United Nations Director Michael Møller (second from left) visited Salesforce for a panel discussion on the role of governments, NGOs and business in addressing sustainable development goals. Jim Green, Salesforce's SVP of Government Affairs and Public Policy, moderated the panel, which included Rob Acker, CEO of Salesforce.org and Salesforce President, Legal and General Counsel Amy Weaver. 

“We are in a kind of perfect storm situation historically right now, globally,” Michael Møller, the Director-General of United Nations office at Geneva, told Salesforce employees Tuesday during a panel discussion at the company’s San Francisco headquarters. “The geopolitical tectonic plates are shifting with a speed and direction that we can’t even begin to realize where they are going.”

Møller, a 35-year U.N. leader, nonetheless expressed optimism about the state of humanity. “If you look at where the human race is today, we’ve never been as well off, in spite of what you read on front pages,” he said. He noted that the U.N. and other NGOs have been instrumental in reducing poverty, increasing life expectancy, the safety of transportation, advancing gender equality and addressing climate change. Much of that work is done not in the General Assembly in New York, which often makes the news, but by employees in the organization’s Geneva, Switzerland offices, he said.  “Not a single person on the planet is not touched in his or her personal life by something that emanates from our system.”

He said technology companies are playing an important role in helping the world address key issues such as climate change, health issues, mass migrations of people, and corruption. But the tech world must regain the public’s trust to take on that responsibility. “These days a lot of the conversations about technology are talking about the dark side instead of talking about the incredible potential that exists,” he said.

Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) could be a key hurdle in technology  companies regaining trust and showing global leadership in addressing the issue of privacy, Møller said. He called the GDPR framework a “first step” to regain trust, and a “collective agreement on how to manage our affairs.”

 

 

Rob Acker, the CEO of Salesforce.org, credited Møller with helping to guide the nonprofit arm of Salesforce.org, and said the U.N. leader has been a chief advocate for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) being embraced by Salesforce and other organizations around the world as a way of addressing major issues. “Trust is in a state of crisis,” Acker said. “Business has never been more important in leading the way,” adding that Salesforce is being asked to get involved in problem-solving because of the company’s resources, such as people and capital. Møller and Acker were joined on the panel by Amy Weaver, Salesforce President, Legal and General Counsel, and moderator Jim Green, Salesforce Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Policy.   

Møller said part of the global uncertainty is being caused by the White House. “The U.S. is losing trust and is also losing its primary place in the overall governing  structure.” The U.N. has worked to stay connected to the White House, he said, and “there is a conversation going” but noted that other nations are stepping into the leadership void. “Others are taking up the slack.”

Climate change is the top issue facing world leaders, Møller said. “If we don’t fix climate change and fast, everything else we’ve talked about” won’t matter because the world will not be here as we know it. “We are not anywhere even close to where we need to be,” he said.  

Sexism is also a key issue, he said, and one that can be addressed by people taking a stand. “I’ll give you my favorite example,” he told those watching the webcast and a group of about 60 employees gathered in the company’s 30th story Ohana Floor in its Salesforce East office tower. Citing a vow he took as part of his U.N. leadership in addressing gender imbalance, he said: “I simply was not going to go to meetings unless women were there. And one day I get an invitation from the Vatican to be part of a number of panels. I looked at the list and there wasn’t a woman in sight. The whole four or five panels. I sent a message back and said, ‘I’m not coming. And not only am I not coming, I’m taking away the room you were going to meet in.’ Four hours later I get a new invitation. There were women on every single panel.”

The 17 SDGs were adopted by world leaders in 2015 at a U.N. Summit and are aimed at uniting countries to “end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.”

Acker urged employees to learn more about the goals and get involved in the causes, adding that Salesforce’s contributions cannot be limited to activism by CEO and Chairman Marc Benioff and other top leaders. He urged the employees to make good use of the seven paid days of volunteerism that the company gives all employees.

Weaver said the most radical change she has seen in her career is companies using “the power of their platforms” to help address what were formerly seen as government responsibilities. But, she noted it’s difficult for corporations to find the right balance between doing good and being seen as politically motivated. Business today is “uncharted waters," she said, when it comes to activism, and there is really no safe place to be neutral on many issues. Leaders must "make sure we are making the best, most educated choices."

Working toward the goals in a changing world is a challenge, Møller said, but must be addressed by global involvement of individuals in the public and private sectors. “It’s only by sitting around the collective table and this neutral table that we can come up with good solutions and answers to those differences that make sense for everybody. All of us need to be part of solution, and all of us need to take responsibility.”

Image Credits: Andrew McKay, Salesforce