Impact governance and management: Fulfilling the promise of capitalism to achieve a shared and durable prosperity

Capitalism has provided unprecedented wealth and prosperity around the world, but a growing community is raising concerns about whether the promise of the capitalist system to achieve a more shared and durable prosperity can be achieved without systemic changes in the way for-profit corporations are governed and managed. The change in public opinion has become evident among workers, consumers, and investors, as well as through new policies enacted by elected officials of both parties: more than ever before, the public supports businesses that demonstrate positive social change and sustainable development. These new attitudes have begun to take root in corporations themselves, with a growing community of investors, business leaders, and entrepreneurs expressing a fiduciary duty to create value not only for shareholders but for society. However, businesses and investors seeking to harness these opportunities face significant institutional and normative barriers to achieving their goals.

In a new paper, the co-founders of non-profit B Lab, Andrew Kassoy, Bart Houlahan, and Jay Coen Gilbert, write about this overarching culture shift, the importance of and impediments to effective impact governance and impact management to make this shift meaningful and lasting, and how a rapidly growing community of responsible businesses has overcome these barriers, is maximizing its social impact, and is creating pathways for others to follow. The impact and growth of the B Corp movement will be maximized not only through increased adoption by business leaders, but also through the unique roles played by research institutions, the media, policy-makers, investors, and the general public. With enough support, this movement may soon transform shareholder capitalism into stakeholder capitalism, in which businesses can more easily live up to their potential to create a more shared and durable prosperity for all. 

This paper is published as part of the Center for Effective Public Management’s Initiative on 21st Century Capitalism. It is one of more than a dozen papers written by academics and practitioners about the changing role of the corporation and the importance of improving corporate governance. The authors of this paper are the co-founders of B Lab, a nonprofit organization that oversees the certification of B Corporations, and a major subject of this paper. The perspectives put forth in this paper are solely those of the authors, based on their professional expertise in this area.