Sunday, 8 December 2019

Making A Better World

Updated: December 24, 2011 11:41 am

The global financial crisis and its aftermath have shaken long-held beliefs about capitalism. The reforms required now are fundamentally different to the economic reforms of the early 1990s. Now investments in manufacturing are constrained by difficulties in getting environmental clearances, people’s permission to use land and to some extent, by labour regulations. Public opinion surveys worldwide reveal declining trust in business corporations—capitalism’s primary institution. As capitalism struggles with questions of social responsibility, corporations increasingly realise that they do not and cannot exist in isolation pursuing self-interest. Hence, business leaders are increasingly reflecting on the changing role of business in society and the values that drive business. Against this backdrop, this book has captured the myriad challenges of our tumultuous time, and laid the foundation for a form of capitalism, which is gentler, more inclusive and more society conscious.

This 209-page book is divided into four parts. The first part describes some recent issues that have embroiled respected corporations in controversies. The second part describes typical ways in which corporations, conditioned by their metaphorical genes, relate to society. The third part discusses changes required in the nature of conversations between business and civil society to facilitate a more systemically integrated role for corporations. The fourth part consists of some reflections on ideas guiding the prevalent paradigm of human socio-economic development, which are shaping the institutions of economic progress, including business corporations. At the end are some useful appendices. Since this book is about business corporations’ responsibilities to society, it is appropriate that the last appendix, and thus the last word in this book, is by Mahatma Gandhi. He was a great proponent of the concept of trusteeship as the relationship with society in which business leaders must view their generation of wealth. It is a concept that is gathering support, supplanting the view that the business of business must be only business.

Capitalism and economics in their present forms have two fundamental problems. One is that rampant capitalism corrodes the institutions of democracy that everyone in the world should hold dear. The other is that human society and nature cannot be servants of the economy, to be manipulated to make economies more efficient. Rather, economics must serve the needs of human society and the sustainability of the environment. Hence, in this book, the writer examines the contract between business and society and argues for the need for a broader dialogue about the values that govern and guide corporations and other institutions of capitalism. He argues for the need to evolve a new contract between society and business—one in which business can engage society beyond profit. Also corporations that will succeed in a networked and faster changing world will be conceived as organisms to produce benefits for society broadly and not merely as financial entities to produce benefits for investors.

A thought-provoking collection of articles, this book is a radical argument for changing the role of business corporations in society. The author’s insightful essays and well-written case studies present a well-constructed argument for re-evaluating the purpose of business. His unique perspective is invaluable as capitalism and its impact on human development is being questioned across the world. It is a book relevant not only to leaders, managers, and students but also to everyone concerned with the need for transforming dominant paradigms of reckless capitalism to make growth more inclusive.

By Ashok Kumar

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