Good Cause Trouble

Keynote at Syinconnect, October 16th, Singapore…

I’m pleased to be here as I’m in Singapore because the world is changing fast. You are the fasting growing economy in the world and have the 4th highest GDP per capita. The people who have traditionally taken a role in global affairs and addressed social and environmental problems around the world, whether rightly or wrongly, are mostly Europeans and North Americans. That’s going to change. And that can be a good thing, but only if we see more globally responsible leaders coming from places like Singapore. We need to see more compassion and action on the state of the whole world, from newly emerged powers. So I think inititives like Syinc are so important, as they are helping you, future leaders, to explore ways of contributing to your community, and then hopefully beyond.

We’re here at the weekend. Its a saturday morning and none of you have to be at work, and your lecturers dont have to be. The 2 day weekend is a great idea, a good social innovation. Any idea where it came from? I think it important to reflect on how change happened if we are to get insights into how to make it happen. So I looked into the history of the 2 day weekend. In the early 1800s in the UK, where Im from, the was a mostly a one day weekend…Sunday, the sabbath, and it was meant to be spent observing religious ideas. But there was a problem for the religious leaders, and also the growing breed of industrialists. As it was the only day off, a lot of Brits were doing what they like to do – getting drunk. So this made them bad church goers, and also meant they often skipped Mondays because they were hungover. So the church and industrialists got together and decided to give people a half day off on saturday, so they could get drunk then, and snooze their way through church on sunday, and be ready for work on Monday. So the half day Saturdays that I hear you had as you weekend here in Singapore until about a decade ago, you can thank the drunkard Brits for.

So where did the 2 days come from? There was one Cotton mill around 1900, where half the staff were christian, so took sunday off, and half were jewish, so took saturday off. The christians got upset with other people working on sunday, so the owners said sod it, we will close both saturday and sunday. Then, in 1926 the great car maker Henry Ford decided to give his workers 2 days weekends. He realised he needed to not only pay his workers enough for them to afford the cars they made, but also that they needed reason to buy a car. If they were only ever going to work on the bus, and then to church on a sunday, why would they need a car? However, if they had a whole day free to be able to go to the beach, or countryside, or visit relatives and so, then of course theyd want a car, not just a faster horse! So there was some enlightened self interest there. But many other industrialists werent happy with Ford. And so it took a the radical Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America to start a campaign for it in 1929. The history of trade unions is such that this campaogn meant people would have been harrassed, fired, beaten up, and certainly frowned upon by some. There was a struggle for weekends to become normal. But then the depression hit and so industrialists gave in, because there wasnt the cash flow to warrant full production. The innovation in 2 day weekends then spread around the world due to international business, trade unions and the International Labour Organisation, which had been established in 1919. Thats why it was the international firms in Singapore were the ones who in past decades gave staff 2 day weekends not the 1 and a half that local firms gave until recently. So, the history of the weekend, a major social innovation, which enables you to be here right now, shows that social innovations are often messy. They come about because of fudges between institutional interests, some enlightened self interest of elites, often a lot of struggle and strife, and then champions and advocates – all types of action were involved in getting the 2 day weekend to become normal. In that process some people will have been praised, but its important to see how many people will have had to suffer in that process, at the very least, losing their job or losing approval of their parents or peers for being activists. Its a theme Ill return to.

I’ve been asked to say a few words on why get active on social issues. So why get active? Well, first up, because there’s issues. Second, because they arent being addressed in ways that will sort them out, mostly because they are being caused by the normal way we do things, think of things. Third, because u can achieve things if u choose to. Fourth, because when trying u will sometimes hurt and fail, and thats important in life. Fifth, because to be active on matters of the world is a normal way to be, its about being conscious, alive, connected and not boring. I act not to save the world, but to make my species seem worth saving and my life worth living.

So what are the problems out there? Im writing a new book and decided to shrink some issues down into one day, so produced some statistics. They’re a bit depressing. In the last 24 hours, 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest have been lost. In a day, over a million tonnes of toxic waste have been released into our environment. In just the last 24 hours, 98,000 people on our planet died of starvation, tens of thousands of them children. In one day, 137 species have been driven into extinction. These problems, these people, are calling out for our action.

The second reason to get active is because these problems are not being addressed in ways that will sort them out, mostly because they are being caused by the normal way we do things, think of things. Traditional ways of organising to address problems have been undermined by globalisation. Governments now focus on being competitive in international markets, and so look at that beyond other issues – social and environmental issues can only be afforded within that framework. This means leadership is often lacking. Our money systems mean that more cash gushes up to elites than trickles down to the many. We have market fundamentalism where everything is about making money. We have hyper modernism where anything new and techie is great, so we dont easily stop and question whats the purpose of our rushing around. We have a mass media thats jingoistic and superficial about its news, and is celebrity obsessed, so kids now want to be famous when they grow up – for whatever reason doesnt matter, they just want fame.

Then forms of action that have a strong tradition in many parts of the world – protest – dont seem to work anymore. A million people marched in London against the war in Iraq before it started and when Blair was still saying all we needed to do was put pressure on Saddam so war was not inevitable. People didnt believe it.. a million people.. we had not seen that before. But it achieved nothing. Its unclear whether online activism is much of a substitute. Its easy to say you like or dont like something, through a tweet or status update or clicking like, but its much harder to actually do something about it. So in that context we need to be much more imaginative and creative about how we act on social issues. Its not a lost cause because we are an ingeneous species, and can come up with new ways of acting.

Which is the third reason for getting active on social issues – because we can have an impact. And that is why Ive been asked here, having taken unusual paths to prompt some largescale changes. I left Uni and went to work for WWF UK immediately when I was 23, just slighly older than most of you. I joined the Forest Unit and worked with a group of companies that had committed to sourcing all their wood and wood products from sustainable forests. The group was key to developing market demand for a certification system for sustainable forests, which is called Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC. WWF had been pressuring governments to agree to do something about tropical deforestation for years, and hadnt got anywhere, so along with other NGOs they had turned their attention towards companies that were buying the products. Some NGOs attacked the companies, and WWF positioned itself as a partner to help the companies ensure their wood was from good sources. It was an open plan office, and a chap from the WWF International endangered seas campaign was there and was overhearing the work I was doing. We had a few lunches and decided to see if the same idea of certification could be applied to fisheries, and so I helped develop the concept for the Marine Stewardship Council or MSC. Today forests certified under the FSC framework are 134,595,610 hectares. 4,000 seafood products are now available with the MSC ecolabel, sold in over 60 countries around the world. I decided this was all rather important work, and so cowrote a book about it when I was 24 yrs old. That book got in the hands of the head of Kofi Annan’s office at the UN, and they decided to do the same thing at the UN, and created something called the UN Global Compact, which is the largest corporate responsibility initiative in the world now, with about 10000 members. I didnt play a useful role in these developments because im well connected, I wasnt, and didnt achieve things because im super organised, rather, other than luck, which is always important, I think its because im a bit odd – Im rather fanatical about what I do. Although I was fairly shy back then, when it came to my views on what was wrong and how we need to act, I was very bold. But that is a double edged sword.

I got sacked from WWF. I ruffled feathers and didnt play the long game. I was always thinking about how could our impact be maximised. And always wondering about whether the NGO was being compromised. I wasnt in there to get on, it didnt occur to me. I saw that the size of the group of companies that were working to buy wood from sustainable sources was limited by the resources of wwf, which were basically me and an older consultant, who had a background in Shell. It had been an interesting career change for him. He was working 3 days a week from home and managed the membership of 40 something companies. I didnt think it would be right for the companies to pay fees to WWF to cover the costs of membership, as this would compromise the independence of WWF. But I didnt think the group should not grow. I thought we should go to a thousand companies, why not? So, I suggested to my colleagues we accredit an independent consultancy to run the group, and deal with the companies, and that WWF would inspect the operations of that consultancy to ensure the standards were being upheld. The consultancy could charge a fee per member company. This was one in a number of ideas that I was putting forward, way beyond my station as a lowly newby doing data support and analysis. As Id been doing the WWF International work on the MSC I was probably a little cocky about my ideas. Because I didnt have a personal agenda I was confident in my views being good for the organisation. Well, the older consultant didnt like this from me, I was becoming a worry for him. He liked his part time job with a small group of companies. So maybe thats why he exploded one day over something very minor, and then said to our boss he couldnt work with me anymore. The boss, an ambitious guy, always travelling, much younger than the consultant, had bigger things to focus on, didnt get involved to sort it out, so fixed the problem by letting me go. Maybe that was the best decision for him and the project given other priorities. At the time it energised me even further, and I set up a consultancy and wrote the book and various articles that then helped the wider movement of corporate responsibility.

Change isnt always easy or funky. Even creatives say that. Francis Ford Copolla, the famous movie director, says the best work you do will get you attacked the most, and probably fired. The same things that made me succeed also made me fail. But thats the fourth reason to get involved in social change – to push things as far as you can until you fail. Because you need to fail in other peoples eyes sometimes to be part of a movement of people creating something new. You have to be able to take risks, not do this for your own advancement but for a bigger cause. And set backs teach you and energise you. But I do wonder whether that set back may have energised me TOO much, and made me even more fanatical about creating change, putting the other aspects of my life, and other people, to the background. Thats something you have to watch for as you get passionate about a cause.

The fifth reason to be active on matters of the world is that is a normal way to be, its about being conscious, alive, connected and not boring. I act not to save the world, but to make my species seem worth saving and my life worth living. I say that because we dont know if its too late with cliamte change. Its most likely too late for us to avoid major suffering. Unfortunately because pride and profit have shaped our response we have launched an approach to climate policy which is fundamentally flawed, called carbon markets, and will take another 5 to 10 years to be more widely accepted for the nonsense that it is. So Im not in this field with a goal attachment – save X species, stop climate change, and then go on holiday. Its about being fully engaged in life, and learning along the way. Ive had to face up to how things I considered successes might even be failures. For example, despite those grand stats I mentioned, less than 12% of global forestry is part of any certification scheme, and it has been a massive distraction for forest campaigners from other activities to try and prevent deforestation. Were we misguided? What could have been achieved if we had put all that time an effort into another approach? We dont know, but we have to keep asking the questions, and unless we do that courageously, rather than in a way that seeks to justify our selves, our choices, our nice lifestyles, then we are not really engaged in social change, we are just profiting from others concerns for that.

Change requires trouble makers. The world isnt so sorted, people havent got all the answers. So its ok to cause a little trouble sometimes. After all, that’s probably what got you your weekend, so we can be here now, working out how to push things forward some more, meeting social needs in innovative ways.

Integrating Personal and Global Wellness

(A keynote given by Jem Bendell at the Wellness Summit, Singapore, October 14th 2010).

I want to thank the team at Spa Asia and the Wellness Summit for making sustainability a theme this year. It has been rather challenging times for many in the industry these past 2 years, and that could have led some to focus purely on the near term, rather than providing a space for reflection on what it is we are doing and why. The location is also refreshing. We do not have to put ourselves in concrete jungles to be smart and serious. We are part of nature, and when we are in sight of nature we are more relaxed and thus more creative… and the science on that process is in.

I am here because I think wellness professionals can be leaders in the transition to a fair and sustainable world. You can be part of what I term in my latest book, The Corporate Responsibility Movement – A movement that is pursuing a transition to a fair and sustainable economy through new approaches to enterprise.

I was invited partly because of a report I researched and wrote about sustainable luxury, for the environmental group WWF. In Deeper Luxury, we mapped out the sustainability challenge, and how luxury brands perform, the commercial reasons why they can do more, and some examples and tips for companies. The report took off around the world. I even ended up pictured in Tatler; a dubious indicator of success for an environmentalist perhaps.

Wellness services target the same market as many luxury brands, and many wellness services are themselves luxury brands. The luxury industry has been under an increasing spotlight on its social and environmental performance. From the sourcing of metals and stones in jewellery, to the working practices for models, to the use of endangered species in its products. More and more luxury brands have made steps to improve practice, and some luxury groups have even decided to make major investments in buying niche ethical luxury brands, such as LVMH buying half of Edun, which focuses on ethical clothing. The trends they are responding to are trends that also affect wellness industries – a growing realisation amongst people around the world of social and environmental malaise and how our consumption affects that, and how our choices at work matter. If you are in a business where the products and services are highly discretionary, and where personal motivation of staff is key to your success, then these broader public issues affect your business, because they affect customer and staff mood.

I’m new to wellness, and I need some. Having flu at my first wellness conference maybe tells me something I need to hear. I’ve been working on sustainability for 15 years and it is a huge agenda. It can seem complicated, with more stuff to have to think about, to check on, and so on. But actually its quite simple. At its most basic sustainability is about people being in harmony with nature, including our own natures. As our societies have developed our work and ways of living have separated us from that harmony with nature, with each other and with our true selves. You have likely heard that before. Right now I’d like us to take a moment to sense what restoring that harmony could feel like. You may find it helpful if you close your eyes for the next few moments.

So, now with you eyes shut, try to recall a moment when you think you won an argument, or clinched a deal, or got promoted. Think of how it felt at the time.

Still with your eyes shut, next, try to recall a moment when you were in nature, perhaps looking at a sunset, or where you completely lost yourself in the moment of something you enjoy doing. Try to taste that feeling.

Now contrast that feeling with the first – the feeling generated within you when you won out on something.

Consider whether that first feeling is one of self-promotion – a worldly feeling, while the second feeling comes from somewhere else, something some would call your soul.

This is a reflection recommended to us by Anthony De Mello, a Jesuit priest from India. He says the worldly feelings control us, and make us controllable, and don’t provide the nourishment and happiness from when one contemplates nature or enjoys the company of one’s friends or one’s work. He suggests we are weighed down by these worldly motivations for approval, popularity, and power.

That is also a sustainability message. Because sustainability is not so much a challenge out there, but in here. It comes down to how mindful we are in our work. A sustainable wellness industry will flow from a sustainable wellness profession of people inspired by creating experiences that generate well-being for everyone involved, not just the client, and restoring the biological diversity and balance of our planet in the process.

The good news is that more and more people want that from us.

This time tomorrow you will hear from Adam Horler of LOHAS Asia, some new data on consumer attitudes to the environment and consumption, from across South East Asia. So I wont go into the data I have from last year. The positive news is that contrary to myth, middle class urban Asian consumers are concerned about the environment and would prefer better options on that issue. But today, Ill share with you some statistics on why it is so important we try to meet those consumers’ aspirations and help them turn it into behavioural change.

Since the conference opened here at 9am yesterday morning, just 24 hours ago, over 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest have been lost. Over a million tonnes of toxic waste have been released into our environment. Since 9am yesterday, 98,000 people on our planet died of starvation, tens of thousands of them children. In just a day, 137 species have been driven into extinction. In that time, up to 200,000 sharks have been killed, many of them endangered species, by removing their fins to flavour our soup. Perhaps it is no wonder then that an estimated 2 million people around the world took a day off work yesterday due to stress or depression.

We are exposed to bad news in the media on most days, and it seems so abstract and unconnected to us. It can make us numb, partly because we don’t know what to do. But if we repress certain feelings then that can come out in other ways, damaging ourselves and others. The numbness can also hold us back from acting on what we know and what we care about. There’s an American poet Drew Dellinger, who I particularly like for the way he reaches through this numbness. Suffering with this flu, I was bored in bed and listening to his poetry. One poem reached me in the middle of the night. It goes something like this:

“It’s 3:23 in the morning
and I’m awake
because my great great grandchildren
won’t let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do while the earth was unravelling?
Surely you did something when the seasons started failing
when the animals, reptiles and birds were all dying?
Did you fill the streets with protest when democracy was stolen?
What did you do?
Once you knew…”

When that touches us, even if its painful, we can be grateful for that, because we are feeling our extended self, our fuller self, expressing itself.

We are lucky we are not one of the people who suffered in the last 24 hours. We are probably lucky we are not our great great grandchildren. But we are also guilty. Not of inaction or apathy. Because we are already active in causing the problems I’ve described, through what we buy and what our savings get used for, who or what we work for or on. The problems in the world are not there from an absence of human action, but because of human action, in pursuit of profit and pride. The building, the lights, the food, our clothes, credit cards, the works, its all of us involved in all the difficulties I’ve just described.

Am I making you feel well? In raising these issues am I providing a wellness service? The sustainability agenda must make us question what we mean by wellness.

Some may cynically surmise that such malaise may mean a growth in demand for wellness services. But wellness seems to be more than health, moments of happiness and thin veil of calm. Rather, wellness is a form of contentment and balance, a way of being where one is both healer and whole. Providing people opportunities to awaken to their higher selves can be part of the wellness agenda. It might be unsettling, but ultimately can be deeply affirming. In any case, new evidence confirms that personal wellness and well-being is often affected by collective wellness and well-being.

Personal and collective wellness are connected in two key ways – environmental and social. A US government study published last month found a strong, consistent correlation between adult diabetes and particulate air pollution. There are also scientific studies published this year that correlate levels of air pollution, such as nitrous oxides, with levels of personal happiness. Studies also correlate more traffic congestion with less sense of well-being. We probably didn’t need scientists to work that one out.

Our proximity to nature also matters. Studies have found that post-operation patients housed in rooms with views of nature require less time in hospital and require fewer pain killers. In a study by the University of Illinois “those who lived in housing units with no immediate view of or access to nature reported a greater number of aggressive conflicts with partners or children than their peers who lived near trees and grass.” Our natural world is our common well-being.

The second way that personal and collective wellness is connected is through social factors. One study reported this year finds that if you are not in a good relationship, your injuries will take twice as long to heal, than if you are in a positive and nurturing relationship. Studies show correlations between unemployment, or poverty or economic inequality, with higher rates of crime. It is not surprising then that one study found that in the most economically unequal of states of the USA, 35 to 40 percent of the population feel they cannot trust other people, compared to only 10 percent in the more equal states. Not trusting each other, and being anxious of our rank in society, and what will happen if we slip back, is one explanation for why growing GDP has not correlated with growing levels of happiness, beyond a fairly low threshold. Even UN studies report more unequal societies are more unhappy, top to bottom.

Can one be well when many are not? Apparently not.

There are two major implications for the wellness industry from recognising this connection between personal and collective wellness, or from now on, between personal and global wellness. First, are implications for the relationship with the client. Second, the relationship with everyone else involved, and the environment.

Let’s consider the client. Instead of retreat many people seek reconnection. Jeorg DeMeuth, who runs Organic Spa and who you heard from yesterday, told me that he finds more “people are looking for a holistic experience, where they experience soul, mind and body. The new Spa is a kind of dreamland for new ideas and life concepts”. For those clients who don’t yet have this awareness, as professionals with access to the latest science on the relation between personal and global wellness do we have a responsibility to help lead more people towards that thinking, as it is in their own interests? Serving people by proposing something they don’t yet know they want is an old challenge. Henry Ford knew it well when he famously said, “If I asked my customers what they wanted, they’d tell me a faster horse.” We can serve customers by seeking to lead them.

How to lead customers in this way is an important questions. I want to learn about that, and am looking for examples to include in my next book, on sustainable luxury, so Id welcome chatting after, if you have tried it. I think one subtle way of leading consumers is to communicate how you are providing your services in more responsible ways. Demonstrating a practical manifestation of values can be a good teacher. This also connects to the the second main implication of the connection between personal and global wellness – unless you are supporting collective wellness through the actual operations of your wellness business, you are not really helping your clients’ individual wellness. If the products you use have no contaminants but their manufacture polluted the air we breath, rising our rates of diabetes, destabilising our climate, then that’s not so ‘well’.

I hear that there are many companies embracing this agenda, and some of them we are hearing about at this conference.

There are a variety of initiatives bringing people together to make this happen, such as The Campaign for Greener Healthcare, The Green Occupational Therapy Network, The Green Yoga Association and the Authentic Luxury Network which I launched with some people in the luxury world. There are also initiatives such as Green Globe’s standard for environmental management of Spas, which the luxury resort chain Six Senses developed with them. What is exciting is that we do not have to only focus on making less impact on the planet and people, but we can create products and services that make a positive impact on people and nature. For example, I’m an advisor to The UN’s Biotrade initiative, which is working with skincare and fragrance companies to develop product lines that create new revenues to pay for the conservation of species and their ecosystems. One participant is the Swiss fragrance firm Firmenich, who worked with the NGO Care International, to improve the lives of Vanilla farmers in Uganda, and incorporate that into the brand proposition for a new perfume by Estee Lauder and Donna Karan, called PureDKNY.

This is not about companies offering charity. It is about upgrading normal business operations. The sustainable wellness agenda is about how you make your money not how you give it away. It may seem complex but you can start anywhere, for instance by empowering your staff to become aware of issues and how they relate to their values and their healing practices, and then together discover ways of reducing negative impacts and making more positive contributions. You can look for guidelines and standards, and you can take lots of notes during Jeorg’s skills development session tomorrow.

In summary, I think wellness professions are important to sustainability and vice versa. It will soon be impossible to separate personal wellness from working on collective or global wellness. We will only integrate these properly if we have a heartfelt intention to serve all life through our work. That is an intention most of us share, but it gets covered up with all the stresses and strivings of everyday life. The reflection from Anthony de Mello at the start, helps us see that our world needs from us simply what we deeply need for ourselves. To be authentic, soulful and purposeful. We don’t have to be whole to heal – we just have to be on the way. Thank you.

[References to the data mentioned will appear in my forthcoming book, “Higher Ends”. Thanks to Lifeworth’s Hanniah Tariq and Sara Walcott for research assistance, and comments from Matthew Slater and Ian Doyle on an earlier version. A video of the talk will appear soon].

View the summit at

SIX and the City – but no satire please, we’re changing the world (?!)

Ill be in Singapore for much of September and October, and participating in 5 events relating to the general theme of social innovation and sustainable enterprise.

Ill be at the “SIX and the City” Social Innovation Summer School from 15th to 17th September, mixing with tomorrows leaders at “Forward Thinking Thursday” on 16th September, then speaking about the future of responsible business at CSR Singapore on 21st September, attending Qi Global on 9th October and then keynoting at the Wellness Summit on 14th October.

Yep that was ‘SIX’ in the City, not a typo. I discovered the TV series “Sex and the City” was banned in Singapore! Which highlights something of the evolution the city state is going through. It’s becoming a hub for sharing ideas about business and sustainable development, and is a great place to visit. But a free flow of ideas is important if we are to develop insights for addressing global challenges.. so there is some opening up to come. Satire is an important way of cutting through our assumptions, so its a pity that also banned is one of my all time favourite films – Life of Brian. Hey, even Aberystwyth lifted its thirty-year old ban of the film last year…. so come on Singapore… let’s embrace satire and a bit of craziness in the name of social innovation 🙂

If you want to attend any of the events, just click on the links, and I’ll see you there. There will be more than the odd splitter….

The Future of the UN Global Compact – New York Inspirations

Empire State of Mind
Empire State of Mind, sung at UNGC summit

The UN Global Compact is a UN initiative that invites companies to sign up to voluntarily being more socially and environmentally responsible, and making a positive contribution to sustainable development. As Ive worked in corporate responsibility and partnerships for 15 years and with the UN on and off for about 13 years, this initiative is something Ive followed from the start. Recently I went to their Leaders Summit in New York. My highlight was the Alicia Keys number at the end of the conference, sung by a woman from a Harlem group that performs to raise funds for social work. That made me realise maybe Im a bit “conferenced out” and need to go to some more concerts! For 4 days, going back and forth to Times Square I couldnt stop singing “Concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothing you cant do, now your in New York….. etc… lets hear it for New York, New York”, so it was a fine finale.

I did a video message at the conference. Shame they didnt edit the chat in the middle about whether I had said things in the way they wanted!

The Empire State of Mind song also got me thinking about we might do do with this initiative if we thought anything possible, so I reflected and wrote up some ideas on the future of the UN Global Compact, available at:

Alica’s great tune..

Photo: UN Global Compact/Michael Dames

Crowd-sourcing philosophy on Facebook

The power of crowd-sourcing information and ideas is proven by the power of wikipedia. New innovations in crowd sourcing include crowd funding, for instance for the movie Age of Stupid.

I decided to have a crack at this for something quite abstract, yet very important.

I have increasingly realised how easy it is for people to assume that one “thing” is “good” and become attached to that assumption in ways that lead to bad judgement. It happens a lot in the worlds of organisational and policy development. Examples in my field include cross-sector partnerships being seen as always good, or U process facilitation as always key, or government subsidy or regulation related to climate change as always good. Im a fan of each of these, but I’ve seen how assuming such things to always be good without understand context or intention, is a real problem. I realised this is something related to very deep themes around systems thinking and non-attachment. So, I thought I’d put the question out to my pals on facebook, to see how they could help me clarity these insights, so I could then communicate them more clearly in my advisory and writing.

Here are the preliminary results. If you can, please add in comments on this post, and Ill continue to crowd-source philosophy through wordpress!

The thread:

May 17th Facebook status: Jem is looking 4 egs or quotes 2 illustrate a problem of mistakenly thinking a practice or thing is itself “good”, rather than seeing it as good at a particular time due to its context-dependent effect & people’s intention behind it, so that no “thing” is good, except an intention & an ability to understand effects in cont…ext. The same thing in different contexts & with different intentions is not the same thing. Ideas?

Jerri Husch
read some of the early work in anthropology, ie. Clifford Geertz who talks about meaning creation. Or read some of Peter Berger and Luckmann’s stuff from the ’70’s who talk about action and the “social context of meaning creation”. They were the early ones to talk about how the “norms” of what is “good” and what is “bad” are based on the social context of the actors and objects….. 30+ years later they are still the best—-good luck with the work and would love to see what you come up with.
May 17 at 1:08am ·

Jem Bendell
thx. im not wanting to study it, simply to communicate this principle as simply as possible, and mention any classics e.g. from antiquity, that make the same point. any ideas?
May 17 at 1:24am ·

Jerri Husch
maybe check this out…..a good overview and maybe some quotes?
May 17 at 1:32am ·

Trineesh Biswas
more neo-classical than classical, but economic governance in the uk and the us for most of the last thirty years has been marked by the notion that privatisation, deregulation, and market forces were always good and efficient, with insufficient case-by-case analysis.
May 17 at 9:45am ·

Linda Popova
A tip from a Classicist, though not necessarily easy to communicate…Read Derrida’s essay “Plato’s Pharmacy”, which, among other things, discusses the “betterness” of the spoken word over the written. It is essentially a discussion of Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus and the relationship between memory and writing. It is centered on the use of the word… See More ‘pharmakon’, which in ancient Greek means both remedy and poison. Socrates’ death by drinking the hemlock is hence said to be ambiguous: is it damnation or salvation? The Phaedrus itself makes use of two further myths – the myth of the cicadas and the myth of Theuth – to illustrate that point…Also of interest, on the ambiguity of mental concepts (metaphors) dependent on context, Lakoff’s and Johnson’s book Metaphors We Live By is a good primer, with less linguistic jargon than my first recommendation. Good luck. Fascinating subject. Would be curious to see your take on it. Best, L
May 17 at 9:46am ·

Linda Popova
p.s. And then, of course, there’s Kant’s take on the subject and my musings on the Patriot act (with which I am sure you will disagree), but nonetheless, you could use this as an example of divergent vs convergent thinking. Since science should be based on divergent mental models, i.e. competing hypotheses rather than scholarly dogma (convergent politics), I am happy to be in disagreement:-)
May 17 at 10:05am ·

Kate Tench
To raise the tone somewhat and spin netgative to positive – “Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day” Withnail & I (I believe it was “I”).
May 17 at 11:10am ·

Tiago Pinto-Pereira
“Knowledge is neither good nor bad, but man’s use of
it can be either good or bad.” Paraphrases a sentence i remember in my theory of knowledge course in high school. Not sure of the origin of this epistemological sentence.
May 17 at 1:01pm ·

Vicente Garcia-Delgado
The problem arises because we keep under the illusion that things are “things” when they are really “processes”. For example rather than saying “I am” we ought be saying “I become.” (try that for size…)
May 17 at 3:33pm ·

Jerri Husch
what a great conversation!! Thanks Jem et. al.!!!
May 17 at 4:24pm ·

John Manoochehri
Those are too complicated as examples.

Start with the original myth: the Midas touch. King Midas wanted gold, because it was his hearts desire, and was granted the wish that all he touched would become gold. He touched a tree and rejoiced at the golden tree. He touched his daughter – and then was distraught at the golden daughter. “The same thing… See More in different contexts & with different intentions is not the same thing.”

This story has at least two resonances: the problem of proxy-indicators of welfare, and the problem of the changed context.

One reason Midas liked gold, and the reason we like money, and consumer goods, is that they are ‘vehicles’ or welfare, they ‘carry’ welfare, but they are not in fact happiness or value themselves.

What happens all too often is that these vehicles of welfare, in particular when we get used to ‘storing’ them, as a way of holding over welfare into the future for example (e.g. by hoarding gold to buy more things in the future, banking money, etc), become ‘proxies’ of welfare, i.e. we see them as stand-ins for the welfare itself, and thereby, equivalent to the welfare itself, in the mind. The need to translate the proxy into the actual welfare recedes, and we become obsessed with money and object ownership, even while being unhappy!

Thus we are reminded “only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned, and the last fish has been caught, will we realise that we cannot eat money”. The child that has a hoop and a stick is happy, and the man with a house full of goods is sad, even if the house holds his old hoop and stick. “The same thing in different contexts & with different intentions is not the same thing.”

The other resonance is problem of changed context, where, not particularly because one’s concept of, or intention for, an object or action has changed (e.g. from an object as a vehicle of welfare, to an object as a proxy of welfare), but because the situation has changed, and thereby the welfare effect of the object or action has changed.

The hopeful boyfriend who brings a beautiful rose to his second date, shining with expectation that the girl will fall for his charms, but forgetting his girlfriend is allergic to roses; the father trembling down the stairs towards a disturbing noise, with a baseball bat clutched for protection, discovering it is just his child watching TV; the mythical king mistakenly turning to gold what he valued more than gold, more than anything – all of these are examples of an initial intended welfare effect of an object or action having quite the opposite effect (rose > love; rose > sickness; baseball bat > protection; baseball bat > threatening act; golden touch > more lovely gold things; golden touch > one less lovely daughter).

Or, as you put it. “The same thing in different contexts & with different intentions is not the same thing.”
May 17 at 11:05pm ·

Jem Bendell
im beginning to find a wonderful new use for facebook because of u guys! Hey, its funny how people think that someone having a midas touch is a good thing. Many people speak of a designer or ceo having a midas touch for a brand.. and yet.. the midas touch is a tragic story of greed and ignorance.
May 18 at 12:27am ·

Jem Bendell
ps: this has been such an interesting use of fb ill blog about it, so anyone else wanna chime in this week? all tips welcome.
May 18 at 12:28am ·

Vicente Garcia-Delgado
go ahead! “I am becoming” game!
May 18 at 12:31am ·

My Micro-blogging:

Been tweeting about work, since starting this in January. If the stuff below is of interest, follow me at

Just added event on the Authentic Luxury Network; speaking in Geneva on June 3rd at Hotel Bristol, from 12.

Academics back carbon tax not cap & trade scam Implications for CSR & ESG climate 1:55 AM May 11th via web

Checking out “Paris Drinks of the “Authentic Luxury Network”” on authentic luxury network: 9:22 AM May 4th via a Ning Network

Bee colonies collapse. We’re part of nature; & the least wise of species 2 forget it & 5:01 AM May 2nd via web

Paris 7th to 9th then Geneva 9th to 12th – drinks on 7th in Paris, then on to UN event on financial crisis in GVA 11:38 AM May 1st via web

finally UK politician speaks of systemic changes; not deep enough but at least some straight talking sri csr 8:57 AM Apr 20th via web

What is a University to do when staff are caught at plagiarism? PR crisis to opportunity? csr businessethics 12:23 PM Apr 12th via web

just worked out ive produced 111 publications (not including blogs n tweets). will upload on at some point in 2010 4:29 PM Apr 8th via web

after some stressful deadlines, remembering what’s really important 10:49 AM Apr 7th via web

entrevista en el lujo sostenibles csr sustainability luxury lujo 10:25 AM Mar 26th via web

talks on sustainable luxury in Madrid on Mar 24 @ ISEM Fashion BusinessSchool csr 8:09 AM Mar 18th via web

‘Going Green: The Future of Luxury’ broadcasts on CNBC Europe 12th Mar 23.00(CET), 13th&14th @ 20.30(CET) also at 8:10 AM Mar 12th via web

Pakistan fund to sign UNPRI making it 1st asset owner in SouthAsia. Will India catch up? csr sri finance 1:15 PM Mar 11th via web

The FT reports on a growing shift to responsible & sustainable luxury & my little role in that. fashion csr

Beware the new irresponsible biz lobbying in green mask

In rare interview #UNPRI boss talks2me about #SRI #ESG #sustainablefinance #CSR #GFC & work of #UN with investors

A time to tweet

I didn’t want to sign up to Twitter because I thought it mad to want to blurt out stuff about what you are doing every minute of the day.

I see that Ricky Gervais and Steven Fry are quitting it, getting tired of blah blahing about things.

But during COP15 I realised twitter is a useful tool. As I clicked on the tag #COP15 it provided a form of real-time human-managed search engine, through the use of or other forms of linking to webpages from twitter. Thus I saw it a great way to share your own work on matters of topical discussion.

So, I wont be tweeting about what I had for breakfast or who I met at lunch. But for another way to share what myself and my colleagues at Lifeworth are doing or putting out.

After I sent my first tweets I got 4 new followers in a minute.  Thanks guys.

My first tweets:

  1. jembendell

    @COP15 it was wrong 4 #business & #banks 2push4 #CapAndTrade 4 the #climate We must seek a global #carbon charge

  2. jembendell

    @davos #WEF is right 2report values at heart of #FinancialCrisis but #davos isnt yet the answer to those #values.

  3. jembendell

    #UN #fashion show is happening! Great when idea comes 2gether. Praise #ecochic. Step 4ward 4 #sustainable #luxury

All of them posted from this internet cafe in India.  If someone buys me an iphone or googlephone you’ll be even better informed.  Just send the cash via paypal to


True collaboration paves the way to divinity – year end update

“True collaboration paves the way to divinity”
The Mother (the founder of Auroville).

I write from Auroville, in India, a place that aspires “to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and harmony, above all creeds, all politics and nationalities.” In that spirit, I wish you a happy holiday, doing whatever brings you closer to that sense of human unity. As with all things the aspirations exceed the material reality, but those aspirations for Auroville are still inspiring.

As I’ve been involved in producing some new resources in the past year, Im writing a general work update for the end of the year, to quickly update you on those outputs, some of which may be of use or interest.

At Lifeworth we have relaunched the corporate responsibilty jobs portal, which with thousands of jobs on it is now the most comprehensive source of opportunities in this field. We have also relaunched our consulting practice bringing together 18 associates in 9 countries with a focus on organisational strategies for social change. One of the main areas I’ve been focusing is the luxury sector. If interested, check out a programme for CNBC on eco luxury that I helped edit, and the report for WWF. I’m currently finishing a book on sustainable luxury management, which follows a recent book on luxury brands with one of Spain’s leading business women. The network I launched to connect professionals in the emerging sustainable luxury sector has now grown to over 600 participants, and we are the online network for the UN’s first major fashion show, happening in January. My societal aim for this work is to help affirm in people who are not usually reached by eco messages, that sustainable lifestyles are aspirational and fulfiling. My professional aim is to advise on strategy with elite organisations that can act quickly.

We have continued producing our annual reviews of trends in corporate responsibility, the 8th annual review focusing on how the rise of Asian societies is influencing, and will influence, the environmental and social dimensions of business practice worldwide. If you think your organisation could benefit from being recognised as a supporter of the next review, out in a month, do get in touch as we still seek an additional sponsor.

At Griffith Business School (GBS) in Australia we’ve successfully launched the new Asia Pacific Centre for Sustainable Enterprise, and a new Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Enterprise, which I developed and recently taught. I was pleased we came 5th outside the US in the Aspen rankings of responsible business MBAs; it will soon be 3 years since I began working with the Pro Vice Chancellor on his agenda of making GBS a leader in sustainability education, so it is good to see the impact. We recently hosted an Asia Pacific conference on corporate responsibility, and I interviewed a number of the delegates. I’m looking forward to achieving more with GBS in the coming year.

It’s now 14 years that I’ve worked to transform business and finance to make it more enabling of fair and sustainable societies. One question has remained throughout: how best to do contriubute to such change. However, Ive come to realise that the “how best” to create change question cant be answered definitively, and what’s important is to find people who have that same question underpinning their work. So my new question is whether I will meet enough people in this field who are commited to creating meaningful and lasting change, and so continually learning about that. It’s about coming together with people as part of a social movement to transform business and finance. I explored this in my latest book, The Corporate Responsibility Movement, published earlier this year. I recommend the introduction, which can be bought cheaply.

One of the tools of any movement is its mobilising structures, and networks are key to that. So In my last project for the UN I focused how organisations use networks for advocacy, and they could be better at it. The paper was critically constructive, but some of the criticisms didnt go down too well with the participants. That reminded me of the dangers of becoming attached to the idea that we are doers of good, so that our self esteem is threatened by any question whether we actually do good. The danger is we fail to see, to learn and adapt. I also relearned the importance of taking the time to work on the interpersonal. I continue to be reminded how our states of mind, our consciousness, are most important in us being effective in any efforts to improve something. The implications of that insight for professional practice are difficult, as it’s not something easily discussed or sold within an organisational setting. It’s something I hope to explore further through my board role in the Global Vision Institute, advisory board role in the Source of Synergy Foundation, and maybe discussions with people here in Auroville!

I’m here until mid-March so drop by if you are near. One local project Im helping with is the governance system for a community currency. Its leading me to reflect on whether support for local economies through some use of local currencies is one way that businesses could help address the systemic inequalities our current financial systems create. Meanwhile in Geneva, the CSR Geneva network I established with colleagues is thriving, with over 600 members and regular events. I look forward to helping organise events there in 2010, on transformational change.

If you are interested in accessing my earlier publications, nearly all of them are available on my personal website. I also link from there to my blog, where I comment on various things and, at times, even attempted poetry. You can also find me on Linked In and Facebook, and my other contact info follows below.

I plan and hope for various things in 2010, most of which take forward the areas outlined above. But who knows, maybe a benefactor will come along and collaborate to unfold our common divinity.

Thanks for reading through this big list of things… I hope one of the links proves helpful. I plan to only send out such generic emails every few years, so if you want to hear from Lifeworth Consulting more often, then subscribe, or if you want to hear from me more often, subscribe to my personal site.

Happy Xmas.

Globalising Trusteeship

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:  Webinar: Tuesday May 19, from 16:30 to 18:00 UK time, organised by CSR International. Venue is “online”. Register:

The Corporate Responsibility Movement, Jem Bendell et al. March 2009 ISBN 978-1-906093-18-1

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

Questions to Christians

Over the years I have sometimes discussed religion, faith and spirituality with people at parties. I was asked to follow up with someone on this recently, and rather than providing explanations and references, in the first place I am writing down the questions I normally put to someone of faith. I pose these questions to explore with them the depth of their spiritual inquiry.

  • How can you be happy going to heaven knowing others have gone to hell?

  • Might your assumption or yearning for yourself to have an independent existence after death, worthy of being called or experienced as “you”, be a projection of ego consciousness, showing a fixation on your separate identity?

  • Given that you are not meant to worship material idols, why do you worship the bible, or sentences in it, when it is made of human invented things called “words” referring to human invented things called “concepts”

  • In a world of billions of people with their own histories cultures and belief systems, how can you believe you know the one right way, based on divine revelation to one group of people at one moment in time, without being racist or accepting that your God is racist?

  • Given that archaeological evidence from the past 100 years have highlighted how key elements of the biblical story, such as a ‘virgin’ birth, the numbers of disciplines, and some key Jesus teachings, were actually popular myths prior to the supposed lifetime of Jesus, how can you not wish to explore the historical and cultural origins and inventions of your religion?

  • Given the role of the roman empire in influencing what was chosen to be in the bible or be excluded, around 300 AD, shouldn’t you explore not only what was left out of the bible but also what the interests of the romans were in challenging existing spiritualities across europe at that time?

  • Given that those pre Christian European spiritualities, like many other non-Abrahamic spiritualities around the world, did not see a separation between the natural and spiritual realms, might that separation have been functional to forms of organisation and control that enabled those societies using Christianity to conquer more peoples and lands?

  • What might have been lost to our sense of self, community and world, due to that new understanding of natural-spiritual separation, which might be at the root of some of our problems today?

  • Why does your personal sense of joy and peace when you decide that doubts about your religion are mere tests of your faith, and that god transcends human understanding, validate your views and subsequent actions?

When I have some time in a week or two Ill write up the way the discussions normally go, and then the references I can recommend to help people follow up on the issues raised. Usually the questions do require a lot of explanation of the history of spiritualities, the development of religion, and Western notions of concepts and words.. and then alternatives that are as enriching, empowering and socially positive, as a feeling of being loved by “God”.