Michael Hopkins, GB
What does Sustainable Entrepreneurship (SE) mean for you personally?
Making profit by doing good for the private sector and creating increased efficiency for non-private institutions. Both sets of institutions must treat their stakeholders in socially responsible and sustainable ways.
How deeply anchored is this mindset, in your view, in society, but most importantly of all in the heads of entrepreneurs?
Most entrepreneurs have a single idea and assume they will also do good. However the effort required to treat all key stakeholders responsibly is only just taking off. My view of this around the world is captured in the below graph (excuse me if I use CSR as the overall concept – I define, by the way, CSR as the process to meet the goal of sustainable development).
You were with the United Nations (ILO), Professor of Corporate and Social Research at the Middlesex University, and Founder of CSR Programmes at University of Geneva and currently are Adjunct Professor of CSR at George Mason University, and CEO of MHCi International. What role did your appointments play in driving forward Sustainable Entrepreneurship?
All my roles and writings have focused on improving the lives of disadvantaged people from satisfying basic needs and creating employment to looking at the social, economic and environmental responsibilities of corporations. Thus creating, teaching, advising and working in over 120 countries around the world has focused my thoughts upon creating opportunities for disadvantaged peoples. The private sector development, especially SMEs where most employment is created has been a particular concern of mine. Thus my whole life has been concerned with, as I defined sustainability above, making profits by doing good. There is no point to an activity if it does not aim to create profits, or in the non-profit sector, increased efficiency. If we agree that these methods are the basis of sustainable entrepreneurship then I am 100% behind the idea and, consequently, my efforts have helped to encourage SE throughout the world. Most recently, I have graduated 250 senior executives in CSR from the University of Geneva and they are spread right across the world in influential positions. I am proud of them and hopeful that they have adopted many of the concepts of CSR and Sustainability in their work. Today through a dozen CR Meetups that I founded in different capitals and through the CSR and Financial Institute I founded with colleagues we continue to reach out across the world.
How does the discussion around the CSR-reporting duty influence companies? What impacts will we have to reckon? What importance does measurement of CSR play in that debate?
Wow you ask questions that would take me a book to answer. Without being smug I am trying to answer such questions through the online course on CSR I created and the text book I am writing on CSR and Sustainability for the same publisher, Springer, that SEA has used. Briefly, CSR and Sustainability reporting are, in many ways, Trojan horses in the sense that once a company or institution starts down such a path it is forced to review its own activities and cannot then stop the tidal forces that will encourage them to become more responsible and sustainable. They will gradually discover that these two ideas will either make them more profitable and/or efficient, but also more respected as institutions...a win-win situation. They need, of course, to ensure that such activities are indeed profitable and/or more efficient than before since they do not wish to destroy the institution they have created. Thus they must create KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to observe the impact of decisions. So the question is not are KPIs important they are, as mathematicians say, both necessary and sufficient conditions for the welfare of the institution.
How do you view the role of U.K. and position in developing Sustainable Entrepreneurship further?
I am British but have lived around the world. Today spending my time between Europe (mainly Geneva, Switzerland) and Africa (Nairobi, Kenya) although I have lived at times in South America, Asia and the USA. So the UK, for which I have great fondness, is just one of the countries I work in. But to answer your question, I think the UK along with the Scandinavian countries and, of course, Austria, are among the leaders in SE and CSR. They might call the terms differently and I do fear that the concepts of CSR and Sustainability may fragment if we keep introducing new terms rather than refining our existing concepts as time and experience moves on. I have described this as growing and fragmenting at the same time. But I have no fear that SE will not develop further, it might be called something else - although I note that 1.6billion people right now in India are going crazy with CSR. Their ideas will feedback onto the older countries but let us not forget that the USA intellectuals came up with CSR and that the UN led by a Swedish woman came up with ‘Sustainable Development’. Great stuff!
Every year, the SEA honours entrepreneurs for extraordinary projects which allow Sustainable Entrepreneurship to be implemented in practice. What convinced you to support this idea?
To be honest my main focus is a systematic multi-stakeholder CSR approach for both companies and non-private institutions. SE is, in many ways, a subset of CSR as expressed in this way. But the great thing about SE is that it is a practical manifestation of the great idea of CSR, hence my interest and support in SE. One drawback to SE, is its own eventual success. Why would anyone start an enterprise if it were not sustainable i.e. going to continue into the mists of future time?
In what way can each and every one of us contribute to increasing the importance and value of Sustainable Entrepreneurship?
Everyone contributes in different ways and my personal philosophy is ‘let the flowers bloom’ which sadly was attributed to someone who did the reverse – Mao Tse Tung. So let’s reverse the reverse!
And lastly, a personal question: Which is the most memorable SE project you've ever heard of - and why?
The Mathare Youth and Sports Association, that takes kids from one of the poorest slums on Earth – Mathare in Nairobi – and gives them hope and development through sport. Since its inception (see: http://www.mysakenya.org/) MYSA has now 140 leagues, with 25,000 active boys and girls in over 1,800 teams. Last week I was able to witness Kenya, here in Nairobi, winning the CECAFA cup of 13 international teams beating both Tanzania and Zambia on the way to the final. Three proud ex-Mathare slum kids played for Kenya. I have been to the slum and what MYSA has done is remarkable. Now footballers from Mathare can be found playing in the top professional leagues in Europe and, I am sure, one day will be running the country in sustainable ways
I am happy to note that one lad from the slum, schooled in the slum, played football in the slum, became CEO of MYSA, attended (where I met him) my CSR course in Geneva, Switzerland and is today a prominent member of the Kenyan society promoting SE both in Africa and worldwide and, happily for me, is the stalwart of my CSR and Financial Institute (www.csrfi.com) in Africa...let me name him – Peter Karanja and the man who set MYSA on its way 27 years ago and someone I am proud to call my friend - Bob Munro – social entrepreneurs par excellence!