Driving change in the world’s major institutions, especially business, so they operate in service of well-being for all

May 13, 2016

What are economies for life?  What is necessary for Catholics and others to lead for well-being rather than death, disregard of the inherent dignity of people and creation, and investment in what is death-dealing?

Green jobs not dirty coal

Right now, thousands of people are taking direct action as part of a global wave of protests against the biggest fossil fuel infrastructure projects across the world, with Catholics involved in each.  Laudato Si’ no. 165 discusses the need to transition off of fossil fuels “without delay”, getting to full decarbonization of our economies.

Catholics will take forward Pope Francis’ agenda again at the Leading for Well-Being Consortium meeting at the the Fordham, the Jesuit University in New York City.  An extension of the previous Economy for Life, this emerging movement is bringing together leaders from business, academia, media, government and faith to develop a narrative of an economy and society that acts in service of all life so the world may flourish.  The Consortium “will help convene meetings around the world, creating communities of practice based on respect for human dignity and the integrity of ecosystems. Together with many others we seek to establish well-being as a pragmatic alternative to the current fixation on shareholder value, and counter the narrative that is delivering austerity, inequality, resource depletion and global pollution.”

The effort to date has concluded that the global economy rests on a knife-edge, based on unsustainable business practices, with growing inequity and the prospect of biophysical collapse.  There are rising levels of anger, fear, and intolerance, accompanied by growing exclusion as well as a thirst for meaning and connection. Solutions exist but requisite actors are not implementing them because the neoliberal narrative tells us:

  • The goal of the economy and business is to generate financial wealth only — returns to those with the most money is all that matters.
  • The only legitimate economic actor is the individual (person or corporation).
  • Freedom means disconnection from others and limited forms of government.
  • If we just let the market sort things out, all will be well.

Pope Francis sketches out a different alternative, and just called European leaders, this past week, to take up a new path that serves humanity and the environment better.  Material consumption has not delivered the quality of life promised. Instead, people struggle to make ends meet and find purpose in their lives.

Fordham professor Michael Pirson is involved in the effort, from a Humanistic Management perspective.  He comments that the Gallup-Healthways Well-being Index shows that workers feel worse about their jobs than in any year surveyed, a disengagement estimated to cost global companies $400 billion every year in lost productivity.  Recent research shows, too, that many of the underlying assumptions of the old narrative are wrong. Social scientists find that most people are not greedy, rugged individualists. Rather they seek goodness, caring, and connection first. They need basic material support, but are not primarily motivated by acquiring wealth. Organizations that respect dignity and implement more sustainable practices better engage workers, and all stakeholders, increasing productivity.  Further, purpose-driven brands deliver higher profitability. And the hard sciences now tell us that life itself is deeply interconnected and mutualistic, rather than separate, competitive, or based on random chance.

A goal of the Leading for Well-Being effort is to drive change in the world’s major institutions, especially business, so they operate in service of well-being for all.  “This will reliably increase human health and productivity and foster sustainability. It will give change agents a vision of the future we want, who we are as humans, and how to implement well-being at work and in society. It will shift businesses to be part of the solution, not a cause of problems,” says Pirson and the group leaders.  For this “a new narrative” is needed, the group says along with a shift to pursue well-being as a core mission, address local needs, and shift flows of capital to companies and organizations behaving in ways that enhance well-being.

“True freedom and success depend on creating a world where we all prosper and flourish. Institutions serve humanity best when they recognize our individual dignity and enhance our interconnectedness. To thrive, businesses and society must pivot toward a new purpose: shared well-being on a healthy planet,” says that narrative.

With this, the Consortium is looking to

  • Identify and connect the institutions and leaders that have made well-being core to their missions and:
    • Amplify their stories by showcasing their success and helping them pay it forward
    • Build on their strengths and bring their work to scale
  •  Invite a diverse group of people and organizations from all parts of society to co-create, adapt, and interpret the narrative
  • Converge around key qualitative/quantitative measures of well-being for institutions to leverage
  • Design and execute on a plan to:
    • Make the new narrative the default in our institutions so that choices that promote well-being (i.e., prosperity and flourishing) – in people’s lives, in business, and in government and systems – flow naturally
    • Change our consciousness (a deeper level understanding of who we are and the world we live in) through practices and positive routines that connect us to purpose, to others, and to the natural environment. We will do this by reaching students and young people, business leaders, civil society leaders, economists and economic thought leaders, professors, storytellers and marketers.

Core Conveners include

  • Hunter Lovins, President of Natural Capitalism Solutions, who has consulted with businesses and governments in 30 countries worldwide.  An original Club of Rome member and receipient of the Right Livelihood Award, Time Magazine recognized her as a Millennium Hero for the Planet, and Newsweek called her the Green Business Icon.
  • Chris Laszlo, Director of the Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit.  Formerly with Deloitte & Touche, where he consulted on strategy to global industry leaders, Laszlo is the author of five books including Flourishing Enterprise (2014) and Embedded Sustainability (2011). In 2012, he was selected a “Top 100 Thought Leader in Trustworthy Business Behavior” by Trust Across America™. In 2015, he was elected Fellow of the International Academy of Management.
  • Michael Pirson also worked for an international consulting group, started his own private consultancy, working with businesses, nonprofits, embassies, political campaigns, and local and national governments. He is a founding partner of the Humanistic Management Network, bringing together scholars, practitioners and policymakers around the common goal of creating a ‘life-conducive’ economic system, from his base at Fordham.
  • Andrew Winston is a globally recognized expert on how companies can navigate and profit from humanity’s biggest challenges. His views on strategy have been sought after by many of the world’s leading companies, including HP, J&J, Kimberly-Clark, PepsiCo, PwC, and Unilever. Andrew’s latest book, The Big Pivot, was selected as one of the “Best Business Books” of the year by Strategy+Business magazine. His first book, Green to Gold, was the top-selling green business title of the last decade. Through his writing, consulting, and speeches (including a TED talk), Andrew provides a practical and optimistic roadmap for building resilient, thriving companies and communities in a volatile world.
  • David Levine is the co-founder and CEO of the American Sustainable Business Council a growing coalition of business organizations and companies collectively representing over 250,000 companies committed to advancing market solutions and policies that support a sustainable economy. A social entrepreneur for over 30 years, he focuses on the development of whole systems solutions for a more sustainable society through strategic partnerships and broad stakeholder initiatives including the founding and directing of the Learning Alliance, an independent popular education organization.