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Social Impact Authors: How & Why Simon Mainwaring Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

I’m aiming to have readers understand that over the past decade, a coalescing of crises — environmental, political, social, economic, etc. — has created a perfect storm for devastation in our future; that business-as-usual will cause us to face multiple interrelated crises; that the business community is perfectly positioned with the will, the resources, and the unique responsibility to be the vanguard solving these problems at scale in ways that also drive business. For this to happen, everyone must Lead.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Simon Mainwaring.

Simon Mainwaring is founder & CEO of We First, a strategic consultancy accelerating growth and impact for purpose-driven brands and author of LEAD WITH WE: The Business Revolution That Will Save Our Future. He’s a member of the Steering Committee of Sustainable Brands, the Forbes Business Council and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Simon was a Jury Member at the Cannes Lions Festival for the Sustainable Development Goals and Featured Expert Speaker in 2021 and his company, We First, is included in Real Leaders list for the Top 100 Impact Companies in the US and B Corp ‘Best for the World’ honoree for 2021. His first book, We First was a New York Times bestseller and named Best Marketing Book of the Year by strategy+business. He hosts the Lead With We podcast and connects @SimonMainwaring.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory? When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

As an Australian kid, I spent most of my time sprawled on the beach reading books that captured my imagination. To this day, I’m not sure why, but I was always drawn to writers or orators that moved people in simple, powerful and often poetic ways. There was musicality, emotion and rhythm to their language, and it seemed this rare combination of elements spoke more directly to the human heart. So the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech — about hope and optimism in the face of a seemingly insurmountable challenge — exerted a deep impact on me. As did JFK’s Moon Shot speech that ignited a nation around innovation and the space race. It wasn’t so much about who that writer or speaker was, but rather how they gave expression to what everyone was feeling, almost like a cultural unlock that then made the transformation possible. To this day, I feel this ability to give expression to aspirational, collective will is the foundation for my commitment to a more unified and inclusive We.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Funny in hindsight perhaps, but there was one occasion where I was invited to a special event in the Middle East to discuss the power of social media to build bridges. Through poor planning, my luggage didn’t arrive. So the night before I had an important meeting with dignitaries, I had no choice but to go down to the hotel gift shop and buy the only shirt, suit and tie that was left. We all know the one that’s sat there for years unsold for good reason. So I turned up the next morning in an eye-watering, oversized suit that made me look like a color-blind rodeo clown. Eyebrows were raised. Nothing was said. I was mortified.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

I’m aiming to have readers understand that over the past decade, a coalescing of crises — environmental, political, social, economic, etc. — has created a perfect storm for devastation in our future; that business-as-usual will cause us to face multiple interrelated crises; that the business community is perfectly positioned with the will, the resources, and the unique responsibility to be the vanguard solving these problems at scale in ways that also drive business. For this to happen, everyone must Lead.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

It’s all interesting! But the first thing that comes to mind is Orbia (formerly Mexichem), a company with $7 billion in revenue whose reach encompasses industries and sectors across half the world. Instead of creating a purpose-focused tagline or simple logo, Orbia shares its story through what it calls an ImpactMark. Radically committed to the power of transparency, Orbia’s insignia isn’t static, but constantly in flux. It highlights the organization it wants to be and marks its progress toward that aspiration. So, Orbia’s ImpactMark is updated every year, reflecting its performance in key areas. Its ragged three loops indicate its three most recent years. And as the company does better in the future, the lines will progress outward, smoothing into stable shapes. “We’re constantly striving, trying to make a perfect circle,” the company says, “knowing we’ll never achieve perfection.” Inspiring.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

Having worked all over as an ad guy for different brands in Australia, Europe and the U.S., I found myself questioning why I was left unfulfilled by simply selling stuff. My career, as fortunate as I was, left me feeling empty. What I was looking for was meaning in my work. Then after the global economic meltdown of 2007-’08, I read the speech that Bill Gates gave at the WEF, his now-famous “Creative Capitalism” speech. Gates argued the private sector must play a bigger role in social change. So I wrote my first book, “We First,” to answer that challenge and launched my company by the same name to make it possible.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I’ve been lucky to work with many of the world’s top brands and their leadership, who influence hundreds of millions of people around the world. But it’s the people I won’t know, the generations to come — especially those who will exist long after I’m gone — that I most want to serve. That’s our intergenerational responsibility.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Business — our mindsets and behaviors as both leaders and consumers — must evolve in ways that align with practices that regenerate and protect the natural world.
  2. Our future depends entirely on collaborative leadership — purpose, movement-making, partnership, and community are all the fundamental dynamics of a regenerative ecosystem, as well as business and societal growth and impact.
  3. All entities are “shareholders” in our collective future, so we must all — brands, leaders, consumers, employees, suppliers, investors, policymakers, etc. — co-write, co-create, and co-own the solutions.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is the profound and enduring assumption of responsibility for the well-being of others and the natural world on which all of our futures depend. In practice this means always asking this three-part question whenever you make a decision; how do I LEAD; what’s the widest number of stakeholders I can do that With; and what’s the largest We I can positively impact.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. You are enough: Instead of circling the globe looking for external validation of my own worth, look inward from the start.
  2. Align what you do and who you are: Then you’ll stop worrying about what others are doing and succeed on the strength of your own authenticity.
  3. The story is bigger than you: Whenever you are scared or feel out of your depth, remember you are there to serve something much larger than yourself.
  4. There is no substitute for hard work: As challenges and missteps arrive, all you can do is literally work through them.
  5. This is not about doing something new but remembering what we forgot: The innate goodness of human beings and our connection to the natural world is hard-wired within us.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I love Dawna Markova’s profound poem, “I will not die an unlived life.” It’s such a powerful affirmation of everyone’s ability to choose how they show up in life. That, and Theodore Roosevelt’s ‘Wo/Man in the Arena.’ Addition mine.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.

Former President, Barack Obama, to talk about the power of language to rewrite our future.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

LeadWithWe.com / WeFirstBranding.com / SimonMainwaring.com

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Thank you!


Social Impact Authors: How & Why Simon Mainwaring Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.