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Businessworthiness: a business and social innovation?

Oslo is a beautiful city. We have already commented on the Noble Peace Centre and the opportunity to learn about ways to make peace – or to or to dismiss it as of less value than going out to dinner (see our last blog). But Oslo also impressed us with another unique idea – the Oslo Business for Peace Award.

This award goes well beyond Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which is generally practiced by multinationals when times are good and shareholders are happy. Instead it focuses on ‘businessworthiness’. To quote Per Leif Saxegaard, the Chairman of the Business for Peace Foundation, “CSR falls short of businessworthiness for a variety of reasons. It is rarely proactive. Instead it is often reactive, and as a result seen to be apologising for transgressions. And it is rarely strategic and long-term; instead it is seen as scatter-shot and random”.

Businessworthiness (which is comparable to creditworthiness but has a whole different set of indices) is the measure by which the awards are made, and is very simply “applying the energy of enterprises ethically and responsibly, with the goal of creating economic value that also creates value for society”.

It’s the last part of the measure that interests us – creating value for society. This measurement goes well beyond value for shareholders. Ethical and sustainable practice is measured right through the supply chain including with customers and co-workers to arrive at a benchmark for businessworthiness (for more information visit

The Foundation has an independent award committee comprised of Nobel Prize winners. The 2013 awards the committee included Muhammad Yunus of the Grameen Bank and Michael Spence, the Professor at the Stern School of Business who has devoted much time and research into growth and poverty reduction in developing countries.

Of the five businesses that won an award this year, three are led by women. One is Nadia Al-Sakkaf of the English language Yemen Times. Her father, who founded the Yemen Times in 1990 and was a harsh critic of the Yemen regime and a staunch supporter of a free press in Yemen, was assassinated in 1999. Following in her father’s footsteps she continues to advocate for democracy and freedom, and over several years has spearheaded many initiatives to promote human rights, gender equality and peace.

“It’s not possible for us to rewrite our past” she says, “but we can write our future, and we can do that through peaceful projects”.

Another winner is Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company that not only buys direct from farmers at above both market and average ‘fair-trade’ prices, but intentionally works by invitation only from locals on projects in countries as close to Australia as Papua New Guinea and as far away as Rwanda. Their objectives include improving health care and education, stopping violence against women and improving life for the disabled.

The company, founded by Dean Cycon, is clear about its business activity “we have to sell coffee to stay alive”. But that is a means to and end, not an end in itself. “We are not trying to change everything in the world” he says, “we are trying to model a company that can positively and appropriately participate in bettering the lives of the people it works with”.

So what could this mean in Australia? We have a CSR Index – but what about an Australian Business For Peace Award with a new set of measures for businessworthiness? What about a new prestigious business signifier – the top 100 businesses on the ABFPA?

Know of any sponsors? Know of any eligible businesses? We can only wonder if an Australian business will make it to Oslo to pick up an award next May at the annual Business for Peace Summit. Let’s hope!

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