Our team at the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program regularly writes on everything from trends reshaping U.S. capital markets to first-hand observations from our own programming. Looking back on 2021, we asked our team to share the writing they were most proud of in 2021, and to tell us how their thinking has evolved since writing it. Enjoy!
Judy Samuelson, Executive Director, Aspen Institute Business & Society Program
I wrote this piece mid-year as the ESG debate was heating up. The so-called “ESG” question connects company performance and investor expectations against myriad issues—from labor standards to environmental impacts. But ESG is now embracing even more effective ways to hold business accountable, especially the role of employees as change agents. This recent Bloomberg piece about the intentions of the ESG ratings entity, MSCI—is a great read, and demonstrates the complexity of focusing just on investors. Retail investors—including employees making choices about their 401k plans—think an ESG fund is about making things better for the planet or society. The MSCI metrics up-end this assumption. MSCI, a giant in the ESG fund business, focuses instead on the risk to investors of ESG demands. Per Bloomberg, they ask, are companies sufficiently protected from “ESG” risks – and thus will they outperform?
Is that what I want from my ESG fund? Hold on to your seat. It’s going to be a wild ride.
Eli Malinsky, Deputy Director, Aspen Institute Business & Society Program
At the time of writing, I wasn’t sure whether the 2021 class would convene in person or online. Alas, we’re back online for the foreseeable future. I return to these lessons regularly and am happy to report that our learning journey—and our successes—continue. It is increasingly obvious that COVID has caused a permanent change to the design and facilitation of leadership development programs. The successful among us will embrace this reality rather than shrink from it.
Miguel Padró, Assistant Director, Aspen Institute Business & Society Program
American capitalism does some things incredibly well but harnessing the knowledge and insights of workers is not one of them. Once we started digging in to our Idea Lab on Worker Voice in Corporate Governance, a whole universe of new possibility started to reveal itself. The ideas in A Seat at the Table are provocative and represent just a small portion of what’s possible if corporate governance begins to recognize worker voice as an asset for better long term business decisions, for enhancing corporate accountability, and for ensuring that everyone prospers from business success.
Nancy McGaw, Senior Advisor, Aspen Institute Business & Society Program
The impacts of the pandemic have been devastating. Still, amongst the tragic surprises the pandemic has callously delivered, I have also been inspired by the resiliency and creativity of the human spirit. In this story of the “Frankenstein machine” we see this spirit on display.
Jaime Bettcher, Senior Program Manager, Aspen Institute Business & Society Program
Each year we send out a call for nominations of the most cutting-edge curriculum in business schools around the world—to be recognized with our Ideas Worth Teaching Award. This year—amid a continuing global pandemic and a particularly challenging time for academia—we received a record number of nominations, reflecting a growing wave of faculty determined to redefine the role of business in society. The boldness of these educators to forge a new path, at a time of historic crossroads, inspires hope that the narratives that guide business decision making are changing and business can become a powerful actor in addressing the most critical challenges of our day—from climate change to inequality.