The best books about stakeholder capitalism

Who am I?

Sarah Kaplan is Distinguished Professor and Director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. She is the author of the bestseller Creative Destruction: Why Companies That Are Built to Last Underperform the Market—And How to Successfully Transform Them and The 360º Corporation: From Stakeholder Trade-offs to Transformation, both address the challenges of innovation and organizational change in society. She frequently speaks and appears in the media on topics related to achieving a more inclusive economy and corporate governance reform. Formerly a professor at the Wharton School and a consultant at McKinsey & Company, she earned her PhD at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.


I wrote...

The 360° Corporation: From Stakeholder Trade-Offs to Transformation

By Sarah Kaplan,

Book cover of The 360° Corporation: From Stakeholder Trade-Offs to Transformation

What is my book about?

Companies are increasingly facing intense pressures to address stakeholder demands from every direction: consumers want socially responsible products; employees want meaningful work; investors now screen on environmental, social, and governance criteria; “clicktivists” create social media storms over company missteps. CEOs now realize that their companies must be social as well as commercial actors, but stakeholder pressures often create trade-offs with demands to deliver financial performance to shareholders. How can companies respond while avoiding simple “greenwashing” or “pinkwashing”?

In The 360° Corporation, I argue that the shared-value mindset may actually get in the way of progress and I show—in practical steps—how trade-offs, rather than being confusing or problematic, can actually be the source of organizational resilience and transformation. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism

Sarah Kaplan Why did I love this book?

Mazzucato’s timely book offers a hopeful look into the possibilities for companies, governments, and civil society to work together to solve the world’s grand challenges. Inspired by the original moonshot program that mobilized the public and private sectors on a massive scale to take risks and experiment with innovative solutions to a previously unsolved problem, she pushes all of us to think boldly about the possibilities for transformative change. To do so, we’ll need to bust myths that impede progress such as the idea that businesses are the only entities that create value and governments are only there to de-risk and address market failures.

The increasingly popular ideas that governments need to run like businesses and save taxpayer money by outsourcing actually strip public policymakers of the tools they need to spur innovation. With examples of a Green New Deal, accessible health care, and narrowing the digital divide, Mission Economy provides a moonshot guide to change that involves government-business partnerships with a purpose.

By Mariana Mazzucato,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mission Economy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Longlisted for the 2021 Porchlight Business Book Awards, Big Ideas & New Perspectives

“She offers something both broad and scarce: a compelling new story about how to create a desirable future.”—New York Times

 An award-winning author and leading international economist delivers a hard-hitting and much needed critique of modern capitalism in which she argues that, to solve the massive crises facing us, we must be innovative—we must use collaborative, mission-oriented thinking while also bringing a stakeholder view of public private partnerships which means not only taking risks together but also sharing the rewards. 

Capitalism is in crisis. The rich have…


Book cover of Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist

Sarah Kaplan Why did I love this book?

To succeed in facing the social and environmental challenges that threaten to upend our economies, we need to refocus from financial and economic measures such as total returns to shareholders and GDP growth. The question has always been what measures would we substitute in? Raworth’s concept of the “Doughnut” is one of the most coherent articulations of the answer to this question: imagine a doughnut where the inside foundation are the social needs of water, food, health, energy, housing, gender equality, education, peace and justice, income and work and so on. Failure to meet these needs leads to shortfalls. On the outside of the doughnut is the ecological ceiling, which, if exceeded leads to climate change, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, pollution, ozone layer depletion, etc. Within these boundaries is the safe and just space for humanity.

To get us to this zone, Raworth proposes 7 inspirational and practical ways to, as she says, “think like a 21st-century economist.” These include changing the goal away from GDP growth, understanding the economy as embedded in social and environmental realities, moving away from the faulty metaphor of the “rational economic man” to one of socially adaptable humans, and designing systems, governance, and organizations to be distributive and regenerative.  

By Kate Raworth,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Doughnut Economics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Financial Times "Best Book of 2017: Economics"

800-CEO-Read "Best Business Book of 2017: Current Events & Public Affairs"

Economics is the mother tongue of public policy. It dominates our decision-making for the future, guides multi-billion-dollar investments, and shapes our responses to climate change, inequality, and other environmental and social challenges that define our times.

Pity then, or more like disaster, that its fundamental ideas are centuries out of date yet are still taught in college courses worldwide and still used to address critical issues in government and business alike.

That's why it is time, says renegade economist Kate Raworth,…


Book cover of The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms Investors, Corporations, and the Public

Sarah Kaplan Why did I love this book?

Stout’s book was an early salvo in the current debate about shareholder primacy that opened the way for many who have followed in her footsteps. In this carefully argued book, she disputes the argument that corporate boards are required by law to put the shareholder first, pointing out flaws in legal interpretations that have supported a damaging consensus view. In debunking the shareholder value myth, she shows that the obsessive focus on financial returns has led to dangerous short-termism in which corporate leaders pursue quarterly earnings to the disadvantage of investments that would not only improve social outcomes but also lead to better long term performance. She also demonstrates that shareholders hold many values, only one of which might be financial returns. In this regard, she was a vanguard of the accelerating focus of institutional investors on “stewardship” of the environmental and social impacts of their investments.  

By Lynn Stout,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Shareholder Value Myth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world.”
—Jack Welch

Executives, investors, and the business press routinely chant the mantra that corporations are required to “maximize shareholder value.” In this pathbreaking book, renowned corporate expert Lynn Stout debunks the myth that corporate law mandates shareholder primacy. Stout shows how shareholder value thinking endangers not only investors but the rest of us as well, leading managers to focus myopically on short-term earnings; discouraging investment and innovation; harming employees, customers, and communities; and causing companies to indulge in reckless, sociopathic, and irresponsible behaviors. And she looks at new models of corporate…


Book cover of Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire

Sarah Kaplan Why did I love this book?

If we want to reimagine capitalism as a system that does not destroy the planet and destabilize society, this must be enabled by corporations changing the way that they operate. Henderson’s Reimagining Capitalism gives us some principles for thinking about how to do this. A long-time innovation scholar, Henderson draws on her knowledge about how to succeed at organizational change to propose a more purpose-driven model of corporate action. Using numerous case studies of companies that have (partially) succeeded and those that have failed, she animates a number of principles for change. To start, such a model will require new metrics for social and environmental impact. This would involve more collaborative engagement amongst stakeholders to grow the economic pie and amongst companies to self-regulate in a more sustainable manner.

Particularly refreshing, at the end of the book, Henderson connects the macro conversation about economic and corporate change with a discussion of personal ethical responsibility on the part of all of us working within the capitalist system.

By Rebecca Henderson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A renowned Harvard professor debunks prevailing orthodoxy with a new intellectual foundation and a practical pathway forward for a system that has lost its moral and ethical foundation.
Free market capitalism is one of humanity's greatest inventions and the greatest source of prosperity the world has ever seen. But this success has been costly. Capitalism is on the verge of destroying the planet and destabilizing society as wealth rushes to the top. The time for action is running short.

Rebecca Henderson's rigorous research in economics, psychology, and organizational behavior, as well as her many years of work with companies around…


Book cover of Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good

Sarah Kaplan Why did I love this book?

If you want a very practical guide on how companies can innovate for good, Chang’s Lean Impact is for you. A former executive in the tech industry and Chief Innovation Officer at USAID, Chang draws from the best of the tech world while avoiding the worst. She points out that the kinds of social change that are needed will require a different kind of innovation skill than that required to “build an app.” She encourages people to think big with really bold goals while at the same time avoiding scaling too soon in a way that would eliminate the possibility for learning and adaptation. Most importantly, she tells us to “fall in love with the problem, not your solution” in order to achieve the greatest social and environmental impact.

By Ann Mei Chang,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Lean Impact as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Despite enormous investments of time and money, are we making a dent on the social and environmental challenges of our time? What if we could exponentially increase our impact?

Around the world, a new generation is looking beyond greater profits, for meaningful purpose. But, unlike business, few social interventions have achieved significant impact at scale. Inspired by the modern innovation practices, popularized by bestseller The Lean Startup, that have fueled technology breakthroughs touching every aspect of our lives, Lean Impact turns our attention to a new goal - radically greater social good.

Social change is far more complicated than building…


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Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

Book cover of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

Christina Ward Author Of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

New book alert!

Who am I?

For me, history is always about individuals; what they think and believe and how those ideas motivate their actions. By relegating our past to official histories or staid academic tellings we deprive ourselves of the humanity of our shared experiences. As a “popular historian” I use food to tell all the many ways we attempt to “be” American. History is for everyone, and my self-appointed mission is to bring more stories to readers! These recommendations are a few stand-out titles from the hundreds of books that inform my current work on how food and religion converge in America. You’ll have to wait for Holy Food to find out what I’ve discovered.

Christina's book list on the hidden history of America

What is my book about?

Does God have a recipe? Independent food historian Christina Ward’s highly anticipated Holy Food explores the influence of mainstream to fringe religious beliefs on modern American food culture.

Author Christina Ward unravels how religious beliefs intersect with politics, economics, and, of course, food to tell a different story of America. It's the story of true believers and charlatans, of idealists and visionaries, and of the everyday people who followed them—often at their peril.

Holy Food explains how faith pioneers used societal woes and cultural trends to create new pathways of belief and reveals the interconnectivity between sects and their leaders.

Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

What is this book about?

Does God have a recipe?

"Holy Food is a titanic feat of research and a fascinating exploration of American faith and culinary rites. Christina Ward is the perfect guide – generous, wise, and ecumenical." — Adam Chandler, author of Drive-Thru Dreams

"Holy Food doesn't just trace the influence that preachers, gurus, and cult leaders have had on American cuisine. It offers a unique look at the ways spirituality—whether in the form of fringe cults or major religions—has shaped our culture. Christina Ward has gone spelunking into some very odd corners of American history to unearth this fascinating collection of stories…


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5 book lists we think you will like!

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