Generalist, specialist, or both? A new strategy for business action on the SDGs

A conversation between the authors of “Becoming a generalized specialist: a strategic model for increasing your organization’s SDG impact while minimizing externalities,” a B Corp leader, and B Lab Global’s Insights Team.
By B Lab Global Insights Team
September 20, 2022

As a part of our fall 2022 #TheSDGsAreYourBusiness campaign, B Lab Global’s Insights team held a roundtable conversation discussing the paper Becoming a generalized specialist: a strategic model for increasing your organization’s SDG impact while minimizing externalities.

Participants include the paper’s co-authors: Kendall Cox Park, Assistant Professor of Organization Studies, Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management; Matthew Grimes, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Futures, Cambridge Judge Business School; and Joel Gehman, Lindner-Gambal Professor of Business Ethics; Professor of Strategic Management & Public Policy, GW Business School; Sriram Bharatam, Founder & Chief Mentor of Nairobi-based B Corp Kuza Biashara; as well as Michele Bradley, Senior Data Analyst at B Lab Global, and Joachim Krapels, Director of Insights, who served as moderator. 

Below follows the full conversation transcript, edited for clarity. 

Joachim Krapels, Director of Insights, B Lab Global: Welcome to everybody joining today and watching today. We are very excited to be hosting this webinar that focuses on a topic so squarely close to our hearts: the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We are all touched by the SDGs, and we all have a contribution to make towards the SDGs, with many businesses making commitments and promises to take action towards the goals. After all, there's no future for the economy without a future for the planet.

The question is, how can companies actually move from making commitments to making real progress? We are excited to have a conversation today with both academics and companies to discuss different strategies for making contributions towards the SDGs. In particular, we will discuss a potential tension that exists between focusing and specializing on one or Two SDGs, while also keeping an eye on the range of business impacts that can occur across all the SDGs. In 2019 B Lab, together with the UN Global Compact started an exploration party in response to this tension around how to plan for and track business engagement towards the SDGs. The collaboration culminated in a tool for business called the SDG Action Manager, which is free and available online today for any business team. The tool is an attempt to enable companies to turn intentions into actions, and to follow through on those actions with goal-setting guidance and measurements. I will later on ask my colleague Michelle Bradley to guide us through the data we have gathered, and to learn more about business engagements, as well as some of the lessons learned.

This then provides a good starting point to dive more deeply. We have invited three researchers who have done insightful work on how companies can approach strategies towards the SDGs. We have invited Kendall Cox Park, Assistant Professor of Organization Studies at Vanderbilt University; Matthew Grimes, Professor of Organizational Theory and Information Systems at the University of Cambridge; and Joel Gehman, Professor of Strategic Management and Public Policy at George Washington University. These three researchers will share ideas, insights, guidance, and tools, and how to navigate the space of making a strategy for companies to work towards the SDGs.

We're equally thrilled to hear from a B Corp in East Africa. Sriram Bharatam is the founder of Kuza Biashara, a social technology enterprise supporting farmers based out of Nairobi in Kenya. Sri will share his experience of working with the SDG Action manager to track and manage contributions towards the SDGs. We are thrilled to be hosting this webinar, and bringing these different contributors together. It's one example of the ways in which we hope we can build a bridge between the world of academia and knowledge generation and the world of business and practice, where the change happens. There are so many opportunities for learning and sharing of insights, and we hope that this webinar will provide inspiration to continue efforts towards the SDGs. 

And now to get us going, I'll first hand over to my colleague, Michelle Bradley, Senior Data Analyst at B Lab Global. Can you provide some context around the development of the SDG Action manager and some of the insights we've drawn from its use so far? 

Michelle Bradley, Senior Data Analyst at B Lab Global: Yes, happy, too. So two years ago B Lab launched the SDG Action Manager. It’s an impact measurement and management tool that's integrated with our main tool for B Corp certification, the B Impact Assessment. The SDG Action Manager allows companies to set goals and measure progress towards each of the SDGs. This tool essentially translates the SDGs into concrete actions, indicators and benchmarks that all businesses can use to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs by 2030.

It's organized into seventeen modules. There's a required baseline with a general introduction, sixteen modules for SDGs, one through sixteen and seventeen, partnership for the goals, is integrated throughout. All of the modules within each module are indicators related to business best practices, broken down by questions about the company's business model, internal operations, supply chain, collective action, and negative impact risks.

So to answer the question of how we use the data collected from this tool at B Lab, for background, I'm a Senior Data Analyst here at B Lab. I spend lots of time digging into our data and creating insights. So last year, using data from the fifteen thousand companies that signed into the SDG Action Manager, our team produced an SDG Insights Report and drew conclusions about how businesses are engaging with the SDGs and answered questions like where a company is setting goals, and which SDGs do companies focus on most. So if you're interested in learning more about that, definitely check out our website to download the SDG Insights report — link for that is in the description. 

In the past year, though, we've had an additional ten thousand companies sign on to the SDG Action Manager. These companies are of various sizes located all around the world, and are in a range of industries. But most of them are located in Europe, have about one to nine employees, and are in the service industry. So, while that is a bit of a limitation of our data set, we really do think that it nonetheless provides really powerful insights and a unique window into understanding how companies are interacting with sustainable development goals.

I think one of our most interesting insights and findings is that we found that most companies were more focused on their internal operations than in their supply chain, more than what they could be doing for collective action. And so, while it's right that companies are looking inwards, we believe that in order for us to achieve the SDGs by 2030, we need more companies to drive changes systematically with a business, and focus more on changing policy within their industry, or working with other companies in their industry. The graph here shows how average performance by aspect of a business, and across all SDGs look like in 2021, and in 2022, So, as you can see, companies on average only slightly improved on their internal operations, and on average have been performing worse on questions related to business, model supply, chain and collective action. 

So we were digging into our data on similar trends that were holding true for goal setting as well sort of indicated that companies were more inclined to focus on short-term, likely easier to implement improvement opportunities rather than those that are most impactful and strategic. We actually have a few more interesting SDG data updates up on our blog so definitely check that out to learn some more about our findings — link for that in the description.

Joachim Krapels: Thanks, Michelle. Interesting figures, but also with a call to action. So, Kendall, this might be a good moment to turn to you. What are different ways in which businesses can take action on the SDGs. And what do you see as opportunities or potential tensions that are introduced by standards and tools like the SDG Action manager.

Kendall Cox Park, Assistant Professor of Organization Studies at Vanderbilt University:  These kinds of standards and assessments, like the SDG Action Manager, like the B Impact Assessment, really highlight a trade off between the depth and the breadth of innovations necessary to tackle some of the world's most pressing problems. And what we mean when we talk about depth, breadth, is that some organizations create social impact by attending to a wide range of environmental, social and governance issues, but perhaps a bit superficially spreading themselves really thin across a lot of different issues, and we call those organizations generalists. This is a generalist strategy. Others might invest really deeply into a single issue, perhaps a single SDG or a single area of the BIA, a single social problem, without paying as much attention to other issues in other arenas, and we call them specialists, And what we see with these standards and assessments is that they sometimes push in both directions. So if we think about the B impact assessment, or even the SDG Action Manager, they seem to reward incremental progress toward an array of these social and environmental goals — this kind of generalist strategy. 

The folks at B Lab will tell you that to achieve eighty points on the B Impact Assessment, the minimum necessary score to become certified, a company can't be only good in one area, right? They have to be doing well in a lot of different areas.But even as the BIA, the SDG action manager encouraged generalization, B Lab and other organizations also push companies toward specialized impact as well. We think about how B Lab offers these specialized rewards. Things like best for workers, best for the environment that highlight and reward companies that are excelling in a single domain, and the result of this is that sometimes organizations are left without clarity about which strategy to pursue. To pursue a generalist strategy or a specialist strategy, and we think it's important to highlight the trade offs between these two strategies, because organizations have limited resources, limited time, limited expertise, limited money, and as much as we would love to see organizations investing deeply in every single social problem that exists, that isn't really reasonable. And so what we see instead is that there's this tension between specializing in a particular social issue or generalizing across domains. And really neither of these strategies is intrinsically superior, because that depth might come at the expense of threats and vice versa. 

We think that it's critical to recognize this trade off, because just as the problems underlying SDGs are interconnected and interdependent — that's what we mean when we talk about wicked problems, these big problems that are all connected to each other — their solutions are undoubtedly inextricably linked too, sometimes in really subtle ways such that advancement toward one goal can cause unexpected losses from another. To think, for example, about how attempts to foster economic development might exacerbate environmental concerns or a singular focus on climate change, could hamper economic development in underserved communities and make inequality worse when these problems are interdependent, both specialization and generalization can undermine impact.

And so what we propose is this concept of generalized specialization. It's suggesting that organizations should avoid the tendency to either over focus on one SDG without attending to any of the others, but also avoid the tendency to nearly scratch the surface across multiple roles. And so what a generalized specialist strategy does is, it allows companies to create that deep impact, but also control for those externalities and unintended consequences. And there's not any single way to be a generalized specialist. A company could invest in a single social issue deeply, and then make sure that they attend to all of the others. They could invest in a cluster of interconnected social and environmental issues like they could focus on a couple of issues at a time. But the point is to try to reduce that tension to try to do a little bit of both right to do some leveraging of your core competencies, understanding the problems that you are uniquely suited to address and investing deeply in them, but also remaining vigilant and attending to these other social issues at the same time.

Joachim Krapels: Thank you, Kendall, for that overview, and it actually also touches on an important design feature that the SDG Action Manager had with both, as Michelle outlined, a general module that everybody had to complete and a specialized modules for each SDG. 

Michelle, how is that worked out in practice? How do we see the uptake of different modules and choices made by companies?

Michele Bradley: As you mentioned, the SDGs are interconnected and holistic, and so a company does have to choose to prioritize one or many goals in the SDG Action manager. So, as Kendall says, the balance of breath and depth is necessary for a company to meaningfully advance the SDGs. Back in 2021, we actually looked at our data and found that most companies completed one SDG — they focused on one while they were using the tool, while on average, a company completed around seven. So, as you can see on the graph, we also found that there were some companies that were super determined to take a comprehensive approach, and they prioritized nearly all of them.

So I think if we think about this generalized specialist approach, while looking at this chart. We can also say that maybe there are too many companies that decided to take a one or all approach when more should be focusing on a strategic approach to focusing on a few. 

Joachim Krapels: Thanks, Michelle — and maybe with some restructuring following the insights from today, we may not see that U-curve any more in the future, and it may start to take a slightly different shape.

Turning our attention now to practice, Sri, how have you engaged with the SDGs in your work with Kuza Biashara, and have you noticed the tension between generalist and specialist approaches? 

Sriram Bharatam: At Kuza Biashara, we create opportunities for youth, women, and small business owners from low income communities to learn, connect, and grow on their terms. In 2017 we won the UN SDG Innovation Challenge, and had an opportunity to present at the UN General Assembly in New York. The organization insisted on mapping our work to the UN SDGs.  

While we hated doing that seemingly theoretical work, the unintended consequence of that effort was that our work got global recognition, and we also could report our impact across 10 of the UN SDGs. And most importantly, we got a realization that we need to pivot ourselves from being a generalist to a specialist — or a generalized specialist. We learned about the B Impact Assessment and Certified B Corporation and were part of the founding class of B Corporations in Africa in 2018. 

As Kendall mentioned, this entire journey gives us the clarity to investigate a single issue deeply, and address other interconnected social and environmental issues by leveraging our core competencies and strengths. Thanks to this thinking, our network has grown greatly in the past four years, and impacts over 6.2 billion people from low income communities, and we have created over 150,000 new jobs across Africa and Asia. 

Joachim Krapels: Matthew, may I turn to you? What can businesses do to get clarity on SDG action — and how can tools like an SDG Action manager fit into the framework you also propose in the paper? 

Matthew Grimes, Professor of Organizational Theory and Information Systems at the University of Cambridge: The tension that Kendall has discussed is a big challenge, right? I mean, if you're trying to engage with SDGs, it doesn't seem sufficient to just have your organization focus on one, but then ignore all of these others, particularly because, as kind of mentioned, these issues are intertwined, and then, on the other hand, it also feels insufficient to spread yourself really thin across all of these different SDGs. So, as Michelle noted, how do you develop a more strategic approach to thinking about opportunities for impact? 

And so within our research we've tried to come up with, I guess what we would call kind of a four-stage process for identifying opportunities for impact. And so part of that kind of involves looking inward and diagnosing inside the business, and then part of it involves doing a bit of a diagnostic within the organization's broader environment. So the first step of this four stage process — and it's really about considering the existing overlaps between your own business and the SDGs, and so you can think about this overlap in a couple of different ways. So one, the first way to think about, it might just be to think about where your business is already excellent at creating value, and whether or not some of the associated activities are contributing to social and environmental impacts, or might easily be generating social and environmental impacts. And I should mention this is also where I think the SDG Action manager can be quite good. Just kind of helping provide an initial baseline understanding of where, where there's good overlaps between your existing activities and and the SDGs more broadly.

But there's another bigger overlap that also you need to think about, which is kind of the materiality — which is a way of thinking about the long-term opportunities and the risks that your business might be exposed to. When you think about the social problems that underlie or underpin the SDGs — if you think about how those problems might might be material to the long-term success of your business, clearly these are also places where your your business should double down

So that's step one: Consider the existing overlap between your business and the SDGs. The second step in the process is really about recognizing that we live in a social world where there are reputational benefits from being a more responsible organization. And typically, you know, some reputational costs associated with being an irresponsible organization. And so thinking through that lens, you might, you might actually move beyond just kind of a consideration of where there's a strategic overlap or a material overlap between the SDGs and your business, but also thinking about where there might be a reputational overlap. In other words, think about each of these SDGs, and whether there's going to be a reputational gain from applying some resources and energy towards addressing some of these issues or or costs associated with failing to do so. That's the second step in the process, considering the reputational gains from creating particular types of SDG impact and the reputational costs from failing to do so.

The third step in this process is really about again, kind of looking outside the business now and thinking about the strengths and problems of your broader context. So all organizations exist in different contexts, different industries, different regions, and these contexts are going to be either stronger or weaker at addressing the sustainable development goals. And so you have to understand how you are fitting into that context. Think about your particular region, where your organization is embedded or headquartered. And how strong has that region been? You know, both in you know the public private and civil sector within that region. How strong are these different sectors at addressing a particular SDG like climate action? Right? So, on the one hand if you know if your region tends to be particularly strong at addressing climate action, it may be that this is an opportunity for you to build on that strength, for you to raise additional finances, to attract talent, to expand your strategic partnerships in that region. 

But then, again, on the other hand, to the extent that your region or your context might be particularly poor at addressing a given SDG: Well, that is also an opportunity right? It also means that there's a way. There's a gap in that context, and that might be a real opportunity for your organization to lean in and and and how to help to fill that yet.

So that's step three — looking outside the business, and considering the strengths and the problems of your context, and how your business might fit into that context.

And the fourth step comes back around to this kind of tension between breadth and depth. And so we created a tool that we think kind of works in tandem with the SDG Action Manager, and we've referred to it as kind of the SDG impact canvas. But it's a way of basically visualizing how your organization is contributing to various SDGs. So that you can see the breadth and adapt where you are applying resources and energy towards different SDGs — to not just visualize, but then to track over time how that might be changing. And I think again, this is where the SDG Action manager has been very effective at really allowing companies to not just determine that initial baseline like I was referring to in the first step of this process, but really about tracking your progress over time to see your impact journey over time.

So we think the impact canvas is a simple tool for helping visualize that depth and breadth trade off in tandem with tools like the SDG Action Manager. And in doing, in going through this four stage process, our hope is that this will provide companies with a bit more clarity as to how to be a bit more strategic about engaging with the SDGs.

Joachim Krapels: Thanks, Matthew, for running us through all those steps and stages that are also, I should say to all the readers, very clearly outlined, of course, in the paper that's available through open access online and to which you can find the links with the video.

I have to say that the sense I also had when reading the papers is that it really helps. I hope companies get over what might be an overwhelming feeling, right. There are so many issues that touch on the root problems that the world is facing, and that the UN is trying to address. By that I guess it I mean it can be very overwhelming to know where to start.

So I really hope that the tools can work in the way that they enable, and to make steps to make first steps, maybe to make next steps for some others. And when companies do start to do that, Joel, where do you see the potential for business to have a more powerful contribution to achieve the SDGs? How can they make that more powerful contribution?

Joel Gehman, Professor of Strategic Management and Public Policy at George Washington University: You know, as you were just noting, one of the challenges for any business is deciding where to start, and you know, as you point out the SDGs, you know they're the seventeen of them. But if you drill down there are sub-targets, so they're over — I think it's around one hundred and seventy sub-targets nested within the SDGs, and so any business can sort of quickly feel themselves being overwhelmed like. How am I going to make a dent in all of this, even with the best of intentions and aspirations?

So I think there are sort of three ways at least that the work that we've done tries to help businesses think about how they can connect to those SDGs and make a more powerful impact. You know, when I talk to my MBA students, one of the things I asked them is, you know what's the value of theory — why have a theory? And I think one of the reasons that theories are powerful is it provides you a sort of an orientation or a map, to think about how you might begin to take action; and even if the map isn't perfectly lined up with the territory that you're confronting. It still provides, you know, sort of an orientation, and allows you to sort of take stock over the circumstances, make a plan, and get going. And so one of the ways our framework helps is, I think, that metaphorically, you can think about it as helping you create your map for action.

The second thing that we've seen today is, you know the framework begins to give a management team an organization, a vocabulary, for starting to have a conversation with themselves about what it is they're doing and what it is they might do as part of their sustainability journey. On one hand that might seem like a small thing. But you know, to the extent you think about someone like Wittgenstein's idea that the limits of your language or the limits of your world, having a new vocabulary literally can be world-changing. You can now start to see distinctions that you didn't see before in your environment. You can start to think about impacts that you're having for good or ill, that you aren't necessarily attuned to. And so right away, we think that one of the ways that destroying what can be powerful is that a management team can start discussing and debating, you know, for instance, do I want to be a generalist? I never even thought of myself in those terms. Do I want to be a specialist? What kinds of priorities do we want to make? Sometimes you? You may have made priorities, you know, more or less by default, or by backing into them, but they weren't necessarily intended. And so this allows you to surface, where exactly are you making commitments? And so the vocabulary helps you to make those distinctions.

And then I think the third way, and perhaps the most important way, is that it creates a way of catalyzing action and alignment for the entire management team. So there are lots of reasons that organizations engage in strategy making, but one of the key benefits of engaging in this kind of strategic work is to bring alignment throughout the organization. So you can articulate what it is we stand for.

At the same time, one of the most important things we know about strategy is, if you're not saying no to things you don't have a strategy for. So what the framework also allows you to do is to figure out: What is it we want to say yes to? And what is it we want to say no to, so that we can, as a result, actually make some difference on some of the areas.

In that way it provides management teams and organizations with the ability to build a roadmap for themselves, to think about where they want to contribute in a powerful way to the SDGs, and then to understand that they're making choices about where not to play, and then, of course, to do that repeatedly over time. So it's not just a once and done exercise. But you would come back to this as part of your sustainability journey, earn and build capabilities in one area; then you might decide to deepen and and go further there, where you might also decide that you know places where you thought you had strengths or could make a difference. Maybe it's not worked out as as well as you thought, and it allows you to divert your resources elsewhere.

Joachim Krapels: Thank you for that contribution to, and and a good reminder that strategy is also about saying ‘No,’ — maybe something we often forget when we're enthusiastic about things, we can achieve, that saying no is an important part of thinking that through and working it through.

Sri, turning back to you, because it’s so valuable to also hear the voice of practice and to learn about your lived experience. How have you used B Lab’s tools such as the SDG Action Manager or the BIA to inform your SDG strategy? Do you foresee any adaptations even based on today’s conversation? 

Sriram Bharatam: So, we sat down as a team and made a map — a shareable, accountable plan for action — in consultation with our management team, our extended partners, our communities, and more importantly our customers. 

When we reflected deeply on that and applied the lens of the SDG Action Manager and B Impact Assessment tools, two things bubbled up clearly. One, the “start-doing” list, and second, the “stop-doing” list. And as a company we made a conscious choice to start saying “no” to very many ideas and references, and be more deliberate about what we want to do, how we want to do, and be intentional about the actions we take. As Joel mentioned, what we need is a language and vocabulary. We intend to actively adopt the framework, so that we can articulate our identity while consciously working to socialize with all our stakeholders. As I said, again the unintended consequence of this framework thinking is that Kuza Biashara got recognized as a Best for the World for Customers, three years in a row, and our current B Impact Assessment score has gone up by 30%. 

Joachim Krapels: We are also curious, as it's common also in academic papers, to hear what your future plans are, and what are the future exciting avenues of research that you might be able to share with us. And maybe if you can touch on the role that B Corps can play in that, what role can the data on B Corps play in that, to make sure we all put our effort in on that front as well.

Matthew Grimes: So I mean one of the things that Joe just mentioned is the value of theories as a map. I think I think partially one of the things that we would like to do in terms of you know, pushing the theory that we've created here around generalization and specialization, pushing that forward, is to determine whether this map is, in fact, a valuable map, is a correct map of the world and the territory.

I think doing that kind of research is going to involve asking questions about, for instance, how do firms actually benefit reputationally from specializing or generalizing in their approach to the SDGs? Or for example, what are the actual impacts of these different targeting strategies? And so to the extent that organizations are starting to specialize, what are the effects of that organizationally, but also societally, and to the extent that multiple organizations within an industry are specializing? How does that either work together well, or work together negatively. So pushing our research to actually begin to test this map,, so to speak, to test this theory, I think it's one of the directions we'd like to take it.

Kendall Park: Yeah, I think the other issue here is that the SDGs are global goals. They're societal level goals, and we're talking about action at the company level. So this raises big questions about how companies can make progress with these smaller units of analysis. These companies can make progress towards these really large goals, and for what we suggest  companies taking this sort of generalized specialist strategy can do for this to work. We need, you know, enough organizations to be targeting each of the SDGs. We need their efforts to be evenly dispersed rather than seeing most companies are working towards these specific problems, and that these other problems are going untouched, and we don't really know how that's working. And this is something that the data that you all are collecting can help us with is figuring out how these efforts are distributed so that we can know whether we're making real progress evenly toward all of these SDGs.

Joel Gehman: I think the one other piece, it kind of builds on both what Matthew and Kendall talked about. You know a lot of my work thinks about inner temporality. So the challenges of sustainability. If you think about it as a journey, the question is, what should I be doing today? To perhaps affect a change tomorrow? But tomorrow might not literally be tomorrow. You know we can think about this in terms of intergenerational impacts. And so I think one of the big challenges for people that are interested in the SDGs is, how do we know today whether or not we're on track, for example, to hit some kind of goal in two thousand and thirty or two thousand and fifty, you know, even further down the line, because of the complexity of the issues that we're confronting there. There's a lot of nonlinear dynamics and complexities that play out. And so a lot of what I have been thinking about lately is, what will my dashboard look like today that tells me whether or not we're on course or not to get to desired end states at different points in time in the future. And then how do we — if we're not making the progress we want — how do we have additional interventions? And that requires a really complex understanding of some of the dynamics involved in these goals. 

Joachim Krapels: Joel, can I ask our follow-on question there? What role do you see for the collective, the aggregate data of something like the SDG Action Manager, and telling us something about how companies are contributing to the SDGs more broadly? We'll struggle to generalize always, right, and we have some limitations to take into account. But what's the promise there for learning more broadly about business contributions to the SDGs?

Joel Gehman: That's what we see as one of the promises. I mean, we go back to some of the comments that Matthew was making, for example, where you're doing this look in at your business, but also your this look out at the landscape, and I think that what the SDG Action Manager and the other data that B Lab is collecting potentially enables is moving from that sort of mezzo-organizational level to a more macro scale of understanding of what are the impacts of business,. And that could be specific to a country or a region. And then, of course, you can roll up from there. But that, I think, is one of the promises that the data hold. And so, even though it's only a slice of the business to the extent we can understand how representative that is or is not of the larger business community, we can start to understand, to Kendall's point, are there places where, for example, maybe businesses don't play or can't play? So maybe business is not the solution for all 17 SDGs, but it's really good at several of them collectively.

That would be really important information to understand from a policy perspective — to understand where governments might need to play a larger role, or NGOs might need to play a larger role and vice versa, where maybe they're not. They don't need to devote their time and energy, because we can come up with more market-oriented solutions to certain things. So I think if you step back where you have an ecology of organizations involved — government, NGOs — trying to understand where business fits into the SDGs versus where other organizational forms might also play, I think that's knowledge that I think we still lack, and I'm excited to see development. 

Matthew Grimes: One other point here, too — and this is not necessarily to plug B Lab, but it kind of is a plug. I think one of the things that's interesting about B Lab is that there's a purposeful approach to making change through systems — taking a variety of different approaches, whether it's certification, whether it's the B Impact Assessment, whether it's regulatory change, and pulling all of these different levers to see what makes a difference, and to potentially to supplement and complement one another. 

And I think that is another area that is useful to explore: here are the ways in which these kinds of systems interventions are encouraging approaches towards the SDGs driving actual organizational efforts in different directions as well as organizational impacts and societal impacts. Looking at the effects on systems change and systems impact would be really valuable here as well.

Joachim Krapels: That's great to hear. And can I just echo that it’s also the number one question that we, as the Insights team at  B Lab, will try to be working with and working on: this collective of interventions and ways of approaching the system and seeing it in tandem. That's our theory — so definitely a joint agenda there for research.

Any final reflections from any of you to share with either the B Corps, or the business community, or for our own learning? 

Michele Bradley: I just have one more plug for our SDG Insights report, because it also speaks to this — if a company wants to go in there and see what have we been able to see. Different industries are focusing on different SDGs. What are the most prioritized SDGs we've seen in our report? For example: SDG 1 [No Poverty] is most prioritized; SDG 4, quality education is the least. And maybe if you are a business that is focusing on quality education, this will be a call to encourage the business community to work more on it. So definitely check it out. 

Joel Gehman: Just on behalf of our author team, I would say we're curious, so please — open invitation at any point to reach out to any of us, and tell us how it's going as you try to use some of the tools we've created, and likewise you know, feedback that can help us provide insights back out to the B Corp community.

Matthew Grimes: We're all ears, and very interested to hear from B Corps that are really engaged in this work. It's good to be part of a community that is interested in exploring these overlaps between research and practice. And so to the extent that we can take our theories, and for them to be useful to you for your practice, that in turn informs our thinking and theories. We are very grateful, so thanks. 

Joachim Krapels: Well, thank you, all, for your contributions, and of course, for all the work that you've been doing to develop the paper to develop the tools and the guidance, and insights that you brought today, but also in all your past work on the B Corp community and business sustainability more broadly. 

This event is happening as part of B Lab’s September SDG Campaign. Please follow along on social media at hashtag #TheSDGsAreYourBusiness for more content related to how businesses can take action for the Global Goals and 2030 Agenda. 

Watch the full conversation on YouTube!

SDGs, SDG Action Manager

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