Latin America leading the way for businesses to move toward wellbeing economy principles. Is it enough though?

Tags: latest news, Latin America
Published on November 29, 2023

Reflections from Encuentro+B Conference – By Marina Gattás Culture and Public Policy Lead at WEAll

Today every business prides itself in being ESG or addressing UN Sustainable Development Goals through corporate responsibility, and we know that’s not enough. Fixing some of the problems they themselves cause along the way as an add-on to business as usual falls desperately short of mitigating the climate or inequality crises of our times, let alone sustaining life for future generations. But there are relevant business movements in the Wellbeing Economy Alliance asking more of their peers. 

Simon Ticehurst and myself from the WEAll Amp Team, based in Mexico and Brazil respectively, just had the opportunity to shape and participate last month in the Encuentro+B, along with over 800 people from all over Latin America and the Caribbean. The conference is held every other year by Sistema B Internacional, which was co-founded by WEAll Trustee Pedro Tarak on the premise of radical collaboration across sectors to make regenerative and distributive business the new normal. For three days of talks, panels and workshops, our heads went round and round around the central theme of this edition: what can we do to accelerate collective action? 


Not just how can we accelerate collective action across our region, but how can collaboration spill over into our surroundings in pragmatic ways, right then and there. The peculiar choice of setting had meaning, afterall. We weren’t surrounded by breathtaking nature that reminds us of the meaning of life and the grief of climate breakdown, nor were we inspired by the world’s most sleek and sustainable neighborhoods. We were in Monterrey, in Nuevo León, Mexico’s largest industrial district. 

Monterrey has one of the highest GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita in Latin America and was ranked one of Mexico’s most liveable cities in 2018, according to a poll that looks at education, housing, economy, employment, family life and happiness. I read about this poll in a news article as my eyes went back and forth between my phone and the thick, gray cloud of pollution blocking my view of the sky and of the tall, beautiful mountains surrounding the city. Another reminder of how subjective measurements simply fail to grasp some very concrete problems that affect our lives and ecosystems today and for the generations to come.

Accelerating collective action started with a reality check. On the main stage, the opening talk by regeneration expert and WEAll Global Council member Eduard Muller came to snap even the most enlightened amongst us out of our collective delusional dream of sustainable development, with an arsenal of data on the sixth mass extinction and pathways to dream another kind of dream, with a much happier ending, through the regeneration of our ecosystems and relationships. His talk made him the pop star of the day, and the workshop he conducted later in the afternoon, on how to apply the Three-Horizons’ Framework, had 180 people participating in a room projected for only 60.

Another main stage highlight was a talk by one of Eduard’s students, Laura Ortiz Montemayor, who founded SVX.MX, a Mexican impact investment fund committed to regeneration, climate mitigation and gender equity. She called out the incoherence between the high amounts of venture capital funding now going into electric mobility, which has little potential contribution to net emission reduction, versus the negligible amounts of funding going into ecosystem restoration, which has the most potential contribution in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, urging everyone to follow the evidence.

During the mornings, the main stage was filled with examples of how business as usual has been challenged in different ways and contexts, and of how it is imperative to put life at the forefront of all decisions in business and finance, while the afternoons were taken by parallel sessions and deep-dives. The two most unexpected partnerships that were announced, that I feel touch on sensitive, key issues for this transformation, were: firstly, a new Latin American network of marketing, communications and advertising agencies committed to socio-environmental impact, led voluntarily by women who understood the pervasive role of marketing and communications in perpetuating our current system and opted out of that loop; and secondly, a partnership between B Lab Global and BIVA, Mexico’s less traditional stock exchange, so that all publicly traded companies there can learn about the B Corp certification and practices.

Before my head was dizzy with all the business jargon and codes, and the million times I shocked people when explaining I did not work at a B Corp, the enthusiastic Marta Herrera, Secretary of Equality of Inclusion of the state of Nuevo León, shared her experience leading on the initiative Hambre Cero, aimed at eradicating hunger. Through shared governance and collaboration across different state departments and industries, Herrera showed the power of government coordination and public policy to accelerate collective action. She ended by saying we need to not just have B Corps, but B Cities.

I must admit that in the interim between confirming my participation in Encuentro+B and receiving the full program schedule, I was slightly dreading the idea of spending an entire week surrounded by business talk, so Marta Herrera’s account was certainly a refresher. My goal at the conference, and as part of the panel on Public Policy and Regulation, was to waive the white flag of government as an ally, an inducer, an agenda-setter, a mediator of collective interests, a facilitator of agency – not the enemy neoliberalism, the media and business schools have painted it to be and that, however twisted the narrative, frankly corresponds to most people’s experience of government at a time when our institutions are failing to address people’s needs and desires.

Nuevo Leon’s Hambre Cero was a brilliant example of multisectoral governance that bears close resemblance with the principles and ways of working implemented by Wales, a member of the Wellbeing Economy Government Partnership (WEGo), within the mandate of its Future Generations Commission. Two entirely different countries and contexts, and even scopes, considering Hambre Cero is a single public programme and Future Gen is a nation-wide institution, and yet surprisingly have similar perspectives, showing us that governments are at their best when they are co-creators and co-coordinators of change processes. We need governments in this transformation, so we better buckle up. 

We heard time and again from the founders of B Lab and Sistema B that although there is so much reason to be proud of the progress of the movement in shifting business practices, with now over 8.000 certified companies in the region, the numbers are still fimble when contrasted to the monumental task ahead. If every company on earth got certified today, we could still be in trouble. There’s ongoing talk about how to make the certification criteria more rigorous in terms of the scoring, to prevent greenwashing or wellbeing washing, as well as making the process itself compatible with non-western, non-white business visions, cultures and ways of working, and there was an entire workshop dedicated to discussing the certification criteria at the Encuentro+B. Not only that, but there are over 300 million companies in the world, and no possible way that they will all transition by force of prayer, intention or good advertisement to meet our climate targets. 

While B Corps are a potent innovation that shows it is possible to operate with a different logic within the current system, to change the system we need to undermine and remove all existing incentives that make extractive and exploitative “business as usual” the most financially viable and bureaucratically seamless ways to operate. It shouldn’t be easier to run a destructive business than a positive impact business, in the same way it shouldn’t be easier to run a big corporation than a small business. Flipping this around will require reviewing our tax laws, our labor laws, our corporate laws and our property laws, and redirecting public investment into non-extractive, non-exploitative, positive impact industries.

People tend to shriek away from lobbying, but I can’t think of better lobbyists than 8.000 business owners full of energy and passion for a different kind of economy, willing to take collective action. Why not with their local, regional and national governments? Cities+B, another initiative by Sistema B, is currently in the middle of a two-year long radical collaboration in my hometown, São Paulo, to influence large-scale and multisectoral changes. The B movement has been very successful in Mendoza, helping to approve legislation that ensures triple impact businesses have a priority in all government bids and contracts. To quote Lenin, “there are decades where nothing happens and weeks when decades happen.” Approving groundbreaking legislation looks a lot like that – a match made in heaven between patience, opportunity, and a few people willing to sound like a broken record.

Stretching the boundaries of collaboration beyond businesses also happened among academics in Monterrey. In an extremely competitive setting, in which researchers are pitted against each other, tallying who has the most publications, research institutions tend to hoard knowledge rather than share. I was pleased to hear that as leadership and faculty from Monterrey’s largest public and private universities came together during a workshop to reflect on this issue of competition, many in the room came to tears due to their personal discomfort and frustration with how things are run, and at the end of the session new collaborations emerged: a coalition of universities, a collective research endeavor on new economies. 

Such is the power of encounter to accelerate collective action. We all come from different backgrounds, locations and carry our own biases in how we work, but there truly is more that we share in common than that we disagree on when it comes to this uplifting and festive group of Latin American leaders. I left the conference with my batteries recharged from all the hugs (we were tasked with 8 per day per person, and ended up with 453,790!), from recognizing myself in so many others, and from seeing the evolution of this movement in Latin America in the past year alone. This wasn’t just a conference, this was a carefully crafted catalyst for collective action within Monterrey and beyond, now back from our desks, in the many years to come.


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