Concepción Galdón (Madrid, 1983) has been dedicated to the field of sustainability and impact for 15 years. In addition to being the founder of the social enterprise Global Bridges, is the director of innovation and sustainability of the IE business school. The message of this talented expert in Public Administration and International Economics is clear: sustainability should not go against profitability, but in favor.
Taking your professional career as an example, how do you distribute your weekly time?
As it flows each week and day. I do it for hours that I assign in block, depending on the evolution of the needs. At Puentes Global I don’t need that much thanks to the team’s work. In all areas I work with excellent people, I am not essential anywhere.
Because of your activity you interact with very different people, how does an entrepreneur connect with a manager of a large company?
I believe that projects are people. Companies are not one way or the other, but they are like the people who compose them. Connecting people with projects that excite them generates new spaces of great value for them and for society. And that value at the social level does not occur if the value for them does not exist [hace un gesto muy enfático]That is why it is collected as its own ODS.
How to get the SDGs to reach people?
The SDGs are a conceptual framework that has the merit of accumulating the will of companies, banks, universities, governments, international organizations… It was a very interesting conversation that led to them.
Like all consensuses, it also has some limitations, and perhaps taking them to the daily life of many people is not easy. There is still important work to be done to make it understood that the decisions you make today – and the things you do now – are, whether we like it or not, connected to the SDGs and affect the 2030 Agenda.
We often invent many terms around economic growth, can some of them be superfluous?
Sometimes we love to make up words for ourselves and all this does is get us away from society. It not only happens in the economy, it also happens in the art world. We make up words. A very particular language is spoken, and that removes people from the street and from the experience.
For example, the concept of creativity was not used until the middle of the 20th century and today it can seem heavy.
I don’t think there is a definition of creativity or that it matters. There is something essential in people that is part of our genetic base and has allowed us to survive throughout the centuries: the ability to seek solutions and to communicate.
This is critical in the space of impact and sustainability. We’re not going to get anywhere replicating things we’ve already done.
SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) literally speaks of achieving “productive employment and decent work for women, men, youth, people with disabilities …”.
SDG 8 cannot be achieved by trying to scale existing production models. With the existing technology, how many people are needed working in Spain to generate the products and services that we consume internally and sell abroad?
The unfortunate answer is not all. Today it is not necessary all the hours of work that people in Spain do to generate what needs to be generated.
Something just as unfortunate is that for many years the growth of companies and economies has been completely linked to selling more things.
This is inherently harmful to the environment. We need to stop and rethink the paradigm, in which in many industries they need to decouple growth from greater product.
Could you cite an example of this?
A fashion company can be a good example. As long as its growth depends on putting more shirts on the market, as a society, it is a problem for that company to grow. Because they only know how to grow like that.
We need the growth of our economies and companies to be dissociated from putting more things on the market. You have to start thinking about what full employment means and rethink the social contract. Because, honestly, a future in which we have the same as today but multiplied by ten is not possible. It is not possible.
You emphasize a lot in your classes that there is no single entrepreneurial model.
There are many definitions and types. With my students, I really like trying to kill the collective image of what an entrepreneur is supposed to be. With all due respect, the guy wearing a jacket, sneakers, and standing on stage pitching to investors is an entrepreneur, but not “the entrepreneur.”
We have met many entrepreneurship profiles, with different ambitions, with different ways of doing things. We start from different mental images that deep down put us in boxes from which it is very difficult to get out and which in turn have implications for inclusion.
That also has economic implications
Of course, raising a lot of capital and giving his life for his company is a type of entrepreneur … many look at him and say: “I don’t want to be you.” Does that mean that I am not going to be able to undertake? No, maybe you are another type of entrepreneur.
Sustainability – to achieve the SDGs – cannot happen at the cost of burdening the economy and companies. This is not an argument that you can use as a company to defend yourself, it returns the responsibility, it does not remove it.
What is the responsibility of the company?
Your responsibility as a company is to innovate and generate business models that allow you to grow thanks to the fact that you are sustainable. You should not settle for growing “despite” doing things around sustainability.
We will have to invest more in R&D, put more head into it, and think about the business model because you have to be able to grow thanks to being sustainable.
How do you propose in this process the relationship between what is public and what is private?
Definitely the division between the two things is an entelechy, it is a lie. We are all part of the same system, of the same society. And in fact, the public and the private know it and this does not transcend. Companies understand that they have to interact with governments and governments know that they cannot implement policies with their backs to companies.
Companies are not just large corporations, we are all of us who work anywhere, and we earn a salary from somewhere and from some economic activity.
Collaboration between the public and the private is necessary, it has always happened and it will always happen. It cannot not occur and, therefore, the question is: what is the most intelligent way for the different entities of the public -which are many and diverse- and those of the private, -which are also so- to assume a role in which they can add more value within this collaboration?
And what characteristics would that relationship have that does work?
In public-private collaboration it is important to understand that each country has its own trajectories and structures. One must look at the ways of doing the other and understand what the advantage of each one is: perhaps most of the riskiest innovation should not come from the Administration.
Entrepreneurship may be a place from which a lot of innovation can emerge, but companies may not be the ones to bring those innovations to large-scale public service provision. Perhaps the Public Administration should be a machine to multiply the best of it to reach 100% of the citizens.
Any recent examples you have experienced of connecting and achieving goals?
In the line that we talk about connecting things, a year and a half ago the Ibero-American General Secretariat (SEGIB) contacted for a report it was doing. In parallel, we started an investigation and found out that the B corporation movement was trying to move forward to get some kind of more explicit regulation for purposeful companies.
Your responsibility as a company is to innovate and generate business models that allow you to grow thanks to the fact that you are sustainable
What would you say are the people who work in the business sustainability sector?
In the sustainability and impact industry there are people with a systems mindset. Global minded people understand us as a civilization and in unity with the planet as a whole. And human civilization on him as a system, interconnected in small and large.
It is a privilege to belong to this sector. You meet many, many people who want to make an impact, with spectacular curiosity, with life stories and interesting conversations. It is worth working in this from any field because, at the very least, you are going to meet people that you are going to love.
Do you have a reference, someone you admire?
There are many but I would mention Amartya Sen again. He seems so old and energetic to me … not only because of what he has written and done in his life, it is because of his dignity and knowledge. If I could look like this person 25 years younger, I would hit a song in the teeth.
What’s happening to us lately?
We are in a change of era. The more things happen to us, the more evident it is that this is so. In history, the changes of era are given a date, but in reality they are not given on that day, they are given a year or a moment, but they occur from time before and after.
These are periods in which many incidents are concentrated that, ultimately, result in us coming out the other side as a different civilization than we were.
And this is what I believe. I do not know where it is going or what date will be marked, but I am sure that we are living a transition as a human civilization on Earth and that we will come out in another way.
It depends on the decisions we make that the place we go is where we want to be or is a place where we are remembering the place we came from.
In the image that opens this interview, Concepción Galdón holds the poster with SDG 8 on decent work and economic growth. He summarizes his biography in four titles: The endless story, by Michael Ende; The Tigers of Mompracemby Emilio Salgari; any of Amartya Sen’s, as they can be Development and freedom and The happiness hypothesis from Periodt, a journey through the great religions of the world, thought and positive psychology.
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