What would you say to Pope Francis?


Dec 19, 2016

A few months ago, I received the email of a lifetime. 

"Would you like to address a group of CEOs in Rome and present ideas for social impact to Pope Francis?"

What's a girl to say to an invitation like that?

And so, jetlagged as ever, I shared what we do at Samasource and LXMI with about 100 leaders at the Fortune Time Global Forum. (Full remarks here.)

It was pretty intimidating. Before I took the stage, Richard Branson spoke to the group about how corporate leaders must make the change that governments won't, urging the conference to commit real action. 

I was stunned at how many business leaders spoke about the power of supply chains -- huge pools of spending that can alter the fates of millions of poor people. This is new territory. Larry Summers, who was president of Harvard when I was there as an undergrad, publicly admitted he didn't do enough for the university's low-wage contractor staff-- the janitors, dining hall attendants, and others who don't get employee benefits. 
 
It all boils down to this: why don't businesses recognize the full humanity of all the people who contribute to the bottom line? Think of your cell phone. A bunch of people mined the materials in it. Others manufactured the parts. But only those who sold it to you benefited from being employees and had the sort of perks you'd expect from a full-time job. 

When capital moves freely across borders but labor stays put, inequality is bound to grow. Disparity in wealth and opportunith is a major cause of civil unrest around the world. Rather than wait for politicians to change laws, CEOs can take action to change this by voluntarily imroving the working conditions of those at the base of the supply chain. 

Pope Francis wrote in his exhortation "just as the Bible says 'thou shalt not kill' we must also say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion." He's an outspoken reformer, challenging leaders to eradicate poverty by changing the economic systems that keep people poor. Just before my visit, the Vatican held its first impact investing conference.

 
After the Forum, the group stayed an extra day to share our commitments with Pope Francis, who patiently greeted each of us. As he looked into my eyes, I felt even more strongly committed to the core principles of social business: enterprises that put people and planet above profit. 

This season, even if you're not a business owner or politician, you can create change by voting with your dollars. Pope Francis told many of us when we thanked him for all his work to save the world, "pray for me." Pray with your dollars. Choose gifts from companies that make the world better by paying workers fairly, sourcing materials ethically, and preserving the environment. 

Happy holidays,
Leila




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