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New Global Survey Finds Covid-19 Is Intensifying Sustainable Development Challenges, But Leading Businesses Are Stepping Up Action

  • Four in ten sustainability experts believe the pandemic will increase poverty and inequality

  • Access to energy, food security, diversity, and discrimination are also increasing in urgency

  • One-third of experts believe COVID-19 will lead to more attention on the environment

  • Sustainable business models and strategy are the strongest drivers of recognized corporate leadership, overtaking target-setting and sustainability values/purpose

28 July 2021: New research from GlobeScan and the SustainAbility Institute by ERM finds that sustainability experts believe the global pandemic will help draw attention to environmental issues—but will also deepen socio-economic challenges such as poverty and inequality.

The GlobeScan / SustainAbility Leaders Survey has tracked global expert opinions on the evolution of the sustainability agenda since 1997. The 25th edition of this report has taken place against the unprecedented backdrop of the pandemic, with nearly 700 sustainability experts from over 70 countries reflecting on its implications for the sustainable development agenda.

Overall, experts are now more optimistic that the pandemic will not derail action on sustainable development. In 2020, almost half of sustainability professionals (49%) predicted a de-prioritization of the sustainability agenda over the coming decade as a result of the coronavirus; in 2021, just one in four experts (24%) believe this will happen. Furthermore, a third of experts believe more attention will be given to the environment due to the pandemic.

However, COVID-19 is perceived to be exacerbating socio-economic challenges, with nearly four in ten experts believing that increasing poverty and inequality will be one of the most likely effects of the pandemic. When asked to rank the most urgent sustainable development challenges, experts believe that climate change remains the most pressing issue, but issues such as access to energy, food security, diversity, and discrimination have increased the most in perceived urgency over the past year.

Within this context, Unilever and Patagonia rank first and second, respectively, as the companies most recognized by experts for their sustainability leadership, but the gap is narrowing among corporate leaders. Brazil’s Natura &Co has overtaken IKEA and Interface to break into the top three. Companies filling out the top 15 include IKEA, Interface, Danone, Microsoft, Nestlé, Tesla, Ørsted, Google, Kering, Schneider Electric, Suzano, and Walmart. In a signal that the hallmarks of leadership have shifted, sustainable business models and strategy is the strongest driver of recognized leadership, overtaking target-setting and articulating sustainability values or purpose.

Mark Lee, Director at the SustainAbility Institute by ERM, said: “What we’re seeing as a result of the pandemic is a triple-whammy of interconnected social, economic, and environmental challenges. None of these can be tackled in isolation, which requires organizations to have more comprehensive sustainability strategies integrated into their business and operating models. Leading businesses are showing the way as we enter the decade of action.”

Chris Coulter, CEO at GlobeScan commented: “Once again, this survey of sustainability experts and influencers across the world reinforces the urgency of the planetary challenges that we face from climate change to inequality and offers hope in comparison to last year that sustainability is being prioritized. The collective wisdom of this distinguished panel of experts needs to be heeded. We need to do more at scale to facilitate the transition to sustainable development at a far greater pace than we are currently doing.”

Leading Businesses Are Stepping Up Action in Sustanable Development

Leading Businesses Are Stepping Up Action in Sustanable Development

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About the SustainAbility Institute by ERM

The SustainAbility Institute by ERM is ERM’s primary platform for thought leadership on sustainability. The purpose of the Institute is to define, accelerate, and scale sustainability performance by developing actionable insight for business. We provide an independent and authoritative voice that helps decode complexities. The Institute identifies innovative solutions to global sustainability challenges built on ERM’s experience, expertise, and commitment to transformational change. For more information, visit

Insight of the Week: Urgency of Societal Challenges

Urgency of Societal Challenges

% of Experts, “Urgent” (4+5), 2011–2020​​​

The perceived urgency of acting on climate change has been steadily increasing over the last decade among those surveyed in GlobeScan and SustainAbility’s survey of sustainability professionals, with 94 percent of respondents now saying that the challenge is “very urgent.” Climate, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, and poverty have been consistently seen as the greatest social and environmental challenges facing the global community, but 2020 has also seen a dramatic rise in urgency of inequality issues like poverty, economic inequality and access to healthcare.


  • Question wording: Considering society’s numerous sustainable development challenges, please rate the urgency of each of the following…
  • Data sourceGlobeScan / SustainAbility Survey of over 700 experts representing business, government, NGOs and academia across 71 countries​.

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Climate Change: A GlobeScan Insight

Worry about climate change remains widespread despite the pandemic and economic crisis, and continues to increase in the USA and other large emitting countries

Despite the immense impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic recession (documented in GlobeScan’s findings on the pandemic’s impact on inequality for the BBC), people in 27 markets surveyed also continue to care deeply about the climate crisis that is currently unfolding in parallel. Concerns about climate change and poverty remain high and steady – with the perceived seriousness of climate change on the rise in large emitting countries like the USA, China, and India. These findings emphasize that in the minds of the global public, the climate change agenda remains as urgent as ever. 

In most of the 27 markets surveyed, proportions of around nine in ten or more say that climate change is a very or somewhat serious issue, with people in Mexico and Turkey expressing almost universal concern. In the least worried countries – Russia, the United States, Australia, and Sweden – as many as around eight in ten still say the issue is at least somewhat concerning. 

Climate Change: A GlobeScan Insight - Seriousness of Climate Change

Despite the current pandemic and economic crisis, concern about climate change has also remained remarkably steady in all markets surveyed in both 2019 and 2020; only China has recorded a significant shift, with an increase of five points in concern about the issue.

When looking back over the past six years, there has been a steady increase in concern about climate change at the global level with worries about the climate on the rise in large emitting countries like the USA, China (compared to 2015), and India. There have also been significant long-term increases in the sense of urgency in other countries, including Canada, France, Kenya, and Nigeria.

Climate Change: A GlobeScan Insight - Seriousness of Climate Change

On average across the 27 countries, concern about climate change is particularly strong among women and younger generations, as well as among those with higher levels of education. In the USA, Gen Z respondents are particularly concerned, as well as those living in urban areas.

Those who live in countries where people express more concern about climate change also tend to feel more personally impacted by climate change; people in Mexico and Turkey are the most worried and also feel the strongest personal impact. In contrast, those in countries like Sweden, Australia, Germany, and the United States say they have experienced significantly less personal impact of climate change and tend to express much lower levels of concern.

GlobeScan Radar is a global survey conducted online among samples of 1,000 adults in each of 27 countries, weighted to reflect general population census data. The research was conducted during June of 2020. ​​

Climate Change: A GlobeScan Insight - Personally Affected

Climate Change: A GlobeScan Insight - Perceived Seriousness

Climate Change: A GlobeScan Insight - report cover

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New Global Poll Documents the Pandemic’s Impact on Inequality

Six months on from The World Health Organization officially declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic, a new global poll conducted for the BBC World Service shows that the impact of the pandemic has had a more severe impact on people in poorer countries and has exacerbated existing inequalities both within and across countries. Gen Z have also disproportionately experienced financial hardship as a result of the pandemic.

The poll of 27 countries was conducted by GlobeScan in June 2020 during the height of the pandemic for many. In total, more than 27,000 people around the world were surveyed about COVID-19 and the impact it has had on their lives. Key findings include the following:

  • Nearly six in ten people (57%) say they have been affected financially by the impacts of the coronavirus, with those in non-OECD member countries much more likely to have had their income affected due to the pandemic (69%) compared to those living in OECD countries (45%).
  • Overall, people with lower incomes are most likely to have seen changes to their family income (60% versus 57% of average wage earners and 56% of high earners). Gen Z (63%) have also disproportionately experienced financial hardship as a result of the pandemic.
  • While there is little difference overall in terms of the reported physical impact of the pandemic by gender, women report higher levels of direct financial impact than men, with greatest disparities reported in Germany (32% of women vs 24% of men), Italy (50% vs 43%), and the UK (45% vs 38%).
  • Only a minority (5%) say that they themselves, or someone in their family, have been sick or diagnosed with the virus, but relatively few (39%) have been left unscathed by either direct physical or financial impact.
  • Parents also feel greater impacts from the pandemic (57% feel greatly affected personally versus 41% of people without children).
  • In the USA, people who identify as Black report twice the level of having been infected by the virus or having had a family member infected compared to those identifying as White (14% versus 7%, respectively).
  • Those who have felt the effects of the coronavirus pandemic more strongly are more likely to desire a restructured economy, such as Gen Zs (62%) and low-income earners (58%).

People in Latin America, Asia, and Africa are more likely to say they have experienced considerable impacts from the virus, particularly those in Indonesia (74%), Turkey (74%), Mexico (73%), and Kenya (71%). North American and European residents are the least likely to feel impacted by the coronavirus, even though the USA is experiencing the largest number of cases in the world. Around a third of UK (34%) and US (36%) respondents say they personally have been greatly affected by the pandemic.

When comparing 16 different global issues covering socio-economic, environmental, and political topics, it is unsurprising that people view the coronavirus pandemic as the most serious problem currently facing the world. Sixty-eight percent of people believe that the pandemic is “very serious,” followed closely by the spread of human diseases (62%) more generally. The pandemic is currently viewed as a more serious problem compared to issues like climate change (60%), extreme poverty (57%), waste from single-use plastic (55%), and unemployment (53%). It is notable, however, that climate change remains near the top of the global public’s agenda despite the pandemic having touched so many personal lives.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is the most influential issue on average, there are some notable differences among countries. Argentinians are more likely to feel affected by the recession than the pandemic, while people in Australia, Italy, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, and Thailand feel almost equally affected by the pandemic and the recession.

It is undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected people’s lives in a myriad of ways. When focussing on health and economic impacts, the survey reveals that few (39%) have been left unscathed by either of these elements.

Findings suggest there is a link between a nation’s response to the coronavirus outbreak and the impact on its population. Those who report lower levels of impact from the pandemic tend to live in countries that responded quickly or robustly such as Australia, Canada, Germany, and Sweden. In general, OECD member countries are less likely than non-member countries to feel greater impacts from the pandemic (41% versus 57% respectively say they have been greatly affected personally). Of the 27 countries surveyed, those living in Germany are the least affected – only 13 percent feel their lives have been greatly affected by the pandemic, while a quarter (26%) say it has not affected them at all.

Not only have they seen greater overall impacts, but people in non-OECD member countries are also more likely to have had their income affected due to the pandemic (69%) compared to those living in OECD countries (45%). People in Kenya (91%), Thailand (81%), Nigeria (80%), South Africa (77%), Indonesia (76%), and Vietnam (74%) are the most likely to have been affected financially. Mexico (79%) is the OECD member country with the largest proportion of residents impacted financially. Those in North America and Europe are less likely to have experienced physical or financial fallout from the pandemic.

Reflecting the OECD average, 42 percent of people in the UK and 45 percent in the US have seen changes to their incomes during the pandemic. People in Germany (69%), France (68%), Sweden (63%), and Japan (62%) are the most likely to not have felt physical or financial impacts.

Along with overall wealth at the country level, income differences within countries also reveal people’s experience of the pandemic. There is a divide that shows those at either end of the scale, with high (51%) or low (52%) incomes for their country are more likely to say they personally have been greatly affected by the pandemic than those with average (47%) income levels. People with lower incomes are most likely to have seen changes to their family income (60% versus 57% of average wage earners and 56% of high earners).

Bucking the overall trend, however, people with high incomes in Australia, Canada, Japan, Russia, and the UK are more likely to have experienced financial impacts during the pandemic than those earning the least. Forty-seven percent of high-income earners in the UK have seen their family’s income change, compared to 38 percent on low incomes.

The poll shows that the pandemic has affected certain demographics more than others. In several countries, especially in Europe, women are more likely than men to say they have been greatly impacted by the pandemic. Women in France (42% greatly affected vs 36% of men), India (59% vs 50%), Indonesia (77% vs 70%), Italy (55% vs 42%), Russia (48% vs 41%), Spain (54% vs 49%), Sweden (36% vs 27%), Turkey (77% vs 72%), and the UK (36% vs 31%) are all more likely than men in their country to feel they have been personally affected to a great extent. 

With school closures, online learning, and childcare dilemmas, it is understandable that parents also feel greater impacts from the pandemic (57% feel greatly affected personally versus 41% of people without children). Perhaps reflecting changing work patterns to assist with childcare, 66 percent of parents have also found themselves enduring income changes. Those without children are less likely to be affected either physically or financially (49% say they did not encounter either of these problems).

The impact of the pandemic also appears to have been less prevalent with age. Despite higher mortality rates among the elderly, younger generations are more likely to feel the effects than older generations – perhaps due to stronger levels of disruption to education, employment, and social activities among the younger generations. Fifty-five percent of Gen Z respondents and 56 percent of Millennials feel that the pandemic has greatly affected their lives, in contrast to just under half of Gen Xs (49%) and nearly four in ten Baby Boomers and older (39%).

Financial hardship is more prevalent among Gen Z (63% saw a change to their income) and Millennials (65%) compared to those further along in their career paths (Gen X with 59%, and Baby Boomers and older at 42% who say their incomes were affected). Older generations are more likely to have escaped physical or financial harm – 56 percent of Baby Boomers and older report no physical or financial impacts, compared to 39 percent on average globally.

While there is little overall difference in terms of reported physical impact between women and men, in several countries women report higher levels of direct financial impact, including Australia (44% of women saw a change to their income vs 38% of men), Canada (44% vs 39%), Germany (32% vs 24%), Italy (50% vs 43%), Japan (38% vs 32%), Russia (64% vs 59%), Sweden (33% vs 28%), and the UK (45% vs 38%). In China and Vietnam, men instead tend to report higher levels of financial impact, with 59 percent of men in China reporting a change to their income vs 52 percent of women, and in Vietnam 81 percent of men vs 67 percent of women.

In the USA, people who identify as Black report twice the level of having been infected by the virus or having had a family member infected compared to those identifying as White (14% versus 7%, respectively). In terms of economic impact, Americans who identify as Hispanic (50%) or Asian (58%) are more likely than the US average (45%) to say they have felt a direct financial impact by having had their family’s income affected. Hispanic (50%) and Asian Americans (52%) are also more likely than the US average (36%) to feel that the pandemic has greatly affected their lives overall. White Americans are the least likely to say that they have been greatly affected (33%) while Black Americans are more likely to have been greatly affected (41%).

When asked about thoughts on the post-COVID economic recovery and what should be prioritised, over half of respondents (55%) feel that economic systems need to be restructured to withstand current and future challenges. European (61%), African (68%), and Latin American (72%) countries, on average, tend to agree that the post-COVID economic recovery should incorporate restructuring to deal better with other challenges such as climate change and inequality. However, people in Asian countries are more likely to favour an economy that returns to pre-COVID status as soon as possible (58%). North American views tend to be close to the global average when it comes to returning the economy to its previous state (47% versus 45%, respectively).

Those who have felt the effects of the coronavirus pandemic more strongly are more likely to desire a restructured economy, such as Gen Zs (62%) and low-income earners (58%). On the other hand, those who have been impacted less are more likely to favour an economic recovery that returns to its original state. Almost half of Gen Xs (48%), Baby Boomers and older (46%), and those with high incomes (48%) would like to see the priority placed on economies returning back to normal compared to just 38 percent of Gen Zs and 42 percent of low-income earners. However, those with children also tend to be more in favour of getting the economy back to normal (47%) than those with no children (43%). In the USA, those who identify as White tend to prefer a return to normal (55%), while Black (57%), Hispanic (52%), and Asian Americans (55%) are more likely to say that they would like to see a restructured economy.


GlobeScan / BBC Pandemic Inequality 2020 - Participating Countries

Defining Generations:

  • Gen Z: people born from 1997 onwards (ages 18 to 23 in 2020 for the purposes of this study as only those aged 18+ were surveyed)
  • Millennials: people born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 24 to 39 in 2020)
  • Gen X: people born between 1965 and 1980 (ages 40 to 55 in 2020)
  • Baby Boomer and older: people born in 1964 or earlier (ages 56 and above in 2020)

Figure 1

Seriousness of Global Problems

Figure 2

Extent Personally Affected by...

Figure 3

Extent Personally Affected by COVID-19

Figure 4

Impact of COVID-19

Figure 5

Impact of COVID-19

Figure 6

Pandemic’s Amplification on InequalityPriority for COVID-19 Economic Recover

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About the BBC World Service

BBC World Service is an international multimedia broadcaster, delivering a wide range of language and regional services on radio, TV, online and via wireless handheld devices. It uses multiple platforms to reach its weekly audience of 192 million globally, including shortwave, AM, FM, digital satellite and cable channels. Its news sites include audio and video content and offer opportunities to join the global debate. BBC World Service offers its multilingual radio content to partner FM stations around the world and has numerous partnerships supplying content to news websites, mobile phones and other wireless handheld devices as well as TV channels. For more information, visit  

Questionnaire Wording

For each of the following possible global problems, please indicate if you see it as a very serious, somewhat serious, not very serious or not at all serious problem.

  1. The spread of human diseases
  2. Extreme poverty in the world
  3. The loss of animal and plant species
  4. The state of the global economy
  5. Mental health problems
  6. The gap between rich and poor
  7. Unequal treatment of women
  8. Shortages of fresh water
  9. Single-use plastic waste in the environment
  10. Climate change or global warming
  11. Air pollution in general
  12. The depletion of natural resources, such as forests, farmland and fish
  13. Online data security and privacy
  14. Unemployment
  15. Social and political division in my country
  16. The coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic

How much are you personally affected by each of the following problems?

  1. The economic recession
  2. Climate change or global warming
  3. The coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic

How would you describe how you may have been personally affected by the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic? Please select all that apply to you.

  1. I or family members have been sick or diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus
  2. My family’s income has been affected
  3. My life has not been affected in these ways

In building the post-COVID-19 economic recovery, do you think the priority should be on:

  1. Getting our economy back to normal as soon as possible
  2. Restructuring our economy so it deals better with other challenges like inequality and climate change as well

Headline photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Developing the Scotiabank Young People in the Community Index

More deeply understanding some of the key challenges facing young people across North America, Latin America and the Caribbean is in line with Scotiabank’s new strategy to invest 70% of its philanthropic support to organizations that help young people in the community.

To help assess the state of health & well-being and education of young people in these communities, we worked in partnership with Scotiabank and an advisory council of leading external experts on key issues impacting young people to develop the Scotiabank Young People in the Community Index.

The Young People in the Community (YPC) Index pools together publically available data from globally recognized sources to help determine the current state of youth in North, South and Central America. Its usefulness as a macro needs assessment tool will enable Scotiabank not only to draw greater attention to the often overlooked youth demographic, but also serve as a platform to work with other organizations in the youth development space to address key societal challenges. As the Index is tracked over time, Scotiabank will measure society’s progress on tackling important youth challenges.

Greater collaboration and awareness building is necessary to push the needle forward on the health & well-being and education of young people. The YPC Index is one of the tools being used by Scotiabank and some of its partners to make progress in this area. We hope that this Index can help all of us in our efforts to impact the future of young people.

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Upcoming Webinar: Evaluating SDG Progress: Highlights from a GlobeScan/SustainAbility Survey

GlobeScan and SustainAbility are delighted to invite you to a webinar to discuss the results of our assessment of experts’ views on progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

We asked over 500 experienced corporate sustainability professionals in 74 countries to evaluate the progress that has been made on each SDG, to rank their relative urgency and also to share insights into the priorities within their own organizations. Corporate experts were also asked how their own companies are responding to the SDGs and where they see opportunities for the greatest impact.

Join us for a lively and insightful discussion on the findings of the survey, to share insights and discuss questions such as:

  • How much progress has the international community made on each SDG? Which goals are seen as being the most important and have received the most attention by organizations?
  • How has the private sector contributed toward the SDGs? Where are the opportunities for companies to have the greatest impact and how can they better communicate?

For your convenience, we are offering this webinar in two different time zones with different speakers catering to each region:

Europe / Americas

9 May 2017 @ 8am San Francisco / 11am New York / 4pm London

Hosted by:

  • Mark Lee, Executive Director, SustainAbility
  • Chris Coulter, co-CEO, GlobeScan
  • Gail Klintworth, Director Business Transformation, Business and Sustainable Development Commission and Partner, SYSTEMIQ
  • Matthias Stausberg, Group Advocacy Director, Virgin Management Ltd

Register here! (Sorry, we’ve reached max capacity!)


Asia Pacific

10 May 2017 @ 7:30am Mumbai / 10am Hong Kong / 12pm Sydney

Hosted by:

  • Wander Meijer, Director, GlobeScan Asia Pacific
  • Margo Mosher, Senior Manager, SustainAbility
  • Andrew Petersen, CEO, Sustainable Business Australia
  • Karen Iles, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Tata Consultancy Services
  • Robert Hansor, Global Sustainability and Policy & Systems Principal, Huawei

Register here!

Five Global Mega Trends Shaping The Future

The events of 2016 have underscored just how volatile, complex and ambiguous the world is today. Drawing on insights that we have collected around the world from thousands of interviews and engagements with stakeholders and consumers, we take a look at the global shifts that will continue to shape the world for leadership organizations in 2017.

A Polarized World

History now confirms that we live in a fractured world with people polarized in their views on many issues and in the trajectory of their lives. From the election of Donald Trump in the United States to Brexit, to a range of corporate and political crises across Africa, Asia and Latin America, there are many examples where populations are divided on important issues and outcomes.

Differences abound within and between countries on some of the world’s most important issues: approximately half of the world believes that future generations will have a higher quality of life than we do today, while an equal number disagree; about half of people across the world believe climate change is a very serious issue, while the other half does not; and half of the world has trust in their national government, while the other half does not. Priorities also differ across the world. For example, people in the Global North believe that the most important problems facing the world today are terrorism and the environment, in comparison to people in the Global South where economic problems and unemployment are considered to be the most important problems.

Rising expectations of companies to address societal issues and a concern for future generations make it much more difficult to navigate the challenges we face. Collaborative action is needed to tackle these world problems in order to find workable solutions, but first this requires deeper listening and a commitment to better understand expectations of a range of stakeholders and audiences. Examples of organizations trying to more deeply understand stakeholders include the International Council on Mining and Minerals, a leadership association for the extractive industry that engages its stakeholders systematically in quantitative and qualitative ways, and Standard Chartered, the global bank, which has been working hard to understand the hopes and concerns of consumers in emerging markets.


Concern about future generations

Low Levels of Trust

Ongoing cynicism toward government, the media and business means that many institutions are facing a pernicious trust deficit. For global companies, trust has become an increasingly scarce commodity, making it a priority to manage trust as a strategic risk to business.

Using a framework that deconstructs the concept of trust, to better understand what fuels it, can help organizations to prepare and organize in order to build trust in their companies and protect themselves. Our point of view is that deep thick trust, rather than more transactional thin trust, is built on three interconnected components: Competency (what you do); Integrity (how you do it); and Benevolence (why you do it) – most companies focus on one of these pillars or sometimes two, but rarely have a balanced approach to all three.

Consequently, companies must meaningfully engage with their stakeholders to create the preconditions they need for societal and financial success in the long term. Further, it is critical that companies work to build alliances, partnerships and collaborations with the most trusted institutions in society, especially scientific/academic institutions and NGOs.

More and more companies recognize the importance of building trust with their stakeholders and society. An example is 3M, which took a robust approach to deeply understand stakeholder views on what are the most material issues facing the company, so that the company can ensure it is responding to these expectations and ultimately building trust.

Another case study in trust building comes from ABInBev, the global brewer, which made a commitment to engage with stakeholders at scale on the sometimes challenging issue of responsible drinking, as a way to deepen relations with NGOs, industry peers, academics and governments.


Low trust in global companies

Transparency Remains Key

Transparency is a critical way of building trust according to stakeholders, and brands being open and honest are significant drivers of trust for consumers. How companies share information matters just as much as what they share.

There is a growing interest from stakeholders and consumers in knowing how things work in the supply chains of global companies and there is a demand for knowledge. They want to know how food gets delivered to their table, how the clothes they buy are manufactured and how technology services are being delivered, both because trust levels are so low but also because of a growing curiosity in how things are brought to market.

In today’s wired world, failing to disclose is considered to be more of a risk than being transparent. Stakeholders strongly favor dialogue and collaboration, so transparency creates more benefits to companies than risks. Transparency should be integrated into the business because it is ultimately a means to engage with consumers and stakeholders, as well as to drive action and help solve issues.

Many companies talk about being transparent and M&S is an organization that has been highly proactive in the area of transparency, beginning with a structured engagement with their stakeholders to understand expectations.

SC Johnson provides another example of a company seeing transparency as a strategic imperative as it continues to transform industry efforts when it comes to ingredient transparency. Its recent commitments to fragrance disclosure were in part in response to consumer needs and expectations from a trusted company.


Transparency as a key driver of trust

Rise of the Aspirationals

Ethical consumerism is at unprecedented levels but people are increasingly feeling that individuals cannot act alone on addressing issues – they are expressing a growing need for collective action. Citizens are celebrating their collective sense of power by becoming more engaged and active consumers, and are making life choices that strengthen society and minimize environmental impact in order to create a better future.

Representing 40 percent of the global adult population, a new consumer segment – the Aspirationals – are connecting the right thing to do with the cool thing to do, creating new possibilities for brands, business and the society we share.

This sense of optimism includes a belief in their power to influence corporate behavior, with nearly eight in ten saying, “As a consumer, I can make a difference in how a company behaves.” Balancing their belief in capitalism and trust in institutions with a desire for reforms, Aspirationals see brands as important levers of positive change.

The Aspirationals represent a significant growth opportunity for a range of industries, from food to auto, to tech, to apparel and consumer goods. This segment is especially interested in authenticity, wellbeing, design, sustainability and social purpose.

Aspirational consumers combine a desire to be ethical and sustainable with a love of style, design and shopping

A Thirst for Purpose

There is a growing business case for, and a concomitant commitment to Purpose across the private sector. A clearly articulated Purpose – a perfect blend of how the company makes a positive impact on the world through its products, services and operations – is increasingly recognized as a way to deepen relations and build trust with stakeholders and consumers. The degree to which brands are embracing purpose is growing and revolutionizing what a company can and should stand for.

There is a large consumer market for companies that have a Purpose and recent research with Sustainable Brands shows that consumers are looking for companies to have a more enlightened Purpose beyond making money.

While some people recognize that there are purposeful global companies in the marketplace, a majority believe that they are few and far between and many are unable or unwilling to name one. This leaves us with a significant imbalance in the supply and demand of purposeful companies.

An example of a global company engaging stakeholders around their Purpose is Unilever. Unilever’s purpose is to make sustainable living commonplace. In order to accelerate this, the company engaged stakeholders and experts across the world to understand how Unilever can drive sustainable living more proactively, in line with its Purpose.


Purpose leadership gap

Keeping these five mega trends in mind – a polarized world, low trust, expectations for transparency, the rise of the Aspirationals and a thirst for purpose – provides leadership organizations with the context that they need to navigate these uncertain times. Understanding these deep undercurrents helps companies, NGOs, governments and multilateral organizations respond more effectively to these societal shifts, thereby increasing their ability to build trust, deepen relationships and be successful in the long term. 

Recognizing Leaders: Miguel Veiga-Pestana, Gates Foundation

Miguel Veiga-Pestana is the Chief Communications Officer of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Miguel leads the foundation’s global communications division and is focused on increasing awareness and engagement for priority global poverty, health, and U.S. education issues. Miguel is responsible for overseeing all communications and brand functions, including managing reputation risk and building media partnerships to support independent coverage of priority issues.

Prior to joining the foundation, Miguel served as Vice-President, Global Sustainability Strategy and External Advocacy at Unilever, where he was responsible for driving global advocacy on key sustainability and business strategy priorities to affect systemic, transformational change.

GlobeScan co-CEO Chris Coulter recently interviewed Miguel to gain insight on how civil society and business can work better together and the value he puts on stakeholder intelligence to help build recognized leadership in an uncertain world.

You have had the unique privilege of having worked at two remarkable leadership organizations: Unilever and now the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Are they similar?

On the one hand, you have Unilever, one of the most pre-eminent companies flying the flag for sustainable business models. On the other hand, you have the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which is at the forefront of developing new models of philanthropy.

Both organizations benefit from strong leadership. Paul Polman has led from the front at Unilever, while here at the foundation we are indeed fortunate to have two active co-chairs in Bill and Melinda – as well as our CEO, Sue Desmond Hellmann.

The second similarity I see is that both are mission- and purpose-driven organizations where people have the sense that they are not just working to advance their own careers but for something larger and more impactful. In fact, we are both inspired by the new Global Goals to ensure that we live within our planetary boundaries, create a more just and equitable world, and end the scourge of extreme poverty by 2030.

What about some of the differences between the corporate and foundation worlds?

A big difference, of course, is in the fact that one is profit-driven and the other is outcomes/results-driven. Actually, the fiscal discipline that you get from private sector doesn’t apply nearly in same way in the foundation world. The pressure, internally, for being efficient and effective when it comes to spending money comes from the fact that we know that the more money that goes directly to beneficiaries the better. This drives our focus.

One interesting aspect about the Gates Foundation is that we have more flexibility to be innovative in some ways, to take risks and to have more focus on the long-term. Long-termism is difficult to do in business, but Unilever has tried to break that cycle, a change that Paul Polman has pushed hard for.

It is important to mention that here at the Gates Foundation, there is also a slight tension between looking at longer-term results (e.g., eradicating malaria in 20 years) and the belief that if we could accelerate the research and get more partners, more lives could be saved more quickly. This is why we describe ourselves as impatient optimists. We are optimistic that we can make profound positive changes in the world, but we want to accelerate the pace of change. Despite this very complex environment we live in, we have actually made real progress in halving child and maternal deaths, increasing primary education and nutrition. Both Bill and Melinda consistently remind us about these achievements.

How can civil society and business work better together?

Both Unilever and the Gates Foundation have put a huge amount of emphasis on collaboration, for all the right reasons. For whatever you want to do or whatever challenge you want to address, you are still a small cog in the wheel, and if you want to scale you need to have lots of other people and organizations in the value chain. This is true for the Gates Foundation: despite the fact that we are a large donor, the amount of our funding is still tiny compared to the total resources required to address the issues we are focusing on.

Collaboration isn’t something that some people just say. It is core to success. I think what I am learning is that partnership and collaboration are built on a slightly different model in the foundation world. It is built through grant-making and funding, so it has to be more about joint resourcing and mediation. It actually is sometimes more difficult to collaborate in this context than in the business-NGO environment.

What has been a key challenge you have been trying to address organizationally at the Gates Foundation?

An important learning for me when I joined the Gates Foundation was that in a sense it is not dissimilar to the challenges facing Unilever a decade ago. Before the Sustainable Living Plan (SLP) was developed, we had great difficulty in unifying a story across the many disparate brands at Unilever. The SLP helped create a unifying, goal-driven narrative and built a rallying cry across the organization. The challenge was to come up with outcome-driven goals that could unite very different brands like Ben and Jerry’s and Knorr, and create a common purpose to drive performance.

The Gates Foundation, similarly, has lots of different work streams – more than 25, in fact – and each is working on specific issues, from malaria, to financial inclusion, to maternal health, et cetera. The challenge is how to unify all these important work steams under a common set of goals. We have found this to be a significant challenge, and have tried to take the learning from Unilever and develop a story focused on the outcomes, because it is the outcomes that matter.

How are you developing a unified narrative at the Gates Foundation?

Goals are excellent unifiers. The Gates Foundation had a number of goals, but they didn’t ladder up. We now have four missions around empowering people and creating opportunity for women and girls, and these four missions are being used to unify all of our work. Every part of the Foundation finds itself in these larger missions. With the sum being greater than the parts, we are looking to achieve a greater sense of impact.

The Gates Foundation, interestingly, has incredibly high trust amongst our key audiences and stakeholders but our detailed programs have relatively low familiarity. We are now focused on trying to build familiarity, and our four missions provide us with a clear framework for doing so.

What is your strategy to help tell this story to stakeholders?

Well, campaigning is an important aspect of telling our story. So, part of our work is about communicating the importance of these issues, talking about what matters, and telling our story with a more campaign-focused framework, telling the story of infectious disease in ways that connect with people, that are clear, and that lead to the mobilization of effort that is required to create the better world that we are so impatient for.

Letting People Speak: Tales of Traveling Through India to Listen to the Poor

Each year, donors around the world spend over US$200 billion in aid for emergency response and global development. They do this with the intention of improving the lives of individuals and communities suffering from abject poverty, food insecurity, poor health, violations of their human rights, violent conflict, or natural disaster. Yet despite the commendable efforts of the global community, there are still millions of people around the world that remain vulnerable.

In a recent blog called Managing Confirmation Bias in Stakeholder Engagement, I discussed how consultation with various stakeholder groups can inject energy into a corporate strategy and help members of the organization realize opportunities for growth. A similar approach can be applied to improve how developmental programs are crafted and monitored. The development of a tool by which we can authoritatively and regularly assess the views of the poor would allow us to co-innovate funding programs that align with the needs of the intended beneficiaries of developmental aid.

Born from the guiding values of the GlobeScan Foundation to Let Everyone Speak, the Survey of the Poor aims to let the poorest of the poor use their voice and be heard. Our goal is to help an often silent population tell their fellow countrymen and the international community what they need, what they want, and what interventions have made the largest impact on their lives. We have (and continue to) consult experts from various institutions around the world to help us with our instrument, and in order to make sure that we are not vulnerable to a narrow frame of mind before rolling out the project on a global scale, we have initiated an exploratory pilot phase of the project in India.

So, I packed my bag and travelled to India to conduct focus groups with the poor.

We traveled from the slums of New Delhi to the once prosperous and regal Kolkata, from the Jharkhand capital city of Ranchi to the remote and tribal village of Gumla. As a convoy of curious researchers, we travelled east to west along the Golden Quadrilateral Highway from one of the oldest inhabited cities, Patna, to the even more ancient city of Varanasi. We spoke to slum dwellers, tribal elders, activists, social workers, professors, economists, journalists and government councilors about the definition of poverty and the life of those that reside within its borders.

One of our biggest learnings when speaking to those working and living within impoverished communities is that the conceptualization of poverty is referential in nature, and very much dependent on what people believe it means to “be without”. A tribal woman from outside Kolkata, who was jailed for six months in retaliation for advocacy, spoke of poverty as the lack of understanding of basic human rights. A man who emerged from life in a slum outside of Ranchi spoke of poverty as an excess of shame and a lack of dignity. A young man who provides a free tutoring service in the rural villages outside of Patna, who himself had to forgo a proper education in order to provide for his family, spoke of poverty as a lack of access to high quality education. A former slum dwelling man from outside of Delhi spoke fervently of poverty as a lack of food, while a woman in the red corridor jungle spoke of poverty as a lack of nutrition. A man from Varanasi, who lost substantial wealth in a very short period of time, spoke of poverty as the lack of choice.

The breadth of views on the definition of poverty alone was overwhelming. The diversity of perspectives we encountered when discussing the lives of those living within its borders were even more so. It was an incredibly humbling experience.

Importantly, the conversations challenged the way we think about poverty and our approach to the design and implementation of the Survey of the Poor. Much like how consultation with key stakeholders can free an organization from a narrow (and often biased) thinking process, our consultation with some of India’s poor pushed us to reorient our thinking and develop a stronger, more relevant framework for the project. We have a better foundational understanding for the project and more importantly, realize how important the Survey of the Poor is to those who are vulnerable. We are empowered and inspired to maintain a dedicated and unwavering focus on the project.

Please enjoy some photos from my trip below, with our partners at Cvoter India.

This post was written by former GlobeScan Senior Research Analyst, Dr. Melaina Vinski.

Increases in Perceived Seriousness of Poverty and Homelessness: Global Poll

Germany and Spain amongst countries with most significant increases   

LONDON, 8 JAN 2015 – Germany and Spain have made the most dramatic increases in perceived seriousness of poverty and homelessness according to a GlobeScan poll of 24,000 citizens across 24 countries. This global poll shows the abiding strength of people’s concerns about poverty and their perceptions of economic unfairness.

Poverty and homelessness continue as top-tier concerns with majorities in 15 of the 24 countries polled seeing these as a very serious problem (an average of over 80 percent see it at least as somewhat serious). These concerns are at the same high level as crime and violence, unemployment and the rising cost of food and energy – all of which are seen as more serious than “economic problems and uncertainty” and nine other issues tested.

In 12 of the 24 countries polled, the perceived seriousness of poverty and homelessness has either increased or remained stable at a high level since the question was last fielded in 2012. The most significant increases in perceived seriousness over the last two years are found in Europe, notably Germany where it has increased dramatically by 20 per cent (from 24% to 44%) and in Spain with an increase of 10 per cent (from 76% to 86%).

Relative to other challenges tested, poverty and homelessness is today one of the most serious issues globally, being seen most seriously in Spain, Nigeria, Chile, France and Peru.

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, Oxfam International said: “This poll is powerful evidence that, all over the world, the public clamour to tackle inequality and poverty is growing and hardening by the day. Our political and business leaders will ignore this at their peril.”

At the same time, a significant 43 percent see “economic inequality” as a very serious problem (with an average of 80 percent rating it at least somewhat serious).

This is consistent with previous polling. In a 2012 survey of 22 countries conducted by GlobeScan for the BBC World Service, fully 61 per cent of citizens worldwide felt that economic benefits and burdens have not been shared fairly in their country, with over a quarter (27%) concluding they had been shared “not at all fairly” and only 7 per cent “very fairly”.

GlobeScan Foundation president Doug Miller commented, “The current media focus on the growing gap between rich and poor has been deeply felt by citizens the world over since we first asked about it in 2008. In a number of countries, the strong sense of unfairness threatens to undermine the basic social contract that has kept both rich and poor working towards common ends.”

According to the latest poll, citizens look primarily to government to show leadership on addressing issues of economic and social justice, with 59 per cent selecting government when asked who should lead on this, compared to only 13 per cent for large companies, 6 per cent for trade unions. Another 12 per cent say “all of them” should be collectively responsible.

Developing countries place the strongest emphasis on government leadership, particularly in Nigeria (73%), Chile (70%) and Indonesia (70%).

However in some countries citizens have stronger expectations of leadership on the part of large companies, most notably in the USA (28%), India (27%), South Korea (21%) and France (19%).

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For more information, images or a spokesperson please contact:

About The GlobeScan Foundation

Established in 2012, the GlobeScan Foundation is a Canadian-incorporated not-for-profit dedicated to helping achieve a sustainable and just world for all.

Partly funded by GlobeScan Incorporated, the 25-year-old stakeholder intelligence and engagement firm with offices in London, San Francisco and Toronto, the GlobeScan Foundation focuses on developing and applying a range of social science tools to help give voice to global publics, unlock collaboration and accelerate progress.

For more information, please visit:

About Oxfam International

Oxfam is an international confederation of 17 organizations working together with partners and local communities in more than 90 countries.

One person in three in the world lives in poverty. Oxfam is determined to change that world by mobilizing the power of people against poverty.

Around the globe, Oxfam works to find practical, innovative ways for people to lift themselves out of poverty and thrive. We save lives and help rebuild livelihoods when crisis strikes. And we campaign so that the voices of the poor influence the local and global decisions that affect them.

In all we do, Oxfam works with partner organizations and alongside vulnerable women and men to end the injustices that cause


Research Methodology

A total of 24,000 citizens across 24 countries were interviewed face-to-face or by telephone (online Israel) between December 17, 2013 and April 28, 2014. Polling was conducted by GlobeScan and its research partners in each country. In five of the 24 countries, the sample was limited to major urban areas. The margin of error per country ranges from +/- 2.5 to 6.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.