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Money & Meaning: Return Value

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August 18, 2011

Steve Wright is Director of Grameen Foundation's Social Performance Management Center. He is a keynote speaker for the upcoming SOCAP11 conference. This is the first of a series of blog posts focusing on the intersection of money and meaning. We've excerpted a section of the post below, with a link to the full post afterwards.

Recently, a lot of great thinking has happened around the idea that business – and by extension the economy – should return value, in addition to generating profit. For example, Mark Kramer and Michael Porter wrote a very interesting piece on creating shared value that was also discussed in this New York Times article, “First make money. Also, do good.Nestle Corporation is one of a growing number of companies that see shared value as an evolved form of corporate social responsibility. Customer capitalism (which focuses on providing value to the customer before the shareholder) is described in the Harvard Business Review as the third stage in the evolution of capitalism. (Professional management and shareholder capitalism are the first two.) And Umair Haque’s book, the New Capitalist Manifesto, describes “thick or authentic value” as the subtraction of total or real cost from the price a product can demand.

This is a good thing; however, it is still within a largely amoral paradigm, where the mythology centers on the primacy of profit while – potentially, maybe, hopefully – “doing good”. This can also be seen in how we (social enterprises and investors) use the words “sustainable” and “profitable” interchangeably, depending on who we are talking to. “Sustainable” implies a primary focus on doing good, while “profitable” implies a focus on profit.

My intent here is to make arguments that err on the side of doing good, arguing that we should focus on meaning before money.

>> Read Steve's entire post at the SOCAP11 Blog.