Professor Jem Bendell

notes from a strategist and educator on social and organisational change

Archive for the ‘Corporations’ Category

Wild Over Algorithms: Jem’s Quarterly 5

Posted by jembendell on March 14, 2016

I ignored it for a while. But as a Prof, it was time to submit to Google Scholar and let their algorithms pass judgement on my work. So I’ve an h-index of 20 and an i10-index of 35, from over 2000 citations. Have I lost you yet? Well at least most of my publications are now in one place. My latest thoughts are on the “Impasse in Western Leadership” which I presented at a conference on leadership in Asia in January.

I continue to work with Dr Neil Sutherland and Richard Little on a collection on leadership and sustainability that arose from the Leading Wellbeing Research Festival last summer. On April 9 the team at IFLAS are hosting a reunion in Ambleside, which will be a great weekend to share relevant initiatives. These ideas relate to our new MA in Sustainable Leadership Development, which is designed to fit around the work of busy leaders. It kicks off with a week in the Lake District this September.

I now work part time with the University of Cumbria, and am adapting what I know to offer wilderness retreats for leadership development. Working with Georgia Wingfield Hayes, our first Leading Wild retreat is in Costa Rica in January next year. We conceived the Leading Wild retreats because we know the most powerful learning is difficult to enable in typical corporate formats. I like hosting learning where we are ready to let go of what brought us success and think afresh about the situation we face. A wilderness retreat invites that approach. 25% of revenues will go into forest conservation. It’s also 25% off if you book now!

Somewhat sooner, if you are in London on April 13th, please join us near the Docklands for a lecture by the founder of the Positive Money campaign, Ben Dyson. At 530pm he will talk about how government issuance of digital cash could kick start the UK economy and pay down the debt. It’s an opportunity for participants in our free online course on Money and Society to gather. Over 120 are currently completing this MOOC that I developed with Matthew Slater (Global Ecovillage Network) and 8+ will study our Certificate of Achievement in Sustainable Exchange in April. This will be co-tutored by Leander Bindewald, whose PhD at IFLAS on the (misleading) discourses of money is getting interesting. I’ll be sharing some of our ideas in a keynote at the Guild of Independent Currencies conference in Liverpool on April 20th.

In February I visited Melbourne to work with my colleagues at Trimantium Capital. They ran an event at Parliament House on the future of superannuation (pension) investments for a more sustainable Australia, and introduced tech investors from Silicon Valley to a range of Australian start-ups. En route back to the UK, I visited the Indian Institute of Directors, to discuss with board directors how we can encourage cultures and systems for firms to seek disruptive innovation for sustainable development. In 2016 I will be doing more work on “impact investing”, to promote the necessary transition to a better economy.

At the Indian Institute of Directors course for non executive directors, where I lectured

At the Indian Institute of Directors course for non executive directors, where I lectured

I’ve listed my future event attendance below… maybe see you in London, Lancaster, Lake District, Kuala Lumpur, Geneva, Tokyo, Brisbane, Melbourne, or Boston?

Thanks, Jem

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Upcoming Lectures, Panels and Event Attendance

Leading Wellbeing: from theory to practice, Co-host of workshop on sustainable currencies, Ambleside, April 9. Link.

The Guild of Independent Currencies Annual Conference, Keynote, Liverpool, April 20th, Link.

Global Prosperity Institute, UCL, Participant, London, May 10. Link.

The World Economic Forum on ASEAN, in Kuala Lumpur, June 1-2. Link.

HELP University, Lecture on “Leadership Lessons from WEF”, Kuala Lumpur, June 3 (tbc)

University of Geneva, CSR Leadership lecture, CSR Summer School, June 30. Link.

Finance Innovation Lab, Fellows Retreat, Ambleside July 1-3.

Cumbria Research and Enterprise Conference, Lecture on Sustainable Enterprise Zones, Lancaster, 8 July.

Positive Money Leaders Retreat, Lectures on Leadership and Currency Innovation, Ambleside, September 9-10.

Forum of Young Global Leaders Annual Summit, Tokyo, October 18-21 Link.

Griffith Centre for Sustainable Enterprise, Open Lecture on “Leadership for Sustainability”, Brisbane, last week of October (date tbc). Link.

The New Metrics Conference, Keynote on “Sustainable Impact Investing,” Boston, November 15-16  Link.

Leading Wild, Retreat Co-Host, Corcovado, Costa Rica, Jan 3-8, 2017 Link.

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Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Sustainable Development | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Towards a Multi-Currency Eurozone

Posted by jembendell on July 6, 2015

The New Scientist magazine has published my views on the creation, in Greece ,of parallel currencies to the Euro, at both local and national levels. Unfortunately the mainstream financial press continue to mislead the public about the potential for a multi-currency system.

Even the basics are poorly reported, such as how the major bailouts for Greece were for the creditors, mostly German and French banks, not for the Greek government or citizens (as even the IMF recognises). But when it comes to the possibility of governments issuing their own parallel currencies, mainstream journalists move into a mode of lampooning and scaremongering.

Typically we see reports of banking analysts scoffing at proposals for new Government-issued currencies as ‘extreme measures’ of ‘money printing’ that are ‘liable to devaluation.’ It is only possible for such views to sound credible because most of us do not understand the way the banks currently create our money. In advanced economies, well over 90 percent of money is issued by commercial banks when they make loans. As the Bank of England had to correct economists last year: new loans are effectively new money. This process is difficult to justify when a bank’s privilege to create money from nothing and lend it to government for a nice profit starts to clash with democracy, as it may now be doing, given the protests against austerity. The mainstream media continues to avoid representing the informed views of those who completely reject a system where banks create money from nothing and use it to buy government bonds and charge interest on them, even at a 44% interest rate, as happened in 2012. It is why in 2011 at a European Broadcasting Union organised TEDx event I called on over 300 people in media to offer more insight on monetary issues.

In the last few years, the fame of the digital currency Bitcoin has helped people to see that there are alternatives to official money. However, the answer for Greece and other countries facing austerity is not Bitcoin, or any currency that the average citizen has to buy with their scarce funds of official money. Instead, what is needed are new currencies that turn the future value that citizens can produce into a form of IOU today: the types I mention in the New Scientist article. There are many such innovations around the world, with particularly exciting initiatives in Kenya, as I explained at the United Nations recently.

The former finance minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, is aware of some of these innovations. He told the Telegraph “If necessary, we will issue parallel liquidity and California-style IOU’s, in an electronic form. We should have done it a week ago.” Better still, he should have done that on Day 1 in office. But it seems the mainstream financial press cant deal with such imaginative ideas. Immediately the Wall Street Journal reported various unnamed sources as guessing the government sacked him for that idea. That’s strange, when previous (less left-wing) Greek governments DID EXACTLY THAT IN 2010, when they issued IOUs for payments of medical supplies as I explain in the New Scientist article. Instead, it seems he stepped aside for the reasons he implied, to stop personality issues being the cause for, or excuse for, a lack of agreement.

Why are the mainstream media so allergic to currency innovation, especially if led by a government? Is it

a) they haven’t got a clue about monetary economics or the history of currency

b) they are so immersed in the delusion that money is wealth that to consider how communities and governments can create their own money threatens their whole world view of how society should function

c) they are deliberately trying to undermine government and community currency innovation in order to please some in the banking sector who do not want nations to escape the debt-enforced transfer of wealth to the few, via austerity and privatisation

d) all of the above

I hope Yannis now has some more time to work on alternative currencies. It is important way beyond the borders of Greece. As I say in the New Scientist:

Although people are focused on what to do in Greece and the Eurozone now, the implications are far wider, inviting all of us to think about the kind of monetary systems we want in a 21st century where humanity seeks to transition to a fairer, more sustainable world….

…Once the Greek government joins their citizens and entrepreneurs in creating alternative currencies that can exist alongside the euro, we will see the emergence of truly multi-currency societies. It would be apt as the birthplace of money, with the drachma over 2500 years ago, for Greece to lead the way into this future.”

In preparing the article I’m indebted to my friend and colleague Tom Greco, who has been in Greece for the past month working with communities, business networks, local governments and some members of the national administration to create a circulating exchange medium on the basis of future tax revenues. He calls them “Tax Anticipation Warrants” but I prefer to dub them The Greco, The idea is this currency:

1. Be spent into circulation by the government,

2. In a form that can be circulated,

3. As payment at par with the euro,

4. To employees, pensioners, contractors, and suppliers,

5. In amounts no greater than anticipated tax and other revenues in a six month period.

6. That they not be given legal tender status,

7. Nor be redeemable for euros,

8. But only in payment to the government for any taxes and dues, at par.

9. That they carry an expiration date to be one or two years after their first issuance.

10. But be exchangeable at par, prior to expiration, for any new warrants that the government might issue in the future.

Godspeed to Tom and other volunteer alternative currency designers in Greece and elsewhere.

Excited? Bamboozled? Take our free course starting 23rd August. www.ho.io/mooc

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Occupy, Sustainable Development | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Have you let the arms-traders inside your brain?

Posted by jembendell on July 20, 2014

At times of war mongering, and mass media’s de-humanising of others, it is worth remembering the evidence and analysis of the economic drivers of such madness have existed for over a century.

This, in a footnote in 1860 by John Ruskin:

“It is one very awful form of the operation of wealth in Europe that it is entirely capitalists’ wealth which supports unjust wars. Just wars do not need so much money to support them; for most of the men who wage such, wage them gratis; but for an unjust war, men’s bodies and souls have both to be bought; and the best tools of war for them besides; which makes such war costly to the maximum; not to speak of the cost of base fear, and angry suspicion, between nations…And all unjust war being supportable, if not by pillage of the enemy, only by loans from capitalists, these loans are repaid by subsequent taxation of the people, who appear to have no will in the matter, the capitalists’ will being the primary root of the war…”

Perhaps President Eisenhower has read some Ruskin as he thought through his farewell address in 1961 that warned the American public and world of the growth of the Military Industrial Complex that was coming to control US foreign policy in favour of constant war.

So next time you see some “news” that makes you go

“gah, those disgusting…” or

“we should remove that son of a…” or

“we should send in the…” or

“something [violent] must be done…”

stop and wonder..

… have you let the arms-traders inside your brain?

 

Posted in Corporations | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Healing Capitalism

Posted by jembendell on January 31, 2014

Healing_Capitalism_High_Res
Jem Bendell is a guru in the world of Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate “Voluntarism”. And you need to be a guru to know just how empty and inadequate these concepts have now become. So prepare to have your cherished illusions unceremoniously set aside, and be forced to acknowledge that, when it comes to capitalism, there is no healing without a lot of pain.
Jonathon Porritt, Founder Director, Forum for the Future; author,Capitalism As If The World Matters

Radical thinking par excellence! Drawing on insights from multiple disciplines and ideological perspectives, Profesor Bendell shows how the corporate social responsibility agenda not only deployed an extremely blunt instrument – voluntary action – to reform capitalism but also missed the boat by ignoring core questions of economic governance. He directs our attention to the perverse nature of conventional monetary systems and the exciting potential of recent financial innovations to transform capitalism.
Peter Utting, Deputy Director, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD)

Professor Bendell is a deep thinker among CSR experts and his last book was widely influential in helping practitioners understand CSR as a “social movement”. This new book completes a decade of analysis of initiatives in responsible business and finance. It is a useful resource for students new to this area, and an important source of reflection for those buried in the day-to-day work of CSR initiatives. It’s an opportunity for the reader to step back, look at the big picture and think about what has worked and what has not over the past decade. He argues that the “corporate responsibility movement” described in his last book must now address core questions of economic governance, including monetary systems, or be irrelevant in the tide of history. Some of his conclusions are radical, but they are usefully thought-provoking. Therefore, I recommend this book as an important addition to thinking on the topic.
Dr Anthony Miller, CSR Focal Point, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); co-founder, Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative

….Thanks to Ian Doyle of Lifeworth Consulting for writing this book with me 🙂

Hear me talk about it at the Ways with Words Festival.

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Sustainable Development | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Davos Conversations on Bitcoin

Posted by jembendell on January 29, 2014

In Davos this year, things were different for me. In previous years delegates had looked confused when I explained I worked on currency innovation for sustainable development. This year, all I had to say is “I work on things like Bitcoin” and the conversation would flow. After all, people come to Davos thinking they will hear about big interesting things, and Bitcoin has some of that mystique now. Although the topic wasn’t on the official agenda, two big hitters brought it up and the media immediately conveyed their musings. Richard Branson said it was incredible.. while Shiller said it was probably a bubble. A case of seeing what you look for, perhaps, as Branson is the expert in looking for media savvy opportunities to make money, and Shiller is an expert in bubbles.

I was in Davos as one of their Young Global Leaders. I’m a critic of the Forum, but recognise its unique role as a meeting place and have benefited. By the end of Davos, Id given two media interviews about it and organised a Digital Currency Roundtable at the Hub Culture Pavilion. I even started to be introduced to people as Professor Bitcoin, so found it difficult to talk about anything else! The useful thing about such conversations is they help you to realise what people’s issues are and how to explain things in simpler terms. It was also good training for then going on ITV, RT and BBC to discuss Bitcoin. So here are the main questions and my typical answers.

What is Bitcoin?

It is best understood as two things. First, it is a big database of all transactions in the world using the bitcoin system, which any computer running the bitcoin software interact with. That’s called the blockchain, and it records who has got what and who is paying whom. This is effectively what the banks do for us already, but with bitcoin people can do it peer to peer via computers.

Second, is the bitcoin unit, which is traded for about 500 pounds per bitcoin at the moment. These units are what computers are rewarded with for maintaining that global database of transactions. The bitcoin unit is divisible by many decimal places, the smallest being called a Satoshi. That the bitcoin unit has increased in price so much has made bitcoin famous, but the real innovation that can transform payment systems and monetary systems in future is that global database.

The software that is behind the system was designed to only issue 21 million bitcoins. About 12 million of these are “mined” already. It is no longer possible for us to mine them without specialist computers running the fasted microchips. There are concerns that this form of issuance is neither fair nor very useful.

Is it really money?

 Money is a claim of future value from those who will accept it. So it is a unit that enables exchange, within a system of assumptions, norms, agreements, and beliefs. “All money requires belief” said Adam Smith. Per day, there is more money being transferred around the world via bitcoin now than by Western Union. Millions of users and tens of thousands of firms now accept it. So it appears to behave like a form of money. However, many governments are treating it like an electronic asset, rather than a currency.

For me, a currency is any metric denoting value in ways that enable exchange. Reputation points are a currency, for instance, as they can help you transact. Therefore in this way, bitcoin is also a currency.

 If you hear anyone saying “it isnt money” that’s a great chance to ask them “where does money come from” – if you know the answer, then you can help them realise their unfounded assumptions of the nature of our current money system. If you don’t know what Im talking about, see my 18 minute speech on the topic from a couple years back: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWeQfNpW9sQ

Is it secure and safe to hold?

The global database or ledger is cleverly designed to be a secure system. It uses cryptography to prevent hacking. 51 per cent of computing power using that global database has to agree on transactions for them to be confirmed. This is meant to stop double spending of the same coins.

If you are storing the bitcoin on a physical device then that could be lost or stolen. Therefore some are using safety deposit boxes or offline storage services. The same goes for cash or precious metals.

 (In future we will likely see systems where you could register your own wallet with your personal ID and sign up to a service that would help you trace it, if stolen. There are opportunities for banks and others in this area. Law enforcement would also need to begin to recognise theft of bitcoins as something important.)

If you store it on a service provider then there are other issues. Access depends on you maintaining your password and key, and the quality of the company behind it, where it is based, how solvent it is, how sophisticated it is to protect against hacks. This is the same for your pounds in a bank account – where actually the pounds aren’t even yours (they are the value of the banks promise to you).

Some computer specialists believe that hacking of the global blockchain is inevitable as computer systems improve. Or, that if it’s not inevitable, there is still a risk at some point in the future. I do not know enough about cryptography and computing power to make an assessment of this. The idea that it could be hacked one day would suggest that a future version of bitcoin might have trusted well-governed and well-regulated institutions that regulate access to the global database in the interests of the users. Some would doubt our banks fit that profile at present, and so other organisations might need to be trusted guardians. Others might suggest other means of adding additional security, and spreading risk by using multiple currencies, or agreeing systems for how to recover from hacks.

By the way: are national currencies secure and safe? It depends where you are storing them, and all of the issues Ive described above apply to them as well. To some, the inflation associated with national currencies at a time of low interest rates is a form of ongoing theft.

Is it the future?

The internet changed the business of music firms, video stores, newspapers and publishers. Why would banks and currencies not be next? The implications here could be huge, so we need to study it, and bring more people to understand it, and help shape things for the better.

I think the concept and the technology of a global distributively-maintained database or ledger, enabling transactions peer-to-peer without the traditional banking sector doing that for us, is here to stay. Whether it’s the bitcoin system or not, we don’t know. Bitcoin is just the first application in a whole new generation of technologies which are going to decentralise trust mechanisms and disintermediate a whole class of institutions. I have listed a number of limitations of the bitcoin system on my website, and so we can look to see whether the new innovations in cryptographic currencies improve on that system. Some of the new initiatives that take inspiration from bitcoin appear to have massive potential, such as Nextcoin, Etherium and Ripple. Other initiatives, like Solarcoin, could also be very interesting, as they connect issuance to activity that we want to support, such as renewable energy generation. Some other innovations appear to not progress the technology significantly and instead seek to cash in on interest.

For the bitcoin unit, we don’t know what the market price will be whether it might settle to some price range and therefore be more useful as a currency, providing a unit of account, a store of value, and a means of exchange. But it is also here to stay and play a role.

Ultimately we need currency systems that are more connected to communities issuing the credit to each other, rather than a fixed amount of currency being issued to fortunate people. Such credit currencies will be possible with the newer designs of blockchains. In the meantime, the open source non blockchain software for community currencies, from Community Exchange Systems and Community Forge, the most exciting community level initiatives, and the TradeQoin system based on the latest Cyclos software is the most exciting b2b real economy mutual credit system.

The most important thing for people to understand is the difference between currencies that are “things” issued separately from a community agreement about extending credit to eachother, and those that are simply metrics for accounting of promises between members of the same system for exchange. For anyone who has studied the history of currency, in books by Graeber, Greco, Lietaer, Riegel, or Zarlenga, then this difference is clear, and credit currencies are the key. I explain this with Greco in our joint paper, Currencies of Transition: http://base.socioeco.org/docs/tnt_bendell.pdf

Is it a bubble?

We should separate the two things that bitcoin is when discussing if it’s a bubble. The global database of transactions, maintained by many different computers, that bitcoin blockchain, that’s a new technology that has incredible potential. That’s not a bubble.

The bitcoin unit, how much people are buying it for, it’s a matter of opinion on whether it’s a bubble. We will see more facilities for people going short on bitcoin, at which point doubters can come in and if right they can make money from their bets against bitcoin if it falls. But its early days of its adoption so the price could also go far higher.

Some people who are saying it’s a bubble don’t understand the value of the technological innovation, the new functionalities it offers, and the multiple intentions of the user. Some are interested in it for remittances, some as a new way to receive payments quickly and cheaply especially from abroad, some as a hedge against the next financial crisis, some as a quick way to speculate to make money, some as an experiment to understand and adapt for better things to come, some to generate interest in their own activities, while others see it as a protest vote against the current banking and money system, a small peaceful act in line with the kind of revolutionary change that Russell Brand has caused some buzz about recently.

Speaking about bubbles is popular right now due to the last Nobel prize for economics going to researchers who analysed why bubbles occur. Im not a monetary economist but any economic analysis of asset price inflation that doesn’t examine the key role of credit creation, for those assets such as housing, is completely flawed.

Why is it useful?

It is very fast, very cheap (almost free), global, can serve the unbanked (as many people in the world don’t have a bank account), as well as offering a platform for innovation of new payment, accounting, and financial applications. Its success in the past year also has led to the early adopters now being able to fund new innovations, such as Ripple.

The reason I presented about Bitcoin to Oxfam last year is that I think that it has major potential for cheap cash transfers. The impact on the remittance business could be huge, and the start ups in Kenya and Philippines on this show the way. That bitcoin can also be integrated into sms payment systems mean this could be useful on the street in low income countries. If interested, check out things like Pikapay and Bitpesa.

I also see how bitcoin is having a positive educational effect, encouraging more of us to think about basic questions like what is money and currency, and why does it have to be this way? As I explain in my next book, Healing Capitalism, we need to change the monetary system to achieve a fairer, more stable and more environmentally sustainable economy and society: http://www.greenleaf-publishing.com/add_getquantity.kmod?productid=3799

We often think that money is wealth. But let’s not forget that we are the real wealth – our communities, technologies and the environment. Currency and money are actually just a way of keeping score. The current economic difficulties started out with a credit crunch. That meant less money or currency in our economy. Is it not odd that with less ability to keep score of our transactions, we had less ability to transact? Seen that way, it does seem odd. So some are waking up to this reality and thinking, why not create a new scoring system, a new currency, so people can transact? I sometimes say money is like the speedometer not the petrol, yet we treat it like the petrol, and slow down when suddenly there are less miles per hour on the clock, rather than miles in the tank. Keynes knew about this, of course, but his solution was to get the government and tax payers into debt. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Is it criminal?

All currencies and payment systems can be used by criminals, as the recent settlement by HSBC on money laundering shows. All technological innovation poses new challenges. Bitcoin presents new regulatory and law enforcement challenges.

Some think bitcoin provides anonymity, and therefore could enable crime. Yet it doesn’t easily provide anonymity. The blockchain is public and it would be difficult to remain anonymous once transacting regularly. That is why law enforcement agencies have been able to prosecute people associated with the website Silk Road.

In the UK, we need the Senior Fraud Office and the Financial Conduct Authority to be able to enforce existing laws on all our financial service providers. Bitcoin is no different in that respect.

There are broader issues of what is an appropriate level of privacy and anonymity at the individual level. Cash provides anonymity, for instance, and many consider it important for individuals to maintain some privacy of their financial transactions, whereas organisations should not have such privacy. These issues need to be examined from various perspectives, and that is not helped by incorrectly simple associations between bitcoin and anonymity.

The arrests of some people running bitcoin firms in connection with money laundering has been represented in some media as suggesting bitcoin is itself illegal, even though the law enforcement officials have made a distinction between criminal activity and bitcoin. Such reporting is unprofessional and misleading.

In some countries, however, government officials are communicating that they think bitcoin might be illegal itself, or at least that financial firms should not be using it. Recent communications from India, China, Thailand and Russia, are examples. However, other countries have provided guidance on how it is legal and how it will be regulated and taxed, such as Finland, Germany, Singapore and USA. My view is that many government officials sound very confused and therefore need better information and advice in providing guidance or future regulation on currency innovation. For instance, many alternative currencies are already in operation for decades in countries where officials have suggested that non national currencies might be illegal. Infact, I reckon many such officials have even used or benefited from such currencies… airmiles, for instance.

Some are concerned bitcoin might enable tax evasion. Clarity is required on tax, and is something being worked on right now by the UK government. Some other countries have clarified it will be treated like gold, and therefore be exempt from VAT if you buy it, but if you profit from it you will need to pay capital gains tax. Ultimately regulation should occur through global collaboration, so that we don’t have bitcoin firms seeking out the most lax regulatory and tax environment. However, most merchants that accept bitcoin receive it as national currency, and declare the national currency income.

Is it environmentally friendly?

Is the current banking system environmentally friendly? Via its carbon footprint or via the effect it has on society? The carbon footprint of all the computers, the transportation of cash and metals, the physical buildings and the staff, and their profligate lifestyles, is huge. In addition, the overall effect of current banking on the environmental is problematic.

If we look at the direct footprint of the bitcoin database system, then the energy consumed is quite high, and the system could be improved with new adaptations of the code. However, I met some bitcoin transaction processers, or miners, who are now off grid, to save electricity, having bought their own solar panels.

Do we assess wind turbines on the basis of the carbon footprint of their manufacture? No, we look at their lifecycle. That’s a difficult thing to assess for bitcoin, because it is unclear what influence it will have on the banking system. Many people are into currency innovation because they want to change the dominant position of banks in our economy. My research has led me to conclude that the current banking and monetary system is not conducive to fair, stable, and sustainable societies. It took me sometime to understand that academically though it may seem quite obvious, what with all the scandals, the boom bust cycles, the gross inequality and the inability to invest in shifting quickly to a more climate friendly economy.

So for social progress we need more monetarily literate people, who then may choose to say to central bankers they don’t like the monetary system and want something better or they will use alternatives.

The recent creation of SolarCoin, which uses a blockchain but where 99% of coins are premined and awarded to those creating solar generated power, is another interesting innovation.

Ultimately for as fairer and sustainable economy we need to restore the credit commons we had many centuries ago, where we issue credit to each other, and so we as communities decide who gets to realise their dreams and who can be trusted, not the bankers. Those environmentalists who then question whether we want to make it easier for people to transact, are making a category mistake, thinking that our ability to transact will necessarily mean more consumption of natural resources – the key difference is that if we create credit for each other, what is funded is more likely to be what communities want.

I discussed this in some detail on Sea Change Radio.

What are you learning by accepting it at the University?

The conversations across different departments were really helpful to understand how larger organisations relate to this innovation. For instance, our finance team needed to look at how to make sure our acceptance of bitcoin aligns with our compliance with anti-money laundering laws.

We have also discovered how different people respond to unusual innovations. Some are excited, some confused, some sceptical. The nature and content of those responses is important. We will see if there is uptake of the new payment service, and we will write it up at the end of the year.

Most entrepreneurs and management gurus say that to learn something new in life you have to be prepared to make mistakes. Yet most managers don’t approach their work like that at all, and focus on being as cautious and boring as possible. We need to innovate in ways where we seek to minimise risks yet not avoid all risks. Universities shouldn’t just be museums of old ideas but actively engaged in the challenges and trends of our time. Newer universities can and should innovate, not just emulate.

We have also discovered that there is interest in this topic worldwide. Our acceptance of bitcoin payment has been covered in mainstream news in Australia, Philippines, France, Hungary, Singapore, Indonesia, India, USA and Latin America.

What should my company do, and what should I do?

For an individual, how to respond to currency innovation depends on your risk tolerance, how tech savvy you are, how politically engaged you are and whether you might benefit locally. I recommend we all look for local mutual credit currencies, whether time banks, or mutual credit systems. Some may wish to earn, buy or mine crypto currencies, and I think it important to experiment but not to risk too much.

For organisations, then accepting alternative currencies is useful marketing, as we have seen with the Brixton Pound, Bristol Pound and now Bitcoin. In addition, for some institutions that expect another financial crisis soon, then crypto currencies can be a hedge, in terms of asset value, but also an alternative means to make payment if there is a freezing up of the banking systems. Its part of their business continuity planning.

Some sectors, like financial services, telecoms and software, firms would be almost negligent not to actively experiment in this field. At Davos I spoke to the CEOs of two of the world’s largest software and web firms, and they confirmed they weren’t looking at this. In Summer Davos the boss of Western Union said they aren’t either. Bad mistake, but fairly usual for incumbent organisations.

For other firms, becoming actively engaged in currency innovation can be part of their corporate responsibility and sustainability activity. To understand why, managers need to understand the role of monetary systems in causing so many problems in environment and society. Ive got bored of explaining why that is, so I recommend my TEDx which is only 12 mins long: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5uGLbV5zVo

What next?

There is a lot of misunderstanding. So we need to professionalise. It is also massively important, so we need to pluralise the stakeholders involved in the conversation about its future, its role, and regulation. We can’t leave this field and it’s regulation to leave it to bankers, techies, telecoms, treasury departments and traditional economists.

Therefore, at IFLAS we’ve launched a course, we are supervising research, and planning with UN agencies to host a second event on the question of the potential and limitations of currency innovations for sustainable development.

Interested people can follow developments by reading CoinDesk or the Bitcoin Magazine.

When did you get into this topic, why and are you an economist?

I consider myself a currency sociologist, who is studying this area through both action research and discourse analysis. I began working on this at the end of 2009, when I outsourced myself to India to learn about currencies with the team of programmers working for Community Forge to create free open source software for communities to create their own exchange and currency systems.

My work on corporate responsibility and sustainable development since 1995 led me to understand that our current monetary system is a barrier to social and environmental wellbeing, and that incremental change or political representation wouldn’t encourage the level of change needed. Instead, I turned towards what technological innovation could do to encourage change. Im hoping to help a peaceful incremental revolution in our monetary and exchange systems, so that monetary systems serve us not dominate us. That is an essential part of the design challenge for economies to thrive for all for the long term. I describe this in my book Healing Capitalism.

I’m not an economist. I take my monetary economics lessons from the writings of economics Professors Steve Keen and Professor Richard Werner as well as the brilliance of Dr Bernhard Lietaer, EC Riegel, and Thomas Greco. It is funny how economists think they can talk about any subject but if someone speaks about an issue of economy or money, many economists prefer to doubt arguments on the basis of whether one claims to be an economist. That leads to massive confirmation bias amongst the economics profession.

Do you have bitcoin?

I’m not investing in bitcoin. I like having my money in the local Cumberland Building Society, which lends it to local businesses. I see bitcoin as part of a broader area of promoting more sustainable exchange, and for me the best approach is to put what money we have into activities we want to see happen, and to support more community-owned approaches to currency innovation, such as that by CES, Community Forge and Timebanks.

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Sustainable Development | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Seeking Transformation? Study for an interdisciplinary PhD at the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability

Posted by jembendell on November 25, 2012

Our Campus resides near this Lake

Our Campus resides near this Lake

“Education is the science of relations”

Charlotte Mason,

the founder of our Lake District Campus in 1892

Next year the University of Cumbria launches the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability. As Director of the new Institute, I am currently welcoming inquiries about potential PhD research. We will accept six PhD students, whether full time in residence (typically 3 years), full time away (typically 4 years) or part time (residence or away (typically 5 years). There is one opportunity for receiving a bursary to cover fees. The Institute is based in the heart of the beautiful Lake District in the UK, in the village of Ambleside, with Campuses also in Lancaster and Carlisle.

The Institute has a specific research focus, about which it welcomes proposals.  This is in the field of “transition”. All our work on leadership and sustainability seeks to enable personal and collective transitions to living in harmony with each-other and the planet. Leadership that makes a positive difference to communities and environments is the only leadership worth practising or learning. To us, sustainability means that everyone thrives in harmony with the biosphere and future generations. That does not mean maintaining or spreading a particular way of life, but a transition from behaviours and systems that are destructive, towards those that restore the environment and support individual rights, wellbeing, and community. It implies a systemic shift; large numbers of persons and organisations acting in a significantly different way. A transition to sustainability involves promoting ecological integrity, collective wellbeing, real democracy, human rights, support for diversity, economic fairness, community resilience, a culture of peace, compassion and inquiry, and the appreciation of beauty.

Studies of positive transformations suggest this shift will require interacting cultural, economic, technological, behavioural, political and institutional developments at multiple levels. Leaders during social transformations appear to have transcended a concern for self, yet sufficiently sustained their wellbeing, and empowered others. Therefore our work seeks to connect the systemic and the personal, and mobilise insights from diverse schools of thought on how transformations occur. Consequently, our research focuses on actionable knowledge, action research, combining diverse disciplines, linking local with global, and learning from old and new teachings that arise from diverse cultural settings. With us, you will not gain a straight-jacketed PhD in management, or politics, or sociology, but produce insight that is highly relevant and interdisciplinary.

Within the framework of transition, we are particularly interested in three areas.

Transformative Leadership: how to encourage the attributes and competencies that enable someone to participate in social transformation; how organisational and societal transformations occur; how to encourage personal transformations and wellbeing through learning experiences.

Innovative Resourcing and Exchange: innovative ways for people and organisations to share, swap, rent, or exchange, with or without official money; sharing economy, collaborative consumption, complementary currency; implications for business development, international development, and policy; implications for donors and foundations, including more catalytic and transformative philanthropy.

Scaling-Up Transitions: approaches that hold potential for the scale of change required by current global challenges; public policies for scaling social innovations; transformative cross-sectoral alliances; disruptive innovations in existing markets and industries.

If your research interests relate to this, please read on about our approach, to consider whether to submit an initial inquiry.

At the Institute we will combine what is normally expected for PhDs, with our own particular emphasis on purpose-led inter-disciplinary actionable research. Many people are unaware of what researching for a PhD involves, and mistake it for the writing of a thesis/book, or the winning of a credential. The thesis and the credential are the results, but the PhD process is about becoming a reflective and skilled researcher and communicator of research. Therefore PhD research with the Institute will involve the supervisor helping the doctoral candidate with most of the following elements:

  • developing and applying professionally ones sense of social purpose and without a completely fixed view. Specifically, we are interested in inquiries in personal and collective transition to fair and sustainable societies (broadly defined)
  • learning how to research (how to turn ideas, beliefs or doubts into inquiries with suitable research; which means learning about ontologies, epistemologies, methodologies, methods)
  • learning how to assess existing intellectual disciplines for the way they can both inform and restrict inquiry on the chosen topic; some sociology plus at least one other social science discipline are expected (relevant subjects include management, design, international development etc)
  • unlearning some existing assumptions in ways that help one to become critically reflective yet action-oriented in all aspects of life and work
  • learning how to analyse primary “data” of forms relevant to one’s chosen inquiry and to develop findings that are relevant to broader contexts (data can include lived experience; but then one needs to learn how to analyse ones experience, not just re-tell or re-articulate it)
  • learning how to identify findings that both contribute to existing fields of knowledge, but also a particular field of practice (i.e. to seek both academic and non-academic relevance for ones work)
  • learning how to communicate findings in ways that reach people in academia and beyond, including presenting findings in ways that can inform education (such as online or in-person lectures)

Proposals need to reflect some of this journey, and a thesis will need to demonstrate these outcomes were pursued and somewhat achieved. Myself and my co-supervisors will help doctoral candidates along this journey: you don’t have to have everything mapped out already, but be open to this depth of inquiry. Information on what I do is on the University website.

Still interested? Then please send me some information about yourself and your idea in the following format, by December 17th 2012.

Your Idea: Tell me in half a page what your area of research is, what your overall research question might be, why it is relevant to leadership or sustainability or transition, what existing research you have done on it, what stakeholders you have engaged about your research idea, and what existing theories/disciplines (if any) you think are relevant to it. If you have a provisional research question, then include it.

Your Motivation: Tell me in half a page why you want to explore this, in terms of your personal and professional development. Also explain how you will fund, or seek to fund, yourself, and what format you would go for (full time, full time away, part-time)

Please attach a one page CV and a sample of existing writing, ideally already published.

That is 2 pages in total (1 on research and 1 on CV), and a piece of writing.

Provide a skype ID or google talk ID so that we can interact more easily (my skype: jembendell).

I will contact you within one month of you submitting your information, potentially to discuss further your ideas and help you prepare a full proposal to the University.

Please note that information on our Institute is not yet available online – by joining the Institute you will help to shape our emerging programmes.

Sincerely
Dr Jem Bendell
Professor of Sustainability Leadership
Director, Institute for Leadership and Sustainability
University of Cumbria, UK

jem dot bendell at cumbria.ac.uk

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, My Life, Sustainable Development | 8 Comments »

What has Wikileaks got to do with sustainability?

Posted by jembendell on September 1, 2012

People working on the environment, human rights, and social progress have not always had an easy relationship. The idea of “sustainable development” that first became popular 20 years ago was meant to bring them together. Instead, it has enabled an obsession with profit making to creep into thinking and practice in most areas of environment, rights and social progress. On the positive side, that has led to business and banks engaging with these issues more than they might otherwise – something Ive been involved in for the last decades. But what might have been lost in that process?

A speech on rights and media freedoms was the keynote at a festival to celebrate what an amazing future we have ahead of us if we embrace the transition to sustainability. In Sweden, at FuturePerfect, Wikileak’s editor in chief, Julian Assange, delivered a recorded speech from the Embassy where he has been given asylum by Ecuador.

SBS TV focuses in on laptop as Assange audio address played at FuturePerfect Festival

What has Wikileaks got to do with sustainability? Here are some highlights from the talk, and some reflections on what they mean for the “sustainability profession”, by which I mean those of us who have day jobs working on the social and environmental aspects of business, finance and economy.

Assange believes free media is critical to us understanding our society and what challenges we face. Thats key to enough people organising to promote sustainability:

“there is no civilisation, there is no society without media. That is: let’s take away all media, let’s take away all mediums, let’s take away all ability for humans beings to communicate with each other in the present and also it will learn from past experiences to teach the future. If there is no communication between people, if every person is entirely isolated like a tree in a forest, then clearly there is no civilisation and there is no society.”

“With the best possible communication, with the best possible ability to learn from our experiences, we have a chance of not simply doing the dumb thing. We have a chance of being more civilised to each other, we have a chance of avoiding pitfalls that have been discovered in the past.”

He also explains that our media is now so controlled by incumbent interests, that it marginalises critique, or those who want to see a transformation in society, such as towards a more sustainable one:

“Now the [corporate] media insofar as it is successful and is profitable and widely distributed, as an industrial body is inherently corrupt. And to understand where the corruption comes from, first of all see that an industrial body, an organisation that becomes powerful in influencing others, is able to manufacture consent and suppress dissent. As a result, the people who work within it, and those proprietors who own it, are invited to sit down at the table of power and are given certain concessions in their life and their business practices. They thereby become part of the very establishment that they are meant to be policing.”

The internet provides us with an opportunity to communicate and better understand our common predicaments, but not one that isnt being counter-acted by the amount of content produced by mainstream media:

“it is clear that most of the mainstream media outlets in Sweden are able to publish a truthful article on even perhaps the most controversial issues. But what they cannot do is show any sign of an institutional agenda to do so. They cannot publish in volume on those issues. Of course, when we are dealing with politics, we are dealing with perceptions en masse. And perceptions en masse are affected by communications en masse. It is not enough to simply reveal the truth in one isolated article or one isolated tweet; what is important is to have the truth revealed en masse, where people can see it en masse and where opinions can be affected en masse.”

The answer, Assange says, is therefore for all of us, in our personal and professional lives, to become engaged in developing and scaling up alternative media. Many people working on sustainability are working towards a better future, and can sometimes forget that may be taking for granted existing hard one freedoms and situations. Assange reminded participants at the conference of the situation facing many people today:

“We face a choice of  whether we can have something not just for our grandchildren but even  something for ourselves,” he noted. “We are rapidly approaching continuous war, in fact most of the Western countries have now been involved in war over 10 years and are being
increasingly involved. We see a tremendous increase in the size of intelligence agencies; the border between police and military is starting  to collapse, with the weaponisation of police; increasing amount of body armour that police have. Across the world we see a collapse in the rule of law, politicised and arbitrary justice, with U.S. assassination lists approved by the President in secret with no due process; the continued  detention without charge of children in Guantanamo Bay for over 10 years with no prospect of release.Mass surveillance being introduced into every country with no effective oversight by the population.  The linking up of international companies and networks of influential people of the banking people, all these people lifting up the democratic and electoral control of their respective population bases.”

In the past decades “sustainability” has become a profession, with people working in business, government and civil society on various aspects of the agenda. It is useful therefore, to be reminded of the insights of those who are activists, people who take personal risks and do not have to worry about their employer or client.

“We face a serious global crisis, so we must understand that this is not a choice about doing the right thing, this is not a choice about whether we
appear to be moral, this is not a choice about whether we make friends, or are approved as an effective member of society. We face a choice of whether we will have a civilisation that is civil or not.”

So what should sustainability folk do?

“first of all we must understand the problem, we must understand the severity of the problem, we must tell the others the severity of the problem, we must explain that it is not a choice, that is not something we could get out of, that there is a very real chance of a global technological and political dystopia appearing…”

Thats an useful reminder of speaking it as you see it, rather than worrying about how to frame your message in a positive tone that will help sell some products or votes.

“Then we must link together with people with a similar understanding, we must invent new technological means to fight fire with our own form of fire, we must have absolute unity and determination in the response. If we look back at the previous resistance struggles, similar phenomenon that occurred in the past, that is what has held the day in the end. Unity, determination, understanding and creativity, looking for every possible venue where the forces of darkness can be held back, that is the only way that we are all going to survive that ongoing threat that is against everyone.”

So what has Wikileaks got to do with sustainability?

In a field in Sweden, I learned that we should, sometimes, ditch our silos, labels, and professional affiliations in order to get a better sense of the interconnected causes of the various problems we face. If sustainable development is to be a true integration of social, enviornmental and economic priorities, then we need to lose the blinkers that our desire for an easy life have given us.

You can hear the speech or visit the organisers of FuturePerfect to see more about this great festival project. Im proud to have been associated with the organising of it, and look forward to more conversations and celebrations of how to be fully awake, connected and hopeful in our work at these critical times.

Posted in Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement, Media, Occupy, Sustainable Development | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Elegant Disruption

Posted by jembendell on August 31, 2012

Just over five years ago I began working on the luxury industry.  I thought, why cant these elite brands not excel in social and environmental performance? I researched, wrote and produced the report Deeper Luxury for WWF-UK, and it triggered a bit of a furore in the fashion press and wider luxury industry (about 8000 sites now link to the report). 5 years on, I’ve helped some luxury companies with their social and environmental impacts. But I havent seen much change. Some large firms like PPR have embraced the agenda, although we wait in anticipation for more results, in terms of positive social and environmental outcomes. In the 5 years, what inspired me the most were the entrepreneurs I met. People who were creating businesses to address social and environmental problems, and targetting the luxury segment as a way to do that. I began to realise something might be in this – that these entrepreneurs might be shaping the future of luxury, and that they might be revealing a new way we can engage in social change. In the new study, I profile sustainable luxury firms Elvis and Kresse, Tesla Motors, Shokay, Source4Style, Rags2Riches, Positive Luxury, Timothy Han and Nue Luxe… It’s called “Elegant Disruption: How luxury and society can shape each-other for good”. It took about a year to write, as it involved a lot of conversations to understand just what the potential of luxury might be to influence social change. Ill be presenting it at conferences in Brisbane and Barcelona in the coming weeks.Elegant Disruption

Abstract, August 2012.

From http://www.griffith.edu.au/business-government/asia-pacific-centre-for-sustainable-enterprise/publications/working-paper-series/issue-9
This paper outlines the contemporary luxury sector, showing it is global, thriving and influential. It shows how creative destruction is typical in most industry sectors, including luxury, and how disruptive innovation by entrepreneurs is key to that process. It proposes that the current time is potentially disruptive for incumbent luxury brands and groups, due to five key trends that are beginning to re-frame the markets that luxury brands sell to. Sustainable luxury entrepreneurs from USA, UK, Philippines, India, Argentina, China and Hong Kong are profiled and described as  pursuing “elegant disruption”: a well-designed intervention in markets that both uses and affects aspirations in ways that change patterns of consumption, production or exchange, for a positive societal outcome. The paper reviews the response of mainstream luxury brands to the sustainability agenda, proposing some possible reasons why they appear to be encumbered in embracing this agenda fully. Some of the paradoxes in the notion of “sustainable luxury” are described, in order to draw implications for both the luxury industry and people interested in positive social change. The paper draws upon the authors five years of interaction with the luxury industry on sustainability issues, and is therefore written as a “first person inquiry” and draws upon principles of “appreciative inquiry” in documenting the breakthrough approaches of some sustainable luxury entrepreneurs.

Download PDF (3.1 MB)

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Reports, Sustainable Development | 4 Comments »

Award for Outstanding Paper 2012 on Scaling CSR Standards

Posted by jembendell on July 3, 2012

Yesterday I was awarded a prize by Emerald publishers for Outstanding Paper 2012. Here is my recollection of I said during the cocktail party at the EABIS colloquium, IMD, Lausanne, July 3rd, 2012 (minus the dirty joke).

Getting grips with the mic before remarks at EABIS/IMD

Thank you for the Outstanding Paper award 2012. The paper is about mainstreaming innovations in sustainable and responsible business; about ways governments can help to scale up positive innovations. In the aftermath of the Rio conference, talking about progress in government policy could seem rather naïve. However, this paper shows what some governments are already doing with innovative policies to scale voluntary initiatives. Since the first Rio summit 20 years ago businesses and NGOs have worked together to create innovative certification systems. They are widespread, but they are not mainstream. For instance, the certification system of the Forest Stewardship Council, which was the focus of my very first job after leaving university, now accounts for about 11% of the world’s trade in wood and wood products. That is great, but it also means that 89% of wood products could come from trashed forests. Some governments, from all continents of the world, have been adopting innovative policies to help scale such voluntary initiatives, to achieve public goals. We present a typology of those policies.

The paper grew out of a UNCTAD study I worked on, which also informed the G20 discussions on greening international trade. So I thank my colleagues at UNCTAD who are coauthors of the paper. The support from Griffith helped me to re-purpose the research and set it in a wider context to share with academe. My research has always been shaped by what I considered relevant to change, whether in policy or practice. I haven’t always been able to have it published academically, and have previously been rejected for being too interdisciplinary. So I’m grateful for this new journal and the accolade from Emerald publishers. I supports the notion that theory should be the servant, not master, of our inquiry, and that disciplines should be our foundations, not cages.

The Outstanding Paper 2012 is available for free download for another month:

http://www.emeraldinsight.com/authors/literati/awards.htm?year=2012&journal=sampj

Jem Bendell, Anthony Miller, Katharina Wortmann, (2011),”Public policies for scaling corporate responsibility standards: Expanding collaborative governance for sustainable development”, Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 2 Iss: 2 pp. 263 – 293

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Sustainable Development | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The answer to financial chaos lies on an island in Sweden

Posted by jembendell on July 1, 2012

The financial crisis is actually a monetary crisis, and you can do something about it now.

On an island next to Stockholm, leaders in systemic solutions to financial chaos are gathering at a sustainability festival. Join them at the Future Perfect festival in Stockholm on 23-26 August, and hear a panel on monetary reforms and innovations for sustainability, and a workshop for executives who want to start, scale or participate in alternative means of exchange.

Panel: “Currencies of Transition: monetary reforms and innovations for sustainability.”

Chair: Professor Jem Bendell (Lifeworth Consulting, Community Forge and Griffith Business School)

Ben Dyson, director of Positive Money, which campaigns for a systemic solution to monetary crises, by full reserve banking.

Josh Ryan Collins, New Economics Foundation, the Brixton Pound and co-author of “Where does money come from?”

Lynnea Bylund, Board Member, Ormita, the international business barter network.

Matthew Slater, Board Member, Community Forge, a leading provider of open source software for community currencies, and editor of Community Currency magazine.

The panel will address the questions: Is a fair and sustainable economy possible with our debt-driven money system? If not, what needs to change? What is being done already? What can we do to get involved, personally and professionally? How can we make this a movement? What mistakes can we avoid?

Workshop: “How alternative exchange systems work and how to get started”

Trainers: Professor Jem Bendell and Matthew Slater

The trainers work with Community Forge, which provides free open source software for community currencies. This video explains why, what and how Community Forge operates.

You will be able to interact with these experts and others attracted to the topic, at a world class music festival! To book your tickets to the festival, visit http://www.futureperfect.se

The workshop will also be offered in Greece in the second week of October. Contact the European Sustainability Academy for more information.

Posted in Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement, Lifeworth, Occupy, Sustainable Development, Talks | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »