Companies are now urged to embed sustainability in their business model and act responsibly while demonstrating its impact on the world. We are in the era of the so-called ‘stakeholders capitalism’, where businesses prioritize not only shareholders but all their stakeholders (e.g. clients, suppliers, etc). Put simply: People, Planet and Profit.
We have seen the MENA region getting more and more attention lately with COP27 organized in Egypt and the UAE hosting the upcoming COP28 this year, the World Expo in Dubai, and the World Cup in Qatar for example. MENA countries are more and more present on the international stage, putting the spotlight on the region and sometimes being backlashes on sustainability matters. Investments are made int he energy transition across countries while joining the race to netzero and sustainability is made a nation-wide priority. Yet, the private sector is lagging behind. Companies are struggling to set ambitious targets to support sustainable development and are missing the opportunity to showcase their impact and contribution to the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals, a framework adopted by all UN countries in 2015).
So, what companies can do in this context? Start transforming the way they do business and put sustainability at the top of their strategic agenda. To do so, they need international standards and labels to measure, benchmark, and improve their impact while building credibility. The B Corporation, also known as B Corp, is one of them. Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance purpose with profit. The B Corp movement aims to transform the economic system into a more inclusive, equitable, and regenerative global economy. It is a movement using business as a force for good.
To date, we have 9 Certified B Corps in the MENA region, out of +6000 in the world so, not even 1%.However, the movement is building strong momentum globally (+38% application in 2020-2021) since the pandemic and the collective awakening it triggered. Although B Corps are mainly SMEs, we are seeing more and more multinational companies taking the leap and joining the movement, such as Nespresso in 2022.
So, I asked Amira Mousa, Sustainability Consultant and Impact Measurement Researcher who recently conducted research on Certified B Corps in Africa, how the MENA region could benefit in joining the B Corp movement.
Can you tell us how the B Corp movement can support MENA businesses to embrace stakeholders capitalism?
I believe that the MENA region, as well as other parts of the world, will benefit from having an inclusive and equitable economic system where businesses shift their focus from creating revenues and benefits for their shareholders to creating value for all their stakeholders. Putting the people and the planet at the heart of business requires redefining capitalism as we know it now. The World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in 2020 called for a “Great Reset” of capitalism, encouraging companies to develop goals beyond profit and shareholders’ benefits. This endeavor resembles well with the theory of change adopted by B Lab, the non-profit organization behind the B Corp movement. B Lab creates standards, policies, and tools for businesses to measure and improve their impact. By becoming a Certified B Corp, a company shifts its focus from the shareholders’ interests to stakeholders’ interests: employees, customers, suppliers, local communities, and society at large. The B impact assessment (BIA) developed by B Lab is one of the tools that companies can use to measure and manage their impact on society and the environment, as well as enhance their corporate governance. To grow the B movement in the MENA region, a systemic change is required where integrative efforts are carried out by the private sector, the government, civil society, and academic institutions. An initial step towards growing the movement is creating conversations with the private sector stakeholders such as business owners, entrepreneurs, businessmen’s associations, and industry federations.
How would B Corp better support businesses to measure and manage their social and environmental impact in the MENA region?
In the MENA region, I have seen companies and startups -at the forefront- who are born as B Corps using their business as a force for good. For instance, there’s an Egyptian startup that aims to promote ethical fashion by developing an online retail platform for selling secondhand high-quality clothes. Hence, they offer customers an eco-friendly shopping alternative and contribute to reducing waste in the fashion industry at large. Another company that serves different countries in the MENA region uses earth-based materials to build environmentally friendly affordable houses for underprivileged communities. These companies created their business model to basically serve their communities and/or solve an environmental issue. For these companies, I say the B movement is created for you and the BIA will support you to better measure and manage your impact in five impact areas: employees, customers, community, the environment, and corporate governance. The BIA is available online for free for any for-profit company, being a social enterprise or a traditional business, of any size across any industry to measure and manage the environmental footprint and the social impact of its operations and business model.
Can you tell us more about the research you’ve done in East Africa and Southern Africa for B Lab Global?
The B Corp movement started in Africa in 2017 by launching B Lab Africa’s office in Nairobi, Kenya. I conducted my research in 2020 where 35+ companies were Certified as B Corps at that time. The objective of the research was to understand the motivations and challenges that companies in East & Southern Africa (ESA) face to measure their impact and to certify as B Corporations. For this purpose, I have interviewed certified B Corps and BIA users in the ESA region to hear from them firsthand about their BIA and certification journey. Interestingly enough, all the interviewed certified B Corps mentioned that the questions in the BIA helped them better define practical actions to enhance their impact, determine the areas of improvement, hence better manage their performance. The advantage of using the BIA as a performance management tool could be also leveraged by companies in the MENA region, where it is highly needed. To date, there are 50+ certified B Corps in Africa and 4000+ companies using the B Impact Assessment to measure and manage their impact.
How B Corp can help companies get ready for the COP28 happening again this year in the MENA region?
Structured reforms are needed to decarbonize economies to achieve the Race to Zero. Using the power of businesses to address the climate emergency is no more a luxury, it is a must. Business decisions made today will affect the future of our planet. Among the tools available for businesses to center climate action into their day-to-day operations is the Climate Justice Playbook which provides ideas, tools, and case studies of companies to integrate climate action. The Climate Justice Playbook is developed by B Lab, the COP26 Climate Champions Team, Provoc (a certified B Corp), and the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Oxford. Businesses who want to get support along their commitment to decarbonizing their operations, be climate leaders, and build credibility are encouraged to get a third-party verified certification such as the B Corp Certification.
As highlighted by Amira, there are multiple benefits to using the B Corp standard, and one of them is certainly the BIA tool to measure, benchmark and improve a company’s environmental and social impact without applying for the certification. Furthermore, the tool is aligned with other international standards such as GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) or CDP (Climate Disclosure Protocol), and they developed as well the SDG Action Manager tool in collaboration with the UN Global Compact to support companies in assessing their contribution towards the 17 SDGs.
B Corp offers a holistic framework to any company, from startups to large enterprises, across industries. And if companies are ready to take the leap and get the certification, they can work with B Leaders, a community of professionals trained by Lab to support organizations in the certification process.
B Corp can help companies in the MENA region start their sustainability journey on solid ground and disclose their impact. Building responsible businesses is not an option anymore, in order to survive and thrive, companies must act now. It is an opportunity to make a difference and be part of the trailblazers competing not only to be the best in the world but the best for the world!
I am a B Leader and support companies in their certification process. Do do not hesitate to contact me if you want to find out more about B Corp.