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PROhumana Looks at Sustainability Through an Ambitious but Realistic Lens

The Chilean non-profit promotes corporate social responsibility and responsible citizenship beyond the borders of its home nation.

View of Santiago de Chile with Los Andes mountain range in the back

October 22, 2019

Since its founding more than 20 years ago, the Chilean-based non-profit foundation PROhumana has focused on global sustainability issues at the corporate, government and individual citizen level. Through its open dialogue-based approach to research and activism, PROhumana promotes corporate social responsibility and responsible citizenship beyond the borders of its home nation.

Soledad Teixidó, the founder and leader of PROhumana, spoke with us from her offices in Santiago, Chile about the origins of PROhumana, the impact of its initiatives during the organization’s history, and what’s ahead for corporate sustainability programs in the future.

What was the objective when PROhumana began, and how has that changed over the years?

We founded PROhumana in 1997 as the “Research Program for Human Promotion.” At that time in Chile, there was generally little understanding of a comprehensive approach to sustainability, what it would involve and the benefits that it could bring to organizations and people. Our focus was to create spaces for training and awareness and to establish networks to foster co-creation and collaboration. We also wanted to conduct and share the results of research that would help organizations better understand what sustainability actually involved.

The PROhumana Roundtables program is one of the key initiatives that emerged from that early exploration, and today it has brought together more than 300 leaders from various organizations. By creating space for dialogue and trust, the Roundtables program has helped participants explore a broad range of issues from global warming, comprehensive sustainability and the circular economy, to diversity, gender equality, immigration, human rights and labor restructuring. It has even raised awareness about the attitudes and beliefs held by members of the millennial generation about these issues.

The focus of our organization is not just on cultural change, but also on the transformation of business management. So, in 2005, we created the PROhumana Sustainable Business Strategy Model, which was designed to help organizations develop sustainability strategies that are comprehensive, innovative and consistent. Today, that model has helped to promote sustainability as a central tenet in more than 440 applications in various organizations and has greatly influenced how organizations address sustainability issues with their suppliers, their customers and with the greater community.

In the 21 years since PROhumana was established, what changes have you seen in attitudes toward sustainability at the corporate level? What changes have you seen from the consumer's point of view?

Although Chile has advanced as a country in recent years, many sustainability challenges remain in aligning our efforts to those of other countries. Here at PROhumana, we are committed to the goal of making an important contribution to that effort, and toward the creation of a society that supports consistent human development. We are convinced that the companies — and people — that can systemically manage their sustainability efforts will last well into the next decade and beyond. For those organizations, sustainability is an integral part of their strategic plan and one that aligns with the dynamic challenges ahead.

We see here in Chile and elsewhere around the world that more and more people are embracing the new model of work and consumption. Spearheaded by corporations, this model also relies on the active participation of society in order to succeed. Individual companies must reflect this dynamic in their activities in order to remain a viable partner for consumers.

What role does diversity play in corporate sustainability?

There is little doubt that the world is likely to change more in the next 20 years than it has in the last 300 years. This transformation will challenge all of us in terms of how we adapt as individuals and as organizations. We believe that diversity will play an essential role in navigating these radical changes.

The professional and personal skills needed to live in this "new world" include creativity, openness and inclusivity, and the ability to have a purpose and to connect with others who share that purpose. Successfully managing people with such skills requires adaptive leadership, that is, the ability to bring together groups of people who are diverse in their composition and skillset, to achieve a greater good. That’s why valuing and respecting diversity will be so essential to building successful and sustainable organizations over the long term.

For example, our initiative, the PROhumana Alliance for Gender, promotes organizational diversity through a focus on gender equity. Created in 2017, the Alliance already includes more than 70 companies and organizations clear evidence that there is an awareness of the importance of making the workplace a more diverse and inclusive environment.

Our efforts also include a Gender Equity Index, a proprietary methodology that seeks to promote gender equity in corporate management. In the three years since it was created, companies that have used our Index as a key metric have improved their strategies, reduced their pay gaps and promoted a more equitable and diverse workplace within their organizations.

PROhumana’s "Tours of the Future" exposes business leaders to sustainable practices around the world. For participating leaders, what has been the effect of these tours?

From the beginning, we have understood that the exchange of knowledge between people in different countries is of great value for the growth and development of nations. So, since 2008, our Tours of the Future program has made nine separate trips and has visited eight different countries, including Brazil, Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway (two times!) and Finland.

We have had the opportunity to visit a number of industry leaders in sustainability efforts, including Pension Danmark, Stora Enso, Philips and HSBC. And our 2018 meeting with Gro Harlem Brundtland, an international leader in sustainability, was undoubtedly one of the most interesting and inspiring experiences and contributed greatly to expanding our understanding of what sustainability has to offer.

The aim of these tours is to promote the development of innovative policies of integral sustainability and business sustainability by fostering direct contact between representatives of government, organizations and civil society. But perhaps the greatest benefit has been creating connections and relationships between the more than 100 Chilean participants that travel with us on our tours. That engagement helps them to strengthen their own efforts toward integral sustainability and business sustainability here in Chile.

What is the future of corporate sustainability?

The future is now, and so we must take on the challenge that is in front of us, both as businesses and as people. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals clearly identify the urgent issues that need attention now from businesses and countries in order to support sustainable practices today and the future of humanity. Global meetings and government accords can help provide a relevant path. But it is we, the people who work in companies, the leaders of government institutions, the citizens of the world, who must accept the challenge to transform ourselves and our societies with sustainable development.

This article was originally published in On the Mark, a UL magazine.  Marla Caceres is the author. Read more stories about the growing connection between sustainability and business by downloading the magazine.