• Transform magazine
  • December 11, 2018

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Insights: Why positivity wins in the long term

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Following July's Transform Conference Europe, Greenspace has examined the ways in which brands succeed through a positive, long term approach

As the years rattle by and the wisdom of experience forces itself upon us, we learn to appreciate that exhausted phrase ‘nobody’s perfect.’ Whether uttered in sighing resignation, compassionate acceptance or a bit of both, it acknowledges that we each tend to be as good as we are bad; as selfish and greedy as we are compassionate and generous. Since they express who we are, the businesses and the brands we create tend to reflect this balance of virtues and vices. Few corporations are run in the ruthless, single minded pursuit of sheer financial gain, and most hope to make money by (or at least while) doing some good. But what does ‘doing good’ mean in a corporate context?

We work with brands with ambitions beyond the bottom line and beyond the lifespan of any single project. Our clients aspire to earn not just market share, but to cultivate communities, create opportunities, inspire young people and improve the environment. As a partner, we help to clarify and then realise the combined financial and philanthropic ambitions of our clients, using a process we call ‘creating legacy.’

First, legacy is a morally neutral word that requires a qualifying adjective – after all, Genghis Khan had a powerful legacy. How do we define a positive legacy, as opposed to a bad bequest? Does it come down to motive? Many a tyrant has intended to fix social and economic ills, but it is their methods that suck. Perhaps truly beneficial actions result from good intentions and sound methods, unimpeded by surfeits of power-seeking narcissism. In business, positive legacies are not often forged by those chasing money, fame or awards, but by people interested in creating value beyond financial targets.

This year’s Transform Conference Europe was held in London, six years after the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The word legacy was in high circulation at the time, placed at the heart of the bid. London intended to avoid the mistakes of past Olympic host cities, whose venues became abandoned wastelands. It set up the London Legacy Development Corporation to help ensure the Olympics became a springboard for regenerating east London. The process had its critics, and it is early to appraise the Olympic legacy, but the Olympic Park appears to have avoided becoming a white elephant, so at least a partial success might be claimed. The lesson? Putting legacy at the heart of your organisation, brand or project will help to ensure its success.

Urban regeneration has a particular resonance for Greenspace. Fifteen years ago our first project gave us our name and inspired our focus on legacy. With Heineken, we renovated a row of derelict warehouses in Valencia, creating a new cultural venue for the city, Heineken Greenspace. The project ran for six years, and in 2011 bequeathed the city a much-loved venue that still lives on and would never have existed but for its legacy-focused agenda.

Urban regeneration is one way for organisations to create lasting beneficial change. We are currently working with a mobility startup in Kenya called Kibo. The business was born when on a visit to the country, founder Huib van de Grijspaarde observed that the ubiquitous cheap motorbikes are unreliable, dangerous and ill-made for Kenya’s rough roads. A social entrepreneur, van de Grijspaarde responded
by designing a motorbike suited to Kenya’s needs and challenges. Kibo builds all its motorcycles in Nairobi, and is about to launch new bikes that will provide affordable and practical mobility to a wide cross-section of people in Kenya and neighbouring countries, bringing further value by creating local jobs and knowledge-sharing.

An alcohol brand and an automotive brand are probably not what springs to mind when we think of organisations creating positive lasting legacies, and yet here they are, leveraging their social awareness, financial weight and business skills to bring lasting social, cultural, health and economic benefits to communities around the world. Just like us, a business does not need to be beyond moral reproach to do good. Nobody’s perfect, and that’s okay.

Lene Nielsen is managing director and strategy director at Greenspace