Digital with Purpose: how an ambitious report grew into a global movement

CEO Luis Neves is interviewed by APDC on GeSI and the Digital with Purpose Movement

Published on: Feb 11, 2021 | Written by: Teresa Ribeiro

This article was originally published in Portuguese on APDC's COMUNICAÇÕES Magazine, Issue 237 in February 2021.

Before it took flight, Digital With a Purpose was simply a topical report of a business association, the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI).  Accustomed to anticipating scenarios, the organization led by Luís Neves (CEO) had identified, in a study, a set of negative and positive impacts on the digital sector that it decided to share. The association presented the study in New York, but also in Brussels, where Luís met Ricardo Castanheira, REPER's digital and telecom area coordinator. This was the beginning of an alliance that would eventually materialise at the 2020 Web Summit, with the presence of the Secretary of State for Digital Transition, André Azevedo.

In the words of Luís Neves, this understanding resulted from "a happy coincidence": "Ricardo Castanheira told me that our study coincided with the vision that the Portuguese presidency, the EU presidency had for Europe and that, therefore, it was interesting to see to what extent we could align our business strategy with the Portuguese political strategy and vision for Europe in the digital area. The common perspective was to "put Portugal and the EU on a path, which could be called the third way global, repositioning of Europe in the digital area around the values of ethics and sustainable sustainable development," explains GeSI's CEO.

Vision for 2030
From diagnosis to the constitution of the movement, it was a direction that had not been foreseen before but in the eyes of Luís Neves: "If we want digital technology to be seen as a fundamental technology for the future, the sector has to solve, in a coherent and united way, the negative impacts in terms of privacy management, cybersecurity, the circular economy, and the digital divide. The movement, he says, "appeared as a call to action for the industry to wake up." Through collaboration between the various stakeholders, the goal is to reverse these negative trends, to create conditions so that more and more people have access to access to information and its benefits. At the same at the same time, contribute to solving the big questions that face the future of humanity, such as climate change.

Luís Neves is excited about the interest that Digital With Purpose is awakening, but notes: "This movement is different. It is not a declaration of intentions. It cannot be a vanity fair and empty promises as what happens in so many climate summits where companies come forward and say things like "My goals for 2030 are climate neutrality," when we know that climate neutral is not the same thing as saying: "I have zero emissions."

Determined, Luís Neves is interested in presenting credible results and knows how to do it: "We have a framework composed of a series of indicators that companies have to follow. There is no place for greenwashing. Because this is a walk to the sky: we are developing this process so that sustainability is a factor of competitiveness and progress. In other words, we are going to do something that is good for society, but that is also positive for business and we have our eyes set on 2030."

Atlas of Expectations

Although just newly formed, the movement already has 15 member organisations. As some of them are associations, as is the case of APDC being a member, this means that altogether there are more than 100 companies taking part in Digital With Purpose. But Luís Neves believes that at the end of this first phase, there will be 200 organisations registered.

To move from promises to reality, the entities involved in this movement must follow objectives and allow themselves to be monitored regularly. An independent standard board, made up of credible organisations such as the University of Cambridge, which is leading this process, Columbia University and the Carbon Disclosure Project, among others, ensures the credibility of the framework. There are different levels of accreditation that will be awarded in recognition of the different levels levels of maturity "on the road to heaven." The aim is to encourage companies and enable them to improve their reputation, positioning them to be better in relation to investors and shareholders, given the growing trend towards sustainable finance and the increasing scrutiny of public opinion.

GeSI is a worldwide organisation and the aim of its movement is global, but has a strong European component, now even more pronounced after it has established a special link with the Portuguese government and the Portuguese Presidency of the EU. There is high expectation in relation to the role that Portugal will have in the Digital With Purpose, as it shares the same ideal of associating sustainability to digital and at this moment, it is well positioned to promote this idea. "I would really like", explains Luís Neves, "that in June we bring to the Digital Assembly a significant number of CEOs to support this strategy and this path to Europe." 

Read the original article in Portuguese (pp 21-22) here.

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