About the Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit

Vision and Mission

The Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit exists to advance the scholarship and practice of flourishing enterprise. It is allied with like-minded initiatives helping all institutions create prosperity while nourishing human and natural systems.

The flourishing enterprise is about people being inspired every day and bringing their whole selves into the enterprise; it’s about innovation arising from everywhere; and it’s about realizing remarkable relationship value with stakeholders, including customers, communities, and societies, and ultimately with a thriving biosphere.

— David Cooperrider, 2014

The Fowler Center’s primary focus is on for-profit organizations that use their core activities to create value for society and the environment in ways that create even more value for their customers and shareholders; its primary vehicle for effecting change is Positive Organizational Science and Appreciative Inquiry. We are drawing on expertise and tools such as design, sustainable value, Appreciative Inquiry, and systems thinking to build and maintain prosperity and flourishing.

The Fowler Center works selectively with nonprofits, cities, and regions where doing so advances flourishing. It does not place emphasis on adjacent domains such as business ethics, governance, green business or social responsibility when it is part of a loss-making venture, or charity and philanthropy. A tight strategic focus ensures the development of distinctive capabilities and a recognizable brand for a relatively small Center in a mid-sized Management School with an influence bigger than its size. Its strategic positioning is shown in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Strategic positioning of the Fowler Center

Underlying the Fowler Center’s strategic positioning are two mental models1 that represent an important shift from current thinking in most business organizations. The first mental model shifts best practices in making the business case for sustainability:

  1. From bolt-on to embedded strategies
  2. From incremental change to radical innovation
  3. From doing less harm to “net positive” impact
  4. From serving the well-off to socially inclusive
  5. From pilot mode to scaling system change

The second mental model shifts the corporate mindset, values, and culture of sustainability:

  1. From an exclusively left-brain analytic approach to one that embraces emotional and spiritual intelligence.
  2. From treating people as fungible economic resources to creating personal wellbeing and flourishing in the workplace.

Companies embracing the notion of “full-spectrum flourishing” as part of their business strategy have seen huge benefits to their bottom line. These findings are reported in recent publications such as Firms of Endearment (2013), Reinventing Organizations (2014), and Flourishing Enterprise (2014).

The Fowler Center advances extraordinary business innovation and social entrepreneurship by turning the social and global issues of our day into business opportunity, much as Peter F. Drucker envisioned toward the end of his life. The Center practices, researches, and supports initiatives based on whole-system design for advancing the 'how-to' of flourishing enterprise, and works with businesses, organizations, industries, and economic regions to discover the power and promise of flourishing as an innovation engine for doing good and doing well.

Portfolio of activities

The Center conducts research and outreach to support its three major initiatives (shown in Figure 2).

  1. The Global Forum for BAWB series which convenes business and thought leaders from all over the world every three years to contribute to a tipping point in business as a force for good.
  2. AIM2Flourish which showcases breakthrough innovations that honor and scale the best of business throughout the world in partnership with the UN Global Compact's 580 PRME schools.
  3. The Strategic Innovation Lab which catalyzes and supports the transition to a new U.S. Grand Strategy and prepares a new generation of strategic leaders.

The research activities continue the Center’s 12+ year effort to collect stories in the World Innovation Bank on sustainable business with over 3,000 interviews and 200+ published cases. It conducts research and writing of teaching cases as well as books, book chapters, and journal articles on Appreciative Inquiry, sustainable value, design, embedded sustainability, and flourishing enterprise. To carry out its agenda, the Fowler Center relies in part on its Fowler Center Fellows and Distinguished Fellows.

The outreach activities seek to engage businesses through various outreach projects such as Appreciative Inquiry Summits and Sustainable Value workshops. When “in scope” and financially advantageous, the Fowler Center provides advisory services to companies who are looking to further integrate sustainability into their businesses.

Figure 2. Activities of the Fowler Center

Core competencies

Several core competencies are critical to carrying out the Fowler Center’s strategic focus and portfolio of activities. Chief among them is fund raising and the ability to obtain financial sponsorships for the projects and activities of the Fowler Center.

For the research stream, the core competency is thought leadership in researching and publishing high impact works in the field of management. It includes:

For the outreach stream, the core competency is the ability to engage and lead the business community in generating flourishing enterprise at the regional, national and global levels. This requires the ability to fund and lead major projects such as the Global Forums, AIM2Flourish, and the Strategic Innovation Lab that engage business leaders in contributing to a tipping point in BAWB. It also entails the ability to sell and manage ongoing projects that generate financial revenue for the Fowler Center year-to-year.

A third core competency is in the area of collaborating, networking, and maintaining partnerships with faculty, business leaders, organizations and social movements sharing similar aims.

A fourth core competency is around marketing and communication, online networking and outreach, as well as the active use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, and Scoop.it.

A fifth core competency is the convening and running of an active Advisory Board composed of eminent business and thought leaders with the vision, power and desire to guide the Fowler Center forward.

Finally, the leadership of the Fowler Center is built on the vision and work of David Cooperrider, Ron Fry, Roger Saillant, Chris Laszlo, Rob Widing, Fred Collopy and faculty at the Weatherhead School. Effective action requires ongoing close collaboration with these and other leaders in the CWRU community.

1 Senge, P. The Fifth Discipline. Doubleday, 1990 defines mental models as “deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures of images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.”