Global Ethicist on the Pandemic, Public Trust, & Technology

Listen to Episode 26 on Apple Podcasts

Guests: Dr. Andrea Bonime-Blanc, @GlobalEthicist, CEO & Founder of GEC Risk Advisory and board member for Greenward Partners, Ethical Intelligence, and ProtectedBy.AI

Hosts: Dottie Schindlinger, Executive Director of the Diligent Institute, and Meghan Day, Senior Director of Board Member Experience for Diligent Corporation

In this episode:

  1. The public trust challenge—and opportunity. More than half of the world’s people do not view capitalism as a force for good. This is an opportunity for businesses and governments to change that situation, says Bonime-Blanc, and boards play an important role.
  2. How can an ethics advisor help? One big way is by asking the right questions in the boardroom.
  3. Adding a “T” for technology to the ESG equation. Technological growth brings new risks into the fold, Bonime-Blanc says, which is why technology should be a critical part of all ESG conversations. 

Summary: 

The ethical dilemmas of COVID-19

Is it right to order grocery delivery during a pandemic? What measures should companies take to protect employees during state-ordered shutdowns? As the COVID-19 crisis places ethical questions like this in the forefront, podcast co-hosts Dottie Schindlinger, Executive Director of the Diligent Institute, and Diligent Corporation Senior Director of Board Member Experience Meghan Day bring in an ethical advisor as their latest guest.

Tweeting under the handle of @GlobalEthicist, Dr. Andrea Bonime-Blanc has built a career around helping corporations, governments, and nonprofits navigate ethical issues. This includes serving as an Independent Ethics Advisor to the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, serving on numerous technology boards, and authoring a book, Gloom to Boom, on how leaders can transform ESG risk into opportunity. 

In this episode, Bonime-Blanc discusses the deficit of trust in today’s world, the role of an ethical advisor, and the inextricable influence of technology on ESG issues and risk. 

The public trust in organizations is shifting

According to Bonime-Blanc, there’s been a notable decline in trust in governments, business, media, and nonprofits around the world. She cites the Edelman Trust Barometer, which reports that more than half of respondents worldwide believe that capitalism in its current form is doing more harm than good in the world.

“I think this whole coronavirus situation is going to put a lot of this into stark relief,” she says. “But I think it also presents business and government with an opportunity to do the right thing by their stakeholders.”

Bonime-Blanc says that she’s seeing businesses step up to the plate right now, not only the negative impact to shareholders due to the stock market’s decline, but also in terms of keeping employees safe.

“To me, the coronavirus challenge—which is going to be one of the biggest the world has encountered in our lifetime—is going to test whether we can change the deficits to a positive—into an opportunity to build trust.”

– Dr. Andrea Bonime-Blanc, CEO and founder of GEC Risk Advisory and board member for Greenward Partners, Ethical Intelligence, and ProtectedBy.AI

How can an ethics advisor help? 

Board members, as the custodians of the company and as the people who hold the utmost oversight role, are well advised to be cognizant of the entire ecosystem of stakeholders beyond the individual shareholder, according to Bonime-Blanc. 

However, she adds, “It’s a very challenging piece of the puzzle to oversee in a company because board members are not engaged in the daytoday. They’re not managing or seeing the day-to-day issues.”

A chief ethics officer can help boards stay current and be proactive, Bonime-Blanc says. Such an officer should report to the board on a regular basis and provide guidance by posing questions such as:

  • Does the company have an ethics helpline or hotline?
  • What issues are being reported?
  • What is the company’s approach for investigating these issues?

“One of the crucial things boards should be thinking about is having somebody on their board who can ask the right questions when it comes to ethics and risk.”

– Dr. Andrea Bonime-Blanc, CEO and founder of GEC Risk Advisory and board member for Greenward Partners, Ethical Intelligence, and ProtectedBy.AI

Adding a “T” for technology to the ESG equation

As ESG issues concurrently rise on the board’s agenda, Bonime-Blanc talks about the missing letter to this acronym: “T” for technology. “Talking about ESG alone does not really bring that whole package of non-financial issues, risks and opportunities together,” Bonime-Blanc says. 

In Gloom to Boom, she makes the argument that ESG risk should really be referred to as ESGT risk, in order to account for the outsized role that technology plays in our businesses and society. 

“There are so many new issues that are rising in the technological sphere that are not being addressed under ESG at all,” Bonime-Blanc says, citing AI, cybersecurity, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and the Internet of Things as examples. “All of these things are new issues, new risks, and new opportunities.”

Just as ESG risks tend to be interconnected—environmental issues have social aspects, as well as governance aspects—technology plays a similarly significant part in global problems and solutions. 

“The digital technology piece is changing everything so quickly and really affecting human behavior,” Bonime-Blanc says. “For me, that’s a really important piece of the puzzle that we all need to incorporate into our thinking as board members, as executives, and as people.” 

“Do you understand where the risks are and how to convert those ESG risks into opportunities for value creation?”

– Dr. Andrea Bonime-Blanc, CEO and founder of GEC Risk Advisory and board member for Greenward Partners, Ethical Intelligence, and ProtectedBy.AI

Also in this episode…

Bonime-Blanc talks about her eight-element model for corporate resilience. In addition, how are the largest 100 U.S. public companies supporting workers, employees, and customers during the COVID-19 crisis? Day shares new findings from Just Capital’s Corporate Response Tracker.

Listen to Episode 26 on Apple Podcasts

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