If you consider the relatively recent development of stakeholder engagement, its fair to say that there has been an engagement explosion. Edward Freeman first articulated stakeholder theory in his 1984 book Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach. It took a decade or so to emerge from obscurity and the concept had to survive criticism from those that saw it as a threat to the status quo – the primacy of the shareholder.
Engagement’s advantage is that it is organic in nature. People engaging become networked and engaging with others, opening further possibilities for engagement. Thus grow is exponential.
The growth of the Fair Trade movement is impressive. Harriet Lamb’s book Fighting the Banana Wars and Other Fair Trade Stories reveals explosive growth in Fair Trade sales.
The Fair Trade movement is a great example of the growth of engagement networks. The great achievement of fair Trade is in connecting the polar ends of the supply chain, the producer and the consumer. Before Fair Trade came along, most of us gave little thought to the origin of the bananas, or coffee or chocolate we consumed. But through the advocates of Fair Trade promoters we have learned that growers of these crops are often exploited by distribution and marketing systems. We have learned, for example that young people in African countries work as slaves on cocoa farms. Some of us know that coffee grown in the canopy of tropical forests creates great coffee in conditions that supports the ecosystem and is supported by that system. We don’t personally know the growers, but we learn that the Fair Trade system enables some of the money we pay for our coffee to help provide education for their families.
The Fair Trade example is just one example of the conversion of supply chains to value chains. I haven’t accessed product information using quick response (QR) codes with a cell phone, but the technology is there to provide more information about products and the people involved in their production, collapsing the supply chain and connecting producers and consumers.
The red line in the above graph shows the explosive growth of the Internet. We are still too close to the advent of this remarkable technology to fully appreciate the impact it is having on human interaction. I recall when I was writing my first book in the late nineties, I came across the Grameen story. I found Muhammad Yunus’s email address and asked his permission to use his story. He responded next day and a few days later the relevant chapter was written. More recently, I was able to connect with John Elkington through Twitter and ask for an endorsement of the revised edition of my book. He graciously agreed. Living at the bottom of the world, in New Zealand, I have been able to make connections that would have either been much more laborious or impossible in earlier times. Like many of you I engage with people in online communities across the globe. My potential to connect has exploded. Distance has been nullified and social levels flattened.
These are just two examples of greater engagement and connection and notice that they have happened in less than two decades. Profound changes are happening that will radically transform business and society for the better. I would be interested to know how greater engagement is happening in your life.