Is the common good also good for business?

Planet Earth gets a seat at the table URI Fall 2023 Honors Colloquium

October 3, 2023 3:38 pm

Drew University Professor of Economics Maliha Safri, an expert on community economies as an aspirational organizing effort, delivers a talk on alternative economies at the University of Rhode Island on Sept. 26. (Screenshot)

Traditional measures of business success focus on whether corporations create economic opportunities and deliver value to customers and shareholders. However, the currently favored models also evaluate companies based on how they treat their stakeholders, where the planet is a stakeholder. As a result, business leaders are increasingly looking for ways to benefit people, the planet, and the bottom line as they aim for more inclusive prosperity. 

There is also broad interest in wrestling with the business activities that impact the natural environment, resulting in significant challenges associated with system breakdowns like climate change, species extinction, and ocean acidification. Businesses are a vital part of systems that will implement required changes. There is optimism that the creative and innovative capabilities companies typically use to maximize shareholder value can be applied to serve as engines for system-level social change that can help people and the planet flourish. 

This is why the University of Rhode Island is presenting “Not Business as Usual: Business for the Common Good” as the focus of this year’s Honors Colloquium this fall. The 60th Honors Colloquium emphasizes helping URI Honors students develop as agents of change for sustainability and social justice. URI’s premier lecture series is also free and open to the public, which gives area residents the opportunity to hear from renowned experts and participate in the conversations at each event. The Colloquium also helps the College of Business celebrate its 100th anniversary. The University of Rhode Island is this state’s research university, and research from Rhode Island’s College of Business generates value for business and society. 

Jerry Davis kicked off the Honors Colloquium Sept. 19 with a talk that set the stage for the rest of the Colloquium. Davis introduced ideas about change that happens at a systems level and prompted the audience with points of tension around markets and democracy, the controversy about ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) investing, and the role of stakeholder capitalism. The talk, which is available online, created a contrast between incremental and radical transformational change. Davis said, “This does not get resolved at the level of individuals. If we asked everyone in this room to reinvest their pension funds or buy only ethical products, it’s not going to work. It’s really a collective action problem.”

The second talk on organizing for the common good was delivered Sept. 26 by Drew University Professor of Economics Maliha Safri.

The colloquium continues most Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m. in Edwards Hall at the University of Rhode Island’s Kingston campus.

Coming up:

Oct. 3: Panelists Rachel Calomeni (senior vice president, Growth and Innovation at HowGood) and Richard Vevers (founder and chief executive officer of the Ocean Agency, and an adjunct faculty member at URI) will share how they use their strategic business skills to help the planet, as well as insights gained from their personal experiences making the switch to purpose-driven work.

Marine biologist and bestselling author Wallace J. Nichols will discuss the remarkable effects of water on health and wellbeing. (Jeff Lipsky)

Meet Boston Executive Vice President Hilina Ajakaiye will participate in a panel on tacking gender equality on Oct. 17, 2023. (Courtesy of URI)

Oct. 17: A panel on tackling gender inequality will feature changemakers Hilina Ajakaiye (executive vice president at Meet Boston and founder of the RISE Leadership Conference) and Lauren Gray (senior vice president + Out Front Corporate & Crisis Lead at Edelman).

Oct. 24: Bestselling author of “Blue Mind” Wallace J. Nichols will share the critical role of emotions in motivation, as he invites us to find our “water” to access a “blue mind state.”

Oct. 31: Ana María Peredo, a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair and a Professor of Social and Inclusive Entrepreneurship at the Telfer School of Management in the University of Ottawa, will talk about ways communities can organize to address poverty and support sustainable livelihoods.

Nov. 14: Amy Hall, who founded and led the Social Consciousness initiative at certified Benefit Corporation Eileen Fisher for 30 years, will talk about business strategies and regeneration.

Nov. 28: We will learn from local social entrepreneur and chief development officer of the United Way Rhode Island Idrees Lanre Ajakaiye (URI ’95).  

Dec. 5: Andy Hoffman’s talk, “Leading Business, Serving Society.” Professor Hoffman will prompt a frank discussion about the role of business education, and about challenges and limitations associated with business approaches to the social good. 

The College of Business at URI is pleased to collaborate with the Honors Program to launch its second century of impact. Rhode Island’s business school will continue to be a place where students with diverse experiences and identities can tap into their grit and gain access to thought leadership, opportunities, and a strong community of students and alumni. The impact goes beyond a relentless focus on social mobility and prosperity for our students to include what is good for their communities and the planet. We invite you to join us at the 60th Honors Colloquium, as we bring together thought leaders to promote dialogue, and as we move beyond conversation to take action.


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Christy Ashley
Christy Ashley

Christy Ashley, Ph.D., of Narragansett, Rhode Island, is professor of marketing and associate dean of undergraduate programs at the University of Rhode Island’s College of Business. She is coordinating the 2023 Honors Colloquium with colleagues Doug Creed and Seray Ergene. Ashley’s main research interests include customer experience management, creativity, and consumer-brand relationships.