Ambassador Andrew J. Young, John Hope Bryant and Alan Murray, CEO, Fortune

Earlier today, I joined my mentor and friend, civil rights icon, former Atlanta mayor, former congressman and former United Nations Ambassador Andrew J. Young, whose also the global spokesman for Operation HOPE, on stage for the Fortune Magazine Impact Initiative meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, in a rich discussion led by Fortune CEO Alan Murray (a good man).

The discussion today centered about the positive and necessary role of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) in business, and some of the biggest and most prominent corporations in the world showed up, at a very senior level.

Civil rights icon Ambassador Andrew J. Young and John Hope Bryant of Operation HOPE

We focused on what business could do, to be a force for good in the world, and the audience got it.

We told the story of leadership from the Coca Cola Company, who in the 1960’s stood up for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. When he won the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway, but Atlanta leaders did not want to honor him. There was resentment, and they didn’t like the change that he was advocating for.

But Robert Woodruff, then the retired CEO of Coca Cola, called a meeting with city business leadership in his office, and told them that as then one of the world’s largest global supply chain companies, ‘Coca Cola could live without Atlanta, but Atlanta could not live without Coca Cola.’

He told them that Dr. King won the most important award in the world, and if Atlanta didn’t want to honor him, they would move out of Atlanta. And he reminded the assembled business leaders, that most of them were also vendors of Coca Cola. Miraculously, the business leaders sold out the ballroom for the event soon after, honoring Dr. King and the movement. Coca Cola used their balance sheet and clout, to back a civil rights cause. And that support, of black America, ultimately translated into the entire black community — here and in Africa — supporting Coca Cola products for decades. To this day, actually.

And today you have similar examples, in Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Airlines, who has built one of the best airlines in the world, and consistently stands up for what’s right. And UPS, and Tony Ressler and the Atlanta Hawks, and so many others.

The legacy continues, and Atlanta is today, the 10th largest economy in the United States. Providing once again, that you can do well and do good at the same time.

John Hope Bryant, founder, Operation HOPE, Inc.

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