Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The problem with Philanthropy...

Mohamad Yunus told a group of Socially Responsible Investors last month that "There is no room for selflessness in business because of philanthropy."  

What an interesting idea!  It fits with my feeling that we live in an increasingly bifurcated world - Democrates and Republicans don't talk; there's a widening gulf between the Haves and Have-nots; religions are becoming extreme and intolerant, (Remember when we all got along?).  In traditional business you're told (without anyone saying it) to leave your heart and your values at the door. When bad things happen you're told it's nothing personal - just business. And if you express the desire to go out on a limb to do the right thing you need a business justification for your do-goodism.  Philanthropy is lauded, but not as an integral part of business but as a nice way to spend the money you've made doing business.

And while we are increasingly compartmentalizing certain areas of our lives, we are at the same time increasingly seeing the breakdown of the wall between professional and personal: Who isn't checking work emails at home these days? Office dresscode and language has gotten more casual. Communication to our clients has gotten more personal.  Telecommuting is in.  Hierarchy is out.

Whether it's natural yin and yang or the pull toward something new it begs the question of which direction business will ultimately take with respect to our higher ideals.   Will we relegate it to the black and white world where business is only about money and philanthropy takes care of the doing good after the money's been made, or will will take a more holistic approach and allow our better selves into the business world.

When you mesh purpose and profit you get social enterprise.  You also get solutions to some of the worlds most pressing problems.  For instance, if you let humanity into the picture and allow your company to stray from it's focus on the bottom line then you are able to make the choice to keep local jobs even at the expense of profits.  You also get the opportunity to give people more than a paycheck but an opportunity to feel great about what they do.

It's time to reset the business paradigm, and unleash the philanthropist-business.

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