Perspectives on the Fourth Sector and Commercial Diplomacy


This blog post was contributed by Amanda Kabonero, Carlos M. Gutierrez Corporate Diplomacy Fellow. 

As leaders around the world scramble in the search for solutions to save declining global economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic, governments have an opportunity to choose how they will emerge from this crisis. The world we left behind in 2019 was already beginning to move towards a more inclusive and more purposeful engagement with capitalism, which considered both people and the planet as equal partners. The pandemic has only amplified this movement and underscored its necessity. Wcannot just build back the global economy. We must build back better economy.  

Global collaboration is the engine of future economic growth. Leaders in business, government and civil society must deviate from the status quo, breaking down silos and sharing best practices to design a future global economy that combines market-based approaches of the private sector with the social and environmental aims of the public and non-profit sectors. This type of collaboration is the crux of the fourth sector movementwhich Meridian has been leading for the last 60 years. 

At Meridian, we have learned that where there is a diplomatic breakthrough in international affairs, there is also a business opportunity – and an obligation for purposeful business leadership. Successful business diplomacy seizes these opportunities while developing deep understanding of the social, political and environmental issues that are intrinsically linked with commercial efforts. 

We have responded to the economic challenges brought on by the pandemic through the Meridian Corporate Council, which fosters the necessary dialogue among leaders in Washington’s foreign diplomatic corps, U.S. Government and the private sector with the aim of identifying areas for collaboration and mutually beneficial solutions, while also nurturing our stakeholders’ commercial interests. In this sense, we are not re-inventing a way of conducting social impact work, but instead leveraging our convening power and nonpartisan platform to bring together traditionally siloed private sector social responsibility efforts with the mission-driven efforts of the public and social sectors. 

While we can’t ignore that private firms have a fiduciary responsibility to their clients, it is possible to simultaneously act in the public interest while still making meaningful efforts to tackle social, public health or environmental problems. 

Embracing this emerging fourth sector area of the economy, where cross-sectoral solutions thrive, is not an attempt to disrupt the way social impact work traditionally has been done. Rather, acknowledging that these efforts are often fragmented creates room for improvement to augment the social impact potential of economic ventures and ultimately build a better economy and more prosperous future for all people and nations.  

Our partnership with Leaders on Purpose (LOP) exemplifies this vision for a better economic future. The fourth sector was top of the agenda for the United Nations 75th General Assembly, as Meridian joined Leaders on Purpose for the CEO Summit, an official UNGA event that brought together CEOs of multinational corporations and international Ambassadors for a day of virtual dialogues with the aim of designing innovative, sustainable and socially responsible solutions to the global economic challenge before us. 

Our world has been so changed since the beginning of the pandemic, and there’s a global financial crisis still unfolding. We need to look at the way our markets operate and build international coalitions to recover,” Her Excellency Bergdís Ellertsdóttir, Ambassador of Iceland to the United States remarked during the LOP Summit.  

For solutions like these to be sustainable and truly have a wide-reaching social impact for people, communities and environments around the world, it requires the expertise, capacity and financing present in both the public and private sectors  

Through Meridian’s Corporate Council, we have engaged several private sector partners in the diplomatic activities underway in Washington. Underscoring our belief in the inclusion of the private sector in addressing global challenges, we recently awarded Ambassador Mike Froman, Vice Chairman and President for Strategic Growth at Mastercard, our 2019 Global Leadership Award, for his work championing the exchange of ideas and solutions across sectors.  

Building the fourth sector, a sustainable and inclusive economy, requires us to go beyond professional sectors and engage civil society as well. Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, recently delivered remarks on the importance of inclusive multilateralism, one that is “based on deep interaction with civil society, businesses, local and regional authorities, and other stakeholders… where the voice of youth is decisive in shaping our future.” Mr. Guterres participated in an International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) that Meridian facilitated in 1978, where he experienced firsthand, in his own young and budding career, how engagement with multiple facets of society is essential for global leadership that transcends borders as well as traditional boundaries between sectors. 

Our approach to global leadership continues today as it did at Meridian’s founding 60 years ago, with the unwavering belief that greater collaboration leads to more sustainable, mutually beneficial solutionsSince the outbreak of COVID-19Meridian has hosted almost 100 virtual programs that have continued to provide a platform for leaders in global business, governments, media and civil society to collaborate and exchangideas on how to build back better – the economy, education, health care, infrastructure, housing, jobs and practically every other facet of our lives that have been disrupted by the virus. Scaling a global response to a crisis requires cross-sector leadership and collaboration on mutually shared issues that can have mutually beneficial solutions. The work underway here at Meridian undoubtedly serves as another test case for the emerging fourth sector now more than ever