Inventing another pathway to a world without poverty (Pt 1 of 2)

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April 07, 2008

Gordon StarrWhat if the enormous power and potential of global business enterprise could become a force for social and environmental transformation just as it has been for the expansion of global commerce?

Grameen Danone – the world’s first “social business” as conceived and presented by Dr. Yunus in his new book – is a brilliant invention. What Grameen and Danone have done with great courage and insight is open the door to a new future – and to a new whole landscape of possibility for creating a world without poverty. And perhaps much more.

Given this first landmark step, what else might now be possible?

For instance, what could happen in the world of profit-making business if “global viability” became the equal of “maximizing profit” in the boardroom?

Changing the game

From many perspectives, business enterprises have made a profound contribution to human progress since their inception some 400 years ago. However, a fundamental shift has occurred in our world over the last 50-60 years. We are entering a new era.

In the previous era, resources were abundant and people scarce. In this era, resources are scarce and people abundant. Many of the very principles and rules that historically allowed business to make such a remarkable contribution to global progress, if followed today, have the potential to destroy the well-being of our people and our planet.

Fortune’s Global 500 shows that the ten largest businesses in the world accounted for $2.4 trillion in sales in 2006. Nine out of ten of these mega-corporations are either oil or automobile companies. (The other, and largest, is WalMart.)

As those nine oil and auto companies expanded, they fueled an exponential expansion of global commerce. Selling more oil yields more profit – that’s the game we set up, and they have mastered it. However, what we didn’t realize previously is that selling more oil also accelerates global warming, which today threatens to destroy our planet as we know it. And of course, the world’s poor will feel this planetary impact first, foremost and most deeply.

We need new rules and a new game for global business enterprise, consistent with the new era in which we find ourselves. We have become masters at winning the game of business. From my point of view, it would be a mistake to throw out the baby with the bathwater. We simply want to change the game, change the rules of the game and unleash global business enterprise to get the job done of winning the new game with as much vigor and intensity as were applied to the old game. If that were to happen, it would have unimaginable impact on our world.

I agree totally with Dr. Yunus that corporate social responsibility while a laudable step in the right direction is insufficient to make any sustainable difference in creating a world without poverty. In the boardroom, as soon as profit goes down, the virtuousness of corporate social responsibility is one of the first things to go.

We need a new game in which, alongside of profitability (not displacing profitability), and of equal stature in the boardroom, must be an equally clear measure of social contribution (let’s call it “global viability”) that would include environmental sustainability, social justice and spiritual freedom. (Paul Dolan, in his book True to Our Roots, calls this idea the “Triple Bottom Line.”) In this new game, exceeding the “global viability” target would generate the same state of celebration, and falling short the same sense of urgency, as would exceeding or falling short of the profit objectives.

To be continued…

Gordon Starr
Starr Consulting Group
we support visionary leaders in transforming their organizations

Comments

We need more corporations to have their corporate social funds to assist the less fortunate. I am from an NGO in Palawan, Philippines and would like to get funding for microfinance for the communities in this province. Thank you verymuch and best regards.

I am not a scholar, but am a deeply concerned person about world poverty and it's impact specifically on the children who must spend all of their energy for mere survival on a daily basis. The story is in their eyes, which still search camera lenses for hope. There is nothing more gut-wrenching than a child who has no signs of hope. Grameen has graced us with insight into yet another way, one that is capable of self sustainment. What an eye opener.

I like the idea of a "social metric" for business enterprises. If there is no return to shareholders who would invest in such an enterprise? "Profit maximization" does not account for all of the "stakeholders" in a business enterprise and profit is a prerequisite to sustaining the enterprise itself. Identifying the shared interests of all stakeholders (including the poor) in business organizations could result in a "responsibility" dividend for society.

Not only as an American citizen, but also as a mother of a child adopted from a country halfway across the skies, I can't help but think of the world from a global perspective, on a very personal level. Gordon's historically informed, eloquent and thought-provoking viewpoint offers hope for the future--the kind of hope that leads to action and the type of societal and environmental transformation of which he speaks. In raising the question of what else might be possible, in calling for a new game, in concert with Dr. Yunus, Gordon has both reminded and demonstrated that any great movement in humanity begins with the bold stand of individuals. Thanks.

I have explored 'Creating a World Without Povery' intensely. I am in full support of this enlightment of capitalism and am ready to start a social business with the support of my community network here in Northwest Washington.

The heart of this social business lies in Freedom from Suffering for all Beings, but we inter-weave individual projects supporting internal and environmental sustainability for our children. Getting the kids back into the wildreness, no matter their financial, ethnic backgroud. I am ready to launch but am looking for a step by step guide to starting the correct type of business to turn into a social business.....

Does it matter if I open a business as a sole proprieter or a corporation? Is one more fit to shape into a social business then the other? Looking for resources to help co-create this process.

thanks

Kayainside,

We wish you the best of luck in your future business. If you read Bob Sample's excellent post, Social Business and Microeconomic Opportunities for Youth Conference: A Personal Reflection, he addresses many of these concerns. In the upcoming weeks, you will see another post that will provide an assessment of some of the social businesses that have been launched in Bangladesh that address the unique challenges faced by social businesses and how they can be successfully addressed. Thanks!

zeal with social service

Без особого преувеличения можно сказать, что пост тему раскрыл на все 100 процентов. :)

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