"We just need to collaborate more..."

Leslie Johnston |
"We just need to collaborate more..."

..said everyone, at every conference I've had the honour of speaking at recently, such as the B for Good Leaders Forum and Impact Europe's Business of Impact 2023.

And yes, we do need to. But it's not easy. Particularly for companies who need to accelerate their pre-competitive collaboration. Which is why multi-stakeholder platforms such as Fashion for Good are important; they help to calm (but not always dissipate) those natural competitive urges.

At the core of this is, of course, the profit imperative, which continues to drive companies' choices. That's clear. And business needs profit to survive.

But this does not have to come at the expense of purpose.

Moreover, there is a worrying lack of urgency to collaborate. Sometimes, in these conferences, I perceive that we - as foundations, businesses, investors, even civil society - are not necessarily acting like we are in a climate crisis. Like our future existence depends on today's collective action. Like collaboration is not a nice-to-have, but a tool to help us survive and thrive.

And why is this?

There is something else at play, and it's something that we don't think about enough.


And, as the Edelman Trust Barometer showed us, trust is weakening as our societies become further fragmented. On the plus side, business seems to (still) be doing well in this department, but as we tip toward economic recession and geopolitical uncertainty, this too may change.

Which is why we at Laudes Foundation, in partnership with Impact Europe, did a little experiment this week. What would happen if you put 12 leaders from the impact space together in a room for an evening meal around a single topic?

We did exactly that this past Tuesday with the first Table of Trust, where I hosted senior executives from business, insurance, impact investing, philanthropy and venture as well as an artist and a cook for good measure, to talk about the elephant in the room: competition. What is it? Why do we do it? How can it help or hurt us? Where do we experience competing priorities (e.g., between short- and long-term, between social and environmental, between individual and common good, etc.)?

The dialogue was modeled on the Jeffersonian dinner methodology, and there was only one rule: to have a single conversation with the whole table on the topic. The discussion covered multiple themes - from how one's culture shapes one's willingness to collaborate to how our global economic system perpetuates competition (therefore, making it impossible for us to come together to address the greatest, systemic challenges of our lifetimes.)

Did this dinner change the world? No. But it did unearth some new insights and create a bit more connection and empathy across a disparate group of impact leaders.

And, thanks to this extraordinary evening, I consider each of the people around the table to be an ally, whom I know I can call on at any point.

It's inspiring what taking the time to build human relationships and trust can do.