Written By: Luiz Velloso
After arriving from the last Net Impact Conference, many of my classmates asked me about what I got out of the days that I spent in Portland:
How many companies did you manage to reach there? Did you get any interviews? Did you do a lot of networking for the summer job? Were there any good companies?
Unfortunately, I gave them an unexpected answer to all those questions:
I didn’t go there to look for an immediate job. I went there simply to open my mind, to learn, to listen. Even harder than finding a company with a high level of corporate responsibility is changing our own companies from inside. Nothing is better than listening to inspirational speakers to give us ideas and directions on how to put into practice durable and sustainable initiatives to impact our economy, society and environment. The speakers not only have their own experiences to share as examples on how to improve our organizations, but they have also used their decisions to positively impact a significant number of people and/or part of our environment.
I’ll try to give a taste of the conference, focusing my blog on one of the greatest highlights of the event, the keynote speaker Lord Michael John Hastings. He not only works in the private sector as KPMG’s Global Head of Citizenship and Diversity but also acts in several nonprofits and government organizations, such as Board Director of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Council, and Vice President of UNICEF.
His speech was heavily condensed with metaphors, references to several authors and strong criticism on our society. He not only gave us his insights about our society but also about our environment and our economy. First, let’s start with the economy. He cited Phillip Blond’s agenda, made it his own and suggested it as a way to overcome the weak US economy:
Remoralize the market, relocalize the economy and recapitalize the poor
Three simple suggestions that are almost opposite to our economy model.
To remoralize the market, banks not only have to act with transparency to regain confidence from investors and lenders but also the government has to act more intensively to give instructions and make new laws in order to limit excesses from the private sector.
To relocalize the economy we cannot simply buy local and organic products as we are in a very globalized world, but how we could reduce US dependency on China? Is there a way to diminish imports and stimulate local production and services?
Finally, recapitalize the poor seems a crazy idea to any capitalist modern country. But as our gap between the rich and the poor has widened through the last decades, it is not surprising to see so many jobless people across US as well as dissatisfied protesters from the Occupy movement that are not the 1% of the rich that controls 40% of the resources. One example that shows that this policy is not just possible but also a serious economic stimulator is the Brazilian case. In only 8 years, Brazil has shortened the gap between the classes bringing around 40 million people (or 20% of the population) from the poor to the middle class, mainly with government social policies. The economy has been growing more than 5% for the past two years.
Second, he said that the negligence with our environment is at extenuating levels due to the nature of our society that consumes the world’s resources without thinking about who will pay the bill and when. It has been the culture of the free lunch in a world where there are no free lunches. We have been spending our moral capital with the same reckless abandon that we have been spending our financial capital. Freud called it the “obsessional neurosis” of humankind, stating that the precondition of civilization is the ability to defer the gratification of instinct and to control their appetites.
Last but not least, the social aspect of his speech was pointing out the several reasons why our society has become so cynical that it has eroded our capacity to persist with change. We point out and blame without taking responsibility for ourselves, or without listening to each other or even worse, without seeing each other as human beings.
The same way as reputation doesn’t come from what we are going to do; to overcome cynicism does not come from a proposed change in attitude. It is not a prepackage thing, it has to come from inside, not solely from protests because it will only drive change through sacrifice. People have to feel the liberty of serving the vulnerable, they have to find a common purpose to make social cohesion, and otherwise they will end up not listening.
He ended with a Chinese Proverb: “If we don’t change direction, we’ll end up where we’re going”.
So let’s stop looking into things just by using the vision, in order to impact the triple bottom line of our society, let’s use our most acute sense, our ability to listen!
2011 Net Impact Conference Keynote Speakers Videos (recommended):
Lord Michael Hastings – KPMG, UNICEF
Sally Jewell – REI
Speed Keynotes – 3 Entrepreneurs
Hannah Jones – NIKE