Professor Jem Bendell

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

Archive for the ‘Geneva’ Category

Will Swiss Economic Ideology Harm Global Health and Humanitarian Efforts?

Posted by jembendell on August 18, 2011

The Swiss franc has increased 30% against the US dollar and 20% against the Euro since last year. The pain felt by Swiss businesses is being well documented. But less well documented is the effect of this currency imbalance on international efforts to promote health, peace, human rights, and humanitarian action. Switzerland is home to many international organisations, including United Nations agencies and international charities. Many have their assets and grants denominated in US dollars or currencies other than the Swiss franc, yet their fixed costs of buildings and staff are in the extremely overvalued Swiss francs. Consequently their budgets are being ravaged by the currency imbalance, leading to mass redundancies and the cutting of various programmes, at key organisations for world affairs, such as the World Health Organisation to the International Labour Organisation. Those with seniority in such organisation are more able to hold on to their jobs, so the harder-working and far less well-paid staff are often the first ones to be shown the door. Although there need to be efficiencies found in international organisations, a sinking-ship mentality is not the way to achieve it.

The current efforts to reduce the value of the Swiss franc, by the Swiss National Bank, are reported by the Financial Times to have completely failed. Their tactics have been to increase the volume of Swiss francs, and slash interest rates. Yet as the international financial markets are spooked and want to buy Swiss francs, banks are simply buying up the excess francs. Not only is this causing a problem for Swiss businesses, it is creating a massive future risk for the Swiss economy when one day people decide they don’t need to hold so many francs. In addition, in efforts to keep the Swiss franc down, the government’s debt is spiralling. That will be compounded by recent commitments to spend billions in bail outs to suffering businesses. Such bail outs will be open for mishandling and corruption and propping up inefficient companies – especially if they are spent quickly enough to have any effect. But worse, these bail outs are like a sticking plaster for a haemorrhaging wound, as systemic solutions are required. If we compare prices across the border, the Swiss franc might even be 100% overvalued already, and the Western monetary crisis is only beginning its latest phase. This is no momentary problem. Imagination beyond old ideologies is required for systemic solutions.

The answer is so simple. The Swiss government could impose a currency transactions tax on any purchase of Swiss francs or assets/instruments denominated in Swiss francs. This transaction tax would reduce the demand for Swiss francs, and generate revenues for the Swiss government. These new revenues could be used to pay down the wholly unnecessary new Swiss government debt, and finance a new emergency international cooperation fund. That fund could issue core-budget grants to Swiss-based non profit organisations and international agencies for them to maintain or increase their employment of non-senior staff. In terms of the UN, this would mean staff below P-3 level. Such staff spend a greater percentage of their wages on local businesses than more senior staff, who invest it abroad, or drive over the border to get cheaper goods, services and property in the Eurozone. Targetted action like this would maintain a key element of the Swiss economy and society, and its contribution to the world.

The arguments against a currency transactions tax have always been vacuous, ideologically driven and about protecting short term profits. Its not workable? Tell that to countries like Brazil who have had a transaction tax for years. It will dent confidence in the economy? Well what do we mean by economy? The current market for the franc? That needs denting! The longer term prospects for the economy require effective denting right now. Given that leading Eurozone nations want to impose a similar tax in future, this is a great opportunity for Switzerland to lead the way. There are strong business arguments for a currency transactions tax, due to the effect on cooling volatility, and strong government reasons, by making up for falling tax revenues. We documented these issues in a report for the Swiss charity Bread for All, yet we found bankers and top government officials wedded to an unthinking belief in no new policy innovations to harness financial markets for the productive economy, public finances or common good.

Why is it such a crisis when the world wants to own your national currency? It should not have to be a crisis, indeed it could be a major opportunity for the Swiss people and the wider world who benefit from its role as a home for agencies of international cooperation. The only thing stopping this being an opportunity is the ideological blinkers of top bankers and politicians who are currently exhibiting zero creativity in transforming this situation from crisis to opportunity. Impose a transaction tax, to release Swiss business from the high franc, pay down the government debt, and fund a more dynamic international cooperation community. If such effective action isn’t taken, some citizens may start asking if the private ownership of 45% of the national bank by private banks like UBS in some way compromises its ability to take action in the public interest. And if such action isnt taken, we will see once again how economic ideologies in certain circles can harm the lives of poor and vulnerable people many thousands of miles away.

Professor Jem Bendell: http://www.twitter.com/jembendell

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement, Geneva, Reports, Sustainable Development, United Nations | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Thoughts on the future of CSR, ESG, Responsible Finance and Social Enterprise

Posted by jembendell on July 7, 2010

This Friday CSR Geneva participants will be sharing their views on the future of this field of practice – what is likely and what we each feel is needed. What follows is an excerpt from my book “The Corporate Responsibility Movement”, published last year. In it I describe the emergence of a movement and suggest that we learn from past movements, and social science scholarship on social movements, to better effect systemic change in society (or, to use the Gladwellian lingo used in the UN Global Compact Summit last month, to reach a “tipping point” in business sustainability).

Read on, and do share your views on the future of CSR, ESG, Responsible Finance and Social Enterprise, especially as it relates to what Geneva-based organisations are or can do, and what CSR Geneva might do in future; via our CSR Geneva Linked In group.

“The key trends in corporate responsibility that can be identified from the events and views chronicled in this volume are:

Standardising. As more people and organisations work in this field, so the need to compare and benchmark performance increases, and new codes and qualifications emerge

Mainstreaming. As the limits of individual corporate action in delivering commercial returns and addressing the scale of societal challenges become apparent, so more executives are looking at how to encourage broader changes in society to allow them to invest more in social and environmental excellence

Integrating. As the commercial and legal relevance of performance on social, environmental and governance issues grows, so does the need to integrate this into the various organisational functions, such as marketing, design, human resources and so on

Levelling. As economic, political and cultural power shifts from the West to the rest of the world, so the CR strategies and performance of Southern corporations becomes more important, not only in the global South, but even in the West, and more CR initiatives emerge from non Western countries with their own values and emphasis

Enterprising. As the limits of existing business models and corporate forms in delivering solutions to societal problems appear, as well as the limits of tradition philanthropy and advocacy, so more companies seek to profit from provision of innovative market-based solutions to societal problems

Yoyoing. As the underlying drivers for corporate responsibility increase, so more societal challenges are translated into matters of corporate responsibility and opportunity, and so various issues yoyo to the top of the corporate agenda and suggest a redefinition of the challenge as one of sustainability, ethics, rights, accountability, governance, innovation, efficiency and so on. In light of such yoyoing, the ‘responsibility’ framework remains useful

If you benefit from mnemonics, the initial letters make this a ‘smiley’—‘:-)’—of emerging corporate responsibility trends. The mainstreaming and enterprising trends, which parallel the emergence of societal leadership and social innovation strategies from companies, show how executives have been learning through their engagement with corporate responsibility and that there is an endogenous desire from within the corporation.”

(from The Corporate Responsibility Movement, Jem Bendell, 2009, Greenleaf Publishing, pg 12-13) http://www.greenleaf-publishing.com/productdetail.kmod?productid=2767

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Geneva, Talks | 3 Comments »

The UN and Fashion – its a new trend

Posted by jembendell on December 29, 2009

My work in the last few years on sustainable luxury seemed to some to be a bit of a break with my more development and international policy focus, albeit on corporate responsibility. I sought to promote sustainable luxury for a range of reasons, but one was to leverage high end brands to help make sustainability sexy in urban middle class Asia as fast as possible. NGOs can’t do that. Gucci could. Well, it seems the wave of eco cool is sweeping China’s youth, even if not their Copehagen delegation.

This new work led me in new and unusual directions, even stepping out on a cat walk, at an eco fashion show in Hong Kong run by EcoChic Fashions, in October 08. But as I still lived in Geneva and was working on finishing a couple of projects with UNRISD and UNSSC, the UN was still in my mind. Earlier that year, by Lac Leman, Louise Barber of the UNOG had told me that 2009 was to be the international year of natural fibres (yes, really, it was), and 2010 the international year of biodiversity. So, I mused, why not hold an eco fashion show at the UN, to promote these ideas, and encourage industry engagement? And, of course, have the fun of seeing a cat walk in the middle of the UN. I connected her, Eduardo Escobedo at UNCTAD, and Christina Dean at Green2Greener, and with their dedicated colleagues, the event is now upon us.  And.. you can even attend! If you register. See below.

Perhaps international cooperation could become the new fashion?! It may not seem like that after COP15, but in light of that intergovernmental impasse, the more innovative ways the UN can catalyse change the better!

Redefining Sustainability in the International Agenda: Inspiring Greater Engagement in Biodiversity Issues

January 20–21, 2010

Room XIX – Palais des Nations, UN

Geneva, Switzerland

UNCTAD and Green2greener invite you  to come and join the more than 500 prominent figures from government, international organizations, and industry as they meet in Geneva on 20-21 January to call for action against the rapid loss of the world’s biodiversity.

This timely seminar will provide a collaborative platform to discuss the need to redefine sustainability. Through the viewpoint of the fashion and luxury industries, participants will gain a unique insight into the role that governments, businesses, and consumers can play in supporting biodiversity conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources.

Through interactive panel discussions and in-depth case studies, the 1.5 day seminar will cover issues such as

·         Redefining Sustainability: Why Biodiversity and Why Now?

·         How to Implement a Successful Sustainability Strategy

·         Educating and Engaging Consumers in Biodiversity Issues

·         The Rise of the Ethical Consumer and Eco-Fashion in the Mass Market

·         Luxury Brands as Sustainable Role Models

·         Environmental Traceability, Accountability and Certification

·         The Role of the Creative Industries in Developing Economies

·         The Role of Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships

·         Paving the road towards the CBD COP 10 and the revision of the International Biodiversity Targets.

Confirmed participants include representatives from business, international organizations, government, media and NGOs such as:

·            Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

·            Willen Wijnstekers, Secretary-General, Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES)

·            Dermot Rowan, Managing Director, Orla Kiely

·            Burak Cakmak, Director CSR, Gucci Group

·            Giulia Di Tommaso, Director of Legal Policy and International Relations, Unilever

·            Jean-Fraçois Fournon, Global Creative Director, Saatchi & Saatchi Simko

·            Hans Steisslinger, Head R&D Natural Cosmetics, Weleda Group AG

·            Peter Ingwersen, Founder, Noir

·            Tamsin Blanchard, Style Director, The Telegraph Magazine

·            Sarah Ratty, Founder and CEO, Ciel

·            Alphadi, President & Founder, Festival International de la Mode Africaine

·            Jean-Luc Ansel, Director General, Cosmetic Valley

·            Isabel Berz, Director Fashion School, Istituto Europea di Design Madrid

·            Kate Dillon, Model and M.P.A. in international development

·            Tamsin LeJeune, Founder, Ethical Fashion Forum

·            Erin O’Conner, Model

·            Summer Rayne Oaks, Model and Sustainability Strategist, SRO

and many others….

This must-attend event has been co-organised by United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and Hong Kong charity Green2greener as part of the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity.

All activities will take place in Room XIX in the Palais des Nations (E-Building, third floor).

Pre-registration for the seminar is essential.

For further information, please contact Eduardo Escobedo at +41 22 917 5607 or by email eduardo.escobedo@unctad.org or visit http://www.unctad.org

Posted in Geneva, Sustainable Development, United Nations | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Law of Distraction

Posted by jembendell on August 10, 2007

Heard about the Secret? I watched the DVD at a meeting of a ‘book club’ in Geneva. After an hour I started to get a bit uncomfortable… and as others got excited about it, I wondered how much of a party pooper I was going to be. Something just felt really wrong about this DVD… especially so given that it featured brilliant people like Michael Beckwith saying some great things, but weaving it all together in the most selfish and compassion-free worldview possible.

The film has became a publishing phenomenon — helped by being featured on two episodes of Oprah, I guess. And the use of Da Vinci Code style branding. It reached number one on the Amazon DVD chart in March 2007. A book version, also called The Secret reached number one on The New York Times bestseller list. For much of February through April both the book and DVD versions were #1 or #2 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders.

I thought ‘The Secret’ was a commercialised and hocus-pocus repackaging of the simple fact that we see things as much as we are as they ‘actually’ are. This has never been a secret. “We see things as we are not as they are” is in the extremely non-secret Jewish Talmud.

The implications of this are taken much further than ‘the law of attraction’ does, in Buddha’s teachings about peace and happiness arising from our transcending the need to bring anything into one’s life at all, because flow and change is inherent in all reality, and so suffering comes from becoming attached to things that will inevitably flow away. Another dimension to Buddha’s teachings are that things are ultimately one. The ‘law of attraction’ as presented in that film doesn’t approach this properly, being stuck in the selfish separative ego mind of the individual that wishes to receive more and more from the outside world for their own purposes. Indeed this hyper-egoism is illustrated by the idea that everything in the world happens because of us… i.e. we think good things, we get them, we think bad things, we get them.

Both Buddhism and ‘law of attraction’ approaches can fall into spiritual solipsism… meaning that we think that our own state of happiness means that the world outside our minds is doing fine, or is irrelevant. When spiritual teachers sometimes imply that we should ignore the negative, like famine and war, they are focusing on a separative view of humans. It is another thing to focus on why we don’t like famine and war, and frame our concern as an aspiration for what we do want. But that still means that the pain of reality at odds with your aspiration is still present. The goal is then for a sense of peace to persist while one is engaged in what is an often painful world. We need spirit in the world, the messy troubling reality of the world, not spirit found away from the world, on top of a mountain, in a corporate self-help course, or in front of a DVD.

Faced with problems we might unfortunately move from denial to despair. Neither is positive. However, we need to move from denial to action. For those who are not able to make the choice to act on problems facing humanity, it can be easier to block these out, and to chose to believe that this blocking out of others pain is somehow ‘right’ in some spiritual way… for instance by suggesting that we will even make more hunger occur by focusing on it! Nuts.

That is the real danger of the ‘law of attraction’ stuff – it offers a way of removing ones subconscious sense of guilt for turning ones back on the world and focusing on ones mental peace. In this sense the message of The Secret almost appears as the ultimate temptation – called ‘the devil’ in some cultures. So perhaps it highlights a ‘law of distraction’ – that people seek to distract themselves from their fundamental unity with everything and the inevitable passing of every pattern they identify with, including their own lives.

Don’t bother buying it. Use peekvid.com or somesuch to check it out. If you want to buy a DVD combining spiritual wisdom and the latest science, I’d recommend “What the Bleep do we know”… a bit cringy, but worth those moments of grimacing. see: http://www.whatthebleep.com

These vids might indicate a trend… spiritual tv. Which makes me wonder… I live in Geneva, the Rome of the Reformation. We host one of the first English language bibles ever, next to the church I can see from my window. It was the printing press that made the Reformation possible… it meant the translations could be shared around Europe rapidly and cheaply. The internet is as important a communications leap as the printing press. So…. the conditions are right for a spiritual renaissance, a transformation of assumptions concerning our place in the universe. I’m quite excited.

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The Secret was well produced and wonderfully marketed. And the exposure it gave its producer Rhonda Byrne, helped us to see just how nutty and superficial her view is. In an article on how to lose weight, she wrote: “If you see people who are overweight, do not observe them, but immediately switch your mind to the picture of you in your perfect body and feel it.” http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17317691/site/newsweek/page/2/. Yeah, fat boy, get out of my face, you’re expanding my waist!

That article came out the same week Newsweek ran a story on climate change being a hoax. If only by forgetting about climate change it would go away. If only. Sadly it won’t. And, sadly, neither will The Secret, or Rhonda or her secret-suckers if I just ignore them. But it’s tempting…

Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Secret_(2006_film) for more on the saga of the Secret.

 

There’s alrady a whole industry out there in helping people apply this stuff. For starters, there’s the “6 Week Extreme Life Makeover” e-book that aims to “Flood Your Life With Riches, Fulfill All Of Your Hearts Desires, And Start Living The Life Of Your Dreams – In Just 6 Weeks!”, closer followed by the Revolutioniz” which says its “The Most Complete Resource On The Law Of Attraction And Reality Creation” and the more sober sounding “Reality Creation Secrets” which provides the “Most Powerful Knowledge In The World About How To Create The Perfect Reality You Desire And Manifest Super Riches, Total Freedom And Extreme Happiness!” Nice. Perhaps they’re even more nutty than the Secret. If you check one out, let me know.

Posted in Geneva, Media, My Life, Spirit? | 5 Comments »