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Corporate Activism - How Do Business Leaders Take A Stand?

At some point in their process of change, activists and professionals in business need to go from being stand-alone to being interconnected. Positive Workplace Activism looks at a variety of strategies, and strategy number nine means taking a systems approach to change. We've decided to go on our own journey of industry collaboration by attending an event next week in Rome. Read more and add your voice!

On June 15th the Undercover Activist goes to Rome to join the Business for Good leaders summit. Why Rome you may wonder. Well, in 1972, an international team of MIT researchers- calling themselves the Club of Rome, studied the implications of continued worldwide growth and came to the conclusion - 50 years ago! - that our planet can not sustain present rates of economic and population growth beyond 2100. They published their findings in a book: The limits to growth


It has been 50 years since the publication (and only 70 years until we reach their deadline), and it seems that society and our economic system have too slowly cottoned on to the fact that humanity needs to “impose limits on themselves” and change the way they “produce material goods in order to achieve a state of equilibrium.” The Club of Rome has continued to drive thought and action around change and limiting growth for the planet..

“The Club of Rome is a platform of diverse thought leaders who identify holistic solutions to complex global issues and promote policy initiatives and action to enable humanity to emerge from multiple planetary emergencies.
The organisation has prioritised five key areas of impact: Emerging New Civilisations; Planetary Emergency; Reframing Economics; Rethinking Finance; and Youth Leadership and Intergenerational Dialogues.”

It might not have been so out in the open fifty years ago, but no one can ignore now who suffers most from our disharmonious, extractive economic system. And, it’s obvious that it hasn’t been those in power. Inequality and climate injustice should be at the heart of conversations. And so, is yet another leaders summit - with only a limited representation of voices really going to make the difference?

We’re not sure yet, but we applaud the organisers for embracing activism and introducing a track at the conference about corporate activism. 

It's clear that there are businesses that are sticking their necks out, that there are business leaders who acknowledge that the role of business needs to change, and that movements like B Corp are trying to create a new language and framework for businesses to operate in. It's a trial and error journey, and we need both bottom up as well as top down approaches to drive the change we need to see.

Corporate Activism, a definition: How a business engages in change which involves mobilising their people, taking a stand, using their power to support movements, collaborating to drive policy change.

At the conference, I have been invited along with Pawel Nizinski, to curate the corporate activism track. Moderators include Lucy von Sturmer and Charmian Love, Bénédicte Peillon, and we have invited contributions from a range of business leaders such as Marion Verles, Kwame Ferreira, Andrew Davies, Giulia De Tomati, Femke van Loon, Shaun Russel, Leslie Johnston and many more

We’ll be hosting three sessions across two days to talk about how business has to be a tool for activism - meaning that businesses need to lead by example, by embodying their values and operating from purpose. How to ingrain activism in your business culture and which other societal actors are needed to strengthen what business now needs to take head on: “to enable humanity to emerge from multiple planetary emergencies”

Some of the questions we are posing are:

  • What is the role of corporate activism to change the paradigm?

  • How is your business a tool for activism?

  • How are you supporting and engaging with employee activists?

  • What are the stakes? Why do you do it, why not? 

  • How do you engage others and deal with resistance?

  • How far can a leader go and what does it mean to be courageous? 

In the words of Walt Whitman, it's time to sound our barbaric yawp across the roofs of the world!

So, let this be an invitation to anyone who wants to be part of these sessions in Rome. Let me know you're there and would like to contribute.

And if you can’t be there, tell us what you think should be discussed! You can contact me at 

Author: Tessa Wernink. Business Activist.

Co-founder, trainer and coach at the Undercover Activist. Podcast host What If We Get It Right? Co-founder Fairphone.


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