Corporate Activism 4.0

June 1, 2022

Society is always full of taboos – some for the offense to the habits and customs, others for the semantic complexity, while others still for the active or passive resistance of groups. A few taboos (incest, for instance) are universal and timeless, while others (divorce, for instance) are circumstantial and perishable over time.

It is unquestionable that corporate activism is taboo in the circles of the corporate world – probably fearful of giving strength exactly to what they want to procrastinate and empty.

Companies have always been passive of being organized in associations politically articulated with the government, exactly to influence the regulatory framework, budget allocations and the tax framework. Lobbies are corporations’ means to influence public agents in a democracy.

Society, on the other hand, has always been disarticulated in its voices and agendas, exactly for the plurality of visions, interests and passions. Society has become an amorphous population mass with the population growth in large urban centers.

Nonetheless, something has been changing over the past three decades. Fueled by the expansion of Internet, social media and mobile phones, society has found casual ways to organize in clusters. It was exactly the same algorithms that mapped and captivated billions of consumers that, perhaps even accidentally, also enabled the massive convergence of countless networks of interest.

Voices once ignored at the corners have reached exponential echoes globally.

It is a fact that we are witnessing and experiencing a change in the social operating system characterized by five key phenomena:

• Transition of the social ethics

• Institutional flagellation

• Environmental awareness

• Programmed polarization

• Digital intelligence

The transition of social ethics has supplanted the social paradigm revolving around obedience, compromise and contentment to a new paradigm centered on personal satisfaction. In this new setting, people increasingly look to more connection, experience and expression.

The institutional flagellation acknowledges the failure of a significant part of the great twentieth-century institutions, with sharp loss of credibility, influence and presence in people’s daily lives. The void it has created is being just the stage for calls to the private sector.

Environmental awareness increases as all acknowledge that the Anthropocene impact on the planet’s geological acceleration has exceeded the limits and speeds intended for the preservation of ecosystems and human life itself.

The programmed polarization is a side effect of the segregative nature of social algorithms from mappings of preferences, profiles and aspirations. This has created self-referenced bubbles with increasingly more radical positioning.

Digital intelligence has reorganized the value vectors revolving around share of attention, hub-centricity and user experience, also reconfiguring entire productive chains from the relevant changes in the behavior of consumers and society itself.

These five phenomena have changed the social operating system itself. The evolution of the corporate context itself has become inexorable, set in this broader and integrated social construct. It is exactly in this setting corporate activism has gained momentum.

Great causes and small guerillas. NGOs and investment funds. Corporate activism prevails from A to Z! In this turmoil of events, companies started to understand their social licenses to operate (SLOs) are increasingly more complex and challenging, exactly due to the strengthening of various stakeholders and for the change in behavior by the consumers and clients themselves.

The pursuit for maximization of profits subject to boundary conditions is still valid. The boundary conditions have changed.

The list of evidences grows daily: A beverage company associated to childhood obesity; An oil company’s board of directors sued for the delay implementing an energy-transition strategy; An investment management firm blitzed on social media for posting portraits of teams formed by Caucasian men and women; A retail bank attacked for its credit lines to polluting sectors; Media companies criticized for their scripts and casts.

Corporate activism 4.0 takes place on the digital competitive arena, whether on the belligerent radicalism of social media, whether on the liquidity of the available capital. The expression stakeholder capitalism concerns, somehow, to this corporate agenda expanded to other relationships, negotiations and deliveries. In this arid domain, there is less space for promises, more for concrete actions.

The agendas du jour – ESG (environmental, social, governance) and DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion), for instance – are intrinsically related and maximized by corporate activism from multiple stakeholders.

Investors, directors and executives must understand the phenomenon systemically (in person, devoid of great passions) and then reconfigure their operating models, redesign their organizations, refine their principles and values, and recycle their leaders. There is no other way available in the horizon ahead!


NOTE: This article is part of the second report in series WCD UNFRAMED!


Daniel Augusto Motta é Managing Partner e CEO da BMI Blue Management Institute. Doutor em Economia pela USP, Mestre em Economia pela FGV-EAESP e Bacharel em Economia pela USP. É Alumni OPM Harvard Business School. Atua também como Managing Partner da corporate venture capital WhiteFox sediada em San Francisco (EUA), como Senior Tupinambá Maverick na content tech Bossa.etc e com Membro do Conselho de Administração da Afferolab. Também atua como Diretor de Planejamento Estratégico da UNIBES e Membro do Conselho Deliberativo do MASP. Foi Membro-Fundador da Sociedade Brasileira de Finanças. Foi Professor nos MBAs da Fundação Dom Cabral, Insper, FGV, ESPM e PUC-SP. É autor de diversos artigos publicados por Valor Econômico, EXAME, VocêSA e Folha de São Paulo, e também tem três artigos publicados pela Harvard Business Review Brasil. É autor dos livros best-sellers A Liderança Essencial, Anthesis e Data Insights.