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Investor Voice:  “A Third Force”

The activities of Investor Voice* were profiled extensively in the award-winning book: The Responsible Business: Reimagining Sustainability & Success by Carol Sanford.

The following passage is excerpted from the The Future of Responsibility chapter. It offers a view into how and why Investor Voice does what it does, and introduces a “third force” framework for understanding our work.

Most people seeking to bring about change work from a two-force model of the world. There is the “right way” and there is the “wrong way.” To get others to see the right way, they advocate, demonstrate, lobby, and interfere. Although there are certainly times to use these approaches, when they become a steady diet people tune them out. The two-force, wrong-way-right-way view results in an increasingly uncivil discourse and distressingly polarized characterizations of all subjects of importance, including the way mainstream media and politics attempt to grapple with urgent social and planetary issues.

There is another model that introduces a third force of shared values through which differences can be reconciled. This third force always seeks a higher ground from which both sides in a conflict are recognized, valued, and integrated. It usually depends on seeking common purpose in serving some larger good. Strong and enduring relationships are grounded in the recognition that everyone does better when they look beyond narrow self-interest to something larger and more important.

I am impressed by a recent movement, called shareholder advocacy, that uses this reconciling approach. Shareholder advocacy requires a great deal of knowledge, critical thinking, and commitment to third-force interventions. One exemplar, Investor Voice, led resolution challenges at Albertsons, DuPont, Intel, and McDonalds to bring issues of concern to shareholders before their boards of directors, offering them the opportunity to vote for responsible change. With each of these challenges, Investor Voice sought reconciliation between the desire to maximize shareholder value and the desire to “do the right thing” through introducing the third force of brand integrity in the public’s perception.

In each of these cases, it was not the threat of exposure and lawsuits that transformed policy but a real and meaningful demonstration of the possible effects on stakeholder trust and brand equity. Trust and equity are the means through which investors gain a secure return over time, and their vigilance in protecting them is a contribution to overall corporate health.

This kind of vigilance serves not only the interests of stakeholders but also makes an essential contribution toward overall corporate responsibility. Because so many boards of directors and shareholders have abdicated their education and self-accountability role, it has fallen increasingly to activists. However, most activists lack a basic understanding about how corporate change really comes about. Without it, their road is likely to be long, painful, and full of disappointment, regardless of how honorable or righteous their cause.

Bruce Herbert and Larry Dohrs are…  major player[s] in the shareholder advocacy movement… [who seek] open dialogue to find more creative approaches and ensure that shared values are considered.  [This dialog] does not attempt to intervene in how companies are run; that is management’s job.  Instead, it brings attention to the effects of decisions and practices on all stakeholders, particularly shareholders.

*Note: since publication of The Responsible BusinessInvestor Voice succeeded to the shareholder activities of Newground and is, therefore, identified in this excerpt in place of Newground Social Investment.