, Volume 85, Issue 1 Supplement, pp 59-71
Date: 24 Sep 2008

Responsible Leaders as Agents of World Benefit: Learnings from “Project Ulysses”

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There is widespread agreement in both business and society that MNCs have an enormous potential for contributing to the betterment of the world (WBCSD: 2006, From Challenge to Opportunity. in L. Timberlake (ed.), A paper from the Tomorrow’s Leaders Group of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development). In␣fact, a discussion has evolved around the role of “Business as an Agent of World Benefit.”1 At the same time, there is also growing willingness among business leaders to spend time, expertise, and resources to help solve some of the most pressing problems in the world, such as global warming, poverty, HIV/AIDS, and other pandemic diseases. One example of business leaders engagement in citizenship activities is PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PwC) leadership development program called “Project Ulysses” which we present and discuss in this article. Using a narrative approach we ask: “What can business leaders learn from selected Ulysses narratives for acting as agents of world benefit and with respect to engaging responsibly in the fight against some of the most pressing social problems at the local level?” Our contribution is organized as follows. We begin the article with a brief discussion on the role of business leaders in the fight against world’s social problems and address some areas of concern as to whether or not business leaders should play a role in fighting these global issues. We then introduce “Project Ulysses” which takes place in cross-sector partnership in developing countries. Following an overview of the research methodology we present four Ulysses narratives which tell us about learnings in the light of fundamental human problems, such as poverty and misery. Each story is analyzed with regard to the above question. We conclude the article by summarizing key lessons learned and some recommendations for business leaders as agents of world benefit.