NOW Partners’ founding CEO. Former co-owner of Euro-Asian industrial group. Co-founder & leader of first sustainable business networks across Europe and the Americas. Advisor and coach to senior leaders in business and other sectors. Passionately committed to co-creating a regenerative economy within a regenerative civilization.
Evolving Walter’s companies
Walter Link was a personally liable partner of B. Grimm, a now 140-year-old Euro-Asian industrial group of companies operating in the fields of healthcare, telecommunications, engineering, energy, construction, infrastructure development, and consumer goods in partnerships and joint ventures with global corporations such as Carrier, Merck, and Siemens. 30 years ago, when Walter wanted B. Grimm to become more regenerative, he realized this depended significantly on the products B. Grimm was importing from and producing with global brands that did not yet want to align themselves with sustainability. Walter understood that to implement his vision – global markets and public policy and through them, corporations would have to fundamentally evolve.
Sustainable business movement
Walter, therefore, decided to fully dedicate himself to the co-creation of an international movement that would inspire and support companies and economies to integrate economic success with regenerating people and planet. He left B. Grimm to be led by his brother, Harald, who developed it into a successful model for more sustainable business with Buddhist compassion as its core value, and business initiatives like creating South-East Asia’s largest solar power station and protecting endangered species. Meanwhile, Walter co-founded and co-led the first regional sustainable business networks: in the early 90s, the Social Venture Network across Western and Eastern Europe; a few years later Empresa, which eventually included 25 business networks across the Americas; in the 2000s the New Voice of Business that played a major role in realizing the ‘million solar roofs’ program, California’s largest alternative energy and green jobs initiative. Today, Walter supports the expansion of the B Corp and other economic innovation movements.
These action networks and their many member companies and entrepreneurs helped to develop and mainstream innovative economic approaches such as Sustainable Business and Corporate Social Responsibility, Clean Tech and Circular Economy, Socially Responsible and Impact Investing, Micro Finance and Fair Trade, Environmental Social and Ethical Accounting and Social Entrepreneurship. Convinced of the need for cross-sector solutions, Walter also facilitated collaboration between sustainability-oriented business, civil society, and governments to jointly support child labor and environmental protection legislation and generally reorient public policy in the E.U., the Americas, and the U.N. to support market conditions that create a level playing field for sustainable business.
Institutional impact investing and microfinance
Understanding the powerful impact of finance and investment on business decisions Walter also advised and connected institutional and private investors with sustainability leaders. He became a founding investor in one of Europe’s first impact funds, PYMWIMIC (Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is Company). His investments helped bring sustainability leaders like Ben & Jerry’s and Nature & Decouvertes to Europe’s Benelux countries. With his partners, he brought some of the world’s largest institutional investors together with sustainability experts. As a vice president of Sarvodaya, one of Asia’s most impactful social innovation and change movements, Walter co-led the transformation of its pioneering micro-finance NGO into a fully regulated bank that serves the bottom of the pyramid economy and helps to financially sustain Sarvodaya – at a time when much needed civil society organizations are increasingly under economic and political pressure.
Strengthening civil society and the public sector
As a systems thinker, Walter understood that the transformation of companies and economies greatly benefits from a positively impactful public and civic sector. Walter therefore also helped to strengthen NGOs that impact systems. He co-founded WE, which contributed to bridging the West-East divide and supported Soviet Block change movements since before the fall of the iron curtain. He helped Human Rights Watch, a key resource for policy makers, to create its European Union office. He joined the E.U. chapter of the Club of Rome and boards like that of the Greyston Foundation, which reinvented working with homeless people – co-creating with them purposeful work, sustainable lodging and holistic healthcare. He helps to develop Ashoka Africa’s continental strategy and globally that of many social entrepreneurs who inspire sector transformations. He coached STAND (ForestEthics) on mindful action to help transform companies like 3M and protect millions of hectares of virgin forests.
Along the same lines, Walter supported the U.N., including during several Global Summits, providing delegation briefings on sustainable business and advancing initiatives like the Global Compact. For the Cumbre, the summit of all Latin governments and for the Association of Caribbean States he hosted expert briefings and facilitated closed-door dialogs among ministers of foreign affairs, health and education on sensitive topics like corruption, sustainable business, innovations in education and the responsible use of human genome technology – a topic on which he organized international top level, cross-sector dialogs to help develop useful legislation and responsible business practices.
Coaching and consulting for change leaders
In working with these leaders and institutions, Walter understood that their positive visions and intentions are often not fully implemented because as leaders, organizations and alliances they may lack certain leadership capacities that carry them from inspiration to implementation. He therefore founded Global Academy Foundation, which for the past 30 years has empowered change makers across sectors with similar services to what NOW Partners is offering now: refining their purpose and vision; supporting their innovations and strategies; offering coaching, leadership and culture development; empowering regenerative value creation and value chains; supporting mergers and acquisitions and the crucial integration processes that have to follow them.
As a peer of the corporate leaders with whom he co-founded these business alliances, Walter and his teams supported many companies in their discovery of how to integrate the regeneration of people and planet with economic success. They became models and co-created critical mass to inspire the systematic transformation of economies and their institutions. In the past years, Walter supported the B Corp movement and its leaders such as Natura, The Body Shop, and Triodos Bank. He also supports other committed companies like Philips, which used to be his commercial competitor in B. Grimm and now is now his partner in moving towards a regenerative economy. Similarly, Walter advised public sector leaders who wanted real change. They range from the U.N. and Latin leaders to the European Commission, and from visionary Eastern European president Vaclav Havel to Brazil’s Amazon leader Marina Silva who twice won 20 million votes.
Innovating leadership approaches
Recognizing the limitations of primarily Anglo-Saxon leadership approaches within the global contexts he was working in, Walter co-founded the Global Leadership Network and related alliances that synergized the action-based experience of leadership experts from around the world. Together they strengthen well-known leadership and innovation approaches, including design thinking and the U Process, and co-authored Leadership is Global to highlight the diversity of global leadership approaches. In addition to developing countless leadership programs for business and other sectors, Walter also co-created with Hunter Lovins the USA’s first fully accredited MBA in Sustainable Management. It impacted not only its pioneering students but the curriculum development at major universities, where Walter also taught on leadership and sustainable business. Walter also held deep dialogs with outstanding innovation leaders in business and society who trace their impact back to inner work and spiritual inspiration: www.globalacademy.media
Mindful Action and igniting Walter’s purpose
Walter’s journey of discovery of how we can systematically develop our individual and co-creative potential started early with exploring art, western humanist literature, and the writings of leaders like Gandhi, King, Havel, and Mandela whose impact in the world was sourced by their deep inspiration. He engaged in movements for freedom and peace, human rights and sustainability that were rapidly expanding, empowering in Walter a deep sense of responsibility and commitment to integrate action and personal development in a mutually reinforcing manner. For decades he trained with action-oriented spiritual teachers like Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh who led a countrywide peace movement during the Vietnam war and later captained ships that saved drowning ‘boat people’. And with the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan teachers who were leading a nation and deepened their humanity under the most difficult circumstances.
After many years of intense training, Walter became himself a teacher of Buddhist practice and of the Diamond Approach that integrates Western and Eastern wisdom traditions with modern science and psychology. He also explored other paths and developed a deep connection to Christ. He served on the board of human development organizations such as the European Association of Transpersonal Psychology, Naropa University and the Omega Institute whom he helped to strengthen their mindful action orientation. Around the world, he supported change leaders with the integration of inner work and action. He co-taught with his friends and mentors former Harvard professor Ram Dass, Zen Master and Greystone founder Bernie Glassman, and Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast. Standing on the shoulders of giants, Walter developed a secular mindful action approach that organically adapts to what actually works for specific people within their diverse contexts. This approach unites our inner and interpersonal development with evolving our organizations and societies.
Education and development
Walter says that he learned most through mindful action – by doing and openly inquiring within the challenging richness of the before-mentioned activities – in relationship with diverse people and Nature. Formally, Walter trained in International Banking in London and wrote as part of his business, economics, and politics studies at Geneva University his summa cum laude thesis about international marketing in Brazil’s healthcare system. He took psychology courses at Basel University and later completed a Masters in Human and Organizational Development and most of the Ph.D. coursework at California’s pioneering Fielding Graduate University. Walter speaks English, German, French, and to some degree Portuguese and Spanish.