The 7th International Conference Emerging Markets 2020 has concluded its work. It was organised by the Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University in partnership with: The Academy of Business in Society (ABIS), a global network of over 100 companies and academic institutions whose expertise, commitment and resources are leveraged to invest in a more sustainable future for business in society; Caux Round Table, an international organisation of senior business executives aiming to promote ethical business practice; and GEM&L, an international group of scholars and professionals focused on issues of language and communication in the world of business.

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The 7th International Emerging Markets Conference 2020 was attended by 370 scholars and researchers, representing 57 universities and business schools from 24 countries.

Why is it that business not only should, but must be socially responsible? Does the COVID19 pandemic constitute an extraordinary event? Has the concept of capitalism incriminated itself? What is the relationship between competition and cooperation? We discussed these questions with Yury Blagov, a chairman of the ‘Business in Society’ conference track. Yury Blagov is the Director of the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Center for Corporate Social Responsibility and Associate Professor of the Department of Strategic and International Management at St Petersburg University.

Mr Blagov, could you single out presentations and discussions that attracted your particular attention at the Conference?

This year, it was the ‘Business in Society’ track that opened the main programme of the International Conference Emerging Markets 2020. It was a very significant event for us as it enabled us to show the academic and business communities what we are doing in the Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University. We could also see for ourselves how our research compares with the national and global levels. Besides, it was important for promoting our partnerships. For a few years, we design our ‘Business in Society’ track in collaboration with one of the leading international associations – The Academy of Business in Society (ABIS). This usually ensures a high level of research papers and a wide variety of participants. This year, the ‘Business in Society’ track programme featured 17 papers presented by scholars and experts from 14 business schools and universities from nine countries. The geographical diversity of the participants was impressive. Alongside Russians, the researchers taking part in the event were from: Poland; China; Austria; Tunisia; Chile; Spain; Mexico; and India. This allowed us to focus our discussion on the analysis of emerging markets. Indeed, people from the emerging markets countries have firsthand experience with their specificities. As for the general theme and breakthrough presentations, I have good news for you. There were no breakthrough performances. Why is that good news? The changes and crisis phenomena, which are currently associated mainly with the COVID-19 pandemic, have been studied by our corporate sustainability strategists for a long time. In this respect, the pandemic is a tragedy; but, alas, it is only a particular case of the worsening of global issues. In fact, businesses have been facing many of these challenges for years and were merely forced to adapt.

The key word here is ‘forced’. Whether companies want it or not, whether they adhere to the ethical standards for business or not, adjusting to the rapid changes in society and markets became a matter of survival for them.

What are these changes?

Today the global scientific and scholarly community – and not only in natural sciences, but also in management – agree that such global issues as climate change and loss of biodiversity are much larger, more salient, and even more catastrophic than one might expect. This was highlighted during our discussions. Rafael Sardá, an environmental scientist, representing the Spanish National Research Council, and a lecturer at the ESADE business school, embodies this new unity. Mr Sardá emphasised that the relationship between business, society and nature had reached a new qualitative level. Business is an element of human society, which is, in turn, a part of a joint society-nature system, and these are not just platitudes. It is a grim reality, because at present, ecological concerns and environmental issues are permeating all the aspects of our system of civilisation.

A few years ago, the main question on the agenda was: to what extent were these changes driven by anthropogenic disturbance – are humans to blame? This was a burning issue for the Russian economy, which is mostly associated with the extraction of energy resources. There is no point in debating this question any more. Because there is no ‘Rewind button’ to reverse the situation – most of the changes are irreversible. In this regard, such reasoning as: ‘thanks to’ the pandemic, there are fewer flights, hence fewer carbon emissions, are mere speculations. I repeat, for most aspects, especially those relevant to climate, changes are irreversible. Besides, the causes are not limited to human impact.

Does it appear to be too late to finger the guilty party? Is it time we figured out how to deal with the situation?

Our dear colleague from Poland – Bolesław Rok from Kozminski University – spoke in his speech about the relevance of the ‘build back better’ (BBB) approach. The main idea of this approach is that at the moment many people feel scared by the new reality. They wish to return to the state when they felt safe and had a sense of control over their lives and wellbeing. Life is filled with anxiety and fear – if only I could wake up and find myself in the yesterday! And we say: it is not enough to rewind the situation. It is necessary not only to restore all systems to normal, but to rebuild them so that they will be adapted to the ‘new normality’ imposed by the worsening of the global problems. The current crisis contains the seeds of opportunity to transform both the economy and society.

At the conference, the Russian-language edition of Moral Capitalism: Reconciling Private Interest with the Public Good by Stephen Young was presented.

This is a very important point. Usually, our track programme includes a few more events for businesses and social entrepreneurs. But as this year we had to move online, we only held a presentation of this iconic book. It was written a long time ago, back in 2003, by Stephen Young, Global Executive Director of the Caux Round Table. It is an international organisation of senior business executives aiming to promote ethical business practices and design appropriate management tools. The Russian-language edition of this book will be published in 2021 by the St Petersburg University Publishing House. It might seem that many years have passed – why are we bringing back the ‘olden days’? The thing is, the ideas and models formulated then have not just passed the test of time. They are in demand today more than ever. Moral business implies mutually beneficial relationships between all stakeholders: consumers, employees, owners, the local community, and the environment, and all these interactions must be based on moral values, including the values of sustainable development.

The full text of the interview can be found here.