Q&A: Valuing more than profits with ‘conscious capitalism’

Kim Graham Lee was advocating for and practicing what’s known as “conscious capitalism” decades before she even knew there was a term for it.

Then several years ago, she learned about an international not-for-profit called Conscious Capitalism that promotes the concept, and in fall 2017, she launched the Indianapolis chapter of the organization.

She is still president of the group, which is run almost entirely by volunteers, including her. Her “day job” is CEO of Integrating Women Leaders.

Can you explain what “conscious capitalism” means?

It’s an international movement that started within the last decade. … Simply put, it’s a better way to do business. … There are four tenets to it—the first is that there is a higher purpose to business, and it’s a purpose that co-exists with profits.

The second one is a stakeholder orientation—that there really is this ecosystem of stakeholders that you need to consider when running your business. Shareholders are certainly one of them. But there are others—employees, customers, the environment, the community at large.

The third tenet is that you have conscious leaders that believe in the purpose, promote the values and really are driven to lead those organizations in that way.

And then the fourth tenet is that those leaders help create and continue a conscious culture.

This sounds similar to corporate social responsibility. What’s the difference?

There is a lot of debate around terms. I think what has happened with corporate social responsibility, I think it’s a more narrow perspective. … Whereas, when you’re talking about conscious capitalism, it’s about your whole stakeholder ecosystem.

I just don’t want us to get caught up on labels and impede progress.

What kind of reaction do you get from company leaders when you talk about this?

I think they’re excited that there is a framework and kind of an underlying organization. It’s like, “This is what I believe, too, and oh my gosh, this is a place for me to be with other like-minded leaders.”

Tell me more about the quarterly events the organization hosts.

We typically will have a speaker or a panel, but we also have really interactive exercises with learnings and takeaways. We really try to have facilitated networking and connecting as part of it, but education and learning along the way, too … just trying to create an impactful and inspiring experience.

How big is the Indianapolis chapter?

Our leadership team is seven people. … Our database of who is receiving communications from us and is invited to these events, probably, I would guess today, is approaching 1,000.

What are your goals for the next year and beyond?

It’d be awesome to do a study: How conscious is the Indianapolis business community?

We definitely want to have some stronger ties to colleges—the business students, the leaders of organizations in the future. We’re calling this next year a little bit the year of experimentation as we add other things. We’ve talked about book clubs and trying to really facilitate ways for members in this bigger community of our chapter to break down and get to know each other even more closely and support each other.

We also have a goal—there is an annual conference [for Conscious Capitalism]—we would love to be able to showcase Indianapolis as the host of one of the annual conferences over the next few years.

You’ve hired one part-time employee. Do you see more hiring in the future?

The honest answer is, I don’t know. I’d certainly like to say “yes” to that question.•

—Lindsey Erdody

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