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Purpose before Profit

Climate crisis and growing inequality in the world demonstrate the importance of a sustainable economy. A report from the Global Social Business Summit, with three Group Executive Directors, Hiltrud Werner, Gunnar Kilian, and Andreas Renschler – as well as Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Muhammad Yunus.

The Berlin-Mitte district, in November, on the multi-lane Karl-Marx-Allee lies Café Moskau. Where in GDR times East Berliners could drink a mocha, or buy small souvenirs from the former Soviet Union, today, there is talk about nothing less than the future of the global economy.

550 people from all over the world come together at the Global Social Business Summit (GSBS) to exchange ideas, present projects, and establish networks. Volkswagen is not only a sponsor but is also represented at the event by three Board Members’. In addition, 60 top managers will be taking part, each of them with a young colleague from their own specialist area. The message: A sustainable and social economy is more than just a management task.

Business should solve problems first

The Global Social Business Summit takes place under the big question: How can we make the world a better place? Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh has shown how this can be achieved. With his work on microcredit he became world-famous as the “Banker to the Poor” and is still revered worldwide. In his keynote speech, the highly decorated economist describes in a simple and clear way why the social business concept is so important: “There are two types of business: business to make money – and business to solve problems.”

In a joint appeal, 11,000 scientists have just warned of the irreversible consequences of climate change. Humanity faces “unprecedented suffering” if it does not seriously fight against global warming, they warn. Yunus also underlines this urgency: “We have no time left. It’s about the survival of the planet.” He speaks of 20, at most 30 years, which still remain for the earth. “We all drive on the same road – and it leads directly to a cliff. We have to turn around quickly – and build new roads.”

Everything is possible

Yunus is a friend of big goals. Everything is possible, is his message. These three goals must be achieved: “No poverty, no unemployment, no CO2 emissions”. But first of all, the mindset of the people has to change. “If we don’t change our thinking, we won’t find solutions.” The 79-year-old talks about the paradox that we all see pictures of the Amazon forest burning on television, but simply do nothing. Social Business could help here, i.e. entrepreneurship that first want to solve problems rather than make profits. “Purpose before profit”, Yunus puts it in a nutshell.

This is where he talks about technology. For Yunus, it can be both a blessing and a curse. “Even now, 99 percent of the world belongs to one percent of humanity. Technologies such as artificial intelligence could exacerbate this imbalance if, for example, jobs were destroyed. For him, therefore, the question before using technology is: What is it used for? “Technology should only be used for people, not against them.” He appeals to companies to do more than just maximize profits. “We need business that changes the world.”

A tradition of social involvement

With this, Yunus is meeting Gunnar Kilian, Member of the Board of Management for Human Resources at Volkswagen Group, with open ears. After all, social responsibility has a long tradition at Volkswagen. Now this social responsibility is to be raised to a new level. “We want to become a pioneer of a corporate policy that meets the challenges of the present and the future with a pragmatic approach. A threefold approach, encompassing the economy, environmental protection and humanity in harmony in order to offer solution-oriented – pragmatic – approaches,” explains Kilian on the main stage in the fully occupied “Super HappYYness Room”.

After all, Volkswagen is also aware that economic, social and ecological challenges are growing almost exponentially on a global scale. “In my opinion, we can only make this change happen consistently if we are prepared to rethink. If we are prepared to venture out of the comfort zone and move forward. When we are ready – as Professor Yunus puts it – to change ourselves and to go new ways.”

Three ideas for a better world

To develop social business within the Group, Volkswagen is presenting three ideas during the two-day event. In workshops lasting several hours, experts from the Group will discuss with other representatives from business, science, politics and society how these could become self-supporting business models.

From the Volkswagen Group component comes the idea of training young people in South Africa in how to repair defective transmissions. These can be bought cheaply, sold at a higher price after the repair, and thus support the project – so the idea. Another: To offer vehicle platforms under the title “Build on Volkswagen” that could enable social business models. The focus here is on the ‘ageing society’ and ‘rural exodus’ megatrends. For example, it would be conceivable to have mobile doctors’ surgeries that go to people in the countryside.

Workshop participants will also discuss how Volkswagen could develop social business models with older or performance-reduced employees. “I am already looking forward to your opinion, your ideas and impulses, which can help bring one of the projects mentioned into a pilot phase in the near future,” says Kilian.

Managers must offer equal opportunities

Andreas Renschler, Group Board Member for the Truck & Bus brand and CEO of TRATON SE, on stage

Andreas Renschler will also visit the Global Social Business Summit on this day. When the first workshop sessions are over in the early evening, the Group Board Member for the Truck & Bus brand and CEO of TRATON SE speaks to the international participants about leadership. Everyone must be aware that every action has a consequence. “As managers in particular, we are responsible for far more than just bare business figures. We are partly responsible for creating a society that offers opportunities for all.”

Hiltrud Werner, Group Board Member for Integrity and Legal Affairs at Volkswagen with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus

Hiltrud Werner, Group Board Member for Integrity and Legal Affairs at Volkswagen, emphasizes that the Group assumes social responsibility in the sector of its core competence – mobility. “With the electric drive, digital networking and autonomous driving, we want to make the car cleaner, quieter, more intelligent and safer. The Volkswagen ID.3 is the first CO2-neutral balance-sheet car,” says Werner. “We are firmly convinced that through sustainable and social action we can simultaneously create employment, soften mono-structural economic orientations and help people to find work who have no access to traditional industrial work.” Werner says.

Now is the time not only to talk about responsibility, but also to act responsibly. “What world do we want to leave behind for our grandchildren,” asks Muhammad Yunus. “A beautiful, peaceful and harmonious one. Sure. But what do we do to get there? Finding the answers to this question is the great challenge of our time. Not only at the Global Social Business Summit. Yunus throws the concept of “super-happiness” into the room. “Maybe money makes you happy, but helping others makes you super-happy.” And the wise man from Bangladesh has another important piece of advice at the end: “Whatever you do, do it with joy.”