What if Businesses Were Profitable and Socially Responsible?
April 6, 2014 | 2589 views
Each year at the Skoll World Forum, nearly 1,000 of the world’s most influential social entrepreneurs, key thought leaders and strategic partners gather at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School to exchange ideas, solutions and information. We asked a number of speakers to discuss the critical issues, challenges and opportunities underpinning their sessions in advance of the Forum to ground a richer debate both online and in Oxford.
Learn more about the 2014 Skoll World Forum, sign up to our newsletter to be notified of the live stream, view the 2014 delegate roster and discover what themes and ideas we'll be covering this year at the event. Also, read about the seven recipients of this year's Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.
Thomas Perkins, the famed Silicon Valley venture capitalist, has been the subject of significant press attention recently. In an open letter to the Wall Street Journal, he drew a comparison between Nazi Germany and criticisms of the now infamous “one per cent” of über-wealthy Americans who control inordinate wealth and socio-economic power.
While his firm distanced itself quickly from Perkins’s comments, he took a few days to do so, apologizing for his specific comparison to Kristallnacht”, but reconfirming that he still stands by the message of his letter: “Any time the majority starts to demonize the minority,”no matter what it is, it’s wrong and dangerous and no good comes from it.”
Perkins is rightly being viewed as absurdly out of touch with the reality of his wealth and the privilege it affords him. That privilege is precisely the problem the Occupy movement aimed to redress by focusing its efforts on the tyrannical behaviour of ‘the one percent’. Nonetheless, Perkins’s timing was serendipitous, coming as it did the same week as the premiere screening of a new documentary film, “Not Business As Usual.”
In stark contrast to Perkins and the likes of legendary economist Milton Friedman, “Not Business As Usual” and its protagonists are using their enterprises to move beyond the “business quo,” to reinvent capitalism. They envision generative business models, grounded in moral behaviour, that are both profitable and responsibly serve and sustain their communities and environment.
Whereas Friedman argued vehemently that “the sole purpose of a company is to maximize shareholder value,” these new “pirates on the high seas of capitalism” eschew — or rage against! — 20th century ideas about the role of business, and advocate instead for generosity in leadership, stakeholder values in planning, and responsible stewardship of scarce resources.
Their examples are inspiring and admirable: Fairware is disrupting the promotional products business by teaching procurement officers about responsible purchasing, and the power of international supply chains. Lunapads is bringing attention to women’s advancement around the world, while selling reusable feminine hygiene products. And the film’s producer, Institute B, is using “audacious” and inclusive organizational culture as the foundation of a new venture accelerator for entrepreneurs like those the film celebrates.
“Not Business As Usual” contemplates a new era in business — one that realizes business as usual has pushed the limits of our planet’s capacity, while concentrating financial wealth in the hands of a too-small minority. The film celebrates ventures and entrepreneurs that refuse to sacrifice social good on the altar of shareholder returns. For them, healthy enterprises embody a significant shift in the underpinnings of business that is “bringing humanity back.”
“Gone are the days of organizations taking and not giving,” said one of the featured entrepreneurs. Whereas capitalists of the industrial era waited until after they’d amassed their fortunes to “give back,” entrepreneurs in the era of responsibility recognize that shared value today generates far greater social returns.
And they’re proving that moral behaviour is more profitable.
No, it’s “Not Business As Usual.” It’s a wake up call to business leaders still locked in the endless cycle of quarterly reports, and willfully blind to the needs of their communities.
Watch and learn. This is the future of enterprise.