After a tough stint in the public eye due to scandals at Enron, WorldCom, and other companies, corporate America seems to be emerging from a period of inward reflection on corporate governance practices to engage in public policy issues.
From advocating concrete steps toward greater energy conservation with the recent formation of the US Climate Action Partnership to working to improve the US' image abroad based on issues discussed at a joint State Department-private sector summit in January, companies and their leaders are talking these days about much more than their own products, services, and revenues.
They're talking about global warming, improving educational systems, immigration re- form, and other key issues of our time that have no easy answers. Certainly, solutions proposed by corporate executives stem, in part, from self-interest. They may also be influenced by shareholder activists, NGOs, and other traditionally less-powerful voices that, thanks to the pervasiveness of the Web, can today be more loudly heard.
As noted by Johanna Schneider, executive director of external relations for the Business Roundtable, a DC trade group comprising more than 160 CEOs, business executives are becoming more involved than ever in global public policy issues if only because globalization drives the development of business today. That involvement, moreover, is increasingly collaborative because issues that in the past might have seemed distinct - labor, immigration, education, trade - are, in fact, interrelated.
Combine the rapidly forming business coalitions on public policy issues with the growing influence from concerned individuals, and what begins to emerge is something like a return to the old days of the general store, where customers could gather around the stove and build consensus about town affairs.