Conference theme: Systemic Change
The main theme of the 2023 IPSERA relates to social impact supply chains. Despite mounting institutional and stakeholder pressure for responsible supply chains that contribute to solving urgent environmental and social issues, traditional corporate actors seem often incapable of meeting the challenge. There are likely multiple factors to explain the inertia to change, ranging from corporate strategy to policy making, from cognition to performance management. But as purchasing and supply chain management scholars, we can have a key role in understanding how companies can provide solutions to environmental and social challenges. We are used to the complexity and fragmentation of supply chains, we embrace stakeholders’ diversity, we know the value that might stem from inter-organizational relationships, we understand networks characteristics that might foster or impede sustainable innovation. As a wicked problem sustainability is, we have the know-how and tools to keep up with the task.
A sustainable, scalable solution requires that companies help create a new ecosystem that replaces economically and socially inefficient supply chains with ones that are capable of regenerating the ecosystem and ensure equality while remaining economically viable. Sometimes companies are not ambitious enough. Instead of trying to fix local problems, corporations need to reimagine the regional ecosystems in which they participate if they are to bring less powerful actors into the mainstream economy. Companies should search for systemic, multisector opportunities, mobilize complementary partners, and obtain seed and scale-up financing. Instead of relegate sustainability to a dedicated budget, they should embed it into the corporate strategy. The aim is not to incrementally upgrade an existing system but, rather, to unleash market-based forces to create a new ecosystem that is economically self-sustaining and organically growing.
In this endeavour traditional business actors are not alone: A multitude of non-market actors are joining the effort and becoming brokers, catalyzers, providers of complementary assets. Third parties like service providers, NGOs, meta-organizations, can help develop the new ecosystem and drive pilot projects and scale-up before passing the baton to the sustaining market players. To this end, new measurement and governance systems can build commitment, monitor progress, and sustain alignment among the key players involved in creating a new equilibrium.