The following is an excerpt from the AccountAbility CR Intelligence Briefing -- a monthly report prepared for AccountAbility Members.  Learn more about the benefits of membership.

The TakeAway: Social and environmental upheavals create “opportunity gaps” that companies can fill with innovative programs and strategies that forge new partnerships with other practitioner disciplines, along with diplomatic, humanitarian, and civil society groups – possibly even the military – to alleviate suffering, uphold human rights, and jumpstart disrupted economies.

Since January, two regions critical to the world economy have undergone massive upheaval.  In the Middle East, collective social action driven by the unquenchable thirst for freedom and self-rule produced political instability in ways unimagined by even the most knowledgeable experts.  In Japan, a triple whammy of earthquake / tsunami / and nuclear disasters produced a stunning scale of human loss.  The former offers a glimpse of a future of reconfigured political systems. The latter put us on notice that that power failures – affecting not just energy but also leadership and governance – can have catastrophic consequences far beyond our best-laid readiness plans—that is, if we even have them.   

As of this writing, events are still unfolding in Japan, so it’s too early to tell the full magnitude of devastation, much less what “recovery” means.  Japan’s economic uncertainties aren’t just domestic; they have a ripple effect throughout the world.  However, this CR Intelligence Report will concentrate on the wave of revolution in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, and beyond, and what it means for building sustainable economic enterprise.  As the euphoria of newfound victory gives way to the realism of regime blowback, it’s time to ponder the region’s future and the role corporate responsibility might play in opening opportunities for sustainable prosperity, peace, and stability.

Indeed, the private sector can help cultivate local institutions, civil society, and an ethic of entrepreneurialism.  In concert with NGOs, educational institutions, and other actors, business can help bring the Arab states into the 21st century, shifting from autocratic rule to a culture of innovation.  Drawing on their own experience as economic agents committed to core principles of ethics and sustainability, enlightened companies can help tackle the region’s basic needs for food, water, health services, and housing, as well as developmental needs in the following areas:

But first, a look at cause and context . . .