Weatherhead professor shows how business and social consciousness can go hand-in-hand at TEDx convention

Arielle Soffer, Contributing Reporter

In a global economy where movements like Occupy Wall Street vilify big businesses, Weatherhead professor David Cooperrider is trying to give a new meaning to corporations by making entrepreneurship synonymous with social action.

He was asked to speak on Sept. 16 at the TEDxUNPlaza, an event hosted by the nonprofit organization TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), at the United Nations in New York City, on the topics of Appreciative Inquiry and Business as an Agent of World Benefit.

“I wanted to share the conviction that business has the opportunity to be the most creative and positive force building a better world, along with compelling data and inspiring stories,” he noted.

Cooperrider continued: “Great entrepreneurs know this: That every single social and global issue in our day is a business opportunity in disguise. For example, when you think of conflict in the Middle East, you wonder where the peace is going to come from. It’s likely not to come from the military, or our lawyers, or from our paralyzed governments. I think the most important force for peace might be business. And in our research we have hundreds of examples— for example, Stef Wertheimer’s miracle in Tefen where Arab and Jewish leaders, youth and 300 new businesses all work in co-existence.”

Cooperrider asserts that the entrepreneurs who will bring about this social change are the ones that think that every issue of our age is a business opportunity. Instead of seeing global issues as something negative and a problem to be solved, they see strengths everywhere.

In an effort to bring out this sort of leadership in large businesses and corporations, Cooperrider has had the opportunity to consult with many groups using the method of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). In 2004, Kofi Annan asked Cooperrider to produce the birth of the United Nations Global Impact, a partnership of over 800 corporations that seek to do good.

The idea of AI aims to bringing system thinking into reality.

“What’s exciting is that it represents a breakthrough. We are moving from micromanagement to macromanagement. We live in a universe of strengths, and we can bring complex strengths from all the stakeholders. It used to be that the most effective sized group was six to eight people. But most effective for what? Maybe it’s better to have 1,000 people for three days planning the future,” explained Cooperrider.

Cooperrider’s philosophy is that the companies that are going to be the most successful are the ones who create a workplace that highly engages its employees and customers, so that they think and act like owners of the business. The idea is such that an employee in an entry-level position feels empowered to be as much a part of the decision-making process of the company as the administrators.

As a listener, Cooperrider said he connected most with the last session of the event at the TEDxUNPlaza. The speaker was the writer of the musical score for The Lion King. He sang “The Circle of Life”, which Cooperrider felt was a lesson for us all, that it is time for a radical reorientation from our preoccupation of the self to a concern for the other.

“Now we are even seeing the new horizons. Our Fowler Center Fellows are writing a book arguing that sustainability is not the North Star. Just to survive is not the same as aiming to thrive. There’s a next chapter coming in the sustainability story. And we plan to shine a light on it at our next Global Forum for Business as an Agent of World Benefit in October 2014 here at CWRU. We’ve titled it: Getting To Prosperity And Flourishing. People should mark their calendars,” explained Cooperrider about his future plans.

Additionally, along with IDEO, one of the top design firms in the world, he is developing an even more than noble-like prize for “Business as an Agent for World Benefit”. The goal is to engage students to work with companies that are catalysts for world benefit, have them write case studies and ultimately do doctoral research.

The urgency for this sort of initiative and innovation could not be more important, according to Cooperrider.

“We are living in an era where the next 30 years can be so positive for all of humanity. I think we are facing once-in-a-civilization opportunity,” he said.

He believes that this could be the first generation to eliminate poverty and transfer to renewable energy.

Cooperrider is optimistic about the future. “Imagine a bright, green economy where we can turn all waste into wealth. We are learning what it means to design and create positive, strength-based institutions. Institutions that can be vehicles to amplify courage, love, and wisdom, and our studies show it.”