Professor Jem Bendell

notes from a strategist and educator on social and organisational change

Archive for the ‘Counter-Globalization Movement’ Category

Alterglobalisation, Global Social Justice, anti capitalism etc

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 »

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 »

Job Creation Without Austerity or Debt

Posted by jembendell on May 21, 2012

In the face of financial crisis and mass unemployment, do you believe we have to choose between either austerity or debt-funded economic growth? Its a false choice, based on false assumptions. My video-keynote at a forthcoming conference in Denmark, explains how we can achieve job creation without austerity or more debt, by redesigning our monetary systems.

If you are near Denmark, go join the conversation at Rebuild21.

Want to learn more? Access more materials.

Posted in Academia and Research, Counter-Globalization Movement, Occupy, Sustainable Development, Talks | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

Teaming Up for Massive Change in 2012: notes on my work with Lifeworth

Posted by jembendell on January 10, 2012

Everywhere we turn, we hear people asking “how long can it go on?” Whether it is financial crisis in the West, environmental pollution in the East, or increasing prices and natural disasters everywhere, there’s a growing sense of dystopia, and of the need for more fundamental reform of our economic and political systems. Mass protests can remove leaders, but what creates a lasting positive shift in society? And what are YOU doing about it? Rather than ask “how long can it go on”, it’s time to ask “how can we move on with essential changes?”

As I read leading commentators on business responsibility and sustainability sharing their insights on trends for 2012, I saw a new boldness. People are recognising the need for ambitious goals that address root causes, including economic governance failures. At Lifeworth we have been seeking to contribute to a sustainable economic transformation and published a variety of works on that theme over the past ten years. In that time I’ve seen the more critical analyses initially ignored by leaders in favour of less challenging narratives. Yet this year I think we will see more opportunity for ‘radical’ suggestions for change to be discussed and trialled. In that sense, despite the fears, it’s the year we have been waiting for. But rather than adding to the many predictions, I’ll summarise Lifeworth’s efforts that could be of relevance if you seek to team up to strive for far greater positive change than you might have before.

The first area for transformative action in which we are engaged is policy innovations for scaling responsible enterprise and finance. Rightly or wrongly, government budgets cuts are happening in many countries. The implications for them to regulate businesses for social and environmental objectives are beginning to be felt. How then can we promote and reward better business practice, without increasing the costs to government? Leveraging private standards of social or environmental performance is one option. In work for the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), we looked at public policy innovations to scale the number of firms adhering to voluntary standards like the Forest Stewardship Council. This appeared in the World Investment Report, with the full academic study published elsewhere. The idea that these forms of ‘collaborative economic governance’ are a pragmatic response to the twin challenges of sustainable development and government efficiencies, was fed into the policy discussions leading to Rio+20, happening this June. The need now is to create systems for collecting innovative public policies for scaling responsible business, analysing which work well in what contents, and disseminating this to government officials worldwide. If you can help on this project, do get in touch.

Yet we must go further than coping mechanisms in a world of irresponsible enterprise and governance failures. The second area for transformative action, therefore, is redesigning financial systems for more fair and sustainable outcomes. Although commitments to responsible investment have existed for some years, the translation into investment practice and the realities of corporate leaders has far to go. The limitations of current environmental, social and governance (ESG) practice in empowering investors to act is one of the stumbling blocks which we analysed in 2011, sparking lively debate. Our interest in ESG is because of the potential for progressive investor influence, which is a historically novel situation. In 2012 I hope we see the emergence of a progressive voice from investors on matters of public concern. Aside from investor-business relations, the public voice of the progressive investor has been slow to emerge. The Carbon Disclosure Project has shown that on climate change investors can sound a new tune on public policy. In 2012 and beyond, we could see other forums, particularly the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI), providing opportunities for progressive investors to promote policy debates that better include social and environmental priorities. Whether they will be able to counter-balance the more regressive investor resistance to financial re-regulation will be interesting to watch.

In 2012 we will continue to participate in fora that discuss the need for transformation of economic systems for sustainable development, including the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, The Finance Innovation Lab in the UK, and the Griffith University conference on transition, in Australia. As I explained in an interview for Griffith, the key stumbling block to progress on tough issues is our limiting assumptions and oversights about the real causes of our crises. During the next months I’ll be asking world leaders what they think are the key activities to drive massive positive change that weren’t possible before now, and who they need to work with to make that happen. Identifying such pressure points for massive positive change will inform our philanthropy advisory during 2012, and beyond.

One area where I think there is currently a woefully lack of attention, funding and action is in “sustainable currencies”. Current monetary systems are incompatible with the goal of a fair and sustainable economy, and thus we need greater efforts at reform, as well as at developing secure, scalable and community-owned alternative currencies and barter systems. It is, no doubt, a difficult area for many to grasp; as I experienced myself. Yet in 2011 there were strides towards greater understanding by sustainable development professionals, through the work of New Economics foundation (nef), among others. My TEDx talk on the topic reached over 12,000 views in a couple of months. As austerity bites and unemployment persists, new ways of getting people working for each other without putting governments further into debt will inevitably rise up political agendas. In 2012 we will help through collaboration with Community Forge and The Finance Innovation Lab, amongst others, and promote the uptake of ‘sustainable currencies’ as an innovative social development mechanism, through fora such as the Geneva Forum on Social Change.

What does this renewed emphasis on systemic change mean for specific industry sectors? I think the main implication is to be more ambitious in attempting to mainstream change for sustainable development. That is a third area for seeking transformative action. That has been our approach in the work we do in the luxury and mining sectors. With the organisation Fair Jewelry Action we researched and published “Uplifting the Earth: the ethical performance of high jewellery brands.” In this report we mapped out a transformative agenda for responsible jewellery, where the industry can contribute to sustainable development. From this basis, we aided De Beers’ stakeholder consultations, and worked with the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) on their training for the jewellery industry, which will be rolled out from Antwerp this year. The Spanish version of the report was launched at the world’s first Sustainable Luxury Awards, in Buenos Aires, co-organised with CSSL and the Authentic Luxury Network. The aim of these awards is to encourage sustainable innovation in the luxury sector; this year’s awards are scheduled for November. The insights from our work on transformative corporate responsibility in the luxury sector were refined for the launch of the world’s first MBA module on ‘Sustainable Luxury and Design’, which I teach at IE Business School, in Madrid. Students learn how sustainability is the smartest and most elegant paradigm within which to design anything. At the other end of the value chain, in 2012 we are working with Channel Research and the German development agency Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to encourage disclosure on the social, environmental and economic impacts and contributions of mining companies in the Congo. There are few more challenging locations for mining to align better with the goals of peace, human rights and development.

A fourth area for transformative action in 2012 is enhancing the way UN agencies and civil society organisations engage companies. There are now many cross-sectoral partnerships, and the relationships they established hold the potential for greater changes. Largescale change goals need to be connected back to practical steps that can deliver benefits in the near term for various partner organisations. That’s the thinking behind a spate of new resources on more transformative partnering that were released in 2011, including reports from the UN Global Compact, and my own book, “Evolving Partnerships: engaging business for greater social change.” During 2011 we applied our approach to developing transformative alliances in our support for the International Labour Organisation’s fight against forced labour. In 2012 we aim to help the development of their Global Business Alliance against Forced Labour.

Despite the shocking persistence of slavery today, and the general dystopian tone we hear from thoughtful people in international fora, or indeed, because of such darkness, we need a bright vision for life on Earth. That is why we are helping the Future Perfect Festival in Sweden in August. It will celebrate the brilliance and fun of sustainable lifestyles, sustainable businesses and sustainable communities. It will shine rays of light on a better way of life, beyond the dark mountains of outmoded and destructive ways of thinking, working and living. Our ability to understand values, and articulate them in professional contexts, is important when working towards a positive vision. My colleague Ian Doyle has therefore been teaching ‘voicing your values’ class at Grenoble Graduate School of Business, and we will be integrating this into various lines of work in 2012. In our forthcoming book, Healing Capitalism, Ian and I will seek to integrate both the personal and systemic levels of analysis, to aid transformative action.

In summary, we hope our 2012 will involve the following arenas of transformative action:
1) Policy innovations for scaling responsible enterprise and finance;
2) Redesigning financial and monetary systems for more fair and sustainable outcomes;
3) Mainstreaming contributions to sustainable development within specific industry sectors (including luxury, mining etc);
4) More ambitious collaborations between UN agencies, civil society organisations and companies;
5) Visions of sustainable ways of living, pathways to achieve them, and values competence to walk that path.

To better develop our work, this year we become a Swiss non-profit association. We will remain a network of independent associates, and will continue to deliver in partnership with other service providers, for a limited number of clients who seek to create meaningful change. If you can help us have an impact in these areas, I’d love to hear from you.

Professor Jem Bendell
Founder and Director, Lifeworth.com and Lifeworth Consulting
Adjunct Professor, Asia Pacific Centre for Sustainable Enterprise, Griffith Business School
Distinguished Visiting Professor, IE Business School

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Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement, Lifeworth, Sustainable Development | 2 Comments »

Learning About the Monetary Crisis

Posted by jembendell on November 2, 2011

Ive been delighted in the interest generated by my TEDx talk on money in September. In addition to general enthusiasm, some friends and others have asked me about monetary systems, or challenged me on my depiction of them. These conversations have not got onto what to do about flawed monetary systems, as they are stuck in simple misunderstandings about the history of money, the current nature of money, and its implications for our economy, society and environment. As I mentioned in my talk, we have so many unfounded assumptions about money. Im amazed at how many high flyers in various walks of life confidently make outlandish statements about the history, nature or effect of monetary systems. We need a better understanding of these issues to then have an informed debate about solutions, and to know where to put our efforts. Ill write more about those solutions and how to get involved in a future post, but for now, here are some resources to wise up on money.

Books on the problem of debt-money:
The End of Money and the Future of Civilisation, by Thomas Greco Jr
The Future of Money, by Bernard Lietaer
The Ecology of Money, by Richard Douthwaite
The Lost Science of Money, by Stephen Zarlenga

Videos on the problem of debt-money:
Money as Debt
Money as Debt II
Money as Debt III, available from http://www.moneyasdebt.net/
Money Masters
Also see The Money Fix, Lets Make Money, and 97% owned, which can be ordered online after searching.

Interviews with an academic explaining monetary systems:
Professor Richard Werner

For proposals, training, action and analysis of action, focused on complementary currencies (rather than other solutions to the debt-money problem) see:

Value for People
International Journal of Community and Complementary Currency Research
Community Currency Magazine
Community Forge
And there’s a list of more blogs on complementary currencies.

For information and campaigns on monetary reform:
Positive Money campaign in the UK
American Monetary Institute in the USA

A multi-stakeholder dialogue on the future of finance, that includes sub-groups working on this issue is the Finance Innovation Lab

A couple of entrepreneurs looking at business opportunities from these issues include:
http://www.chrismartenson.com
http://www.simondixon.org

(For transparency: I co-developed the concept for The Finance Lab when at WWF-UK in 06/07 and am an advisor to Community Forge since 2010).

Once you read into some of this you might start wondering if its all to big to tackle… but it isnt, there are many things we, and importantly, our organisations, our employers, our local governments, can do right now. More on that in future blogs.

My ted talk is online.

Feel free to add more links to relevant resources.

Posted in Academia and Research, Counter-Globalization Movement, Sustainable Development, Talks | 11 Comments »

TEDx talk on the need to re-design money to solve both financial crisis and environmental crisis

Posted by jembendell on October 19, 2011

Why is the whole world in debt? How can we end these crises? Here is a TEDx talk on the hidden cause of the financial crisis. The real crisis is in our monetary system – the way our money is created. The solution is to redesign the way money is created. This is the underlying reform required to end the financial, environmental and social crises afflicting our societies. In this TEDx talk, Professor Jem Bendell calls on assembled broadcasters from across Europe, to expose the true nature of our current crises, and how to solve them.

Also see a transcript of the speech, delivered September 30th 2011 in Rome, at TEDxTransmedia.

Follow me at http://twitter.com/jembendell

Posted in Counter-Globalization Movement, Sustainable Development, Talks | 3 Comments »

TEDx Talk on the REAL cause of the Financial Crisis

Posted by jembendell on October 2, 2011

On September 30th I gave a talk at TEDxTransmedia, in Rome, about the real story behind the financial crisis. The video will appear soon, but here is a transcript I wrote up….

“I’m going to rip apart your ideas about money. I’m going to show you how, behind the headlines on the financial crisis, and behind the ecological and humanitarian crises, lies a hidden crisis. That is, a crisis in our monetary system. A crisis in the way our money is created. I’m going to reveal to you how some people are using the latest technologies to create sustainable currencies, that serve us, not the banks, and how you can get involved.

To understand how the way money is created affects our lives, I’d like you to do a thought experiment. Imagine you are living in a village way way back in time. Lets say 3000 years ago. Some of you look after chickens, some of you fix clothes, some of you bake bread. You all swap things amongst yourselves. Then one day an Imperial Knight arrives to your village. He suggests you use his tokens to trade with. You decide to give it a try, so he lends you each 10 tokens. This is great, you no longer need to directly swap your eggs for their loaves. Your transactions are faster and you have way more time. The Knight agrees you can keep the tokens with one condition – that he has the option to take from you 11 tokens at the end of the year, or seize your assets if you default. As you find the tokens so helpful, you agree. A few months go by, and then suddenly you realise you need to have 11 tokens to show the Knight. So you start asking for more tokens to fix their clothes, and you start hoarding them. You find some of your neighbours are doing the same, so there are suddenly less tokens circulating and people wont swap their stuff so easily. On one day you even go hungry, but at least you feel safe with your 11 tokens. Then the Knight returns and of course not everyone has 11 tokens, and one of your neighbours loses his farm to the Knight. Could you have come to see the tokens as wealth, rather than your relationships, your community, and your local environment as your wealth? Could it be that the technology of tokens or “money” has transformed how you relate, what you value, and how you even feel about life?

Fast forward 3000 years and our monetary system is like that, but on cocaine; literally, if some reports are to be believed.

The Bank of International Settlments

Whatever you work on this is critically important to you. For 16 years I’ve helped large companies, charities and UN agencies team up to address global challenges, like over-fishing, deforestation, child labour, and HIV/AIDS. We’ve created some cool coalitions that improve the social and environmental impacts of billions of dollars worth of business worldwide. But after all this work, some of us have come to realise that if we want to widespread and lasting change, in the way business does business, we have to change the way money makes money.

Now there aren’t yet many clients or funders on monetary issues, so to work on it more, I had to outsource myself to India. There I worked with the association Community Forge, which provides free open source software for communities to run their own currencies. I learned there are thousands of alternative currencies around the world, created by communities. Some use a unit of hours, some mirror the national currency. And advances in social networks and mobile payment systems means we could soon be using alternative currencies for all manner of goods and services, both locally and across the world. Soon you will be able to go into your local store and pay the bill in an alternative currency with your phone, by sms, web or near field communication. It’s already happening in some places, like Brixton in London, which launched such a system yesterday.

I’ll return to say more about these currency innovations, but first, what was key for me in India was I had a variety of myths about money exposed. Someone asked me “where does money come from?” I’m a Professor, of management not economics, but still, its a very simple question and I was stuck. I thought money comes from governments. Well no, in nearly all countries of the world, about 3% of money comes from government mints, that make the notes and coins. Because of something called fractional reserve banking, 97% of money is simply numbers on computers, created from nothing by private banks, when they issue loans. Did you think that when you get a loan from a bank that they actually have the money they lend you? Well no, they create it out of nothing when we borrow. As banks create the loan, but don’t create the interest to be paid on that loan, there is more debt in the world than money. So we still owe more tokens to the Knight than there are tokens to give. So although individually we might pay off our debts, collectively we are in debt forever. Collectively, we are paying compound interest forever.

This causes many problems, but for time, ill mention just two. One problem is that paying interest on perpetual debt means increasing inequality is a mathematical certainty. And so it gets worse, with the richest 2% of the world’s people now controlling over half the world’s wealth. Another problem is environmental. As there isn’t enough money to pay all the debts, the amount of lending must continually increase or people will default. Yet more and more lending requires more and more things to trade, which requires more and more consumption of our natural resources. In a world of limited resources our ingenuity is merely delaying the ultimate crash that’s been pro-programmed by our flawed money system.

Well that’s the theory. But lets see how it feels. Let me see your money. Take out some money! I’ve got a 20 euros. So you know its just paper right? [showed a 20 euro note]. As paper its not that useful to us. You could scribble something on it, maybe put it under your pillow and pray. Together we choose to make it mean something more than paper or metal and to be able to swap it for real goods and services. But its still just paper. [ripped the 20 euro note] It’s still just money [ripped again, falls on the floor]. We are the wealth… our skills, our desire to do stuff for each-other. Money, if designed for us, should simply be our mechanism for exchanging things of real value. So it is a delusion that money has value in itself . If we run our societies as if money is the goal, haven’t we gone completely mad? Yet turn on the TV and it seems we are pursuing economic growth – an increase in money – as if its the meaning of life.

I was so deluded I thought anyone talking about money in this way was a nutter. Perhaps you can relate to that now when listening to me…! My desire to be relevant, and my fear of being ridiculed, held me back from working on these issues. And I’ve come to recognise that the mass media, many of you guys, define what is relevant and what is ridiculous, and so play a key role in whether people are open to discussing the need for sustainable currencies. I searched and found that 42,000,000 webpages mention “financial crisis”. Guess how many of those pages mention “monetary reform”? 136,000, or just 0.3%. There is a massive silence, almost a taboo, on informed debate on monetary systems and what we can do about it. But what if media embraced its responsibility to challenge assumptions? What if media dug deeper? What if journalists asked top politicians “where does money come from?” You would get some funny replies. It could make good TV.

Fortunately, new media means independent voices can reach audiences of millions. Home-made films such as “Money as Debt” have been watched over a million times on youtube. And social media means campaigners for monetary reform and the innovators of new sustainable currencies can connect with each other. At the Finance Innovation Lab, co-run by WWF, participants have been sharing information on the latest initiatives. Ending the licence of private banks to create money from nothing, is one necessary reform. But we’re not holding our breath. Already, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide are trading in currencies that their own communities run, from slums in Rio and Nairobi, to business hubs in Brussels and Bristol. You can find our more, by searching for Timebanks in the US, the WIR in Switzerland, LETS in the UK, or Regiogeld in Germany. You could look up bitcoin, a digital currency that has become huge within a year. You could look at how some collaborative consumption websites, where neighbours share their stuff with each other, are now introducing their own currencies. New technology means we are on the verge of a massive leap in the volume of transactions using such currencies. Find those in your area of work or your town and we in our global village we might not need an Imperial Knight.

The emergence of new currencies that are not controlled by banks or governments, means we need to understand what kind of money systems are good for us. So that doesn’t mean going back to scarce metals as our money, or waiting for Facebook credits to become a new global private currency. A central principle must be that money be stable mechanism of exchange, that is issued as a public utility, and not for private profit.

The old money system has been ripping up our world, and appears even to be ripping itself to pieces [knelt down and gathered some of the euro pieces]. Yet with new technologies new forms of money are within our grasp. We can create and use sustainable currencies that weave together communities, not tear them apart. So we don’t need to kneel to the banks, [stood up] we can stand up for what we really value. We can end these crisis, starting by ending our delusions about money, and seeking real reform and using real alternatives.”

… it seemed to be well received. Come back to see the video! I will be making an art work out of the ripped 20 euro bill. My focus now is on communicating this more widely, researching the way large organisations can enagage in CCs, and other related stuff.

Thanks to Nadejda Loumbeva for the picture of me at tedx, and frenzypic Chris Hoefer for the pic of the Bank of International Settlements. Thx to Matthew, Ramin, Wolf, Beate, Bern, Ian, Folke, and Elaine for feedback in preparing the talk.

Posted in Counter-Globalization Movement, Talks | 21 Comments »

Will Swiss Economic Ideology Harm Global Health and Humanitarian Efforts?

Posted by jembendell on August 18, 2011

The Swiss franc has increased 30% against the US dollar and 20% against the Euro since last year. The pain felt by Swiss businesses is being well documented. But less well documented is the effect of this currency imbalance on international efforts to promote health, peace, human rights, and humanitarian action. Switzerland is home to many international organisations, including United Nations agencies and international charities. Many have their assets and grants denominated in US dollars or currencies other than the Swiss franc, yet their fixed costs of buildings and staff are in the extremely overvalued Swiss francs. Consequently their budgets are being ravaged by the currency imbalance, leading to mass redundancies and the cutting of various programmes, at key organisations for world affairs, such as the World Health Organisation to the International Labour Organisation. Those with seniority in such organisation are more able to hold on to their jobs, so the harder-working and far less well-paid staff are often the first ones to be shown the door. Although there need to be efficiencies found in international organisations, a sinking-ship mentality is not the way to achieve it.

The current efforts to reduce the value of the Swiss franc, by the Swiss National Bank, are reported by the Financial Times to have completely failed. Their tactics have been to increase the volume of Swiss francs, and slash interest rates. Yet as the international financial markets are spooked and want to buy Swiss francs, banks are simply buying up the excess francs. Not only is this causing a problem for Swiss businesses, it is creating a massive future risk for the Swiss economy when one day people decide they don’t need to hold so many francs. In addition, in efforts to keep the Swiss franc down, the government’s debt is spiralling. That will be compounded by recent commitments to spend billions in bail outs to suffering businesses. Such bail outs will be open for mishandling and corruption and propping up inefficient companies – especially if they are spent quickly enough to have any effect. But worse, these bail outs are like a sticking plaster for a haemorrhaging wound, as systemic solutions are required. If we compare prices across the border, the Swiss franc might even be 100% overvalued already, and the Western monetary crisis is only beginning its latest phase. This is no momentary problem. Imagination beyond old ideologies is required for systemic solutions.

The answer is so simple. The Swiss government could impose a currency transactions tax on any purchase of Swiss francs or assets/instruments denominated in Swiss francs. This transaction tax would reduce the demand for Swiss francs, and generate revenues for the Swiss government. These new revenues could be used to pay down the wholly unnecessary new Swiss government debt, and finance a new emergency international cooperation fund. That fund could issue core-budget grants to Swiss-based non profit organisations and international agencies for them to maintain or increase their employment of non-senior staff. In terms of the UN, this would mean staff below P-3 level. Such staff spend a greater percentage of their wages on local businesses than more senior staff, who invest it abroad, or drive over the border to get cheaper goods, services and property in the Eurozone. Targetted action like this would maintain a key element of the Swiss economy and society, and its contribution to the world.

The arguments against a currency transactions tax have always been vacuous, ideologically driven and about protecting short term profits. Its not workable? Tell that to countries like Brazil who have had a transaction tax for years. It will dent confidence in the economy? Well what do we mean by economy? The current market for the franc? That needs denting! The longer term prospects for the economy require effective denting right now. Given that leading Eurozone nations want to impose a similar tax in future, this is a great opportunity for Switzerland to lead the way. There are strong business arguments for a currency transactions tax, due to the effect on cooling volatility, and strong government reasons, by making up for falling tax revenues. We documented these issues in a report for the Swiss charity Bread for All, yet we found bankers and top government officials wedded to an unthinking belief in no new policy innovations to harness financial markets for the productive economy, public finances or common good.

Why is it such a crisis when the world wants to own your national currency? It should not have to be a crisis, indeed it could be a major opportunity for the Swiss people and the wider world who benefit from its role as a home for agencies of international cooperation. The only thing stopping this being an opportunity is the ideological blinkers of top bankers and politicians who are currently exhibiting zero creativity in transforming this situation from crisis to opportunity. Impose a transaction tax, to release Swiss business from the high franc, pay down the government debt, and fund a more dynamic international cooperation community. If such effective action isn’t taken, some citizens may start asking if the private ownership of 45% of the national bank by private banks like UBS in some way compromises its ability to take action in the public interest. And if such action isnt taken, we will see once again how economic ideologies in certain circles can harm the lives of poor and vulnerable people many thousands of miles away.

Professor Jem Bendell: http://www.twitter.com/jembendell

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement, Geneva, Reports, Sustainable Development, United Nations | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Where is the Movement?

Posted by jembendell on July 18, 2011

This week is the 10th anniversary of the mass protest against the G8 in Genoa, Italy. Hundreds of thousands of protesters called for a systemic change in the global economic system, forming something called an ‘anti-globalisation’ movement by the mass media, or what was known by many activists as the global justice movement. In Genoa, behind huge metal barriers, leaders met while anti-aircraft missile launchers scanned the skies. We thought it a bit of an over-reaction; but we didn’t have the benefit of memos about Bin Laden. The (now proven) agent provocateurs helped the black block protestors create conditions for police to then brutalise many peaceful protesters. One protester, Carlo Giuliani, was shot and killed by a policeman. The violence led many people, myself included, to question whether they wanted to be involved in such demonstrations in future. Perhaps that was the intention of the reactionary elements in the Italian government. Yet there was another limitation to the protests. The movement had become defined by the media as the protest, because the cameras showed up at demonstrations. Yet a movement is motivated by the values and awareness of people, and that exists all year round, not just during a protest. It was the values and vibrancy of the activists that was key, and expressed in many other ways all year round, such as choices of work, ways of working in the community.

10 years on its a good time to look back, recall the mood and spirit of the activism, and see how the vibrancy of that time throws light on the choices many of us have made since. To conjure up a sense of the feelings involved back 10 years ago, here is a snippet from my last book:

“Rolling onto my back, I lay my head on a rucksack, staring into the night sky. The tarmac still pushes up through my sleeping bag, but somehow it feels more comfortable this way. I think of the few times I have slept out in the open, in fields after parties, or on beaches while travelling—times when I could revel in the sense of floating through the immensity of space, secured on the edge of a cosmic plan, or comic fluke, called planet Earth. But tonight I can’t drift away with thoughts of the infinite expanse of space. Police helicopters hover above, their cones of light traversing the car park like manic stilts. Dreaming is not permitted. It’s the G8 Summit in Genoa, 2001. I stretch my neck. My face feels sticky with the residue of vinegar I was told would help me during tear-gas attacks. Are we being searched for or spotlighted, I wonder? If they shine their lights on us for long enough, perhaps they’ll discover what they’re looking for? Perhaps we’re all here to discover what we’re looking for—something different, something possible? I can’t sleep and turn to Rik, a guy I met on the streets during the day. ‘D’you want to hear my poem?’ he asks. ‘Yeah, why not . . . ?’

Possessed by possessions
Lord and Master of all we owe
Belonging to belongings
It’s a disaster, I know
Chained to the mundane
Our reference frame is physical
Every day the same old same
Nothing metaphysical
And if God’s not dead
He must be mad
Or blind
Or deaf and dumb
Or bad
Still smarting over Christ, perhaps
The way the people have been had
But in our defence
I’d like to say
We nearly chose the proper path
But lost the plot along the way
You’ve got to laugh
It’s not our fault
It’s just the toys we made
Made such a lovely noise
And girls and boys
Are high and dry
Time to bid
All this
Goodbye.”

Rik Strong’s The Sermon, which he recited to me as we ‘bedded’ down in a carpark during the demonstrations at the G8 Summit in Genoa, captured some of the emotion that drove many of us to protest. There was certainly a lot of anger at the suffering being caused by economic systems, and the lack of accountability of political systems to the people. There was also an angst about something more deeply wrong about modern life. Western society didn’t relate to how we felt inside. Publicly people didn’t seem to care for each other, yet we knew that deep down they must do—surely? For us there had to be more to us than working, shopping and looking out for Number One. This was a holistic critique, and one that connected professional and lifestyle, the political and personal.

Yet 10 years on its difficult to say exactly what or where “the movement” is now. Many people who were active in protests back then have this nagging thought: We were everywhere, we went everywhere, but we got nowhere. What was it that led to the weakening of what seemed at the time to be a global awakening?

The level of violence certainly turned many away from protesting. But there were other factors that helped to corrupt some of the creative spirit. As the old Left woke up to the new wave of anti-capitalism sentiment and became involved with groups such as ‘Globalise Resistance’ they brought with them their hierarchical we-know-what-you-really-want-and-how-to-win politics. For some, this was a politics of envy not personal liberation. This led to splits and aggressive criticism from those who rejected instant political solutions freeze-dried in the 19th Century. And so egos clashed. When, during a demonstration in Brighton I mentioned to one activist ‘leader’ that his organisation was critiqued in a Schnews pamphlet, he just asked “was I name-checked?” Meanwhile career-conscious band-wagon jumpers leapt like crazy on to talk shows and into best-seller lists and newspaper columns, and misrepresented some of the core democratic anti-hierarchy values that permeated much of the organising and the aspirations of protesters.

But the biggest impact was 9/11. Soon after, the protest groups refocused on anti-war campaigning. The mass media closed ranks around the march to war. The critical analysis became more about the dreadfulness of one President, rather than a more informed critique of the whole system and its alternatives. The “war of terror” knocked the global justice movement aside, by making activists focus on symptoms, not causes.

For many people, the political philosophy that was shared by activists from very different walks of life, concerned about different issues, was a sense of everyday democracy, where all processes, whether political or economic, should be open to their participation and mutual control. John Isbister has noted that “an ideal democracy would give a voice to everyone who is affected by a decision. The real democracies with which we are familiar cannot reach this
standard.” For example, poor children are affected by welfare systems but have no vote. Women in poorer countries are affected by family planning funding decisions in the United States but have no vote in their elections. Instead, we can remember that democracy is an aspirational goal, for situations where individuals and communities participate effectively in shaping the social limits that define what is possible for them, without impairing the ability of others to do that for themselves. The goal is therefore an everyday democracy where all organisations enable participation. It is also inherently a global goal, because it is an organisational response to a universal principle of people being able to pursue their individual freedoms.

The 1960s student leader Gregory Calvert has reflected that in their student movement they came to understand that their commitment to democratic principles came from the heart, and had a spiritual dimension. Activism inspired by this consciousness seeks to challenge large incumbent unaccountable institutions, whether in the public, private or civic spheres of life. What excited many people in the process of campaigning, was that they were connecting to a sense of purpose greater than themselves, a story of a common humanity. It filled a need, because there was, as there remains today, some angst about the purpose of our lives, the story of our existence. For some people our story of existence is one of a secular, scientific, mechanical world without meaning. For some it is the story of a God creating us to struggle to return to ‘Him’. For many people that story seems more like a fairytale – a nice idea, something they don’t really believe but find it helpful to entertain the idea, perhaps once a week or so. To others this story seems like a nightmare with a “blind, deaf, dumb, mad or bad” God. Thus Thomas Berry, writing in 1990, felt that we had lost faith in the story of our relationship with a God and, therefore, who we are; “We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it… sustained us for a long period of time. It shaped our emotional attitudes, provided us with life purposes and energized our actions. It consecrated our suffering and integrated our knowledge. We awoke in the morning and knew where we were. We could answer the questions of our children.”

This faltering between stories has sometimes been talked about as the ‘death of God’. Hence the angst and spiritual void captured in Rik Strong’s The Sermon. Set against this angst there was a real energy and hope, perhaps similar to the hope felt by people in the recent protests in the Arab world. On the streets of Genoa the T-shirts read “Another world is possible” – a world that would enable us all to be all we could be. In our hearts we felt that world already existed, but we didn’t really have a way of speaking in chorus so that the rest of society could hear us and join in the singing.

So what is this new story? I picked up some ideas from discussions of activists 10 years ago….

First, is creativity. In the west pop-culture gurus like Pat Kane were talking of a play ethic to replace the work ethic. By this he meant that the most natural, and perhaps highest, state of being is to play – to be creative, to be expressive, to test, try, experiment, to have fun in becoming all we can be. As Jean Paul-Sartre said, “As man apprehends himself as free and wishes to use his freedom, then his activity is to play.” The parallels with eco-centric thought on the irrepressible diversity of the natural world are clear. Pat suggested that this play ethic comes from the new generation of young professionals, who: “have shaped their identities through their… cultures of play – a whole range of self-chosen activities that have anchored them in a different orientation towards a meaningful life. These are the backpackers of Alex Garland’s The Beach, using cheap flights and travel literature to make the world their playground. The ultimate playfulness is to help each other to play together.”

Second, is a global consciousness, a sense of a common community of mankind. For many people nationalism is no longer a belief system and just a bit of fun, to be enjoyed in an ironic sense. Nationalism is being replaced for many by a planetary patriotism – we might call this Planetism. This means a deep concern for the health and well-being of the planet and all its peoples. Another aspect to this Planetism is a spiritual reawakening, as people see a common essence to all the world’s spiritual teachings, no matter how twisted they may be through religious institutions. This reawakening has been helped in secular society by the club culture, as ‘ravers’ grew up but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) “forget those blissed-out moments of transcendence, when drugs and beats blurred the boundaries of their selves”, according to Pat Kane. These states of consciousness were something that ecocentrist Thomas Berry pondered. If the universe is not alive in a psychic spiritual sense as well a material one, then “human consciousness emerges out of nowhere… an addendum [with] no real place in the story of the universe” he wrote. Thus the potential for a common storyemerges amongst the diverse traditions of eco-centric, religious and secular thought – an autonomous yet interconnected spirituality that supports self-expression. The new story of humanity is about our growing understanding of our relationship to our planet, including all its people and their spiritual selves. Therefore it is the story of our relationship to ourself – who we really are. The new story is that there will be infinite stories to unfold. Thus, in protests around the world people were saying one No and many Yes’s. “We’re not going to play your games anymore – thrill to your icons, your hip soundtracks, your latest double-stitch or lycra mix. We’re going to play our own games” wrote Pat Kane. And so play we did, from our use of the web to co-ordinate global protests, to the subversion of advertising, from the rave atmosphere of street parties, to the humour of slogans, from the creation of alternative currencies, to the launching of our own social businesses.

So what happened to this story of global creativity? What happened to the anger at a controlling exploiting system? What happened to the confidence that rejected the legitimacy of incumbent institutions and leaders and the old politics of left and right?

The rent. The mortgage. The debt. The pension plan. The fear of being left behind. The insecurities that make us want to be accepted and respected in the mainstream. The temptation from the story that integrating our hopes into the mainstream is the best way to live our values, to honour our memories of higher states of consciousness by our cold-light-of-day choices.

And so, if there’s anything to learn from the last 10 years, its the need to change the system that creates this apparent necessity for compromise. Jessie J may write cool music, but it IS all about the money, money, money, because if we don’t change the monetary systems, we will be subject to the incentives and disincentives that draw us into stultifying compromise. We cant rely on mass levels of mindfulness to escape the day to day corroding pressures that arise from debt-based monetary systems. Redesigning the way money is created, to remove the debt burden from our governments, economies, communities and own families, will be key to unleashing a creative globe of local and international democratic communities.

Posted in Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement, My Life, NGOs, Spirit?, Sustainable Development | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Why the MDGs are an Own Goal for Development

Posted by jembendell on September 19, 2010

This week the world’s leaders meet in New York to discuss progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were agreed ten years ago as time-bound targets for achievable reductions in poverty. The spin masters of global policy have already been busy framing this milestone in the media. But aside from the spin, the reality is very different and poses significantly different implications for the future of cooperation for poverty reduction everywhere, North and South. Working on the real causes of poverty might not win a round of applause at a charity night, but is the only moral and practical answer to the evidence mounting up before us.

Commenting on progress on the MDGs in the New York Times on Saturday, the Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs wrote that “a great deal has been achieved” and how “cynicism has been replaced by hope, born of experience, commitment and breakthroughs.”[1] He bases that on piecing together a few examples of success, mostly on communicable disease. It is relieving that the rates of infection of HIV/AIDS have declined in Africa, but it is wrong to imply this gets anywhere near meeting the MDG 6 on disease reduction, which includes halting its spread and achieving universal treatment.[2]

The United Nations now acknowledges that only two of the many targets might actually be met: cutting in half the number of people who lack safe drinking water and halving the number of people who live on $1.25 or less daily.[3] The first of these is not cause for celebration if we remember that much of this advance in clean water access comes from wells that are likely to run dry in the near future due to climate change and intensive agriculture. The second of these targets is largely meaningless, when one realises that China accounts for the majority of the increase, and thus exchange rates explain a significant part of the progress, while the cost of meeting basic needs have been increasing worldwide.

One of the goals is for universal primary education, yet according to research by the Global Campaign for Education, 48% of children in sub-Saharan Africa still do not complete primary education.[4] Another of the goals is halving world hunger. With global food prices peaking in the summer of 2008, and climbing rapidly again, over one billion people were undernourished in 2009, an all-time high.[5] 925 million people across the world are still classed as hungry.[6] A child dies every six seconds due to hunger related diseases. Despite this shocking daily disaster, the proportion of the world’s hungry has gone down by only half a percentage point since 2000 – from 14 to 13.5 percent.[7]

As halving world hunger is the target, that would mean 14% having reduced to 11.6% by now. I make that 130,185,186 people who are hungry this very day, as living examples of us missing the target. It is a massive missing of a target that was not meant as a pie-in-sky ideal, such as ending poverty, but as a practical one of halving hunger. If this was a match, the goal is so far off, we are still trying to work the ball out of own penalty area. To move forward the poor need more than the cult of ‘positive thinking’ from people who want to keep the MDG show on the road so as to keep the focus on charity not real change, and receive more fame and funds for their projects as a result.

Poverty is an interconnected reality and challenge, and so even hitting the targets can still miss the point. The education commissioner of Nigeria’s Kwara state has revealed that nearly 20,000 of the state’s teachers were made to sit tests in English and Maths that were designed for 9- and 10-year-olds, but only 7 of the teachers reached the minimum attainment level.[8] As targets are usually about quantities of input, not qualitative outcomes, then situations like that in Nigeria can arise. In addition, a focus on just one issue can ignore the interconnected nature of poverty. For instance, some HIV antiretroviral medications require a minimum caloric intake to work. The government of Zambia has had trouble containing the spread of HIV after expanding the production and distribution of antiretrovirals; they realised the problem was that children were not eating enough.[9]

Likewise a focus on just one issue can lead to other important concerns being sidestepped or made worse. Amnesty International has found that a focus on meeting the MDGs has led to matters of accountability and rights being sidelined at times.[10]

The reason progress is so slow is known to many international development experts. They just don’t share it much in press releases, as it doesn’t help generate funding. The simplest and most important insight here is that, on a large scale, the poor are not helped by targeting them in particular. Instead, poverty is reduced by helping enterprises generate decent work that create not only the products and services but also the wages for people to buy them. Therefore the creation of decent work opportunities with fair wages is key to all poverty reduction and social development, no matter how the poverty is then manifested.[11]

The percentage of corporate revenues that are paid out as wages has been going down worldwide for decades.[12] This happens as a result of the balance of power between government, business and workforces shifting with economic globalisation. Consequently workers have less in their pockets to buy the products and services that generate the jobs, that employ the workers. To get out of this situation, workers in some countries have been going into debt, speculating on property, or releasing equity from their homes. It is a situation that has led to financial volatility and concerns about financial collapse. In other parts of the world, and for the poor, there is not the same escape through debt and mortgaging assets. Meanwhile their employers have continued to receive a small share of the revenues of the value chains they trade in, with the profits accruing to the top of the chain, such as the famous brands, retailers, related professional services and in turn the financial services sector. This squeezes the sum available to workers and entrepreneurs in poorer countries, as well as limiting the potential tax revenues of such countries. The percentage of corporate profits that are taxed has also been decreasing around the world, therefore meaning governments have less to invest in social services and promoting enterprise.

The key to achieving development is the promotion of enterprise, with the ability of entrepreneurs in lower income countries to receive a larger share of income from their value chains, the ability of their workers to receive a larger share of the generated revenues, and the ability of governments to generate taxes and use them efficiently and accountably. Some within the international development community have been making this analysis clear, but they are drowned out by those who seek to keep the focus on a simpler message of charity, positivity, and coming together for another push towards meeting targets with new donations, often to their own organisations. The alternative would be to work on matters of economic governance and challenge existing power relations in societies and economies – not such an easy sell to large donors, or individual supporters watching the latest disaster appeal on TV. Deluded and self-serving people in the development profession prefer to see the people who criticise the MDGs as negative or cynical, and so dismiss the reality of the situation they describe. As a result, as I found in a study for the UN last year, the funding of economic justice campaigning is limited, and so the relationships with between Western NGOs and civil society in the global South are not often sufficient for them to have a legitimate and effective voice in policy making.[13]

Many of the issues the MDGs focus on are the symptoms and not the causes of poverty. The cause of poverty is generally a lack of decent work in a thriving enterprise economy governed by an state that is held accountable for its regulation and provision of services. A superficial focus on the symptoms not causes of poverty has been promoted in recent years by the new billionaire philanthropists, engaged in charismatic charity. Huge donors like Bill Gates focus mostly on the surface of problems, as that is what is visible. The visibility of a public problem is important as it makes it more understandable to people without insight into how problems arise, and visible problems can be explained in ways that generate public support and congratulation. The experts that the non expert philanthropists rely on are those who have made themselves acceptable to elites in the business and government, thereby perpetuating a superficial agenda. “Take the huge investments in global health, micro-credit and environmental services that Bill Gates and others are making,” says Michael Edwards who has authored a book on the topic. “The available evidence from these investments so far suggests that it is perfectly possible to use the market to extend access to useful goods and services, but far harder to have any substantial impact on social transformation. The reason is pretty obvious: systemic change involves social movements, politics and the state, which these experiments generally ignore.” He laments that the rise of the “philanthrocapitalists” is undermining the power of independent civil society to frame and act on systemic causes of social problems.[14]

As we look back on the last 10 years of action and inaction on international development it is now clear that the MDGs have scored an own goal for the development community by keeping systemic issues off the agenda. At best the MDGs acted as a defence mechanism in difficult times, maintaining interest in poverty when the international community became engulfed in the anti-terrorism agenda and the related US-led wars.

As I witness business, UN, governments and NGOs coming together this week to call for a another push to meet the MDGs, I am left wondering what will help unravel this great delusion. Where will the movement to embrace a serious sustainable development agenda come from? Will we have to wait another 5 years for a more honest stock take? Five years is a lot of 6 seconds. Over 26 million more children will have died from hunger and related illnesses.

In my last book I described the emergence of a movement mentality within people in the corporate responsibility, social enterprise and responsible investment space, where professionals are pushing forward transformative agendas from within their commercial organisations.[15] Yet I wonder whether the contradictions between short term profit and long term value generation may mean that an authentic development agenda will be difficult to place at the heart of corporate strategy. In reflecting on this I recall that 15 years ago a BP executive said that if Greenpeace did not exist he would have had to invent it. Chris Marsden was explaining about how he needed the external spotlight to make his case from within the company. We could debate whether it was an effective spotlight, given the BP record, but at least there was some pressure. It seems we need a development NGO that can apply pressure like Greenpeace has done on the environment, and encourage investors and companies to engage seriously with development issues. In the early Noughties the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement applied pressure to governments and international organisations without there being one central organisation, but its visibility has waned in recent years as the usefulness of street protest was questioned and attention moved to celebrity events like Live 8 and Live Earth. There seems to be a gap in the NGO market for a direct action development group, and so perhaps a financier could invent one. I hear of some friends of friends with a half a million from their banker bonuses now wondering what the meaning of their life really is.

If you know someone like that, send them this link.

[the references for this blog are in the pdf copy –Download PDF of ‘Own Goal’

On my company website I talk about the implications for corporate and investor strategy… Lifeworth Consulting

Posted in Counter-Globalization Movement, Sustainable Development, United Nations | Tagged: , , , | 14 Comments »