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The private sector and society: Evidence of progress

HP Enterprises held its Living Progress Challenge finals event on August 3 and I had the opportunity to attend. At the event, 10 finalists pitched their ideas to solve for the question, “What software applications and digital services would you create to improve people’s lives?”

The majority of pitches were from NGOs. It makes sense: NGOs are in the business of finding ideas to improve people’s lives and they need the support of corporate partners like HP Enterprises to bring their ideas to fruition. Among the winners was a World Wildlife Fund web-based tool that uses trade data to identify illegal fishing and work with law enforcement. Another winner, from Pact, would offer an m-ledger mobile app to help the unbanked form informal credit groups. These were Interesting ideas that would benefit from HP Enterprise’s mentoring and technical support.

HP Enterprises Living Progress Challenge finals

Lara Birkes, HP Enterprise’s Chief Sustainability Officer, announces the winners of the Living Progress Challenge

Equally interesting to me were the reactions of people in attendance. This wasn’t an event to preach to the sustainability converted. Sure, I met NGO and sustainable business leaders, including some impact investors. But there were also innovation and business development consultants, software association professionals and earnest recent grads – all curious to gaze into the soul of HP Enterprises.

What they saw surprised them. They didn’t expect that “a company like HP Enterprises,” as one remarked, whose mainstream brand doesn’t exactly scream “do the right thing,” would spend so much time and effort doing the right thing. The Living Progress Challenge wasn’t a mere donation. Just hosting the contest, which received over 360 ideas, took a considerable commitment. The in-kind support the company pledged to provide over time is just as meaningful – and those in the audience knew it.

So I came to realize that, while “living progress” is HP Enterprise’s theme for sustainability (or as they put it: “a framework for thinking about how we do business”), it’s also a phrase that represents mainstream businesses’ journey toward understanding their relationships with civil society. The good news is that there has indeed been some progress on that front, as HP Enterprises demonstrated.

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