Anthropy 2023

16 November 2023


IBE Chair, Prof. David Grayson CBE reflects on the Anthropy conference held at the Eden Project in Cornwall Nov 1-3 2023.

Anthropy is not like the usual conferences you might attend.

First, the venue. It is not some subterranean conference centre or out-of-town hotel conference suite. It is the Eden Project in Cornwall – all over the Eden Project. For one session maybe you are in the Amazon or Mediterranean biodome or in a tipi, then maybe you are heading back up to the entrance and a session in the Visitor Centre. The story of the Eden Project, the regeneration of the disused clay quarries into the tourist destination / immersive environmental education project / centrepiece of community renewal, is a fitting context for an event to find practical ideas for a better tomorrow for the UK.

The second factor for why Anthropy stands out is the audience. One minute you might be in a chance conversation with a corporate CEO or CFO you find yourself sitting next to. Then you are chatting to one of the young people nominated through Anthropy’s Emerging Leaders’ Programme or one of the younger delegates from a supporter company.

There is also a varied format. In one session you may be sitting in a circle with a dozen other people interested in a particular topic such as how business can contribute to improving social mobility. In the next, it might be a more conventional theatre-style, listening to a panel on geo-strategic risks facing the UK and the world with futurists and geopolitical strategists.

Anthropy also stands out for the multi-sector audience: business people, Civil Society campaigners, Third Age activists, Think-tankers, charity workers and leaders, academics, traditional and new media folk and some from the public sector. It’s a pity some of those aspiring to be in the House of Commons after the next General Election didn’t come and take the temperature of 1800 “active citizens” interested in practical solutions to the problems facing the UK and the world (who are probably as a group also profoundly disinterested in “ya-boo-sucks” party politicking!)

People ask me “what is the purpose of Anthropy?” For me, it is a catalyst for new collaborations. It is an opportunity to step outside the usual silos, absorb some of the “can-do” spirit that inspired the Eden Project; and to bottle some of the bloody-minded determination to make Eden happen, to use to tackle some of the UK’s challenges. And it is a space to spot and make synergies happen and to learn from others.

The IBE has been actively involved in Anthropy from its early days. This year we hosted or participated in sessions to explore some real-life ethical dilemmas that people can face at work; to contribute to Anthropy’s thought leadership on what sort of economy we need for a sustainable future: and to examine how the IBE’s Ethical Business Framework (newly updated in time for Anthropy) fits neatly alongside the thinking and work of our partner organisations such as Blueprint for Better Business and B-corps. Our deputy Director Rachael Saunders and Director, Ian Peters, did a sterling job, representing us in these sessions.

We are especially grateful to Simon Thompson, IBE Vice-President, for coming all the way to Cornwall for the first day, to help promote the new IBE guidelines for boards about building an ethical culture. Simon, of course, chaired the advisory group which oversaw the development of the new guidelines (and ensured we kept the new guidance to 2-sides of A4!). It was also good to see other members of the IBE International Advisory Council: Annabel Gillard and Paul Wilden speaking and participating actively in Anthropy2023.

Anthropy partner, the polling organisation IPSOS are conducting a survey amongst participants on the State of the Nation. It will be interesting to see the results and the analysis of the results. I suspect though that one theme that will emerge, based on the nearly 20 different sessions that I personally participated in and the snatched conversations, walking between sessions and in the evening gatherings – is the importance of responsible businesses playing an active engagement in helping to resolve the problems of people, planet and prosperity.

As the IBE, we have to keep hammering home the message that a foundational building block of responsible business is a sustainable, ethical culture. For almost 40 years, the IBE has been working with leading companies to champion the highest standards of ethical behaviour in business. The IBE is an authority on, advocate for and adviser to boards, senior management teams and Ethics & Compliance professionals.

Continuing to participate in the Anthropy movement, I’d like Anthropists generally to become fellow advocates for the importance of doing business ethically.

David interviewed Anthropy founder John O’Brien and Anthropy M-D Lucy Knill for All In: The Sustainable Business Podcast which he co-hosts.


Professor David Grayson CBE
Professor David Grayson CBE


David is Emeritus Professor of Corporate Responsibility at Cranfield School of Management. From 2007-2017, he was director of the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility and Professor of Corporate Responsibility.

David became Chair of the Trustees Board on 01 April 2019.

He joined Cranfield in April 2007, after a thirty year career as a social entrepreneur and campaigner for responsible business, diversity, and small business development. This included founding Project North East which has now worked in nearly 60 countries around the world; being the founding CEO of the Prince's Youth Business Trust and serving as a managing-director of Business in the Community.

David has an Honorary Doctorate of Law from London South Bank University and was a visiting Senior Fellow at the CSR Initiative of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard (2005-10).

He has served on various charity and public sector boards over the past 35 years. These have included the boards of the National Co-operative Development Agency, The Prince of Wales' Innovation Trust and the Strategic Rail Authority. He chaired the National Disability Council and the Business Link Accreditation Board; in each case appointed by the Major Government and re-appointed by the Blair administration. David now serves on the board of a financial services company in Asia where he leads on embedding ESG/sustainability and chairs the board’s Group Risk Management Committee.

He has previously chaired the national charity Carers UK and one of the UK's larger social enterprises and largest eldercare providers, Housing 21 during which the organisation made corporate history by becoming the first-ever not-for-profit successfully to acquire a publicly quoted group of companies. David received an OBE for services to industry in 1994 and a CBE for services to disability in 1999. He is a Companion of the Chartered Institute of Management.

David has written a number of books on responsible business and corporate sustainability including most recently: ‘All in - The Future of Business Leadership’ and The Sustainable Business Handbook – both with Chris Coulter and Mark Lee. He is part of the faculty of the Forward Institute and of the Circle of Advisers for Business Fights Poverty.

The Guardian has named David as one of ten top global tweeters on sustainable leadership alongside Al Gore, Tim Cook - CEO of Apple, and Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg.

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