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 / Summer 2006 / Issue 43(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Megacommunity Manifesto

Enduring Leadership
A megacommunity is a living entity. It is continually challenged to absorb new players; the current high turnover rate for heads of corporations and NGOs means that new leaders are always entering the system. There are also changes in government to assimilate and, perhaps most profoundly, changes in issues and goals. For example, once the requisite green coal plants are built in Veneto, will that be enough? Or will the leaders who came together for that project then use the relationships they built to turn their attention to other forms of economic and environmental development? Inevitably, the leaders of a megacommunity find ways to respond to change, rapidly and elegantly shifting their maps of the system to keep it up-to-date.

Participation in megacommunities will pose different challenges for each of the three sectors. Business leaders will have to align the imperatives of the outside world with their immediate agendas (such as profitability and shareholder returns). Successful corporate leaders will learn to explain to shareholders and stock analysts the ways in which a commitment to a megacommunity — for example, helping to build managerial capabilities among the schools and NGOs with which they work — is essential for realizing the company’s financial priorities. Farsighted companies learned long ago to develop better capacity for management along their supply chain; now they will be called to do the same with their megacommunity partners.

Businesses in sectors that have a great effect on the community at large — sectors such as energy, transportation, and media — may find themselves asked to join in conceiving and creating the infrastructure of the future. This is a rare opportunity for companies to not just comply with the public interest, but lead it. However, such an undertaking will also require a “listening and learning” orientation, and a kind of humility that is very different from the high-flying business ethic we saw in the last decade. “The end of the Internet era swept away the stereotype of the aggressive business leader who owned a sailing boat, who was very clever in buying and selling,” says Elio Catania, CEO and chairman of Italian railway company Ferrovie dello Stato. “That era has been replaced by a strong and urgent need for a different set of unchangeable values.”

Politicians and public-sector leaders, who in the past considered themselves uniquely positioned to act, must learn to acknowledge the fact that even if they have all the answers to a problem, they cannot fully control the solution. Government service, although still a magnet for ambitious people, no longer automatically attracts the most capable college graduates. In many countries, the best and brightest, attracted by larger salaries or greater independence, are turning to careers in the private sector or civil society. It has become fashionable in many circles to argue against government, but government still retains the role of mediating between the mercantile fallout of globalization (the fluctuations of prices and currencies) and the population’s need for stability and security. It is thus in everyone’s best interest, including the best interest of business and civil society, to have an effective, capable, and enlightened public sector. Fortunately, a new generation of political leaders is maturing, knowledgeable about globalization and ready for new solutions. In this type of cross-sector work, they will find their voice.

Many leaders of NGOs have spent years trying to be heard. But now they have unprecedented voice and influence. It is NGOs that often set the terms of public debate in both government and business spheres. For example, concerns about land mine safety, child and sweatshop labor, and government misappropriation of private land went largely unheard until NGOs took up those causes.

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  1. Juanita Brown and David Isaacs, The World Café: Shaping Our Futures through Conversations That Matter (Berrett-Koehler, 2005): Megacommunity-oriented methodology.
  2. Amitai Etzioni, From Empire to Community: A New Approach to Industrial Relations (Palgrave, 2004): The founder of communitarianism posits a global society with megacommunity-like qualities.
  3. William Isaacs, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together (Currency Doubleday, 1999): Theory and practice for conversations across boundaries.
  4. Jane Jacobs, Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics (Random House, 1992): Why political (guardian) and business (trader) leaders routinely misunderstand each other.
  5. Art Kleiner, “Daniel Yankelovich: The Thought Leader Interview,” s+b, Fall 2005: Illuminates the corporate role in broader engagement and the value of dialogue. Click here.
  6. Art Kleiner, “The Dilemma Doctors,” s+b, Second Quarter 2001: Profile of cultural researchers Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner includes a more complete explanation of “universalism.” Click here.
  7. Beth Kytle and John G. Ruggie, “Corporate Social Responsibility as Risk Management,” Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative Working Paper no. 4, March 2005: Strategies for managing the “social risk” that is possible when corporations and civil society meet. Click here.
  8. John Larkin, Ellen Knebel, and Joshua Trevino, “How MNCs Can Fight the War on HIV/AIDS,” s+b, Winter 2004: Corporate role and rationale for getting involved in a highly complex problem. Click here.
  9. George Lodge and Craig Wilson, A Corporate Solution to Global Poverty: How Multinationals Can Help the Poor and Invigorate Their Own Legitimacy (Princeton University Press, 2006): Harvard professor and International Finance Corporation economist propose a “World Development Corporation” to bring the three sectors together on poverty reduction — in effect, through megacommunities.
  10. “Urban Enterprise Initiative” Web page, William J. Clinton Foundation: Site for the former Harlem Small Business Initiative. Click here.
  11. For more business thought leadership, sign up for s+b’s RSS feeds. Click here.
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