Professor Jem Bendell

Notes from a strategist & educator on social & organisational change, now focused on #DeepAdaptation

Archive for the ‘Counter-Globalization Movement’ Category

Alterglobalisation, Global Social Justice, anti capitalism etc

Where is the Movement?

Posted by jembendell on July 18, 2011

This week is the 10th anniversary of the mass protest against the G8 in Genoa, Italy. Hundreds of thousands of protesters called for a systemic change in the global economic system, forming something called an ‘anti-globalisation’ movement by the mass media, or what was known by many activists as the global justice movement. In Genoa, behind huge metal barriers, leaders met while anti-aircraft missile launchers scanned the skies. We thought it a bit of an over-reaction; but we didn’t have the benefit of memos about Bin Laden. The (now proven) agent provocateurs helped the black block protestors create conditions for police to then brutalise many peaceful protesters. One protester, Carlo Giuliani, was shot and killed by a policeman. The violence led many people, myself included, to question whether they wanted to be involved in such demonstrations in future. Perhaps that was the intention of the reactionary elements in the Italian government. Yet there was another limitation to the protests. The movement had become defined by the media as the protest, because the cameras showed up at demonstrations. Yet a movement is motivated by the values and awareness of people, and that exists all year round, not just during a protest. It was the values and vibrancy of the activists that was key, and expressed in many other ways all year round, such as choices of work, ways of working in the community.

10 years on its a good time to look back, recall the mood and spirit of the activism, and see how the vibrancy of that time throws light on the choices many of us have made since. To conjure up a sense of the feelings involved back 10 years ago, here is a snippet from my last book:

“Rolling onto my back, I lay my head on a rucksack, staring into the night sky. The tarmac still pushes up through my sleeping bag, but somehow it feels more comfortable this way. I think of the few times I have slept out in the open, in fields after parties, or on beaches while travelling—times when I could revel in the sense of floating through the immensity of space, secured on the edge of a cosmic plan, or comic fluke, called planet Earth. But tonight I can’t drift away with thoughts of the infinite expanse of space. Police helicopters hover above, their cones of light traversing the car park like manic stilts. Dreaming is not permitted. It’s the G8 Summit in Genoa, 2001. I stretch my neck. My face feels sticky with the residue of vinegar I was told would help me during tear-gas attacks. Are we being searched for or spotlighted, I wonder? If they shine their lights on us for long enough, perhaps they’ll discover what they’re looking for? Perhaps we’re all here to discover what we’re looking for—something different, something possible? I can’t sleep and turn to Rik, a guy I met on the streets during the day. ‘D’you want to hear my poem?’ he asks. ‘Yeah, why not . . . ?’

Possessed by possessions
Lord and Master of all we owe
Belonging to belongings
It’s a disaster, I know
Chained to the mundane
Our reference frame is physical
Every day the same old same
Nothing metaphysical
And if God’s not dead
He must be mad
Or blind
Or deaf and dumb
Or bad
Still smarting over Christ, perhaps
The way the people have been had
But in our defence
I’d like to say
We nearly chose the proper path
But lost the plot along the way
You’ve got to laugh
It’s not our fault
It’s just the toys we made
Made such a lovely noise
And girls and boys
Are high and dry
Time to bid
All this
Goodbye.”

Rik Strong’s The Sermon, which he recited to me as we ‘bedded’ down in a carpark during the demonstrations at the G8 Summit in Genoa, captured some of the emotion that drove many of us to protest. There was certainly a lot of anger at the suffering being caused by economic systems, and the lack of accountability of political systems to the people. There was also an angst about something more deeply wrong about modern life. Western society didn’t relate to how we felt inside. Publicly people didn’t seem to care for each other, yet we knew that deep down they must do—surely? For us there had to be more to us than working, shopping and looking out for Number One. This was a holistic critique, and one that connected professional and lifestyle, the political and personal.

Yet 10 years on its difficult to say exactly what or where “the movement” is now. Many people who were active in protests back then have this nagging thought: We were everywhere, we went everywhere, but we got nowhere. What was it that led to the weakening of what seemed at the time to be a global awakening?

The level of violence certainly turned many away from protesting. But there were other factors that helped to corrupt some of the creative spirit. As the old Left woke up to the new wave of anti-capitalism sentiment and became involved with groups such as ‘Globalise Resistance’ they brought with them their hierarchical we-know-what-you-really-want-and-how-to-win politics. For some, this was a politics of envy not personal liberation. This led to splits and aggressive criticism from those who rejected instant political solutions freeze-dried in the 19th Century. And so egos clashed. When, during a demonstration in Brighton I mentioned to one activist ‘leader’ that his organisation was critiqued in a Schnews pamphlet, he just asked “was I name-checked?” Meanwhile career-conscious band-wagon jumpers leapt like crazy on to talk shows and into best-seller lists and newspaper columns, and misrepresented some of the core democratic anti-hierarchy values that permeated much of the organising and the aspirations of protesters.

But the biggest impact was 9/11. Soon after, the protest groups refocused on anti-war campaigning. The mass media closed ranks around the march to war. The critical analysis became more about the dreadfulness of one President, rather than a more informed critique of the whole system and its alternatives. The “war of terror” knocked the global justice movement aside, by making activists focus on symptoms, not causes.

For many people, the political philosophy that was shared by activists from very different walks of life, concerned about different issues, was a sense of everyday democracy, where all processes, whether political or economic, should be open to their participation and mutual control. John Isbister has noted that “an ideal democracy would give a voice to everyone who is affected by a decision. The real democracies with which we are familiar cannot reach this
standard.” For example, poor children are affected by welfare systems but have no vote. Women in poorer countries are affected by family planning funding decisions in the United States but have no vote in their elections. Instead, we can remember that democracy is an aspirational goal, for situations where individuals and communities participate effectively in shaping the social limits that define what is possible for them, without impairing the ability of others to do that for themselves. The goal is therefore an everyday democracy where all organisations enable participation. It is also inherently a global goal, because it is an organisational response to a universal principle of people being able to pursue their individual freedoms.

The 1960s student leader Gregory Calvert has reflected that in their student movement they came to understand that their commitment to democratic principles came from the heart, and had a spiritual dimension. Activism inspired by this consciousness seeks to challenge large incumbent unaccountable institutions, whether in the public, private or civic spheres of life. What excited many people in the process of campaigning, was that they were connecting to a sense of purpose greater than themselves, a story of a common humanity. It filled a need, because there was, as there remains today, some angst about the purpose of our lives, the story of our existence. For some people our story of existence is one of a secular, scientific, mechanical world without meaning. For some it is the story of a God creating us to struggle to return to ‘Him’. For many people that story seems more like a fairytale – a nice idea, something they don’t really believe but find it helpful to entertain the idea, perhaps once a week or so. To others this story seems like a nightmare with a “blind, deaf, dumb, mad or bad” God. Thus Thomas Berry, writing in 1990, felt that we had lost faith in the story of our relationship with a God and, therefore, who we are; “We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it… sustained us for a long period of time. It shaped our emotional attitudes, provided us with life purposes and energized our actions. It consecrated our suffering and integrated our knowledge. We awoke in the morning and knew where we were. We could answer the questions of our children.”

This faltering between stories has sometimes been talked about as the ‘death of God’. Hence the angst and spiritual void captured in Rik Strong’s The Sermon. Set against this angst there was a real energy and hope, perhaps similar to the hope felt by people in the recent protests in the Arab world. On the streets of Genoa the T-shirts read “Another world is possible” – a world that would enable us all to be all we could be. In our hearts we felt that world already existed, but we didn’t really have a way of speaking in chorus so that the rest of society could hear us and join in the singing.

So what is this new story? I picked up some ideas from discussions of activists 10 years ago….

First, is creativity. In the west pop-culture gurus like Pat Kane were talking of a play ethic to replace the work ethic. By this he meant that the most natural, and perhaps highest, state of being is to play – to be creative, to be expressive, to test, try, experiment, to have fun in becoming all we can be. As Jean Paul-Sartre said, “As man apprehends himself as free and wishes to use his freedom, then his activity is to play.” The parallels with eco-centric thought on the irrepressible diversity of the natural world are clear. Pat suggested that this play ethic comes from the new generation of young professionals, who: “have shaped their identities through their… cultures of play – a whole range of self-chosen activities that have anchored them in a different orientation towards a meaningful life. These are the backpackers of Alex Garland’s The Beach, using cheap flights and travel literature to make the world their playground. The ultimate playfulness is to help each other to play together.”

Second, is a global consciousness, a sense of a common community of mankind. For many people nationalism is no longer a belief system and just a bit of fun, to be enjoyed in an ironic sense. Nationalism is being replaced for many by a planetary patriotism – we might call this Planetism. This means a deep concern for the health and well-being of the planet and all its peoples. Another aspect to this Planetism is a spiritual reawakening, as people see a common essence to all the world’s spiritual teachings, no matter how twisted they may be through religious institutions. This reawakening has been helped in secular society by the club culture, as ‘ravers’ grew up but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) “forget those blissed-out moments of transcendence, when drugs and beats blurred the boundaries of their selves”, according to Pat Kane. These states of consciousness were something that ecocentrist Thomas Berry pondered. If the universe is not alive in a psychic spiritual sense as well a material one, then “human consciousness emerges out of nowhere… an addendum [with] no real place in the story of the universe” he wrote. Thus the potential for a common storyemerges amongst the diverse traditions of eco-centric, religious and secular thought – an autonomous yet interconnected spirituality that supports self-expression. The new story of humanity is about our growing understanding of our relationship to our planet, including all its people and their spiritual selves. Therefore it is the story of our relationship to ourself – who we really are. The new story is that there will be infinite stories to unfold. Thus, in protests around the world people were saying one No and many Yes’s. “We’re not going to play your games anymore – thrill to your icons, your hip soundtracks, your latest double-stitch or lycra mix. We’re going to play our own games” wrote Pat Kane. And so play we did, from our use of the web to co-ordinate global protests, to the subversion of advertising, from the rave atmosphere of street parties, to the humour of slogans, from the creation of alternative currencies, to the launching of our own social businesses.

So what happened to this story of global creativity? What happened to the anger at a controlling exploiting system? What happened to the confidence that rejected the legitimacy of incumbent institutions and leaders and the old politics of left and right?

The rent. The mortgage. The debt. The pension plan. The fear of being left behind. The insecurities that make us want to be accepted and respected in the mainstream. The temptation from the story that integrating our hopes into the mainstream is the best way to live our values, to honour our memories of higher states of consciousness by our cold-light-of-day choices.

And so, if there’s anything to learn from the last 10 years, its the need to change the system that creates this apparent necessity for compromise. Jessie J may write cool music, but it IS all about the money, money, money, because if we don’t change the monetary systems, we will be subject to the incentives and disincentives that draw us into stultifying compromise. We cant rely on mass levels of mindfulness to escape the day to day corroding pressures that arise from debt-based monetary systems. Redesigning the way money is created, to remove the debt burden from our governments, economies, communities and own families, will be key to unleashing a creative globe of local and international democratic communities.

Posted in Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement, My Life, NGOs, Spirit?, Sustainable Development | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Why the MDGs are an Own Goal for Development

Posted by jembendell on September 19, 2010

This week the world’s leaders meet in New York to discuss progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were agreed ten years ago as time-bound targets for achievable reductions in poverty. The spin masters of global policy have already been busy framing this milestone in the media. But aside from the spin, the reality is very different and poses significantly different implications for the future of cooperation for poverty reduction everywhere, North and South. Working on the real causes of poverty might not win a round of applause at a charity night, but is the only moral and practical answer to the evidence mounting up before us.

Commenting on progress on the MDGs in the New York Times on Saturday, the Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs wrote that “a great deal has been achieved” and how “cynicism has been replaced by hope, born of experience, commitment and breakthroughs.”[1] He bases that on piecing together a few examples of success, mostly on communicable disease. It is relieving that the rates of infection of HIV/AIDS have declined in Africa, but it is wrong to imply this gets anywhere near meeting the MDG 6 on disease reduction, which includes halting its spread and achieving universal treatment.[2]

The United Nations now acknowledges that only two of the many targets might actually be met: cutting in half the number of people who lack safe drinking water and halving the number of people who live on $1.25 or less daily.[3] The first of these is not cause for celebration if we remember that much of this advance in clean water access comes from wells that are likely to run dry in the near future due to climate change and intensive agriculture. The second of these targets is largely meaningless, when one realises that China accounts for the majority of the increase, and thus exchange rates explain a significant part of the progress, while the cost of meeting basic needs have been increasing worldwide.

One of the goals is for universal primary education, yet according to research by the Global Campaign for Education, 48% of children in sub-Saharan Africa still do not complete primary education.[4] Another of the goals is halving world hunger. With global food prices peaking in the summer of 2008, and climbing rapidly again, over one billion people were undernourished in 2009, an all-time high.[5] 925 million people across the world are still classed as hungry.[6] A child dies every six seconds due to hunger related diseases. Despite this shocking daily disaster, the proportion of the world’s hungry has gone down by only half a percentage point since 2000 – from 14 to 13.5 percent.[7]

As halving world hunger is the target, that would mean 14% having reduced to 11.6% by now. I make that 130,185,186 people who are hungry this very day, as living examples of us missing the target. It is a massive missing of a target that was not meant as a pie-in-sky ideal, such as ending poverty, but as a practical one of halving hunger. If this was a match, the goal is so far off, we are still trying to work the ball out of own penalty area. To move forward the poor need more than the cult of ‘positive thinking’ from people who want to keep the MDG show on the road so as to keep the focus on charity not real change, and receive more fame and funds for their projects as a result.

Poverty is an interconnected reality and challenge, and so even hitting the targets can still miss the point. The education commissioner of Nigeria’s Kwara state has revealed that nearly 20,000 of the state’s teachers were made to sit tests in English and Maths that were designed for 9- and 10-year-olds, but only 7 of the teachers reached the minimum attainment level.[8] As targets are usually about quantities of input, not qualitative outcomes, then situations like that in Nigeria can arise. In addition, a focus on just one issue can ignore the interconnected nature of poverty. For instance, some HIV antiretroviral medications require a minimum caloric intake to work. The government of Zambia has had trouble containing the spread of HIV after expanding the production and distribution of antiretrovirals; they realised the problem was that children were not eating enough.[9]

Likewise a focus on just one issue can lead to other important concerns being sidestepped or made worse. Amnesty International has found that a focus on meeting the MDGs has led to matters of accountability and rights being sidelined at times.[10]

The reason progress is so slow is known to many international development experts. They just don’t share it much in press releases, as it doesn’t help generate funding. The simplest and most important insight here is that, on a large scale, the poor are not helped by targeting them in particular. Instead, poverty is reduced by helping enterprises generate decent work that create not only the products and services but also the wages for people to buy them. Therefore the creation of decent work opportunities with fair wages is key to all poverty reduction and social development, no matter how the poverty is then manifested.[11]

The percentage of corporate revenues that are paid out as wages has been going down worldwide for decades.[12] This happens as a result of the balance of power between government, business and workforces shifting with economic globalisation. Consequently workers have less in their pockets to buy the products and services that generate the jobs, that employ the workers. To get out of this situation, workers in some countries have been going into debt, speculating on property, or releasing equity from their homes. It is a situation that has led to financial volatility and concerns about financial collapse. In other parts of the world, and for the poor, there is not the same escape through debt and mortgaging assets. Meanwhile their employers have continued to receive a small share of the revenues of the value chains they trade in, with the profits accruing to the top of the chain, such as the famous brands, retailers, related professional services and in turn the financial services sector. This squeezes the sum available to workers and entrepreneurs in poorer countries, as well as limiting the potential tax revenues of such countries. The percentage of corporate profits that are taxed has also been decreasing around the world, therefore meaning governments have less to invest in social services and promoting enterprise.

The key to achieving development is the promotion of enterprise, with the ability of entrepreneurs in lower income countries to receive a larger share of income from their value chains, the ability of their workers to receive a larger share of the generated revenues, and the ability of governments to generate taxes and use them efficiently and accountably. Some within the international development community have been making this analysis clear, but they are drowned out by those who seek to keep the focus on a simpler message of charity, positivity, and coming together for another push towards meeting targets with new donations, often to their own organisations. The alternative would be to work on matters of economic governance and challenge existing power relations in societies and economies – not such an easy sell to large donors, or individual supporters watching the latest disaster appeal on TV. Deluded and self-serving people in the development profession prefer to see the people who criticise the MDGs as negative or cynical, and so dismiss the reality of the situation they describe. As a result, as I found in a study for the UN last year, the funding of economic justice campaigning is limited, and so the relationships with between Western NGOs and civil society in the global South are not often sufficient for them to have a legitimate and effective voice in policy making.[13]

Many of the issues the MDGs focus on are the symptoms and not the causes of poverty. The cause of poverty is generally a lack of decent work in a thriving enterprise economy governed by an state that is held accountable for its regulation and provision of services. A superficial focus on the symptoms not causes of poverty has been promoted in recent years by the new billionaire philanthropists, engaged in charismatic charity. Huge donors like Bill Gates focus mostly on the surface of problems, as that is what is visible. The visibility of a public problem is important as it makes it more understandable to people without insight into how problems arise, and visible problems can be explained in ways that generate public support and congratulation. The experts that the non expert philanthropists rely on are those who have made themselves acceptable to elites in the business and government, thereby perpetuating a superficial agenda. “Take the huge investments in global health, micro-credit and environmental services that Bill Gates and others are making,” says Michael Edwards who has authored a book on the topic. “The available evidence from these investments so far suggests that it is perfectly possible to use the market to extend access to useful goods and services, but far harder to have any substantial impact on social transformation. The reason is pretty obvious: systemic change involves social movements, politics and the state, which these experiments generally ignore.” He laments that the rise of the “philanthrocapitalists” is undermining the power of independent civil society to frame and act on systemic causes of social problems.[14]

As we look back on the last 10 years of action and inaction on international development it is now clear that the MDGs have scored an own goal for the development community by keeping systemic issues off the agenda. At best the MDGs acted as a defence mechanism in difficult times, maintaining interest in poverty when the international community became engulfed in the anti-terrorism agenda and the related US-led wars.

As I witness business, UN, governments and NGOs coming together this week to call for a another push to meet the MDGs, I am left wondering what will help unravel this great delusion. Where will the movement to embrace a serious sustainable development agenda come from? Will we have to wait another 5 years for a more honest stock take? Five years is a lot of 6 seconds. Over 26 million more children will have died from hunger and related illnesses.

In my last book I described the emergence of a movement mentality within people in the corporate responsibility, social enterprise and responsible investment space, where professionals are pushing forward transformative agendas from within their commercial organisations.[15] Yet I wonder whether the contradictions between short term profit and long term value generation may mean that an authentic development agenda will be difficult to place at the heart of corporate strategy. In reflecting on this I recall that 15 years ago a BP executive said that if Greenpeace did not exist he would have had to invent it. Chris Marsden was explaining about how he needed the external spotlight to make his case from within the company. We could debate whether it was an effective spotlight, given the BP record, but at least there was some pressure. It seems we need a development NGO that can apply pressure like Greenpeace has done on the environment, and encourage investors and companies to engage seriously with development issues. In the early Noughties the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement applied pressure to governments and international organisations without there being one central organisation, but its visibility has waned in recent years as the usefulness of street protest was questioned and attention moved to celebrity events like Live 8 and Live Earth. There seems to be a gap in the NGO market for a direct action development group, and so perhaps a financier could invent one. I hear of some friends of friends with a half a million from their banker bonuses now wondering what the meaning of their life really is.

If you know someone like that, send them this link.

[the references for this blog are in the pdf copy –Download PDF of ‘Own Goal’

On my company website I talk about the implications for corporate and investor strategy… Lifeworth Consulting

Posted in Counter-Globalization Movement, Sustainable Development, United Nations | Tagged: , , , | 14 Comments »

The Final Annual Review from Lifeworth – challenging Capitalism!

Posted by jembendell on February 1, 2010

For the past 9 years I have written an annual review of the corporate responsibility field. In each review I have focused on what I thought were key trends, and sought to promote heartfelt and progressive engagement in this field. 2010 is the final year of my writing quarterly reviews in the leading Journal of Corporate Citizenship. Next year, therefore, I will produce a new edited book, with co-author Ian Doyle, that analyses the last 5 years. Then, Ill focus less on written commentary and more on implementing the ideas and insights from the past decade.  So, as this is the final annual review, I thought it important to encourage us all to use this time of post-crisis reflection to go deeper, and see how our work might relate to the kind of economic transformations we need for a fair and sustainable world. Hence, when I saw how many people are now debating fundamental elements of “capitalism” I thought it important to bring this to the fore. Because, as the World Economic Forum draws to a close in Davos, the real debate about the future of our economic systems is only getting started… in the real world of people’s communities and businesses. The press release for the new review follows below.

Post-crisis, Capitalism now a focus for CSR, says Lifeworth Review

Press Release from Lifeworth. February 1st 2009.

Capitalism is up for debate, and that’s a good thing, according to a new review from a management consultancy. “The dual financial and climate crises are leading people in all walks of life to question the kind of economy that makes sense for their businesses, communities and families,” explains lead author of the review, Associate Professor Jem Bendell. “As well as some anger at bankers, the financial crisis has led many to ask deeper questions about finance in general and, therefore, about capitalism. From bars to seminars, bookshops to board meetings, capitalism is being discussed – openly and critically,” he claims.

Entitled “Capitalism in Question”, the annual review describes how politicians and even business leaders are calling for more critical assessment of what kind of economic system we need for a fair and sustainable future. The review from Lifeworth Consulting summarises over a dozen books that have been published in the last weeks that debate the relative merits of capitalism and what form of economic governance is needed post-crisis, and in a new era of economic power. “The majority of these new books seek to do something that previously seemed neither necessary or interesting − to defend capitalism,” says John Stuart of Greenleaf Publishing, which supports the review.

Bendell explains that defensiveness wont help. Referring to the “Restoring Trust” report overseen by Allianz, Barclays Capital, Blackstone, and Carlyle Group, among others, he said “seeking to defend one’s immediate interests, as the banks writing the recent World Economic Forum report clearly did, is not how we are going to discover together the next step in our economic evolution. Fearful people in incumbent institutions may waste our time with diversionary drivel, but real exploration of the core issues is unavoidable. The question now is who should participate and how.”

Co-author of the review, Lifeworth Consulting’s Ian Doyle, explained that “much of the corporate social responsibility, or CSR agenda, has been predicated on a belief that government is constrained by global finance and can, or should, only intervene in markets to a limited extent. The giving of huge amounts of money to private banks may suggest that global finance is still dominant, but it also shows that sometimes when called on to act, most governments will intervene in markets in dramatic ways. So it’s not unreasonable for people to look to their governments to now shape responsible business practice more than before. And that is what we are seeing.”

The review is a call for people to become more involved in exploring how to evolve economic systems to promote fair and sustainable societies, says Bendell. “We are calling for this kind of engagement because after doing nine years of quarterly responsible business trends analysis for the Journal of Corporate Citizenship, we have concluded that there is a nascent social movement for the transformation of business and finance. Behind the jargon of corporate social responsibility, corporate accountability, environmental management, social enterprise, and responsible finance, are people like you and me who want to change the way business does business and the way money makes money. As such we need to think through what we are aiming for, longer term, and how we can work in concert. We all need to look up from our projects and shape the unfolding programme of economic transformation.”

To contribute to the debate, Lifeworth offers a framework for democratising capitalism. As Bendell, who is also Lifeworth’s director explains, “It’s simply that we need more governance of capital by people who are directly affected by its ownership and control. From that one concept flow many implications for tax, currencies, stocks, and all social and environmental regulations. This democratisation of capitalism could be the ultimate goal of the corporate responsibility movement, and the seeds of this approach are already to be found in the ideas and practices of many people working on corporate responsibility today.”

A discussion of economic systems can seem distant from the day-to-day preoccupations of most executives and the academics who seek to educate them, but as Bendell suggests, “making such connections will be important if the corporate responsibility movement is to have a substantial and lasting effect on commerce and society.” In ‘Capitalism in Question’ some initial guidance is given for how business leaders and educators can play a socially progressive role at this time. Specific multi-stakeholder initiatives are recommended.

The review of trends in corporate responsibility during 2009 includes analysis of government stimulus packages, responsible tax management, responsible mining, responsible cosmetics and beauty businesses, as well as particular trends in Asian and Francophone countries. It also explores the potential of ‘design thinking’ for sustainable business innovation, and provides in-depth analysis of the implications of the Copenhagen climate summit.

“Deep changes will be required in economic governance if we are to achieve a sustainable society… Capitalism will change, there is no doubt, and it must change so that it delivers both private wealth and public good” explains Professor Malcolm McIntosh of the Asia Pacific Centre for Sustainable Enterprise. “As we enter a period of potential reconfiguration of economic governance, leaders of organisations will need to better understand the issues, actors and dynamics to be successful. Part of Griffith Business School in Australia, Professor McIntosh’s centre supported the free release of this review to promote creative thinking at a time of critical global challenges and because “the lead author Jem Bendell, is an important commentator on the world stage.”

Dr Bendell says there are important implications for management education. “In Griffith’s new “Graduate Certificate for Sustainable Enterprise” we help our students to navigate increasingly complex social and political contexts so they can find ways to prosper by being part of the solution.”

‘Capitalism in Question: The Lifeworth Annual Review of 2009’ is available in pdf for free download at http://www.lifeworth.com/consult/2010/02/annualreview/

Lifeworth’s responsible enterprise trends analysis during 2010 can be obtained by subscribing to the ‘Journal of Corporate Citizenship’. New subscribers to the journal before March 31st 2010 receive all 2009 copies for free. Visit http://www.greenleaf-publishing.com

Information on Griffith’s research centre and graduate certificate is available at http://www.asiapacificsustainableenterprise.com/

For media enquiries about ‘Capitalism in Question’ contact Jem Bendell via connect [at] lifeworth.com or +44(0)2071936102

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement, Lifeworth, Reports, Sustainable Development | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

What will success look like for the CSR Movement?

Posted by jembendell on July 27, 2009

In recent months Ive been talking more widely about the existence of a new social movement of people who are making business and finance contribute to a world that is sustainable and fair. Im talking more with social entrepreneurs and social activists, and I find many people who have a sense of urgency and leadership are surprised at my view, as they regard mainstream CR or CSR as an effort to maintain the corporate status quo, not fundamentally transform it. In response I agree that much CSR is lacking, but I point to those initiatives, projects and people within the corporate world who are working of more systemic transformations of markets – whether through influencing standards, regulations, mindsets or financing systems. Yet, in these conversations, I realise that we dont have a clear set of successes to point to – so many of the examples are about the incredible efforts that people are making, rather than the results being achieved. Any movement needs to know what success looks like. So, it was interesting last month to hear a CR leader, Simon Zadek, ask a class of students to reflect on what they considered real CSR successes to date. I encourage you to reflect on these questions.

What is the most successful multistakeholder initiative and why?
What is the most important piece of CSR legislation, from a CSR perspective?
Think of three CSR CEOs who you believe have demonstrated CSR success, and what have they been successful at?
Think of a civil society leader who has promoted CSR really effectively?
What is it that you still dont know about CSR, and is critical to you future work?

Perhaps you could forward this email to your colleagues in your team, so you can discuss your responses together. I also invite you to post your responses on my blog, at https://jembendell.wordpress.com/

If you are interested in what it could mean for your own work to be part of a CSR movement,  I encourage you to get my book on the topic for your organisation’s library. “The Corporate Responsibility Movement”, available from.  http://www.greenleaf-publishing.com/productdetail.kmod?productid=2767

This message was included in the Lifeworth CSR jobs Bulletin for July.  To sign up for that bulletin, issued about once a month, visit http://lifeworth.com/main/sign-up/

Posted in ALN, Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement, Lifeworth | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Applying ‘Movement Thinking’ to your work

Posted by jembendell on May 12, 2009

The scale of the challenges we face today, from climate change to economic instability, remind us that it is no longer smart, if ever, to plan our own work without attention to how we influence social change more generally on the issues that are of personal and strategic importance to us.

Based on some of the analysis in my new book, I have developed a simple process to applying ‘Movement Thinking’ to your responsible enterprise efforts.

APPLYING ‘MOVEMENT THINKING’

Social movements theories point to four categories of factors that shape the generation and development of social movements. Reflecting on how we relate to these factors can help us to understand our contribution to, or benefit from, a social movement. Work through the following questions to aid you in applying ‘movement thinking’ to your responsible enterprise efforts. Make notes on a piece of paper, and discuss them with a friend or colleague.

To understand more about these factors in movement generation, refer to pages 16-20 and 24-29 of The Corporate Responsibility Movement.

Assessing general movement participation

Ask yourself the following questions, in relation to your work on aspects of responsible business and finance.

1) How have I contributed to identification and pursuit of common interests of a particular group of people (like me)? Have I benefited from others doing this? What more could I do, or be done?

2) How have I contributed to the development of shared identities and social ties? Have I benefited from others doing this? What more could I do, or be done?

3) How have I contributed to mobilising resources for a particular group? Have I benefited from others doing this? What more could I do, or be done?

4) How have I contributed to the shaping or identification of significant political and societal opportunities for further action? Have I benefited from others doing this? What more could I do, or be done?

Applying a ‘movement approach’ to strategic responses to organisational challenges

Choose a particular organisational challenge you are working on that you recognise has public-interest dimensions. Ask yourself:

5) To what extent are my motivations for addressing this challenge instrumental (benefiting myself and employer), relational (benefiting my social relations at work and private life) and/or moral (relating to my values)? If relational or moral motives rank highly, go to question 7. If not, then go to question 6.

6) In some cases even instrumental reasons require collective changes in society in order to be successful at the organisational and personal level. To transform society in ways that help resolve a challenge you face, you may benefit from understanding how to interact positively with social movements. Therefore, if relational or moral reasons rated fairly low in the previous question, ask yourself what the limits of individual action might be on the challenge you have identified. – if you see the need to participate in social change for instrumental reasons, go to question 7.

7) With the specific organisational challenge in mind, work again through questions 1 to 4. i.e. append “related to the specific challenge I am working on now” to the end of each question.

Sharing

Share the results of your thought processes with professional confidants. Focus on the question “What more could I do, or be done”?

Share the results to the question “What more could I do, or be done?” here at https://jembendell.wordpress.com/by using the comments option below.

Example

Excerpt from page 28 of The Corporate Responsibility Movement

“As I [Jem Bendell] see myself as a participant in the corporate responsibility movement, I decided to test the theory on myself. I challenged myself to identify at least one thing that has emerged in me and one thing that has emerged from me for the corporate responsibility movement over the past 13 years, that relate to the four aspects of movement generation described above. In terms of common interest, I have learned that my interest is not related to a specific profession, such as consulting or academia, but with people who believe in being entrepreneurial in any sector in order to make economic activity contribute to a better world. For others in the movement, my consulting and training has sought to connect people to that sense of their own interest. In terms of common identity and ties, I have now developed camaraderie with people in a variety of sectors who are pioneering ways of making significant changes in business practice, and benefit from extensive networks of professional colleagues, many of whom I consider friends. For others in the movement, I have helped facilitate connections through online networks and newsletters, and promoted awareness of a potential common identity through my writings. In terms of resource mobilisation, I have benefited from people in the movement commissioning me to work with them on projects, and I have created more resources for such work by helping to conceive new non-profit organisations working on corporate responsibility that now have incomes of over a million dollars. In terms of opportunity structures, I have now benefited from the efforts of others to help shift the mainstream corporate responsibility agenda onto a more transformative one, and, for others in the movement, I have helped shape discursive opportunities through successfully challenging some mainstream interpretations of concepts through my writings.”

The book

The Corporate Responsibility Movement: Five Years of Global Corporate Responsibility Analysis from Lifeworth, 2001-2005

Jem Bendell et al. March 2009 387+viii pp 234 x 156 mm paperback ISBN 978-1-906093-18-1 £72.00 http://www.greenleaf-publishing.com/productdetail.kmod?productid=2767

The advisors

This exercise was prepared by Dr Jem Bendell, Lifeworth Consulting, a responsible enterprise strategy advisory, evaluation, education, inspiration and liaison service. http://www.lifeworth.com

Posted in Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement, Lifeworth | Leave a Comment »

Globalising Trusteeship

Posted by jembendell on April 12, 2009

Jem At Jallian Wala Bagh in April 2009

Jem Bendell visiting Jallian Wala Bagh in April 2009

On April 13th, ninety years ago, a British General ordered the firing on people peacefully protesting the repression of India. Mohandas K Gandhi was so moved by the massacre in Amritsar that he called for a special week to be observed every year – a Satyagraha Week. “Satya” means truth, “Graha” means both ‘involved in’ and ‘global’. Gandhi used satyagraha to describe a non-violent way of life, that does not participate in oppression wherever it occurs, and challenges it in non-violent ways. It became synonymous with India’s liberation movement.

Due to the work of Varsha Das and her colleagues at the Gandhi National Museum I was reminded of Gandhi’s teachings, and began re-reading what he said and did about life, politics and economics. As you probably are yourself, I was familiar with his famous phrases including that “we must be the change we want to see in the world’. But as I read on, I realised his views are very relevant to the current global economic crisis and the work I do on sustainable enterprise and finance.

The recent G20 failed to launch a deep reconsideration of the global economy, and some of its precepts, such as current concepts of property and a consumption-led economy. I suppose the pressures on the leaders for more-of-the-same were immense. But it has become clear that is up to us to begin a broader dialogue. Gandhi called for the Satyagraha Week to be one of fearless yet convivial dialogue about the truth of society and to redouble our efforts to live by that truth. Reading that affirmed some of the work I did this past year, with the Global Finance Initiative. After consultations with finance professionals and stakeholders in dozens of countries we concluded with a recommendation that dialogues on changes in financial systems are required that are:

  • Foundational, addressing profound questions about the purpose of the financial system and the principles that direct its actions;
  • Comprehensive, encompassing the connections between accounting systems, currencies, regulatory systems, economic structures and all parts of the financial system;
  • Inclusive, with processes reaching beyond traditional insiders, to engage responsible investors, multi-stakeholder groups working on finance issues, asset owners, labor, NGOs and critical academics, and be truly global;
  • Systemic, connecting financial stability to the real economy, social equity, and environmental sustainability.

This dialogue could be part of a global truth-seeking — a ‘Global Satyagraha’. Beyond his views on dialogue and truth-seeking, MK Gandhi’s views are relevant to the future of the global economy and our work on responsible enterprise and finance in at least four ways: economic equality, appropriate technology, self-reliance, and trusteeship.

Challenging both the caste system and negativity between religions, he promoted the equality of all peoples, which meant non discrimination in employment and economic affairs. He also believed that technology could be good if did needed work, but bad if it put people out of work. This philosophy led him to spend many hours working on the spinning wheel, a technology that was appropriate to the economic level of villagers across India at the time. Another important aspect of the spinning wheel was how it generated self-reliance. Gandhi spoke of ‘swadeshi’ or economic self-sufficiency, as the only way that India would achieve self-determination. He called on his country-people not to pay into the system of empire by buying foreign clothes. In our current context the implication here is not simply that we produce for ourselves, but that we seek to become independent of systems of exploitation for our own livelihoods and lifestyles.

Jem Bendell at site of MK Gandhi assasination, March 2009

Jem Bendell at site of MK Gandhi assasination, March 2009

These aspects of Gandhian economics are well documented and discussed. Like many business folk the world-over, many Indian executives do not see the relevance of these approaches to modern business, viewing them as anachronistic. Yet, in a resource-constrained and climate-threatened world, where hyper-inequality fuels violence, the need for principles and practices of equality, appropriateness and self-reliance to pervade business is clear.

What stunned me was the resonance of his views on ‘trusteeship’ with the latest thinking within the corporate responsibility movement. More of us have come to understand that we need to redesign the systems of corporate governance and finance in order to create more sustainable and responsible economies, and that business executives can and should engage in public policy debates to promote that redesign. In my latest book, I develop the concept of “capital democracy” to describe an economic system that responds to this understanding. I write:

Corporate Responsibility Movement, Bendell et al, March 2009

Corporate Responsibility Movement, Bendell et al, March 2009

“In a democratic society, property rights should only exist because people collectively decide to uphold them; they are not inalienable but are upheld by society as a matter of choice. Therefore, if society confers us the right of property, then we have obligations to that society. Today property rights have become so divorced from this democratic control that they are undermining other human rights. A reawakening to a basic principle is required: there can be no property right without property duties, or obligations. From such a principle, it should not be left up to the powerful to decide if they are responsible or not, or if they are carrying out their obligations or not. Instead, the focus shifts to the governance of capital by those who are affected by it” (Bendell, et al, 2009, Pg 33 to 34).

The Mahatma’s view of trusteeship is the same, but elegant in its simplicity. It arises from an understanding that everything is owned by everyone, and wealth is owned by those who generate it. Thus the one who controls an asset is not an owner but a trustee, being given control of that asset by society. Gandhi wrote “I am inviting those people who consider themselves as owners today to act as trustees, i.e., owners, not in their own right, but owners in the right of those whom they have exploited.” In the Harijan paper his views on trusteeship of property were later documented to clarify “It does not recognize any right of private ownership of property except so far as it may be permitted by society for its own welfare” and “under State-regulated trusteeship, an individual will not be free to hold or use his wealth for selfish satisfaction or in disregard of the interests of society.” He also wrote that “for the present owners of wealth… they will be allowed to retain the stewardship of their possessions and to use their talent, to increase the wealth, not for their own sakes, but for the sake of the nation and, therefore, without exploitation.” All those years ago the Mahatma was proposing an economic system that many people are only beginning to conceive of today. If you have my book, I apologise for my prior ignorance of Gandhi’s trusteeship concept. If you don’t have it under your trusteeship yet, hey, it’s still worth reading!

Sangeeta Das of the Gandhi Smriti Museum revealed to me how some Indian industrialists supported many of Gandhi’s ideas and applied some to their own business. Upon reading the views of some current Indian business leaders I see the concepts of equality and trusteeship have informed their voluntary corporate responsibility efforts. However, I am left with a sense that the concept of trusteeship has much untapped potential as an economic system, codified into public policy and regulation. The current crisis demonstrates the need to globalise trusteeship, or capital democracy, as an approach that can be debated and interpreted into new principles and policies for economics, finance and enterprise. In addition it is clear that concepts of appropriate technology and self-reliance have much more to offer both to corporate strategy and public policy than currently the case. I wonder whether Indian business leaders could play a role in bringing this insight to the world.

The life of Gandhi is important not only for his views on economic systems but also on how to bring them into being. In my book I argue that the global challenges we face mean those of us who work to make business better must start thinking and planning like a movement. “The corporate responsibility movement is a loosely organised but sustained effort by individuals both inside and outside the private sector, who seek to use or change specific corporate practices, whole corporations, or entire systems of corporate activity, in accordance with their personal commitment to public goals and the expectations of wider society.” (Bendell, et al 2009, pg 24). As a movement leader, we could learn from Gandhi’s mastery of symbolic communication combined with personal authenticity, his embrace of both dialogue and direct action, his respect for people no matter the differences, and his demonstration that we must ourselves disengage with systems that uphold a lie. More of us can mobilise our networks and knowledge for transformative ends. And if it means changing our lives to be less economically dependent on the status quo, then that’s what we must do.

The recent violence from authorities against protesters and bystanders (and the truth) at the G20 is yet another reminder of the need to learn how to engage in a transformative non-violent movement that provides people diverse ways to participate while sucking energy out of violent systems. On the 90th anniversary of the hundreds who died in Jallianwala Bagh, we can remember how their memory inspired millions in the pursuit of truth and freedom.

I will be discussing some of these ideas in a webinar, online, and seminar in Geneva, called: “The Corporate Responsibility Movement: Where are we going and why?” Seminar: Thursday May 14, from 12.30 to 14.00 Swiss time, Uni Mail, 40 bd du Pont d’Arve, Geneva, room MR 150 (ground floor, opposite the cafeteria). Register: csr@unige.ch.  Webinar: Tuesday May 19, from 16:30 to 18:00 UK time, organised by CSR International. Venue is “online”. Register: clemence@csrinternational.org http://www.csrinternational.org/?p=273

The Corporate Responsibility Movement, Jem Bendell et al. March 2009 ISBN 978-1-906093-18-1
http://www.greenleaf-publishing.com/productdetail.kmod?productid=2767

Thx to Suzy, Satjiv, Inderpreet, Nandita, Varsha and Sangeeta for unwittingly guiding my serendipitous journey in India.

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement, Lifeworth, My Life, Spirit?, Sustainable Development, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Loose Change We Can Believe In? Why Salary Caps Won’t Do

Posted by jembendell on February 5, 2009

Barack Obama has made international news announcing a salary cap for the heads of companies that are being bailed out by government. Other governments are expected to follow suit. Billions have been lost, and trillions pumped in to keep these companies afloat. Compared to that, these salary caps are loose change, not the ‘change we can believe in’ people hoped for.

That bankers are being bailed out, while home owners struggle, and people are laid off, is galling to many. Robert Borosage, president of the Institute for America’s Future, has said that “many homeowners were misled by predatory lenders to taking mortgages that they didn’t understand and couldn’t afford. It would be simply obscene to help the predators and not those that they preyed on.” Some also question the revolving door between bankers and regulators, and whether people like former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who became super-rich from working in one of the firms whose practices had helped create the crisis, should have been deciding how to hand out billions to the same sector. News that the bankruptcy courts released $2.5bn to secure Lehman Brothers bonus payments at a time when savers were losing out, is just one example of a situation that seems to many like a systemic abuse of power by a professional elite of regulators, judiciary and bankers. Then Merryll Lynch giving out more millions to its staff as the crisis really crunched is not just obsence, as time may tell, it is likely criminal.

The bail-outs are defended by the fact that a financial institution is “too big” or “too interconnected” to fail and that its failure would cause a systemic risk. If governments and regulators have let financial institutions become so big that they cannot be allowed to collapse, shouldn’t they be encouraging more competition and more diversity? This is at least the view of trade unions. UNI Finance, the global trade union for finance workers, has repeatedly called for a diverse finance market that includes not only private banks and insurance companies but also public banks, savings banks and insurances, co-operative banks, mutual insurance companies and foundations. However, this does not seem to be the view of governments and regulators who are pushing failing institutions into the arms of healthier ones (e.g. acquisition of Merrill Lynch by of Bank of America in the United States or the takeover of HBOS by Lloyd’s TBS in the United Kingdom). As Lina Saigol, a Financial Times columnist, has argued, this “new generation of gargantuan institutions [will have] the power to dictate the next financial boom and bust.” With the new injection of funds from governments, many banks have since turned their attention to attempts at buying each other out, and thus compounding the problems associated with market domination by too few players, rather than quickly getting back to the business of lending money to people in the business of making things for others.

In many cases the bailouts have became part nationalisations of the banks involved. This gives governments some additional influence over their practices, yet most politicians are currently cautious about what influence they exert, and act on issues like future executive pay, as the new announcement from the US illustrates. The irony of increasing government ownership of the banks, is that the tax payer may face a double whammy of their own. Not only have they bought up bad debts, but they have bought into potentially massive legal liabilities. In a comment in The Guardian, Nick Leeson, the trader who brought down Barings Bank in 1995, said: “For my role in the collapse of Barings I was pursued around the world, and ended up being sentenced to six and half years in a Singaporean jail. Who is going to go after the reckless individuals responsible for the financial catastrophe? Apparently no one”. However, there appears to be growing pressure to hold companies as well as individuals responsible for the global financial crisis. Regulators have announced the broadening of the investigations into the collapse of the subprime mortgage market to include Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and AIG. In addition, many observers expect a sharp rise in shareholder lawsuits against investment banks and other financial institutions following the millions of dollars of losses they made by gambling money in asset-backed securities and the like. Law suits are emerging from Hong Kong to Paris to Rekjavik.

These actions slam the legal door after the capital horse has bolted. Rather than punishing the individuals who profited from using other people’s money to buy derivatives they did not fully understand, but knew could turn a profit in time for their next bonus, this legal action will cost the companies’ new owners, including the tax payer. First the bankers, then the lawyers, will have bled the collective purse. The sick irony of this is that many ex-bankers are getting in on the game: they are helping fund the lawyers to pursue claims against financial institutions for those who have lost their money. In doing so they aim to make a nice commission. They screwed the public purse once, and now will do it again, through taking a slice of payments paid out by their old employers. As this situation becomes visible to the general public, calls for the people who made millions from speculating with their money to replenish their depleted pension funds may grow. There could be investigation into whether there was abuse of fiduciary duty by those who received large bonuses through creating, investing, rating or trading in mortgage backed securities or credit-default swaps since the deregulation of those markets in 1999. Given the mobility of capital, such processes would require international cooperation, to freeze assets of those being investigated. If this happened, it would remind us of Interface CEO Ray Anderson, who said that people like him would in future be regarded as criminals for doing things that at the time they considered normal business. Letting bankers live as millionaires, some as billionaires, from creating a crisis that has emptied the pensions funds and now the coffers of government, would sadly stand as a testament to systemic injustices of contemporary societies. However, it is unlikely that governments will want to see such a wave of litigation. As such there may be growing calls for some form of ‘financial truth and reconciliation’ commission, to explore how this crisis developed, where fault lies, and how to repatriate some savings.

Those calls will grow louder in the coming months, with major activist mobilisations planned to call for financial justice before the G20 meeting in London. Obama was expecting a hero’s welcome at his first big meet up in London. But saving a few million in salaries in return for the trillions thrown at the financial sector, while millions of people lose their jobs? Salary caps aren’t the loose Change We Can Believe in. He will have to do more. Far more. As will the rest of the G20. They can start by endorsing a more legitimate and inclusive process to develop principles and rules for a new financial order, and coordinating a process to repatriate some funds from the pockets of the irresponsible bankers, some of whom now seek to even profit from the coming litigation.

– More analysis of the future of the financial system will appear in the next Lifeworth.com Annual Review of Responsible Enterprise, released at the end of the month.

– For a discussion of the corporate responsibility movement’s contribution to the future of capitalism see my new book http://www.greenleaf-publishing.com/productdetail.kmod?productid=2767

Posted in Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Colourful Cuba (cos your gray ain’t my grey)

Posted by jembendell on October 26, 2006

I sometimes chat with my flatmate about what it was like growing up in the Communist East. We joke about how grey it was. In my books and films it was grey… the buildings, people, all shades of dull depressed and repressed grey. She tells me that books about the West that she read in East Germany showed the West as… also grey! “OK, so it was so grey in the East, that even our pictures of the West were grey!”.

Was an absence of neon lights and bright paints and colourful advertising actually grey? Its amazing how urban our thinking is… nothing is as colourful as nature. Walking through the UN today I saw paintings from an exhibition sponsored by Cuba. The artist from this communist country, Luis Antonio Espinosa Fruto, chose to paint all his pictures in… grey. But hey, they are bright, brilliant, beautiful images. They are all paintings of the natural environment in Cuba (continues below…).

artwork_images_424056915_238119_luis-antonio-espinosa-fruto.jpg

Cuban nature is mentioned in the depths of a report published by WWF earlier this week. The Living Planet Report tells a shocking story of what we are doing to ourselves and our planet… as Frank Dixon said at a talk on Monday, “the science is telling us we are like the meteor that hit the Yucatan and wiped out the dinosaurs, we are the new great exterminator”. We really are behaving on this planet like we have another one to go to.

On page 19, in a section comparing the amount of resources each country is gobbling up in comparison to the social development they have acheived, as indicated by the UN’s Human Development Index, shows that only one country has achieved a level of social development and environmental protection that can be considered “sustainable development”. That country? Grey-painted communist Cuba. The journos seem to have missed that one in their coverage of the report.

This state of affairs should make us ask some serious questions about current forms of economy and capitalism… are they helping us get what we really want? Is the world any more colourful for its shining lights and gaudy adverts, if these help melt the glaciers, dry up the lands, and degrade nature? Is it any more colourful when people run the rat race to souless material excess while others are malnourished and oppressed?

I guess one reason Cuba comes out on top is because the HDI statistics dont place decisive weightings on certain political freedoms. Cuba probably comes out on top environmentally because of the US embargo has encouraged local production of foods for local consumption. Organic market gardening isnt a lifestyle choice for the middle classes wanting some more meaning to their lives, but a basic necessity for many Cubans. Whats the policy conclusion? That everyone needs to be embargoed by the US?

Open borders only work when you’ve got a fair game going on, with ground rules that mean you dont trade away the environment or people as mere ‘externalities’ that can be disregarded. The evidence from the Living Planet Report is more an indictment of the West than it is praise for Cuba. But, well done Cuba for reminding us that our brains are the only grey matter in nature, and its our choice to make them vitally brilliant or deadly dull.

Posted in Counter-Globalization Movement, Funny, Sustainable Development, United Nations, WWF | 2 Comments »