Thursday, 27. April 2017

Discussing Responsible Business

1st Rhine-Ruhr Dialog, sponsored by managerfragen.org, Social Impact Lab Duisburg and WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management in Düsseldorf

The media are largely unanimous, and apparently so are broad segments of society: Businesses and managers are not living up to their responsibilities – whether this involves opportunistic campaign donations for Trump, diesel or meat scandals, or the “mere” question of quotas for women in executive positions. Have we, as citizens and as a society, transferred too much responsibility and discretion to the business community, or do we perhaps expect too much of it? How far does the responsibility of businesses extend, and must this responsibility tend in the direction of social responsibility?

In order to shed light on this complex of questions from a variety of perspectives, and to controversially but constructively discuss the issues at stake, managerfragen.org, Social Impact Lab Duisburg and WHU jointly issued an invitation to attend an event on March 21, 2017, entitled “Wirtschaft in der Verantwortung! Vertrauen verspielt?” [“The responsibility of the business community: Trust lost?”]. The event, held at the WHU Campus in Düsseldorf, represented the 1st Rhine-Ruhr Dialog. The approximately 60 participants, from the three stakeholder groups of the business community, the citizenry and the media, had already submitted topics in advance that they personally considered important to a discussion of the role of the responsibility of the business community. Particularly enriching for the discussions was the participation by various social entrepreneurs from Social Impact Lab Duisburg. The range of topics ranged from social challenges, such as privacy protections in the context of Big Data, to the responsibility of businesses across the entire supply chain, to the thematic area of “common good and social justice.”

Following keynote presentations by one representative each from the business community, the citizenry and the media, small groups of six participants each withdrew to the workrooms to discuss the points raised. There, for around 90 minutes, participants addressed a set of ten topics compiled on the basis of issues a survey had identified as of particular relevance to them. The concept of ‘Responsibility Poker’ was applied: a card game developed by the organization managerfragen.org. The playing cards assign different values ​​to the assumption of responsibility and decision-making by the business community and society as a whole (or state institutions) and can be played out accordingly. The game offered a good introduction to a group interaction in which the different viewpoints on the topic of responsibility could be quickly and systematically explored; at the same time, it permitted a special culture of dialog that encourages listening, respect and conciliation.

Dirk Sander and Clemens Brandstetter, two of the founders of managerfragen.org, summarized the event in positive terms: “With the 1st Rhine-Ruhr Dialog as an open regional event, we at managerfragen.org have taken another important step. It provides the perfect complement to the largely ‘closed’ formats developed in recent years, i.e. internal discourse formats of businesses and organizations with representatives of society or the citizenry. We look forward to further follow-up events in the Rhine-Ruhr region, and throughout Germany.”

Dr. Peter Kreutter, Director of the WHU Foundation, explained WHU’s motivation in co-hosting the 1st Rhine-Ruhr Dialog: “Responsible economic activity has always been anchored in the identity of the WHU. This is reflected, among other things, in student clubs such as ‘forum WHU’ or ‘WHU students help’ [‘WHU Studenten helfen.’] The latter, for instance, has set itself the goal of promoting non-profit, social commitment among the students over the long term and providing sustainable assistance where it is needed. So we are pleased to be partners and hosts for events and formats, such as the 1st Rhine-Ruhr Dialog, that bridge the gap between business and society. The wide-ranging positive feedback received from the participants encourages us to continue to advance these formats.”

The event was made possible through the generosity of the Peter Curtius Foundation. It was also thanks to their involvement that a digital pavilion for topics was launched on which discussions could commence even before the event and continued into the future. 

The 2nd Rhine-Ruhr Dialog is planned for spring 2018.