The business of building a better world

  • Article by: MARILYN CARLSON NELSON and CHRIS POLICINSKI
  • Updated: July 6, 2014 - 2:00 PM

‘Corporate responsibility’ is not only a good thing to do, it’s also a sustainable way of doing business.

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Land O’Lakes introduced small dairy farming for the first time in Mozambique’s Manica province through the USDA-funded Food for Progress program. The supply of dairy products through the program encouraged local processor DanMoz to buy the plant.

Photo: Land O’Lakes Inc.,

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There’s no doubt that corporate America has had to change the way it does business over the past couple of years given the economic downturn. As we always do, Minnesotans have risen to the challenge to find new opportunities to keep our communities and economy humming.

One of the most important business decisions we have made is to focus on where the markets for our goods and services are growing the fastest, and that’s in some pretty surprising places beyond our shores. Indeed, if companies today are not investing in our less-traditional trading partners in the developing world, then they are missing out on an opportunity to grow.

But it’s not all about profit. While companies have viewed the notion of “corporate responsibility” as simply a good thing to do, it’s now an essential, sustainable way of doing business. In essence, we can do well by doing good. And one of the best allies for business is our U.S. international affairs programs.

When our country assists developing nations, we not only help improve the lives of their citizens, but also ensure American taxpayers continue to see a strong return on their international affairs investment. These smart investments spur economic reform, advance the rule of law and improve governance to give our businesses the solid footing needed to move into global markets. And they create quality jobs here at home.

No one knows this better than the people of Minnesota. Our state has the second-highest rate per capita of large corporate headquarters in the United States, and these are global brands with fast-growing markets overseas. That’s why Sen. Amy Klobuchar recently said that in Minnesota “internationalism is not just tolerated, it’s embraced.”

Already, exports support an estimated 80,000 jobs in Minnesota, and generate almost $20 billion in goods and services. That number continues to grow, and half of U.S. exports today actually go to the developing world. Exports are a critical component of any successful business strategy, and American businesses are able to participate in the global marketplace, in part, because of our work with international affairs agencies.

We’ve seen this firsthand in our own companies.

For more than three decades, Land O’Lakes Inc. has partnered with the U.S. Agency for International Development and United States Department of Agriculture to build the productivity and profitability of dairy operations and crop farming in East and Southern Africa, and South Asia. Together, we’ve strengthened a range of crop value chains; catalyzed agricultural innovations; and improved animal genetics, nutrition and care — as well as milk-handling and marketing — all while helping local farmers create sustainable agribusinesses.

The old proverb “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime” has never rang truer.

Land O’Lakes has expanded market operations to 29 countries to keep pace with the growing needs of its international business and late last year created a new division to drive more growth in international markets.

Carlson has operations in 160 countries and is using its sphere of influence to combat the dreadful scourge of human trafficking worldwide as a top business priority. It’s been said there is more slavery today than at any other time in our world’s history, and the hospitality industry is a critical partner in this fight. Carlson proactively trains its employees to be aware of the risks given how traffickers often use hotels as a facilitator for their inhuman trade.

Carlson partnered with the State Department to educate and alert travelers about the risks associated with this global issue, one of many public-private partnerships the company has cultivated to expand its global footprint in conducting “responsible business.” Just recently, Carlson received a Presidential Award for extraordinary efforts to combat trafficking for its corporate leadership in combating modern slavery — the first firm to receive such an award.

Minnesotans are the most generous people in the world, and our effort in serving people in need is one of our most remarkable values. With a world becoming more interconnected every day, this is not just good for our soul, but also for our economy.

So while some think we may need to pull back from the world, we say there’s too much at stake to diminish America’s global leadership and ­competitiveness. U.S. investments in development and diplomacy yield a strong return for the American taxpayer in building a better, safer world.

Now that’s sound, smart business.

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  • About the authorMarilyn Carlson Nelson is the former chairwoman and CEO of Carlson, and Chris Policinski is the president and chief executive of Land O’Lakes Inc. Both are members of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.

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