09/20/2013 07:10 pm ET Updated Nov 20, 2013

UN Global Compact Leaders Summit: 'Architects of a Better World' -- Join Us!

"Join us, and together we will build a better world for all to prosper," was the message at this week's high-spirited UN Global Compact Leaders Summit that included heads of global corporations, NGOs, and intergovernmental organizations. "Too many businesses are still sitting on the fence," said Georg Kell, Executive Director, UN Global Compact (UNGC), when we met earlier last week. "8,000 companies participate in the UN Global Compact, but when we grow to include 20,000, then we'll have reached a critical mass."

UNGC companies agree to ten principles in the areas of human rights, labor, the environment, and anti-corruption. Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever; Robert Collymore, CEO, Safaricom; and Guler Sabanci, CEO, Sabanci Holding addressed this morning's packed audience about building a sustainable future that benefits all of us. Investors seem to be catching on. The UNGC reported that during the past year, its participants showed a total investment return of 26.4 percent, surpassing the 22.1 percent of the general global stock market. (There are $30 trillion more reasons for companies to be sustainable too.)

Summit speakers were compelling, because they spoke from experience about the win-win of building a better world. When Paul Polman addressed us, we understood that Unilever saves children from illness and disease, while profiting from selling soap and teaching families to wash their hands. When Robert Collymore stood up, we realized that Safaricom provides mobile banking to the unbanked poor, while profiting in a highly competitive market. Panelists spoke from personal experiences about listening to customers--from all walks of life; the "journey" they are on to build a better world; innovation; and partnerships. John Ruggie, who developed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights talked about the "sheer force of example." UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reminded us that "individual actions count." And Paul Polman cautioned that "to be a leader, be a human being."

Sharing the perspective of an NGO that partners with companies, Jacqueline Novogratz, founder, president and CEO of Acumen explained the long-term payoffs of "patient capital." With patient capital, Acumen helps entrepreneurs in Africa to launch and expand companies that deliver critical goods and services to low-income people in the areas of energy, water, sanitation, and agriculture. Novogratz stressed the importance of working across sectors and ideologies to provide the infrastructures that will improve the lives of entire communities. When Acumen's portfolio of companies succeed, the community thrives. Regional economic development is good for big business; it translates into customers, employees, and so on.

At the Leaders Summit, we met the pioneers who are leading by example and shining a light on the path for more companies to participate in the UN Global Compact. Read about it here and do join in building a better, more sustainable, and more prosperous world for all.