2016-17 General Bulletin

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Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit

The Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit exists to advance the scholarship and practice of flourishing enterprise. It is allied with like-minded initiatives helping all institutions create prosperity while nourishing human and natural systems.

Flourishing Enterprise is about people being inspired every day and bringing their whole selves to work; it’s about innovation arising from everywhere; and it’s about realizing remarkable relationship value with stakeholders—customers, employees, communities, and the biosphere—to create unprecedented, enduring business advantage.
— David Cooperrider

The Fowler Center’s primary focus is on for-profit organizations that use their core activities to create value for society and the environment in ways that create even more value for their customers and shareholders; its primary vehicle for effecting change is Positive Organizational Science and Appreciative Inquiry. We are drawing on expertise and tools such as design, sustainable value, Appreciative Inquiry, and systems thinking to build and maintain prosperity and flourishing.

The Fowler Center works selectively with nonprofits, cities and regions where doing so advances flourishing. It does not place emphasis on adjacent domains such as business ethics, governance, green business or social responsibility when it is part of a loss-making venture, or charity and philanthropy. A tight strategic focus ensures the development of distinctive capabilities and a recognizable brand for a relatively small center in a mid-sized management school with an influence bigger than its size.

Underlying the Fowler Center’s strategic positioning are two mental models that represent an important shift from current thinking in most business organizations. The first mental model shifts best practices in making the business case for sustainability:

  1. From bolt-on to embedded strategies
  2. From incremental change to radical innovation
  3. From doing less harm to “net positive” impact
  4. From serving the well-off to socially inclusive
  5. From pilot mode to scaling system change

The second mental model shifts the corporate mindset, values, and culture of sustainability:

  1. From an exclusively left-brain analytic approach to one that embraces emotional and spiritual intelligence.
  2. From treating people as fungible economic resources to creating personal wellbeing and flourishing in the workplace.

Companies embracing the notion of “full-spectrum flourishing” as part of their business strategy have seen huge benefits to their bottom line. These findings are reported in recent publications such as Firms of Endearment (2013), Reinventing Organizations (2014), and Flourishing Enterprise (2014).

The Fowler Center advances extraordinary business innovation and social entrepreneurship by turning the social and global issues of our day into business opportunity, much as Peter F. Drucker envisioned toward the end of his life. The Center practices, researches, and supports initiatives based on whole-system design for advancing the 'how-to' of flourishing enterprise, and works with businesses, organizations, industries, and economic regions to discover the power and promise of flourishing as an innovation engine for doing good and doing well.

Portfolio of activities

The Fowler Center conducts research and outreach to support its three major initiatives.

  1. The Global Forum for Business as an Agent of World Benefit series: convenes business and thought leaders from all over the world every three years to contribute to a tipping point in business as a force for good.
  2. AIM2Flourish: showcases breakthrough innovations that honor and scale the best of business throughout the world in partnership with the UN Global Compact's 580 PRME schools.
  3. The Strategic Innovation Lab: catalyzes and supports the transition to a new U.S. Grand Strategy and prepares a new generation of strategic leaders.

The research activities continue the Fowler Center’s 12+ year effort to collect stories in the World Innovation Bank on sustainable business with over 3,000 interviews and 200+ published cases. It conducts research and writing of teaching cases as well as books, book chapters, and journal articles on Appreciative Inquiry, sustainable value, design, embedded sustainability and flourishing enterprise. To carry out its agenda, the Fowler Center relies in part on its Fowler Center Fellows and Distinguished Fellows.

The outreach activities seek to engage businesses through various outreach projects such as Appreciative Inquiry Summits and Sustainable Value workshops. When “in scope” and financially advantageous, the Fowler Center provides advisory services to companies who are looking to further integrate sustainability into their businesses.

The leadership of the Fowler Center is built on the vision and work of David Cooperrider, Ron Fry, Chris Laszlo, Rob Widing, Fred Collopy and faculty at the Weatherhead School of Management. Effective action requires ongoing close collaboration with these and other leaders in the CWRU community.

To learn more or to find out how you or your organization can get involved with the Fowler Center, visit our website or contact the Fowler Center at 216.368.2160.