How to be a corporate activist

They’ve had some significant wins over the years – protecting endangered species, slowing down deforestation, and standing up for human rights. But there’s so much more to do – and a new breed of activist is emerging, one who believes in change from the inside. We call them the corporate activists.

We met lots of corporate activists when we were writing our book – Everybody’s Business, the Unlikely Story of How Business Can Fix The World. They are courageous and tough-minded individuals who are challenging the status quo and working hard to make sure the impact their businesses make is a positive one. We learnt what it takes to become an effective corporate activist:

1 Get out there
If you’re already inside a business, get out more. Corporates are big – it’s easy to get institutionalised without realising it: sometimes it’s harder than you think to really get an outside perspective on an issue. This is what successful corporate activists do: get out of the office, hit the road, meet your critics, collaborators, customers, suppliers, see what life looks like from the outside.

2 Get in there
If you’re thinking of joining the corporate world, dive in deeply. Get to know the organisation inside out, understand the commercial model, and root yourself into the very core of the business. Effective corporate activists know that they can’t create change if they’re peripheral: they need to be where the action is, close to the heartbeat of the organisation.

3 Know your mind
Many corporates are slow to change because they’re too busy worrying about what their competitors are doing, or what the regulator will say, or what customers will think. They lose sight of the issues they’re facing: why does it matter how much water we use? Why are people bothered about toxins in our t-shirts? What’s the big deal with Bangladesh? To be a corporate activist, you need a crystal clear point of view on what matters, and why.

4 Start an epidemic
Change is infectious – we found this time and again in the corporates we met. If you show people that they can be commercially successful by making a positive difference to the world, they’ll be queuing up to get involved. Corporate activists know how to create a buzz around their work: they know that the most talented and ambitious people in business don’t just want to get rich – that’s given – they want to feel their work is important, too.

5 Ask yourself: do I really want to do this?
Corporate activists are among the most tough-minded people you’re likely to meet in the world of business. They’re not the fluffy do-gooders many might imagine: they’re challenging the status quo, turning business models upside down, and grappling with some of the world’s hardest issues. You need courage, stamina and resourcefulness to be successful at this: it’s not for everyone. These guys are changing the corporate world from the inside out – and the more of them there are, the faster change will happen.