the history of biodiversity conservation in the country… the devolution of power to local communities, especially with regard to natural resources and equitable sharing of benefits,” a press statement issued by the WWF Nepal said.

There was a memorial service in the offices of WWF-UK for Jill and Jenn Headley who had also worked at WWF-UK previously and died in the crash. Jill was a trustee of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation ( and a representative lead the service. To the staff he said of Jill: “you are her memory, you are her future.” Part of Jill’s legacy will be expressed though how we embrace the message of people-planet unity that underlay the important work in Nepal that she was there to celebrate.

This blog was meant to be about my random attempts at understanding things, and where failing that then just musing or laughing. With such sad and shocking news the only option is to seek some learning, some truth, some implication… thankfully Jill’s life is fertile for such lessons and legacy.

The week before, from the airport on her way to Nepal, Jill called me and apologized that she was not going to be in the office on my first day. Those little things speak volumes, don’t they? Thank you Jill.

Why was she there? An historic event:

WWF book of condolences: