Mid-way through this year, when my friends asked me “how is it going with the Universal Commons?” I would often feel a rush of anxiety. This was because the deeper I dug into the challenges facing our society and economy, the more gnarly the problem looked, and the more elusive the solution seemed.
But here at the end of 2019, I now feel differently. Here’s why: the key question I raised over two years ago – “what’s wrong with profit?” – has exploded into the mainstream in recent months.
In August the US Business Roundtable caused a global stir when 181 CEOs signed up to a new Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation. This declared that business ought to serve all stakeholders, not just maximise shareholder return. This was effectively an acknowledgement by some of the most powerful and influential business leaders in the world that profit and value had become misaligned within our current economic paradigm.
Meanwhile, major media outlets, such as the Financial Times, have made bold statements about the need to reform capitalism and dedicated entire special reports to transforming business and investment practices to align profit with purpose. Similar discussions have appeared in The Economist, the Harvard Business Review and other outlets that can hardly be called radical, including a small contribution in the Australian Financial Review by myself.
The inability of our current political institutions and our current form of capitalism to address rising inequality, climate change and unsustainable production and consumption are forcing all of us to question these institutions.
These developments have enabled me to realise something incredibly important and powerfully motivating: I am not alone. Not only have I been able to join and contribute to a growing and vibrant “Movement” of people and organisations seeking to reform these institutions, but I also have powerful allies here in the form of Reuben Finighan, our chief economics advisor, and Tim Dean, philosopher and lead communicator for the Universal Commons.
We all acknowledge that systems change is a difficult process, requiring deep thinking, patience, flexibility, resilience and collaboration. Like all Movements, this one will unleash not only great thinkers, well-meaning contributors and collaborators but also fashionistas, opportunists and exploiters. There will be dead ends and there will be false paths. There will be breakthroughs and there will be setbacks. And there are no guarantees in life, let alone when it comes to reforming a system as complex as capitalism.
Still, we look forward to contributing to the messy and difficult process of systems change. After all, I don’t believe we have much choice. Every news headline about the growing climate crisis, about rising inequality, about the depletion of our precious natural resources, about poverty within the wealthiest nations on this planet all serve to sustain the fire that drives us to push for positive change.
As I communicated in an earlier blog, we have decided to focus on two things for the next 12 months. The first is seeking opportunities to invest in commercial renewable energy projects.
I can’t help but to think of Noah, despairing that the rising flood waters would never recede, yet he sent a dove out to find land. The first did not return; neither did the second. But the third did return, and it had a twig in its beak. This was evidence that the waters had receded and there was land to be found.
Like Noah, we are looking for evidence of change in the world. If we can find purely commercial opportunities in renewable energy projects we will know that the social, political and regulatory environment is moving in the right direction. And the search for opportunities will expose gaps which we can describe in our writing.
The second focus is to continue to research and spread our message to the business community and the public. We hope to contribute by providing useful frameworks for the Movement that can bring clarity to the challenges we face, and help identify inflection points that can produce real change.
We are also aiming to offer commentary about individuals and groups who are part of the Movement. We will try to help identify dead ends and false paths, and we will celebrate breakthroughs and urge resilience during setbacks. We are looking forward to collaborating with fellow travellers, but we are also determined to preserve our independence, because the Movement will need a range of views.
So as this eventful year comes to a close, I want to thank you for following our progress. I wish you a peaceful and restful year end look forward to keeping you informed of our progress during 2020.