“Elites, he wrote, have found myriad ways to change things on the surface so that in practice nothing changes at all. The people with the most to lose from genuine social change have placed themselves in charge of social change – often with the passive assent of those most in need of it.”“Business elites are taking over the work of changing the world. Many believe they are changing the world when they may instead—or also—be protecting a system that is at the root of the problems they wish to solve.”
I felt like he was speaking right at me as I was reading this book. I am working in the VC scene, claiming to be socially conscious, and a proponent of for-profit solutions to social problems.
I could tell this book was in a way a personal letter to himself and to his well-intentioned friends at the Davos, or the Aspen Institutes. It is a call to action for elites and every day citizens that we have crafted a system that continues to benefit us rather than the society as a whole. It made me question a few things in my professional life – about how “purpose-driven” some of my organizations are or how “charitable” they are – why I get involved into the things I do. Are they part of the problem? Are they trying to fix the problem?
I could definitely think about how the business models of these “networks for good” could perpetrate itself. So many organizations I’ve been to were interesting experiences without concrete aftermath or real results. A lot of them served to celebrate themselves, a platform to lay shoulder to shoulder under the clout of the word “impact.”
It’s a confusing world of social impact and corporate social responsibility. I think the mechanisms have always been there before the orientations. Lots of hard questions here. I think it comes down to this. I don’t think it matters whether we work in Wall Street or at a charity. Government provides mechanisms and regulations and capitalism as a pursuit of free will is good.
Operational businesses create value for society.
A lot of progress came from small, unrecognized acts. My hope is that we can ask more tough questions. What’s important is whether or not we are willing to engage ourselves in tough moral questions. I think then we can live a life of vocation with great empathy and celebration of life.
What is the alternative? Giridharadas, quoting a Baha’i saying, contends that “[s]ocial change is not a project that one group of people carries out for the benefit of another.” Instead, he continues, we must solve problems “together in the public sphere through the tools of government and in the trenches of civil society … that give the people you are helping a say in the solutions [and] offer that say in equal measure to every citizen.”
So then we work together. As an ecosystem.
The goal is always going to be sustainable value. Today’s challenges are vast and complicated. Today’s technologies could fuel social and economic order uprooting hierarchies. When I was at State, I came to see how vital diplomacy is in unlocking global alliances into a capacity for security and a public good. The problem is that there are no easy answers to truly complex problems and that we need to cultivate the conditions wherein emerges over time to co-create a shared outcome.