The best ideas for sustainable business models come from employees

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Allowing employees to test and learn is critical when developing business models that create both sustainable business profits and social progress, according to Cathryn Carver, member of the Corporate & Institutional Banking leadership team at National Australia Bank.

Speaking on the ‘Change the World’ panel at the Shared Value Forum at NAB in Melbourne today, Ms Carver said the best ideas for creating business solutions that not only solve a social challenge but are also commercially viable – a concept known as shared value – come from a company’s own employees.

“Leaders should give their most talented employees the ability to go off to an ‘experiment’ kitchen with a recipe book that helps them test, refine and learn, and come up with share value approaches that will be sustainable in the long term,” Ms Carver said.

“That is how NAB created NAB Assist, how we have approached the development of products like the world’s first Social Bond that specifically supported gender equality in the workplace, and how we came to be the first Australian company on Fortune Magazine’s Change the World List.”

NAB Assist is the former collections unit at NAB, which four years ago transformed its focus to getting customers out of financial hardship. Last year alone, it helped 25,000 personal banking customers in financial hardship and in doing so saved the bank $70 million by reducing loan defaults.

NAB’s other shared value initiatives include working towards factoring soil health, water risk and biodiversity into its credit-rating systems when assessing lending to Australia’s agricultural sector, and supporting Australia’s transition to a low carbon economy via financing clean energy projects.

“Creating change using shared value sounds complicated but it’s actually very simple,” Ms Carver said. “It starts with leadership and with leaders thinking about a problem in a more holistic way.”

“We are on a shared value journey at NAB. We have a real desire to be close to our customers, understand the problems that exist in their worlds and help unlock the answers to those problems because only then can we create sustainability for them and for us.”

Cathryn Carver spoke at the Shared Value Forum alongside Michala Fischer-Hansen, Managing Director Oceania, Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals, Mark Kramer Co-Founder & Managing Director of FSG, and Sara James, Emmy Award-winning foreign correspondent, author and commentator.

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