This TIME Magazine cover and the article by Naina Bajekal captured my attention.
As I share in the introduction to DO GOOD, I wrote my book in large part to provoke more discussion and accelerate a movement to make business more relevant, innovative and enduring that was already underway. At the time, I envisioned the mass behavior change we would need to avert a climate crisis and address deeply rooted systemic social challenges would have been much further along by today, nearly five years later.
Although I understood we were at an inflection point then, I never imagined we’d be at “living at a pivotal moment in human history, one where the fate of the world depends significantly on the choices we make in our lifetimes,” as William MacAskill is quoted as saying in the article.
MacAskill, who helped start the Effective Altruism (EA) movement makes the case for long-termism as an essential moral priority of this moment. A long-termism more akin to that of “Seven Generations” than that the investment community is focused on: “positively influencing the long-term future—not just this generation or the next, but the potentially trillions of people still to come.”
In the first chapter of my book, I consider the phrase doing good and wonder why we don’t think of business when we hear the phrase doing good?
“For most people this phrase conjures up images of kindness and self-sacrifice: A young Boy Scout helping an old woman to cross the street. A Peace Corps volunteer teaching a Nepalese man to build a smokeless stove. An aid worker in Haiti rescuing a young child from the rubble. Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, CARE, and other nonprofit organizations come readily to mind. When we hear the phrase doing good, few of us think of a business of any kind….”
Our Western cultural narrative relates doing good to idealism and altruism—two concepts typically associated with philanthropy, not companies. With a focus as I understand it on philanthropy, altruism is the primary principle that underpins EA. And I believe this is worth reflecting on from a wider perspective….
According to the online etymology dictionary, altruism, 1853, means “unselfishness, devotion to the welfare of others, opposite of egoism.” It’s from the French altruisme, coined or popularized 1830 by French philosopher Auguste Comte, with -ism + autrui (Old French altrui) “of or to others,” from Latin alteri, dative of alter “other” (see alter). Stemming from Latin for other, altruism is the quality of focusing is on something other than ourselves.
Those who have read Do Good or have heard me speak know I’m a big fan of the management guru Peter Drucker. Although EA’s primary focus is philanthropy, Peter Drucker taught us the purpose of a business is also about serving the other.
“To know what a business is we have to start with its purpose. Its purpose must lie outside of the business itself. In fact, it must be in society since business enterprise is an organ of society. There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer… . The customer is the foundation of a business and keeps it in existence. He alone gives employment. To supply the wants and needs of a consumer, society entrusts wealth-producing resources to the business enterprise.”
And as an organ of society, I strongly believe business also serves employees, stakeholders, wider society and the planet.
I’d love to hear what you think! Does the business sector have a responsibility to participate in the growing movement to improve the world today – and for generations to come? Please message me here or on twitter (@annebt)