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In our latest “Quarto Rapporto sul Secondo Welfare 2019” (4R2W) we highlighted the role of philanthropy in promoting permanent social change rather than experimental social innovation. In this regard, the Foundations of banking origin (FOB) should not be underestimated. In recent years, FOB scholars and researchers have questioned the role that Foundations could play in promoting stable social change in the local context. The 7th chapter of 4R2W focused on this topic focusing on some conditions and features which could facilitate FOBs’ proper involvement in local welfare systems transformational processes. The suggested framework is applied to a case study (an action research conducted by our Observatory and promoted by Fondazione CRC, Cassa di Risparmio di Cuneo).

The role of corporate Foundations too has been crucial in facilitating the development of territories, the cohesion of communities and the growth of citizens’ well-being, although the fact that it has suffered from the lack of quantitative data and information. In order to make up for these shortcomings, our Observatory, together with Fondazione Bracco and Fondazione Sodalitas, has worked on a research aimed to map the italian Corporate Foundations and to identify their main characteristics.

We interviewed Guido Palazzo (Professor of Business Ethics at HEC, University of Lausanne) about social change and about the role that strategic philanthropy can play as it promotes impact assessment, nourishes the social fabric and operates in a long-term perspective. Palazzo’s research deals with corporate responsibility in global supply chains, the mechanisms of (un)ethical decision making in organizations, the fight against organized crime and the impact of storytelling on behavior. He will hold an online course about social change and storytelling at Cottino Social Impact Campus.

Professor Palazzo, do you think that the involvement of corporates, philanthropy and private actors can help to promote a permanent and shared social change in our communities?

We certainly need companies on board and philanthropy is an important source for financing innovation. However, we need to accelerate the change, given that the ecological crisis is accelerating as well and the covid pandemia has shown that we are not well equipped to manage large scale disruptions well. I examine the landscape of responsible business and philanthropy since two decades and the awareness for the need of a broader vision or a broader concept of responsibility of private actors is not growing fast enough. We are still asking the same kind of questions (e.g. does it pay to behave responsibly) and civil society is demanding the same kind of changes that I discussed with my students already in 2003, when I became a professor of business ethics at the university of Lausanne.

Which can be the limits and negative externalities about this involvement?

The transformation that we need of how we produce, consume and live will be profound. The agenda of this change process cannot be dictated by companies or rich donors. It has to result from democratic processes of deliberation and it requires new forms of holding economic actors accountable. For some of the major actors in our economy such a change is not desirable and they are blocking it wherever they can. Transparency and democratic accountability must frame and tame the involvement of private actors. On the other side, it is obvious that we need their engagement as a leverage for changing fast enough. It will not work without them either.

Why and how do you think that storytelling is crucial to promote a more shared and solid social change?

Some people think that the ecological crisis that we are facing will be solved by technology, that we would simply replace dirty energy by green energy and otherwise continue living as we do today. This will not work. We are overconsuming the planet and increasing the divide between rich and poor across countries but also within countries. This is a major threat to our democracy. How do we get out of the crisis? We certainly need technological innovation, but what is underestimated in the debate is the soft power of storytelling. We need a new vision of society since the neoliberal paradigm, which has dominated our (Western) society for the last 6 decades or so, is disenchanted. We need to tell a new story with new beliefs, values and ideas that can unite us on a planetary scale so that we survive as a species. The routines that we practice are deeply embedded in our belief systems and only if we change those beliefs, we can change our routines in a sustainable way. What we do as individuals, organizations or nation states is driven by the narratives that we share. Understanding the mechanisms of storytelling is thus a key element of the success or failure of the Grand Transition, on which we have embarked as humanity.