Starting with Why , Who or What
“Start with Why” urges Simon Sinek in a Ted talk which has reached millions.
Michel Bachmann disagrees. we should “Start with Who” he argues from the perspective of a man who has built several organisations. It’s all about people, he says and makes a good point about purpose:
“It’s important to be aligned around a shared purpose. However, it’s even more important to have a set of shared values, especially when things go wrong. In times of darkness, it’s good to ask the question: Why do we exist? What is is the purpose that brought us together and how do we see our “raison d’être” today? The critical question, however, is the following: Who are we in this?What is it that we truly value and will defend with all our power?”
I know that our for-purpose business started with a question. It was the opening paragraph from our 1996 postion paper:
“At first glance, it might seem redundant to emphasize people as the central focus of economics. After all, isn’t the purpose of economics, as well as business, people? Aren’t people automatically the central focus of business and economic activities? Yes and no.
“People certainly gain and benefit, but the rub is: which people? More than a billion children, women, and men on this planet suffer from hunger. It is a travesty that this is the case, a blight upon us all as a global social group. Perhaps an even greater travesty is that it does not have to be this way; the problems of human suffering on such a massive scale are not unsolvable. If a few businesses were conducted only slightly differently, much of the misery and suffering as we now know it could be eliminated. This is where the concept of a “people-centered” economics system comes in.”
What founder Terry Hallman valued and defended with all his power may be found in statement he made some years ago about the cause in which he lost his life.
Speaking our about children with disabilities who are often dumped into institutional neglect, he wrote in ‘Death Camps for Children’:
“Ukraine CAN afford to do more than let these children die. To date,to this moment,Ukraine has not bothered to try.That is a fact that I will defend with my life.”
He died 5 years later in August 2011. In my view, hung out to dry by USAID and others he’d called on for help.
There’s no shortage of those telling us what we should do. Larry Fink, for example refers to a survey which makes the point that “the primary purpose of business should be to improve society, rather than generate profits”
“Purpose is not the sole pursuit of profits but the animating force for achieving them. Profits are in no way inconsistent with purpose — in fact, profits and purpose are inextricably linked. Profits are essential if a company is to effectively serve all of its stakeholders over time — not only shareholders, but also employees, customers, and communities.”
That’s not so far away from what our ‘Marshall Plan’ for Ukraine argued in 2006. An argument made more visible by Long Term Capitalism:
“A business enterprise must make monetary profit, or it will merely cease to exist. That is an absolute requirement. But it does not follow that this must necessarily be the final bottom line and the sole aim of the enterprise. How this profit is used is another question. It is commonly assumed that profit will enrich enterprise owners and investors, which in turn gives them incentive to participate financially in the enterprise to start with. That, however, is not the only possible outcome for use of profits. Profits can be directly applied to help resolve a broad range of social problems: poverty relief, improving childcare, seeding scientific research for nationwide economic advancement, improving communications infrastructure and accessibility, for examples — the target objectives of this particular project plan. The same financial discipline required of any conventional for-profit business can be applied to projects with the primary aim of improving socioeconomic conditions. Profitability provides money needed to be self-sustaining for the purpose of achieving social and economic objectives such as benefit of a nation’s poorest, neediest people. In which case, the enterprise is a social enterprise.’
On the other hand , former New York Times columnist Anand Giridharadas takes us into the inner sanctums of a new gilded age, where the rich and powerful fight for equality and justice any way they can — except ways that threaten the social order and their position atop it. We see how they rebrand themselves as saviors of the poor; how they lavishly reward “thought leaders” who redefine “change” in winner-friendly ways; and how they constantly seek to do more good, but never less harm. We hear the limousine confessions of a celebrated foundation boss; witness an American president hem and haw about his plutocratic benefactors; and attend a cruise-ship conference where entrepreneurs celebrate their own self-interested magnanimity.
Arnand is a fellow of the corporate sponsored Aspen Institute who unsurprisingly, are also talking about ‘Rebuilding the narrative on the Purpose of the Corporation’
The Aspen article about Martin Luther and the future of the corporation came just a month after my own about Martin Luther’s views on wealth and the common ground is shares with business for purpose and today’s Vatican.
Back to the point from Michel Bachmann about our core values and what we will defend with all our power. For Terry Hallman it was a fundamental predicate, that people are not disposable:
“We have only to ask ourselves individually whether or not this is the sort of progress we want, where we accept consciously and intentionally that human progress allows for disposing of other human beings.
“This is a tricky question. Except in the case of self-defense, if for any reason we answer ‘Yes’, regardless of what that reason is, we are in effect agreeing with the proposition of disposing of human beings. Whether disposal be from deprivation or execution, the result is the same for the victim. If we agree that sometimes, for some reasons, it is acceptable and permissible to dispose of human beings, actively or passively, the next question is ‘Which people?’ Of course I will never argue that one of them should be me, though perhaps it should be you. You respond in kind, it cannot be you, but maybe it should be me. Not only can it not be you, it also cannot be your spouse, your children, your mother or father, your friends, your neighbors, but, maybe someone else. Naturally I feel the same way. Maybe we come to an agreement that it shouldn’t be either you or me, or our families and friends, that can be disposed of, but perhaps someone else. While we are debating this — passionately and sincerely, no doubt — a third party comes along and without warning disposes of the both of us, or our families, or our friends. And there is the trap we have fallen into, because whether or not we approve of our or our families’ and friends’ demise is irrelevant. It is fair because we accepted the principle of human disposability. We just didn’t intend that it be us who are tossed, but if we or our families and friends die, it is in accordance with principles that we ourselves have accepted and so must live — and die — by.”
His vision, an economy which is measured and calibrated in terms of human beings, a Human Economy.