After several years leading corporate and social responsibility initiatives at Benetton Group, I'm about to move to New York in a new role at the United Nations, seeking and building partnerships with third party organisations to help address many of the biggest issues facing our world.
It's fashionable to bash big corporations and be sceptical about their societal impact but, based on my own experiences, I really do believe global companies can make world a better place. Today they expect to be active as stakeholders, making a concrete contribution towards human rights or protecting the environment through their behaviors and operations - rather than simply through philanthropy, as in the past.
Their impact on local communities can be very significant - and positive - which is why it's crucial for companies and the private sector in general to take a real role in partnerships targeting societal issues on the global agenda, within the Sustainable Development Goals. Indeed this often requires multi-stakeholder engagement: Civil society, NGOs, Institutions, the local communities, consumers. Only by having all of them on board it is possible to bring about lasting changes.
Benetton has been trying to follow this approach in order to help make the world better - following an instinct that is deep in its DNA. This is a company that several decades ago started launching provocative messages against discrimination (when everybody was still very shy about speaking out on such things) and directing this message to youth, the real agents of social change.
But changing the world takes more than communications. If companies really want to make a difference they must have something concrete to offer on sustainability and social issues. Benetton has been, and is still doing, a huge amount of work around sustainability throughout its supply chains. I really believe that only once a company has become a credible agent of change can it become a credible partner for development.
At Benetton we have also experimented with innovative ways of partnering - for example with the United Nations. For example, the UNHCR wanted to communicate statelessness but wasn't able to to build widespread public awareness of the fact that millions of people in the world practically do not exist as a result of having no state. Benetton's strength in global communications helped to put this issue in the public eye and so helped international support to end statelessness.
Another good example is the UNHATE Foundation, set up to implement programmes and projects addressing social issues highlighted in Benetton's campaigns. The foundation has supported a wide variety of global projects that have nothing to do directly with the business of the company but can help to make a real impact on communities by supporting positive actions - such as ending violence against women in public places in Africa.
International Institutions like the UN are now looking for credible business partners to open a dialogue - which actually started many years ago - and now needs to be more focused and results oriented. But private sector partners must earn their credibility, based on their own actions and initiatives to bring about real change, shown in a transparent way to all the stakeholders.
No company can any longer behave as a lonely planet. Instead, businesses must make every effort to engage with other stakeholders and build virtuous alliances of real benefit to people and society.