Editor’s note: Deirdre White is an internationally recognized leader in building trisector partnerships to address the world’s most pressing challenges. As CEO of PYXERA Global, she has led the transformation of the organization to one that maximizes impact through strategic partnerships. PYXERA Global’s mission is to reinvent how public, private and social interests engage to solve challenges. The organization does this by leveraging the unique strengths of corporations, governments, social sector organizations, educational institutions and individuals to enable people and communities to solve complex problems and attain mutually beneficial goals.
SCM Now Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Rennie recently had the opportunity to interview White. Here, they discuss PYXERA’s trisector partnership model, strategies for getting engagement from executives and boards of directors, the role of supply chain management professionals in creating ethical businesses, and much more.
Rennie: PYXERA Global creates programs that address some of the world’s most pressing challenges. Can you please expand on what challenges you work to address and the key stakeholders involved?
White: Our mission is to reinvent how the public, private and social sectors engage to solve complex challenges. We’ve worked with partners on issues such as the skills gap in education, food security, ocean plastics, building ethical supply chains, and helping business transform to create a more equitable and sustainable future.
Rennie: How does PYXERA Global’s trisector partnership model enable this?
White: We’ve found over the last 30 years, working in more than 90 countries, that trisector partnership is critical to sustainable and scalable social impact. The most pressing problems that the world faces today — COVID-19, structural racism, climate change — are all deeply rooted in systemic challenges that have no respect for borders or sectors. We help leaders connect with one another and innovate for lasting systemic change.
Rennie: The concept of ethical business practices is something that more and more individuals are feeling passionately about these days. However, success really hinges on getting CEOs and boards of directors to make this a priority. What advice would you give our readers about how they can influence their own company leaders in this regard?
White: If we don’t reimagine business with sustainability in mind, we are missing opportunities. My advice to your readers is to have sustainability in mind and commit to maximizing benefits for both business and society. More than ever, employees, customers and communities expect business to act with authenticity and transparency — and to provide a demonstrable positive return for society.
Rennie: PYXERA Global has an ongoing initiative related to the circular economy. Why is adopting a circular model so important for today’s supply chains?
White: In our natural world, all physical matter revolves in an infinite cycle of restoration and regeneration. There is no waste in biological systems; only secondary resources. It therefore makes sense that our global economy should be harmonious with its larger ecological system. But this is not the case. Our linear, take-make-waste platform requires a paradigm shift. The transition to alignment, to a circular economy, must happen now. It’s about how we think, behave and consume. It’s about equitable distribution of resources to avoid straining critical ecosystems and careful attention to the regenerative capacity of nature.
Rennie: What specific strategies do you suggest?
White: We don’t need to find the right answers all at once. But it’s important to ask the right questions: How can we stop extracting raw materials and design out waste? How can we keep materials already in the economy in circulation to avoid consumption at the expense of our natural resources? And how do we get to a state where our economic activity regenerates our natural systems?
Despite the monumental challenges we face, there are awe-inspiring opportunities to correct course, and we should be energized by the prospect. Entrepreneurship is entering its golden age. Technological breakthroughs are hitting their stride at the right time to give humanity the boost it needs. The groundswell of support from consumers, employees and investors who are demanding change promises to disrupt industry and create circular supply chains. Growing public awareness and activism also promise that we’ll elect public leaders who are serious in their commitments to a more sustainable future and willing to make necessary decisions for the sake of future generations.
Rennie: Values-based leadership is critical to efforts like the ones we’re talking about today. Interestingly, we’re seeing considerably more news stories these days about CEOs being fired for ethical reasons rather than financial ones, so it seems that the business community is beginning to shift its focus toward integrity, fairness, and environmental and social responsibility. What are some practical techniques that you used to empower the leaders you work with to voice values and make decisions through a moral lens?
White: We have seen signs that society wants more from CEOs. We have seen this with calls for action around our environment; gun control; and, most recently, structural racism. The expectation now is that we listen to those who are affected by our decisions — and that is a good thing. We encourage leaders to live out their values because that is the only way we can truly communicate and be vulnerable enough with one another to learn from each other and build more effective, diverse and inclusive organizations.
Rennie: I read an article where you said, “Things are much more interconnected than we like to think.” Why do people fail to spot the importance of, and potential within, the interconnected nature of our global networks?
White: We often, sometimes unconsciously, narrowly view a problem through the lens of how it affects us and our own organizations. Therefore, we create solutions that are incomplete and fail to involve the relevant stakeholders and parties that it takes to make real change. The truth is that the problems we face don’t adhere to borders, so our solutions can’t either. This is why cross-sector engagement in so important.
Rennie: As the global supply chain community continues to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, what should companies be doing to ensure recovery efforts keep sustainability, responsibility and ecological stewardship at the forefront of our efforts?
White: We are all reimagining what shape the future will take in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. PYXERA Global’s focus is to help our partners reimagine their core businesses, operations and social impact objectives in order to sustain the critical work their organizations have done with communities. Last year, many of the largest corporations in the world made commitments to lead for all stakeholders. Now is the time, in the wake of this crisis, to make good on those promises and continue to engage with our employees, our customers and our communities with sustainability and the greater good of society in mind.
Rennie: How can supply chain professionals help their organizations cultivate a worldview in order to have a more positive impact?
White: Our worldview is formed by the prevailing cultural influences we experience every day. It is critical for leaders at all levels of an organization to cultivate a corporate environment that embraces change and innovation with sustainability in mind. Supply chain professionals have the unique opportunity to increase competitiveness and customer satisfaction by directly applying sustainable practices to their work, and society is eager to see more ethical supply chains as a means to lasting change.
Rennie: Taking that a step further, how can supply chain professionals make sure to hold themselves and their organizations accountable for ethical, sustainable business choices?
White: Supply chain professionals are in a unique position to set new world-changing standards and, as you said, to hold themselves and others accountable for that vision. Don't miss this unparalleled moment in history when institutional investors, corporate leaders, customers and employees are in unprecedented alignment — and when the world so desperately needs leadership on sustainability. You can put action behind all the grand statements and big promises we have heard to make lasting change across industries and around the world.