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 / Autumn 2010 / Issue 60(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Megacommunity Approach to Tackling the World’s Toughest Problems

Enel has enhanced its marketing efforts with innovative IT and software, specifically in the way it monitors and measures consensus, and also in the way the data and know-how are shared throughout the company, across functions, and with the CEO. Previously, such information was stored in separate silos within the company, which often proved to be counterproductive.

One of the biggest changes happening in the energy sector is the renaissance of nuclear energy. Enel’s megacommunity experience should prove useful as plans proceed for increased production of nuclear energy. Following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, the Italians passed a referendum abolishing nuclear plants throughout the country. All plants, finished and unfinished, were shut down. That referendum has now been amended, or more precisely, bypassed, by a new law that allows nuclear energy production. The government is currently in the process of identifying the locations where new nuclear plants will be built.

“We are working with the methodology and the mind-set of a megacommunity for the new nuclear Italian plan,” Comin says. Through the megacommunity models they have developed, Enel expects to gain a thorough understanding of the public’s view of nuclear energy. And the company hopes to be able to communicate where those views are supported by current scientific research and where they are not. “Our goal is to have maximum consensus,” says Comin.

Enel’s leaders want to use not only the tools of communication and the contacts their megacommunity experience has brought them, but also the goodwill that the initiative has engendered. This was one of the unexpected but welcome side benefits of building a megacommunity.

The megacommunity doctrine has had a positive effect on Enel’s public image. “Since we began the megacommunity,” Comin says, “many things have changed: our market approach, the way we monitor and measure consensus, our approach to our colleagues. All of these have changed the image of Enel. But I think the strong result of a megacommunity is a different approach about our external reality, more of a consciousness about reaching out.” In the highly complex world of energy, Comin finds that Enel is able to inform and educate stakeholders in a much more effective and efficient manner. Enel has become a trusted party in this field, while making it clear that compromises have to be struck to combine growth and prosperity with low-cost energy.

As part of the megacommunity initiative at Enel, the company has joined with Harvard University to promote policymaking on climate change through the Enel Endowment for Environmental Economics. It is also involved in Poste Italiane’s cybersecurity initiative, the Center of Excellence (once again demonstrating that involvement in one megacommunity project begets involvement in another, as the organization’s network, awareness, and definition of success expand). Because Enel is the second-largest utility in the world, covering 23 countries, it has its own type of cybersecurity concerns, especially as the world moves toward an interconnected smart grid.

Enel has also successfully launched a quarterly magazine called Oxygen, in both English and Italian, which promotes awareness of scientific thinking and dialogue and highlights its involvement with the megacommunity. All these commitments have strengthened Enel’s position in its field.

The Future of the Megacommunity

As these organizations’ experiences show, the megacommunity is not an idea that fits into the category often referred to as “corporate social responsibility.” It is a matter of extending a company’s core capabilities to lead in more extensive spheres of policy and action. Poste Italiane, the World Food Programme, and Enel have all found that megacommunity involvement broadens their scope; this involvement has enabled them to see that they’ve been involved in issues of global significance all along. And at the same time, it allows them to begin to solve seemingly intractable problems and to eliminate roadblocks to their own success — even potential problems on their own bottom line.

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  1. Michael Delurey, David Sulek, and Lawrence Frascella, “Convenors of Capability,” s+b, Spring 2008: How a community center founded in Hurricane Katrina’s wake helped bring people the help they needed to rebuild.
  2. Mark Gerencser, Fernando Napolitano, and Reginald Van Lee, “The Megacommunity Manifesto,” s+b, Summer 2006: Why public, private, and civil leaders should confront together the problems that none can solve alone.
  3. Mark Gerencser, Reginald Van Lee, Fernando Napolitano, and Christopher Kelly, Megacommunities: How Leaders of Government, Business, and Non-Profits Can Tackle Today’s Global Challenges Together (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008): The origins, development, and methodologies of the megacommunity concept.
  4. Art Kleiner, “Fulvio Conti: The Thought Leader Interview,” s+b, Autumn 2008: The CEO of the world’s second-largest utility explains how energy companies must reach out to other entities to adapt in a fast-changing global marketplace.
  5. For more thought leadership on this topic, see the s+b website at:
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