We often talk, in these pages, about how to become a great leader—and who we think the best leaders are (click here to see our Business Person of the Year list). But we don’t focus enough on the where: Where, that is, should today’s chief executives and other managers lead their companies?
The question is an important one—and perhaps never more so than now, at the end of a bitter election season in which at least two major candidates for President (and tens of millions of voters) have asserted that Big Business has lost its way. We think the question is so fundamental that, this month, Fortune and our sister publication Time are convening an unprecedented summit at the Vatican to answer it. There, more than 100 corporate chieftains, thought leaders, scholars, and experts in labor, health, education, economics, and the environment will meet intensively with one another—and with Pope Francis—in the hopes of forging a new “social compact” between Big Business and the global community it serves.
That we have chosen the Holy See in Rome for the 2016 Fortune + Time Global Forum should not suggest that corporations should align their values with those of any one religion or ethic. But this venue, in our view, does convey the significance and urgency of the challenge before us.
How do we define the moral imperative of modern leadership to begin with? The question has no simple answer (click here to read Editor’s Desk). Still, we’ll begin our two-day conclave by tackling it. We’ll probe how and where the global economy can be more inclusive and fair, how to ensure technology creates jobs even as it inevitably destroys some, how to bring the rural poor into the 21st-century economy, and how to bridge the digital divide between the haves and have-nots.
The mission of business is not, and cannot be, isolated from the goals of humanity. And so we’ll address how to provide better health care for billions in the world who have little of it, to do a better job of safeguarding the land and water entrusted to us, and to offer better futures for those who have been displaced from their homes by the ravages of conflict and poverty.
We understand that two days of talking in Rome—and that good intentions and even earnest commitments—will not remotely solve problems that humanity has taken decades and centuries to create. And, yes, we recognize that setting larger-than-life goals (especially when the rich and mighty do it) can often look like arrogance or worse—marketing. But not talking to one another, and shying away from such goals, hasn’t been the answer either. We know: The business community has tried that for too long.
A version of this article appears in the December 1, 2016 issue of Fortune with the headline “Forging a New Social Compact.”