A conversation online with a homeless man about ‘Ignorance and Want’ would be my introduction to business for purpose. In 2003, I invited him to London to set up as a social enterprise and by the end of 2004 he’d arrived in Ukraine.
In ‘A Christmas Carol’ Scrooge is confronted by two men seeking funds for the destitute, he teminds them of the existence of prisons and workhouses:
“I help to support the establishments I have mentioned — they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.” said Scrooge.
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population”.
As we discovered in Ukraine, economic orphans would often choose to live on the streets rather than an institution.
“Why do you keep these animals alive?” asked the soviet minister visiting the orphanage at Torez.
The story which came to me and I passed to my colleague, would give us both a sleepless night.
“Words don’t come to mind, most of our team was crying and could not stop. Dark hallways, screaming, children clustered together in freezing rooms, some in strait-jackets, haunted looking crying, asking if they were good, asking for food. Water dripping from the dark ceilings, mold everywhere. We held children who were 10 and 13 years old in our arms like infants. One team member said later that she never knew that humans are like fish and will only grow to the size of their environment. One team member threw up outside. Children never leave their beds in some rooms. These children are ages 4–16. In other rooms they leave to go to a room with just a bench and nothing else in it. They hold each other -rocking one another. I have never seen such deprivation and our photographer said it best when he said it was a concentration camp for children. Sorry, this is such a hard part to write but I looked in the eyes of many children who are dying. Their tiny bones fit into the palm of my hands. Their skeleton faces begging for help. No one in our team has really slept since. We talk about it but just end up in tears. I promised the orphanage staff we would come back with a team of people to help them. They are counting on it. The director told one team member that 20 years ago he asked for help there and the soviet minister came and visited. The visiting soviet minister told the director, ‘why do you keep these animals alive? You can kill them, you know how to do it you are a doctor.’ He never sent any money or aid to the orphanage.”
Doing something to be the change would afflict him for the next 5 years until deteriorating health cost him his life. He was an American without health insurance.
A decade earlier, Terry Hallman was the man who argued that the purpose of business goes beyond shareholder value, His fundamental predicate was that people are not disposable in pursuit of profit.
“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.”
One of those who influenced his work on on the purpose of business was Erich Fromn. In The Art of Loving, Fromm wrote:“Love of the helpless, the poor and the stranger, are the beginning of brotherly love. To love ones flesh and blood is no achievement. The animal loves its young and cares for them. Only in the love of those who do not serve a purpose, does love begin to unfold. Compassion implies the element of knowledge and identification. “
There he was, on the ground where children were considered disposable.
Over the next year, he developed a strategy for national reform , a ‘Marshall Plan’ for Ukraine in which these children were the primary focus. It was delivered to Ukraine’s government in February 2007 , saying this:
‘This is a long-term permanently sustainable program, the basis for “people-centered” economic development. Core focus is always on people and their needs, with neediest people having first priority — as contrasted with the eternal chase for financial profit and numbers where people, social benefit, and human well-being are often and routinely overlooked or ignored altogether. This is in keeping with the fundamental objectives of Marshall Plan: policy aimed at hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. This is a bottom-up approach, starting with Ukraine’s poorest and most desperate citizens, rather than a “top-down” approach that might not ever benefit them. They cannot wait, particularly children. Impedance by anyone or any group of people constitutes precisely what the original Marshall Plan was dedicated to opposing. Those who suffer most, and those in greatest need, must be helped first — not secondarily, along the way or by the way. ‘
I described this later as the New Bottom Line reflecting on his efforts spanning 15 years
Our relationship began online with a discussion about the Ignorance and Want allegory from Dickens’ Christmas Carol:
They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.
Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.
‘Spirit. are they yours.’ Scrooge could say no more.
‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon them. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers.This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it.’ cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.’
He was slandered , threatened and dismissed by those we appealed to for support On his death local activists shared part of his appeal to USAID. His appeals for support to forward thinking businesses and social enterprise support agencies fell on deaf ears. He asked “What is social enterprise?”
“Allowing that some people do not matter, as things are turning out, allows that other people do not matter and those cracks are widening to swallow up more and more people. Social enterprise is the first concerted effort in the Information Age to at least attempt to rectify that problem, if only because letting it get worse and worse threatens more and more of us. Growing numbers of people are coming to understand that “them” might equal “me.” Call it compassion, or call it enlightened and increasingly impassioned self-interest. Either way, we are all in this together, and we will each have to decide for ourselves what it means to ignore someone to death, or not.”
Among those who turned a blind eye were mainstream media. 5 year later the CEO of a political group, supported by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, who are funded bt the Uk Foreign and Commonwealth Office, co-authored an article for the Sunday Times, saying.
“This story will reverberate right around the world and so it should. Ukraine will be judged not by the actions of this cruel few but on how the case is now handled by the authorities. However, we must also look to ourselves for it is no longer acceptable to look the other way.
“The Ukrainian maxim: “I saw nothing, my home is on the other side of the village” has no place in the modern world. If by our deliberate blindness, children are allowed to suffer such depravities then, by our inaction, we are all guilty.”
These children and those like them may still perish if purpose is factious.