My new book, ‘Welcome to GoodCo’, looks at how the tools of business can be, and increasingly are being, used to create public benefit. Witness:
• The growth of social enterprise, where imitation is a form of flattery
• Trends towards ‘responsible’, ‘social’ and ‘impact’ investment
• The ‘arms race’ between supermarkets on community engagement.
All this is happening at a time when services provided by government and the voluntary sector are being squeezed as demand on them is growing. Many in business now recognise the obligation to engage constructively with communities and the environment but too many, especially in the 99% of businesses that are SMEs (which employ half the private sector workforce) do not. There are worrying counter-trends, too – as asset owners become increasingly out of touch with how their investments are used, fortunes are made and lost by the second and injustices in pay gaps, not least in the world of high finance, get ever worse.
The book builds on Al Gore’s idea that the last 30 years has seen the separation and divorce of capitalism and democracy after 200 years of marriage; and that unless the rift is healed we and our environment will suffer catastrophic consequences. That rift can be seen in the growth of short-termism in finance at the expense of the generational outlook of the family firm and how our use of GDP to measure ‘growth’ fails to differentiate between ‘good’ spending and ‘bad’, with no accounting for environmental and other externalities. I explore several valiant if small attempts to bring the whole thing back on course. I ask ‘how ethical are ethical investments?’, ‘what role did business play in ending the slave trade?’ and ‘have we reached the limits of what support central government can (and should) provide to communities?’ whilst exploring the business case for companies to get involved in those communities.
In the book I also look at the politics of ‘responsible capitalism’, the history of market regulation and impact investment and the life story of Frances Perkins and I highlight some unlikely ‘good guys’. I also call for the Social Value Act, the implementation of which is currently optional for the public sector, to be more widely used and employed in private sector procurement, too. I really enjoyed writing the book and I think that comes across.
You’ll have to read the book to find out who Frances Perkins was!
(Tom Levitt was Member of Parliament from 1997-2010. Tom is a writer and consultant on charity partnerships whose clients include corporates, government agencies, charities, councils and SMEs; Chair of Trustees, Concern Worldwide (UK); Honorary Doctor of the University of Derby, UK. He is also a non-executive director of Digital Outreach Ltd, a director of Good Measures ethical business consultancy, a trustee of The Work Foundation and an occasional columnist for The Guardian’s Voluntary Sector Network. http://www.sector4focus.co.uk)