Lise Kingo, the CEO & Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact, a United Nations initiative dedicated to encouraging businesses worldwide to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies, was the second keynote speaker to address IMD’s largest open-enrolment program, Orchestrating Winning Performance

The UN Global Compact was founded by Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General and 2001 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who one year earlier, almost to the day, stood on the same stage to invite OWP participants to engage in his belief that businesses are part of the solution to make our world less fragile.  

Lise now heads what has become the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative with more than13,500 signatories from 170 countries that have committed to aligning strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption, and taking actions that advance societal goals (see below). 

Prior to joining the UN Global Compact in 2015, Lise Kingo was Chief of Staff, Executive Vice-President and member of the Executive Management team at Novo Nordisk A/S. She holds multiple degrees including a MSc in Responsibility and Business Practice from the University of Bath, United Kingdom and a B.Com. in Marketing Economics from the Copenhagen Business School. 

Business as a force for good 

Although only two years in the job, Lise is a passionate advocate of the role that businesses can play: by committing to sustainability, they can share responsibility for achieving a better world. 

“Our generation is the last one that can stop irreversible damage. We need to break the cycle.” It’s a monumental challenge, she concedes, but also a once-in-the-lifetime chance for the private sector to show the way and become a key driver for sustainability. She believes that with responsibilities, come opportunities and that people want to be part of something bigger, they are looking for strategic actions and inclusive leaders. 

17 goals to transform the world 

In 2015, just as Lise was taking up her new job, a unanimous decision was taken by the 193 country-members of the UN to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (see below). Governments, businesses and civil society agreed to jointly mobilize their efforts to improve the lives of people everywhere. 

“This was the first systemic, integrated approach that also took into account the role of business. It propelled the agenda into a new league.”  

According to Lise, one third of the targets must be driven by business. She then refers to a survey conducted with Accenture among over 1,000 global CEOs that provided interesting insight into how global business leaders are perceiving the SDG agenda. Among its findings, it highlights 87% of CEOs surveyed see the SDGs as providing an essential opportunity for business to rethink approaches to sustainable value creation. “They stated the goals as key strategic drivers for their own businesses.” 

“Business modules and impact need to change, but business is good at turning principles into action.” 

Obstacles to surmount 

It’s a tall order to create a different world, but there is no choice. Lise reminds us that we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and acknowledge that our generation is part of the problem. There are, however, societal trends that must be taken into consideration since they will impact our ability to ensure the transition, and that she defines as follows: 

Trust deficit 

We are operating in a trust deficit due to a leadership vacuum across the world. People have lost their faith, including in the institutions that were founded after the war. The feeling of loss of security and sovereignty is feeding protectionism, populism and short term vision. “Everything is turned into two-second soundbites, which is very dangerous.” 

Globalization is also part of the problem. When Kofi Annan started the initiative 17 years ago, his aim was also to give business a human face. If globalization was not for everyone, then it was for no one. “The very fabric of our society relies on our ability to make it work for everyone.” 

The connectivity of things 

At the United Nations Ocean conference the week before, the UN voiced its concern to Australia on its slow response to the coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef.  “It was a plea to the government to stop this from happening, but, of course, they cannot do this alone.” 

Connectivity is a very important theme, she insists, suggesting that business supply chain management can also be helpful in this area. 

The pace of things 

Lise points out that we are living in a period of time where things happen so fast, that we don’t have time to know why. She wonders when she last saw a person in a restaurant who wasn’t on their smartphone. 

The complexity of things 

Because our brains have not evolved over the past 50’000 years, we are unable to deal with complexity. “We are still hardwired to fight or flee from the snake in the grass.” Between instant gratification and the long term, our brain prefers the former. 

The solution 

That’s why new leadership capabilities are required to deal with complexity and ambiguity and engage in the bigger picture-making. Passion, humility, strong principles and values are the pillars of the inclusive leadership needed to move forward. 

“2030 is only 5’000 days away,” she says as a real wake-up call: “The agenda has to become a reality and someone has to do it. We need to take action immediately, there is no Plan B!” 

Lise then appeals to OWP participants to take responsibility and become STG pioneers: “I want to recruit all of you as ambassadors of the goals.” 

She believes that if we can create a global movement, there will be more and more people who will stand up and state their views, as did the director of Tiffany when he published a full-page ad imploring Trump to not leave the Paris climate agreement. 

“I believe in the power of change agents in organizations.” 

To succeed, global goals must be turned into local business and the successful implementation of the goals will in turn strengthen the environment for doing business and building markets around the world. 

The ten principles of the UN Global Compact 

Human Rights

Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and

Principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses. 

Labour

Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;

Principle 4: the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour;

Principle 5: the effective abolition of child labour; and

Principle 6: the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. 

Environment

Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;

Principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and

Principle 9: encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies. 

Anti-Corruption

Principle 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery. 

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), officially known as Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a set of 17 "Global Goals" with 169 targets between them. 

List of the 17 goals

Goal 1: No Poverty

Goal 2: Zero Hunger

Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being

Goal 4: Quality Education

Goal 5: Gender Equality

Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities

Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

Goal 13: Climate Action

Goal 14: Life Below Water

Goal 15: Life on Land

Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals