With all the General Election chatter focusing on, ‘he said, she said and they didn’t do this but we will,’ it’s sometimes hard to remember that the primary goal of any government is to create a thriving, healthy society. That is of course achieved through economic development and growth; strong, egalitarian civic leadership and engagement; and well-run public and private services. Everything a government does should be for the good of the population. Well that’s my reason for having a government anyway. Dave, Nick, Ed, Nige - take note.
Unfortunately, we have governments and businesses the world over that do more harm and taking than giving back and good. That means an intermediary group, namely charities and social enterprises, have stepped in to help those in need. A yearly convening of some of those leading the charge took place this past week in Oxford. The audience was composed of groups I like to think of as alpha doers, government topplers, human rights activists and drivers of positive social change – an audience unique to the Skoll World Forum for sure.
Basically, you know you’ve done something right when you sit a couple of rows away from ex-Ebay president Jeff Skoll, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Acumen founder Jacqueline Novogratz and Graça Machel, the first education minister of Mozambique. They have changed people’s lives for the better, and not superficially. I don’t say that lightly either. Businesses busy polluting our environment, underpaying workers and wasting resources take note too.
Five minutes in, Jeff Skoll said something so simple, something that puts everyone on the hook to do better by the communities they serve and live in. And it was just five words. The world relies on ‘good people doing good things’.
That’s it. One good person, doing one good thing can turn into one company doing lots of good things, which given the competitive nature of business means lots of companies doing tons of good things. It might be an over-simplification of his statement, but I’ve seen how one person can take even the largest, most sluggish of companies on a journey toward social responsibility and corporate social entrepreneurship. It’s possible - but then again I am drunk on ‘Skoll Belief in the Possible’ juice.
In other seminars I attended at the forum, the echo was that business and social entrepreneurs were central to driving change around the world in everything from education and healthcare to employment rights, equality and climate change. If you put the global context to one side for a minute, business and social entrepreneurs are central to those things here.
How do you bring people in cities across the UK out of relative poverty? You create jobs and opportunities. How do you inspire hope and aspiration among the 750,000 unemployed young people that face a bleak future - a large proportion of which live in small towns? You create pathways into employment such as apprenticeships and on-the-job training. How do you help people move out of welfare dependency, especially housing support? Again, jobs and more affordable housing options (that don’t get bought by international investors first).
Government has a role as does the public sector, but so too does business regardless of what populist chatter says. Ecology - and history - shows you can’t keep taking without putting something back in. Otherwise, the system will break.
So, I’m going to leave you with this thought, which I am pondering too. If we rely on good people doing good things, how can we in our various industries enable them to get stuff done? How do we challenge (and hold to account) governments to do what they say they will to create a better society or us all? Tweet me @NatDCampbell if you have some answers or examples to share.