Anne Bahr Thompson

Anne Bahr Thompson
Global Brand Strategist

Pioneer of the Brand Citizenship Movement

Is it possible to align purpose and profit?

What is Behavioural Economics? Why does it matter? And how can companies acting as good corporate citizens create both success and sustainability in their business?

These are some of the questions that Anne Bahr Thompson, the founder of the movement of Brand Citizenship, and author of the book Do Good, is seeking to answer with her work.

Anne is passionate about showing companies that doing good is no longer a barrier to financial success. Her research on brand citizenship and cultural trends reveals that the notion of separating how your business behaves, from how you earn money, is one that is falling out of favour.

She now believes that doing good, behaving sustainably, and combining ethical considerations with economic pursuits, can actually help businesses to increase their financial success.

Watch our interview to discover the ways in which a new style economics can help lead us closer to an open, sustainable, and successful new world.

Watch the video:
Listen to the Audiofile here:
Read the transcript of Anne Bahr Thompson's Video here

Nerina: Hi Anne. Great to have you here. Could you please introduce yourself?
Anne: My name is Anne Bahr Thompson and I am the founder of the Movement of Brand Citizenship and I’ve just recently written a book called @Do Good which is about my five-step model of brand citizenship.

Nerina: I am reading from your website Do Good: Brand Citizenship Aligns Purpose and Profit. Cultivate meaningful engagement with customers and employees and aligning purpose and profit. Is it possible?

Anne: For me purpose and profit never have been something that should’ve been separated. Really good well-run businesses have always had a bigger vision that has to do with something more than earning a profit or being the number one best thing and whatever. The notion of separating how your business behaves from how you earn money is almost like creating a false theoretical construct. In real life the two are so intertwined and I think this is why the notion of behavioral economics is becoming more and more popular because the old way of economics was theoretical and isolated itself from the way real people behave.

Real people don’t separate behavior and money. It’s so intertwined for us. Money is such a personal issue. You go online now you’ll see everybody trying to train people how to manage their money, how to feel better about their money. Why should it be any different for businesses? It’s so intertwined how you behave with how you earn money.

Nerina: You wrote that this book was born in order to create meaningful discussions and accelerate change. What kind of change?

Anne: If we can bring this out more publicly and have more public discourse and dialogue we’ll accelerate the movement of companies aligning purpose and profit. We’ll accelerate the movement of companies that are doing good and sustaining and progressing our world and while that sounds naïve it’s really important especially today. You know we’re at a point where people focus so much more on what divides us not what brings us together and I feel if we bring this out more and feel more comfortable talking about the fact that this is all new we will all come together and coming together will be stronger and we will help support companies as they try to find a way forward.

Nerina: Could you tell us a little bit more about the book?

Anne: The book is about my five-step model of brand citizenship and the cultural trends that led up to it. At the end of 2011 as part of my ongoing trend research we were doing a study to come up with Transfer 2012 and we went out to people in the US and the UK and asked them a series of questions: what were their hopes and dreams for the coming year, what were their fears, what brands they thought would exhibit leadership and why, which brands they thought were good corporate citizens and why, and which brands they thought were irresponsible or bad corporate citizens and why and there were some other questions in there, but they’re less relevant.

As we started reading people’s responses because we did not have the data coded by people in the backroom who read your responses and turn them into three-word answers. We actually read all the responses everyone gave us. We started noticing under the surface that people were asking for businesses to step in and help solve the problems on the planet and then in society. It wasn’t I want business to fix this problem. It was more how you connected the dots that was under the surface.

So, when that happened over the next three years I granted myself some money to research the difference between brand leadership, good corporate citizenship and favorite brands which is a proxy for brand loyalty. That’s how the model emerged and as a result of our learnings I thought it was something too important to ignore which is why I wrote the book.

Nerina: What is the core message?

Anne: Well there’s two sides of it. One is that doing good is no longer a cost of doing business; it’s actually a way to grow your business and increase your profits. Because historically all the things that fall under doing good have been seen as the cost of doing business, not an investment into your brand and into bettering and strengthening your business and today they are investments into bettering and strengthening your business. So that really the biggest message I would like to get out to people because when business leaders really believe that they will start acting on it and more and more business leaders are believing it and acting on it because more and more investors are believing it and acting on it and that’s what drives the business.

The other thing is that you need to really clarify your why. You know people talk about why in the sense of their individual why and their individual purpose, but this is equally as important to businesses. Knowing why you exist, clarifying your why is very important and it’s the starting point of being a successful business and that is simple. Once you clarify and know your why you do have to deliver it every day in every way and do what you promised and that’s why trust is the starting point in today’s world of fostering a meaningful loyal relationship not the endgame.

Nerina: Do you think that it’s more complicated trying right now to define what a brand is?

Anne: Well it is because when you think about the whole notions of brands and when they started in the 60s you know when brand marketing really started in earnest with the 60s everyone knows about the TV series Mad Men, which shows you the whole evolution. Brands now are all about their point of view on the world, the position they take in terms of how they see the world and their relationship with the world, their customers, employees and other stakeholders. It’s not solely about what you offer in your product and service anymore.

So yes, it is more complicated but what emerged from my research was five simple steps to actually start connecting with your different stakeholders and your customers in a way that fosters real faithfulness and loyalty and in a way that shows you care about them and you’re solving their problems and you also care about their greater what I call we worries and you’re solving the things that they’re concerned about for the world and the planet.

Nerina: You developed five-step model as you mentioned, and trust is a very important topic in this. Everything starts with trust. Could you tell me more about this?

Anne: What’s interesting about the fact that we learn that it starts with trust is advertisers and reputation management people and people who work in the marketing communications industry have historically thought of trust as the endgame. Once we have your trust we have you. What we learned in this three years of research is that trust is actually in today’s world the starting point because people out there know that we all contrive our “authentic” personalities. So we as individuals, politicians, celebrities and companies create “authentic” personas online so we’re skeptical of believing things they say because we do the same thing; we craft our Facebook posts, we craft our tweets, we craft our LinkedIn profiles to look like the person we want people to see. For people to see the “genuine” authentic self and there is truth to who that is, but it’s not the full, genuine, authentic self. Because of that trust is more and more important and harder and harder to cultivate.

What we learn from people is that there is I keep talking about five-step but there’s five-step to trust which begins with clarity of purpose. So really understanding who you are and communicating. Reliability, being reliable constantly in every action and delivering what you promise. Sincerity, speak from the heart and so when I talk to my clients for example, I try to get them away from the notion of authenticity and into the notion of sincerity and speaking from the heart and once you speak from the heart you also then have to learn to give to give not give to get and businesses are famous with loyalty programs and things that really aren’t giving things away. It’s more about what they’re going to get and that leads you into the notion of active listening that when we have this idea of big data and we can trap all these things about our customers and the people we interact with you need to use that to connect with the things that matter to them and what’s important to them, not just cross sell new products and services to them.

Those last two steps give to give and active listening are the transition points between trust which is step one of brand citizenship and step two which is enrichment and enrichment is all about bettering our lives. It’s amazing the brands people talk about that enrich their lives and how they enriched them.

In the US, there is this company called Mrs. Meyers and they’re household cleaning products and Mrs. Meyers have lovely scents and nearly all natural, but not all natural and people forgive it for that because of what it does. When they’re cleaning people talk about how they feel like they’re in a lavender field in France because of the scents and it makes cleaning more inspiring and enriching.

Actually enrichment is a very important point because Apple is a brand that enriches people’s lives and Apple is actually one of the first brands that came up in my research that intrigued me to learn more. So, when we went out and asked people who were good corporate citizens, this was the end of 2011 when Apple was being lambasted for its supplier relationships by activist, by the media, by a whole host of people and at the end of 2011 Apple was the brand that rose to the top as the number one good corporate citizen. Who would have ever thought and that was one of the things that intrigued me. But when you read people’s answers why Apple rose to the top was because of what it did for them: Apple enriches my life, Apple has made my life better and is good corporate citizen because it’s changed the way I communicate with people across the globe. Apple is a good corporate citizen because it brought joy into my life by bringing music into it 24/7 and that was one of the things that actually started and triggered the further research. We go from trust which is do what you say, enrichment inspire my everyday life.

Then we moved to responsibility and responsibility is more the traditional notions of corporate citizenship. But first and foremost, what matters to people is that you treat your employees well and fairly. So if you go out there and you better your supply chain and in doing so you are creating a benefit to the environment people say that’s good but if simultaneously you don’t pay your employees a fair wage they’ll say I don’t care. You’ve doing good but I really don’t care because you have to start closest to home first and that’s with your employees. So the critical notion if you see in that trust enrichment responsibility the critical notion is how you interact, treat and acknowledge people.

So then you move into community which is step four and community is all about bringing people together through shared values it’s not just digital communities or things like that. In the book I talk about IBM, for example, which in 2004 before Facebook IBM ran these values jam over three days. Where it allowed its employees across the globe to participate and contribute to what IBM’s values were going to be moving forward.

2004 was a year after Gerstner left IBM financially stronger but culturally weaker and Palmisano, came in and as a true IBMer and wanted to bring IBM back into itself and make people proud. He connected IBM people across the globe to allow them to participate in creating values that’s community. Community is also something like the notion of the Forest Stewardship Council, which is that tree on paper products you often see. Forest Stewardship Council brings together communities of businesses that have the same values and want to sustain forests even though they produce paper products or use paper products to package their goods and services.

So trust, enrichment, responsibility, community and then finally it is contribution and contribution is make me bigger than I am. So through my association with you, through being your customer or your employee I am bettering the world because you’re doing something better. And whilst it’s easy to put that in the notion of socially conscious businesses and businesses that have purpose at their core, not only businesses that have purpose at their core are considered businesses that contribute.

Kenco coffee, which is owned by Mondelez a huge global consumer goods company has an initiative called Coffee and Gangs and this is about giving teenagers in Honduras an alternative to the three choices they have when they hit a certain age. Honduras is the number one or number two murder capital in the world every year and when teenagers get to a certain age they have three choices: joining a gang, leave the country or be killed. Kenco has given them a fourth choice and that is to apply to become a coffee grower and learn how to run a coffee farm. Their impact in terms of scale is not great because they only can take I think it’s 30 to 50 students per year but their impact in terms of what it does for those students and give them an alternative is huge.

So one of the things I pose in the book is imagine if Kenco created a community of coffee producers, coffee manufacturers, coffee sellers and took all the coffee sellers that source their coffee from South America for example, and brought them together and working with the nonprofits they work with to run the program expanded it across the whole coffee growing regions in South America with these other coffee producers. The impact that would then have could potentially change a continent. So contribution doesn’t have to only be socially conscious brands.

Nerina: What you are inviting companies to do is not a onetime fix everything program but a journey, aren’t you?

Anne: I didn’t want people to think there’s a given set of steps to follow. Yes, there’s a general framework to go through to start actualizing brand citizenship and start stepping on the pathway of it but once you step on the pathway it is that it’s a pathway it’s not I’ve stepped and I’m done. You have to see it is a journey and I think what’s important is that people also step back and say no business can get it 100% right especially out-of-the-box and we have to start supporting businesses for the good they are doing. Not just every time someone does something good go in to figure out what they’re doing that’s bad.

What was really interesting when I was researching for the book, when I was doing research for the book and reaching out to companies, to speak to companies to see if they would give me more the inside scoop of what they’re doing virtually every company I reached out to I heard back from and a lot of people spoke to me but did not want to be named in the book or in the research. Because they felt if I was going to present them as a brand that was doing good, that exemplified one step of the five steps of brand citizenship activists would go and start hunting through their company to find out what they were doing wrong. I think we have to get away from that notion of trying to find out what people are doing wrong.

Yes, there are companies that behave irresponsibly and companies that do really bad irresponsible behavior you know will be caught out and should be caught out but most companies actually are trying to do what’s right. They just don’t know what the formula is and they’re working around it, so they are going to make mistakes and that’s one of the things that’s also important. Brand citizenship is a journey, it’s a pathway you step on but it’s also a pathway where you have to be a little bit more compassionate with your people and with yourself as a business. You need to forgive yourself when you make a mistake and you need to allow for more risk and more innovation.

Nerina: Is this something new?

Anne: Every really strong brand has always had a more holistic perspective. I think what we’re doing is adding one additional filter or making one filter in that holistic perspective stronger. So how you better the world is more important now than ever because we know that we have limited resources, we know we are using our resources up. There also is a cultural sentiment that’s growing stronger and stronger for equity, fairness and social justice. So business does not operate isolated from social culture. Business is integrated into the fabric of social culture and it’s an essential part of our social culture. So if business doesn’t respond to what’s happening frankly it may not exist or won’t exist in the form and shape it does now.

You look at how many disruptors keep stepping in and changing industries. Now granted, a lot of these disruptors now are huge corporations in and of themselves, but maybe there’ll be backlash against them and you see that little push that’s going on against the tech giants now that used to be the heroes and they still are heroes to a lot of people, but people are also calling for them to step up and behave better because they had so much influence over our lives.

Nerina: What really surprised you during this process?

Anne: The brands people named as good corporate citizens a number of them really surprised us. Apple was the number one good corporate citizen in both the US and the UK and it really was the number one by far. Why it was there was because what it delivers to me and enriches my life that’s helped me to better communicate with people across the globe, it’s brought joy into my life by bringing music 24/7 into my life.

So there was this whole me proposition which was really shocking and those of us in industry and sustainability professionals and social responsibility professionals would have [00:21:16] [indiscernible] at that answer and said these people are wrong, but we don’t want to say they were wrong we wanted to understand more.

Walmart in the US and Tesco in a comparable way in the UK came up and why were they named good corporate citizens? Not because of any of their initiatives but because of their low pricing. They afforded me a better lifestyle and in the US at the end of 2011 Ford came up and Ford was in there because for turned around its business, which meant America could turn around, which meant me as an individual can come back from the economic crisis in 2008, even though I don’t feel that now. So it was about hope and exhibiting what we all can do. So this was a me proposition and it was really very surprising to us.

Now there were brands in there but named in smaller numbers and more fragmented that delivered good to the world in the way we would have expected people to say a good corporate citizen behaved. What emerged through the five steps was something we call a me to we continuum and this came from the grassroots up. Brands must first deliver to me and that step one trust; do what you say, delivered to me your promises. Step two enrichment; inspire and better my life and then pivot points between being a me brand and we brand is responsibility. Responsibility is as I’ve mentioned before about treating your employees well and fairly first and foremost and then the other elements of responsibility, the environment, etc. So then you move from responsibility which is the pivot point: treat people, treat the environment fairly and that the natural pivot point between being me and being we and we as the community in contribution.

Nerina: Companies have to learn to listen, don’t they?

Anne: Yes, exactly and even more than just listen they have to advocate on behalf of their customers and their employees. Businesses and brands have historically wanted their employees and their customers to advocate for them. So, if you like them they want you to go out there and wave their flag and tell everybody how great you are and these people will do that but they’ll do it now only for businesses that are doing something for them first, that understand the issues that matter to them as a person and that matter to the groups of people they care about and the movements they care about. So businesses have to step up and step out first before people will step up and step out for them.

Nerina: Do you think that people want companies to advocate on their behalf?

Anne: So actually, when I first started writing that businesses had to step up and advocate on the behalf of their customers, employees a lot of people looked at me in a cynical manner like, oh really. But it was becoming more and more clear and it emerged at the end of 2011 when we started the research in the US it was another election year. A different election than the last one, but there still a lot of controversy around that election because everyone was saying that the economy had improved but most people still weren’t feeling it.

So they were on a roller coaster of emotions since the downturn and they said they didn’t trust politicians to fix or better the world anymore and business was better poised to do that because business had to keep progressing to keep selling its products and services so they knew how to innovate. What people told us was that politicians always had an opposing force which was the opposite party. Businesses did not have an opposing force so therefore they were better situated to do good because they didn’t have to deal with that opposition.

Now in reality and I talk about this in chapter 2 business does have an opposing force and that’s their shareholders and that’s their board. So those people have to get on board and a lot of CEOs that do want to do good are held back by the returns their board wants to see. But as I said now that investors are demanding this and you have someone like Larry Fink from BlackRock stepping up and in 2014 as I mentioned, he first started talking about long termism in his letter to the CEO. This year his letter to the CEO started talking about corporate social responsibility and when investors with that much power start telling people you have to do these businesses do do that.

So what’s happened since I first started writing about businesses stepping up to advocate on behalf of their customers and employees, we started seeing businesses having to do this and especially in the US, given the polarized politics and where large corporations stand. You know we’ve had businesses waving they gay flag, the rainbow flag for gay rights when the Supreme Court made a decision.

We’ve had businesses stepping up for social justice in terms of immigrants. Now granted a lot of that is selfish because a lot of the businesses that are stepping up for that are businesses that have an immigrant workforce, especially the tech industry brings people from across the globe into it who are the smartest people across the globe. So there may be a selfish aspect to it but again it’s still happening and where people don’t want to see businesses step up and behave it’s when it’s overtly political.

But what we found in 2011, which seems to be emerging as we’re seeing current events happening around us is that people felt business had a right to step up when it came to social justice, fairness and equality and now I think the environment will probably come in especially in the US, given some trading backroads on environmental laws. People are demanding it and you have business leaders and political business and political leaders such as Michael Bloomberg, who is creating a consortium of companies that are actually creating effectively the legislature and regulation of what they will abide by because the government in the US is no longer forcing them to abide by certain things.

So all of that is advocating on behalf of what people care about and if you don’t advocate on behalf of your employees guess what? They’re going to leave and millennials are a generation that switch employers much more quickly than Gen Xers and baby boomers had in the past and Gallup ran a survey that said this turnover was costing US USD30 billion a year. So guess what if you don’t start advocating on behalf of your employees and doing things that matter to them and the things that they care about you’re going to lose them and do you really want that cost to your business? So that’s why I say a lot of these things that were thought of as cost to the business are actually now investments in your business. Investments in strengthening your brand, investments in strengthening your reputation and investments in making sure that you sustain, in other words maintain your ability to keep earning a profit.

Nerina: Do you think that we want to feel like a community belonging to a brand?

Anne: Well we don’t want to feel like a community in a brand but we want brands to bring us together with people who care about the same things we do and the community just happens. I think part of the notion of what’s really hard for businesses and especially for marketing communications people in today’s world is they’re trying to contrive these communities. But if they let go of control and they participate as a part of the community or they are the facilitator of the community, not the one who’s controlling and directing it they will benefit more if they let the people they bring together sort of collaborate to create a bigger community.

You know the only thing that comes to mind is that it’s a beautiful thing. It is something that exponentially grows and fosters loyalty because you are the one doing it. If you think about if you go back to your days at the University there were certain professors that were always followed around by students because they were leaders, because they spoke about things that people cared about and because they acknowledged each of those people around them. Then there were professors who were leaders who were arrogant and people followed them, but always felt smaller around them. They didn’t feel bigger and then there were just the professors that went around doing their job that you know made one or two friends but didn’t have a group of followers; brands are the same.

The ones that are real leaders create almost coaxed following because they represent what other people aspire to be. So brands that progress the world, that better the world, that deliver across what I called the me to we continuum those brands inspire more people to believe in them because what they do is help people believe more in themselves.

Nerina: There are people who say that companies are starting to behave in a sustainable way or have started to speak about changing the world only because they want to keep earning money and they want to keep selling. How do you see it?

Anne: I don’t care why they’re doing it they’re doing it and that makes it better. You can’t expect companies to be altruistic that’s not their purpose. We have nonprofits, NGOs and thing that’s purpose is altruism, but to have the notion of doing good and some semblance of altruism forced upon them, whether they choose to do it or the market’s making them do it who cares why as long as it is happening. That’s all I care about is what we expect from our friends changes over time depending upon what’s happening in our life. So why what we expect from businesses shouldn’t also evolve and change over time.

Now that said there are businesses that have been doing it since the beginning. You look at a company like Lush which is handmade soaps and cosmetics out of the UK, but they are more global now and you read the story and understand the story of their founders and they had this mission since the beginning. They’ve had a lot of fits and starts. It took decades for them to actually get to Lush and deliver what they felt was their purpose. Another company seventh generation in the US has a similar story. A lot of fits and starts until they got there, but these were leaders with a purpose and yes, they are socially conscious businesses. But the more socially conscious businesses that exist the more regular corporations have to start embracing those notions because that becomes our expectation of business.

So as a Pollyanna, I personally believe and would want all business leaders to behave ethically because that comes from their inside, but at the end of the day if they’re only behaving ethically because their customers and their investors are demanding it the outcome is still the same. So let’s stop criticizing and let’s get on this bandwagon together so we can sustain this planet and create greater equity for people across the globe. Why it’s happening it doesn’t matter to me at the end of the day.

Nerina: And why now?

Anne: You know the whole notion of brand citizenship as I talked about started in 2011 but the underpinnings of it actually I think have been part of my philosophy and the way I’ve seen the world or the way I’ve read the world. The way I read the things I was seeing and hearing since nearly the beginning; I mean alignment from a single purpose has been something that’s always been important to me.

What I’ve said to people over and over is that what we’re saying happening in the world now is accelerating the recent trends that began at the turn of the millennium. These things were there and they were bubbling under the surface in a very light manner. You know the larva wasn’t popping out of the volcano yet but now it’s rising and rising and if businesses don’t really start changing the volcano will start erupting and if you’re forced to change as a huge reaction you won’t do it in a smart way. If you start learning how to respond rather than react you will maintain your business and you will maintain the customers you have nurtured over time and the reputation you’ve built. So too me if you don’t start doing this now you’re going to be forced into it at some point and then it’s probably not going to be such a good situation for you as a business leader to react to what’s going on around you.

Nerina: Which brands are going to be successful in your opinion in 10 years’ time?

Anne: The one thing that when people ask what I think is sort of the most important change in brands that I focus on, while every good company has always had that it hasn’t been as much of a discipline and for me what I’d like to see have happen is brands change human resources to human relationships. If it becomes human relationships it starts embracing a business, a brand, a company’s relationship with most of its employees and customers and actually it’s not just both employees and customers. If it is human relation it’s how it interacts with everybody across its entire stakeholder base.

So I think what’s the most important thing for brands is that we stop separating and saying oh the customer is important, the employee is important, this stakeholder is important but we start seeing it as holistic relationships and how we foster relationships with everybody across our interactions.

Nerina: Why are you doing what you are doing?

Anne: I am passionate about anything that I’m working on. When I’m not passionate about something I’m working on I can’t do it. What I love to do is help people and companies see what is possible, recognize what’s possible. To step back and break apart the Gestalt they’ve been living in and reconstruct it based upon what’s going on today and how people behave today because in doing that you open the world and you create a more expansive world of possibility. Opportunity is great but possibility is so much wider. So I love to help people just step up into what’s possible for them and I tend to see that more in people and companies than they see it in themselves.

Nerina: What motivates you?

Anne: What motivates me is getting out the truth, pilling things back to find what sits at the core. What motivates me is to change the way people see the world and connect dots that they haven’t connected before. What motivates me is helping to create a sense of fairness and equity across everything and helping people and companies to be more of their best selves, to be more of what they really can be you know when they’re sitting in the light. I’m motivated by progress and change and never accepting the status quo.

Nerina: Do you have a dream?

Anne: My dream just to have a meaningful impact and help people and businesses be better and keep progressing and not accept where we are but keep pushing to… Oh I hate the notion of push because it’s such a you know it’s like a fight and I don’t want it to be a fight. So I guess I would like to see progress flow rather than have to be pushed because in today’s world, we have to push to create progress. We don’t just embrace it and let it happen. We are so frightened of change and not every change is good but we need to be more open to change and risk-taking.

Nerina: Your vision?

Anne: To help people and organizations feel comfortable and confident and brave enough to step up and be more of their best selves and what they really can be.

Nerina: Thank you so much Anne for this conversation.

Anne: Oh, thank you and don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want to continue the dialogue.

Nerina: I will for sure reach out to you again and thank you so much. Thank you for listening, thank you for watching and please subscribe to our YouTube channel if you do not want to miss our next conversation. Keep wondering and see you soon again. Bye and ciao.


Pioneer of the Brand Citizenship Movement

Lucia Mokrà

Lucia Mokrà
Dean for International Relations & Legislation

Junior Professor of European Law in the Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Institute of European Studies and International Relations. Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Comenius University Bratislava.

A passion for human rights

We all heard the expression: “Human Rights”. In general human rights are fundamental freedoms common to all people, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems. But what rights are we talking about? The right for freedom, or maybe the right to life? The definitions of what we call the “Human Rights” is changing. And it’s important to have the clear understanding of what Human Rights are and how to implement this understanding to new policies.

Lucia Mokrá (PhD) from the Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences at Comenius University in Bratislava will share her views and ideas on this fascinating topic.

Watch the video:
Listen to the Audiofile here:
Read the transcript of Lucia Mokrà's Video here

Lucia: Hello, my name is Lucia Mokrá, I’m from Comenius University in Bratislava in the faculty of social and economic sciences where I’ve been serving since 2014 as Dean. Originally I’m from the Institute of European Studies and International Relations where I’m teaching and doing research in the area of International and European law with a special focus on human rights protection.

Nerina: What are you passionate about?

Lucia: My passion is human rights; teaching and understanding it. It’s a living mechanism, we understand the concrete rights differently- for example, in 1950 the understanding of the right to life or family life is totally different to today’s understanding. When the UN Charter of Human Rights and the declaration was adopted we weren’t thinking about the rights of environmental protection or right to peace or development, so it means that I’m looking forward at how our world and societies will develop and how we can understand that the rights are there to be implemented and exercised for the benefit of all of us.

Nerina: Could you tell me more about your studies?

Lucia: My research is always connected with the human rights protection. Since 2004 when we became members of the European Union I’ve been dealing with the issues of EU citizenship and the European agenda in the area of human rights and the adoption of the EU charter on fundamental rights. Right now I’m dealing mainly with the protection of migrants rights or the humanitarian management of the European Union, so it means that I’ve moved from the institutional point of human rights protection to the protection of human rights in the EU foreign policy.

Nerina: How did you get into this topic?

Lucia: I was always interested in human rights, and since my Ph.D., I’ve been dealing with the protection of human rights.

Nerina: What was the result of your Ph.D.?

Lucia: At the beginning, it was mainly connected with the electoral rights and first-time voters; I learned that young people have a really great power to contribute to and influence decisions about the government for the following period of time. They also have the enthusiasm to ask many questions and require a lot of explanations before making decisions about their potential future. Of course, young people have to be educated about the principles which govern the current society, this means that education, public awareness, and information on human rights are really important for them, but also for the rest of society.

Nerina: What are you busy with at the moment?

Lucia: For the last 2 years I’ve been working with the rights of migrants and asylum seekers, I have worked with the Slovak Foreign Policy Association project connected with the Schengen border between Slovakia and Ukraine, and the implementation of the Schengen agreement. I worked on this and analysed the national legislation on human rights protection, as well as training the foreign policy officers on the necessity of always considering the principals of human rights protection in their field of work, which is really important not only for those people but for the following administrative procedures, their asylum proceeding and so on.

Nerina: What have you learned during the last 2 years?

Lucia: There were many examples and many cases the foreign policy officers dealt with on the Schengen border. The lesson learned was about the individual approach and the principal of the human rights protection that every case is individual, and how although we have guidelines and legal regulations we have to approximate it to the current situation. Of course, human dignity and protection of people didn’t finish by filing the asylum application; there are many connected issues like the behavior and conduct in refugee camps, the necessity to provide them legal advice, the protection, and education of minors while they are waiting for the decision of their asylum application. Of course from the other side, society should be aware of the position of the asylum seekers and should consider that they are not coming because they have voluntarily left their country but they are forced to move because their lives have been threatened.

Nerina: How do you find a balance between the claims of the people coming to the country and the people living in the country?

Lucia: It’s quite hard but there are two points of view; the first one is that every individual and every state that signed the UN Convention on refugees are obliged to provide the necessary help, so we have the responsibility of the human rights and dignity of those people who are looking for the protection. On the other side, because they are coming and they are probably coming temporarily it means that we always have to consider the human rights of the people who are permanently living in the territory – citizens or inhabitants of the country. When we are talking about human rights protection it’s always about looking for the balance between the rights of individuals and of the community, between the rights of migrants and rights of permanent residents. It means that it’s about how we think, how we are educated, and the promotion of human rights. It’s not only about protection of the human rights because those regulations can be enforced in practice, but it’s also about the promotion of the rights and understanding that people have to be aware of the situation in the migrants home country until it is settled.

Nerina: What is needed now, in your opinion?

Lucia: It depends, some of the countries have already implemented many policies and changes. Generally, there are several policies that have to be changed; the first one is, of course, that the migration policy should not only set the unified standard but the enforcement and implementation should also be efficient. It’s connected with another policy which is education – we are missing experts that have enough experience in the area of migration policy, psychologists who can help people who have had to leave their homes, and medical staff able to deal with different foreign illnesses which are not common to the European continent. Furthering on this point is the education about the history and understanding international relations in the different continents- in Africa, in the Middle East- from which the flows are coming. It means that many times the small changes in our education and social policy, medical policy, healthcare policy, can help to the overall understanding of the complexity of the migration. It is, of course, an individual policy but it is still connected with the other areas. What I see as the biggest problem is not only some kind of missing political will or a problems and obstacles on the European Union level or the financial issues connected with this, but that we are missing people who are able to be experts and help build capacities and train the staff in the congruent countries to understand and deal with the people who are coming from  a different historical regions with a different culture, a different language, and total different understandings of a society as we have in continental Europe.

Nerina: What can we do?

Lucia: I suppose that some guidelines from the European level; not forced legislation but guidelines which can be shared and elaborate on good practice or good examples can help, and of course amendment of the educational policy to get back more information about world development and more about international relations which are normally taught at universities but not at high schools or primary schools where students are aware of just the basics of the existence of the continents and some key dates and years of historical and human development but are not aware of the complexity of the developmental influences of some concrete historical occasions connected to the present and so on. It means that this kind of awareness, critical thinking and understanding that each situation has to be considered from both sides, the existence of different perspectives and that we are all living in one world which means this awareness is important to be implemented to the policies and education, also to people in state administration in the public administration who are dealing with the implementation of these policies.

Nerina: This means that the education and awareness are key, but what have you personally learned?

Lucia: I personally learned that we are different but we can live together, there was a quote – I’m not sure whether it was originally by the UN – but, “diversified within the unity”, which means that we can still live peacefully while we respect each other, it means that we will not try to implement and exercise our rights in a way that will interfere with the rights of others. We should help if we are able to and have capacities for other people who are in need. Our university is contributing to settlement of the situation;  we have students who came to the country as refugees- it took a long time to find documents from their high school which entitled them to study at the university- but now some of them have already graduated and become an integral part of the labour market, however there are very few of them, a tiny percentage, but their destiny was changed and they can be used as a positive example that it is possible if they are interested to change their lives and we are able to help them to do so.

Nerina: What is it like to be a researcher?

Lucia: I’m really happy where I am, I do research in an area I really like and I am not only able to formulate the legislation and paragraphs, but also to concrete policies and projects with my students and colleagues which are another way of implementing the legislation into practice.

Nerina: Why is it relevant?

Lucia: It’s always something nice when I can do something to not only find circumstances to understand the current situation, but also to formulate the recommendations and influence daily life. For me as a researcher, it means that every new situation is a new challenge as we don’t have any identical situations- we cannot compare flows from Africa to flows from the Middle East if we are talking about migration we cannot somehow compare the rights of women to the rights of children. It means that the situation is always developing and the society has to reflect it, not only in daily life but in the elaboration of practices, policies, and legislation. Society needs the researchers to give them data and justification of their future steps.

Nerina: Do you have a dream?

Lucia: I have several of them! Some are personal and some are from the point of research. I would like to help our country become efficient from the point of human rights protection, with a proper settlement of the many crises which we are facing right now that are connected with societal development, and that we can contribute to saving the world in which we are living together for our children.

Nerina: If possible, what would you change tomorrow?

Lucia: I would like to change how European people understand refugees because the negative experiences have resulted in a negative experience for those looking for protection. They are first pushed from their home country and then by the society which they are fleeing to for protection.

Nerina: Thank you so much for this conversation.


Junior Professor of European Law in the Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Institute of European Studies and International Relations. Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Comenius University Bratislava.

Wenderson de Lima

Wenderson de Lima
Doctoral researcher in economics

Stockholm Business School, Sweden

What NGOs can do. A story between Brazil and Sweden

Modern age brought with it innovations into every aspect of our lives. We use technology to connect, to learn, and of course, to help other people. The problem is, we usually ask the people who help, not the people who receive help, just what is needed. Wenderson De Lima, from the Stockholm business school, wants to understand the real needs of ordinary people. His aim is to create spaces in which the people who are being “helped,” can feel they are able to talk openly about their problems.

Watch the video:
Listen to the Audiofile here:
Read the transcript of Wenderson de Lima's Video here

Wenderson: My name is Wenderson de Lima. I am a doctoral researcher at the business school in Stockholm.

Nerina: What is the topic of your dissertation?

Wenderson: The topic of my dissertation is humanitarian innovations and entrepreneurship in developing countries and I am accessing a little bit of the innovations that are being developed in Europe, Stockholm and I’m following them from development to implementation in developing countries.

Nerina: What are the most relevant questions you would like to address? 

Wenderson: There is a growth of technologies for helping people and we want to know how these technologies are perceived by those who develop them and those who receive them. I mean usually in the media what you hear is the interpretation of those who develop, the interpretation of the entrepreneurs but we want to hear as well the accounts coming from people who are at the receiving end of those technologies. That’s what my research is dealing with.

Nerina: What is peculiar about this sector?

Wenderson: In our markets, I mean in the societies where the markets is the main provider as consumer you have a vote and you have a voice. Every time you buy a product you have your vote and your voice heard when you purchase that product and many are dealing with that people receiving humanitarian innovations. You know, that we relation between consumer and a business it’s kind of fragmented by people who fund those products having in mind that many of the consumers cannot really out of their pockets pay for those products then you have a part actually paying for those products. And then this is a relationship that is more complicated than actually consumer and then business relation.

Nerina: What do you think we should change in this relationship?

Wenderson: I think it’s easier said than done but I think that we should… I mean when I say we I talk about the people who are coming from this part of the world we should question our taking for granted assumptions about what people need. You should try to create new links to try to understand the people you’re trying to help. I think that we should give a lot more attention to what’s going on in local context because there’s a big risk that we are losing that. We are losing the connection to what people on the ground in the local context are really trying to do with their lives.

Nerina: How can we do it?

Wenderson: I think first of all is that we could create spaces where people that are being “helped” they can feel they can openly talk about what they need. Because if you do not create that space where people can actually tell you what they want, what they need then you from the beginning you may create a product that is useless for them. I in the quality of an ex-slum dweller I understand how difficult it may feel to actually openly talk about your needs to people coming from outside and that is a big, big obstacle to helping people because people like me who live in these areas favelas usually tend to assume that no one will ever understand us so, therefore, you kind of do not share much of your reality to people who do not face the same problems. So that’s also a big issue.

Now I’m generalizing but a lot of people face the problem of not feeling safe to tell what they want, they do not feel not only hurt but they feel like I will tell what but who is going to care about that. That’s something I think is a consequence of a structural discrimination of the people living in these areas.

Nerina: What should we pay more attention to, in your opinion? 

Wenderson: I think what we should pay attention to is what exactly people in these areas, people living in areas where poverty is extreme what they say about their own solutions, what is that they want. Because I mean it’s not new. In the aid industry everybody knows that because these people they do not finance their own products, they tend to lose voice when NGOs design the help they give for people in that situation. I think the biggest challenge is actually getting access to the stories of the people who are to some extent receiving help in these countries, in developing countries. You have to be able to see your attempt to help other people as a learning process, not as a one size fits all, but also we should be careful to not exaggerate the ability of innovations to help people because there are a lot of political issues that have to be addressed as well. We should not forget why people are in need, we should not actually forget about the political aspects of each and every problem we are trying to address and they are all around them. You see that with the refugees now, all kinds of slum people, living in the slums as well. I mean how are we supposed to address these issues without touching upon political issues?

Nerina: How was your personal experience? What do you remember from your childhood? 

Wenderson: I think that what I saw during my time as a child  I don’t know if you remember what was going in the 80’s and 90’s in Brazil. The 80’s probably here in Europe you’ve seen in the news how Brazilian kids living in the streets were being shot by death squads and so on. We had those types of problems going on in Brazil and for me we had a single but big NGO around close to where I lived, close to the favela where I lived and I remember that one of the biggest things during that time was the notion of our cultural identity. It was very important to be exotic Brazilian at the time. I mean I am very thankful because the NGO was the reason why I was fed, I could find food for a while. The NGO does not exist anymore but I remember that my brothers and I went to their office many times because they had courses about Brazilian music, all of that afro Brazilian identity and it was the only agenda at the moment. I remember that I had both me and my brothers we had loads of fun playing Brazilian instruments, playing Brazilian music but at the end of the day we were there because of the food they served. It wasn’t really because of the so called the Brazilian award of the Afro-Brazilian identity. I understand that it may sound a little bit provocative for many people who think that they have the right to be authentic and so on but I always saw that as something secondary. You have your basic needs. When you live in poverty you pay attention to your basic needs more than your identity. You think of your identity when you… I mean in the state I am now I have food in the fridge so now I have the time and resources to think about my Afro-Brazilian identity.

Nerina: How did you get away from a slum in Brazil to a university in Sweden? 

Wenderson: That’s a big question and the first thing is that I received help as I say for a long time. It wasn’t something I received once and then I have built a huge empire of wealth around it and that’s what I am trying to. I usually tell people that I received help from the Catholic church specifically from a nun in the Catholic church close to where I lived. She was well educated and she helped me a lot with school and stuff and that help was absolutely crucial. I can tell you I devote a lot of what I have done so far to the people who helped me. Not only because they helped me but because they gave me a voice and that’s something not a lot of people did.

Nerina: What is the society you dream of? 

Wenderson: I think that equality should be on the table all the time when we talk about the way a society should look like and I still did not know where to look when I talk about the equality. I actually hope that there will be more and more collective thinking. Thank you.


Stockholm Business School, Sweden

Francesco Carollo

Francesco Carollo
Innovation Strategist

Innovation Researcher, London, UK

Do we innovate?

What is innovation? Innovation is not polishing something old, adding a bigger screen or making a smaller battery. According to Francesco Carollo, real innovation transforms the way that people engage with each other. That’s what really makes a difference. If you really want to make a change you have to change the basic cultural rules of society. So, he argues, innovation is a social thing, and we all can – and should – contribute.

Watch the video:
Listen to the Audiofile here:
Read the transcript of Francesco Carollo's Video here

Francesco: My name is Francesco Carollo, I’m based in London. I am a researcher in innovation, most notably on the implication of collaborative sharing economy on society, innovation methodologies and innovation in cities. And I also consult with different types of organizations, and I am a co-design facilitator.

Nerina: What is your research area? 

Francesco: Basically, my main research fields are how to apply design, I would say, service design to public sector and how social innovation can be enabled by ICT, which means basically how tech innovation can have a good and social impact.

To give you an example that is both from a research and consulting side, I’m helping a few startups, promising early-stage startups that I believe they have the capabilities and potential to have an impact on society. And one of these basically helps visually-impaired people to navigate through cities or indoor and outdoor environments by availing the smartphone technology. So instead of using the classical cane, the stick, they use the smartphone. So they use technology to help a marginalized category of citizens so that ultimately, this will lighten up the welfare burden for the city and for the government if you improve the life of those who are in need.

Nerina: What is innovation, in your opinion?

Francesco: To me, the real innovation is transformative and it’s cultural. So it transforms the way that people engage with each other. If it doesn’t change this, to me, it’s not real, true innovation. It’s just old rules, new output and you’re just polishing something up and making it more pretty. But the substance is the same.

Why is culture  important? Because culture is about the rules of engagement, how do you engage with other people and what you want out of those interactions. If you want to keep it as it is, you just keep the same rules. If you want to make an improvement, you need to change those rules. And you need to drive new behaviors, you need to create the opportunities for people to do things in a different way, but more meaningful.

Nerina: Why do we talk about innovation so much?

Francesco: Innovation at this moment, it’s part of the so-called hype, everything is about innovation. We need innovation but at this moment, it’s very tech-driven innovation. The problem is that the average user of technology, the average citizen, at this very stage, cannot cope with the implications of the mass adoption of technology, which means, in very practical terms, that we do things but we don’t think of the implications of what we do just because we are shaped by the tools that we use.

You know, if I want to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, he was saying that we shape our tools, then after the tools shape us. If we consider a smartphone, it’s basically shaping our behaviors on a daily basis. And we live in a society in a hurry basically and we don’t have a moment to think about what we are doing. There are those people that they think that every type of technology is good. And they call this the disruptive chaos that is brought by technology innovation. So whatever happened is fine, then there will be a new order. Somehow it’s going to be fixed on its own.

Then on the other hand, you have those pessimistic like Evgeny Morozov and other people, other scholars. And I think I’m in between in the sense that I’m not supporting one of these parts. But I think that critical thinking because it’s not mainstream, it’s urgently needed, more critical thinking.

Nerina: Is innovation top-down or bottom-up? 

Francesco: Personally, both. During my research, I found out that – and this can have an impact on policy analysis, activities and policy-making – you need both levels. You need to find an intersection point, a breakeven point between applying top-down activities, so decision-making for those who are supposed to decide, and also tapping into the diversity of the crowd. So you need to have both. You cannot rely on only one of these. If you rely on bottom-up, there will be a point where you need to take decisions. And the crowd does not want to take decisions. The crowd, at a certain point, wants to delegate somebody or at least somebody will emerge, some leader will emerge and will take decisions because nobody wants to take those decisions. But we need a new breed of leaders, we don’t need any more one-man-show leaders and basically the new leaders, they need to see themselves as enabling platforms. They need to help others to fulfill their potential. So there’s a lot of unlocked potential around, within and outside the organizations. The leader’s duty is just to unlock this potential to create as much value as well as impact for all the community they are serving.

Nerina: And the biggest challenges for business?

Francesco: Well, they need strategic tools because they need to think in a strategic way, in a more holistic, organic way. They need to break silos, so they need to break their silo thinking. So, you know, Silo thinking is basically “I work in finance, I don’t want to know what the people in sales do, and I don’t want to know what marketing does”. While nowadays, it’s more cross-sectorial type of activities and learning. Those organizations, those businesses, they need to become learning organizations, which means that on a daily basis, they need to learn from users, from their own colleagues what works, what doesn’t, and they need to adapt.

Nerina: Why are you so passionate about innovation?

Francesco: Because I am an activist and I believe that the people that are in innovation ecosystem, most of them, they are activists as well. Even more, they do politics. They want to shape society. They have a vision of what type of society they want to build. I’m part of this fabulous global community on collaborative economy, OuiShare. We embrace change and we adapt constantly and we constantly challenge ourselves and our beliefs. And we always ask ourselves the tough questions. Where are we heading to? Are we happy with this? What makes us unhappy? How can we change this?

So we are pretty constant that especially in a community and you have people from everywhere and everybody can contribute and society is moving fast. And we don’t want to be, as I said before, we don’t want to be driven by technology. We want to drive our behaviors and we want to, you know, ride the wave of technology in a way that stays meaningful to our lives because we are looking for meanings and the meaning is the most important thing.

Nerina: Thank you so much.

Francesco: Thank you very much for inviting me. It was a pleasure.


Innovation Researcher, London, UK

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