Today, I heard Mr Porter talk in a session about the mantra of making money as the central theme to doing ‘social good’. He kept saying how one could scale up quickly and make a lot of money. He said capitalism is the only way of measuring sustainability. I completely disagree.
Capitalism in isolation is a perfect recipe for social disaster. Gone are the days when the poor were poor and rich were rich. The poor have aspirations and rightfully the need to achieve them. The present institutional barriers and social structures make it harder for the poor to reach those aspirations, as their starting points are way behind in the rat race. Can they compete? No – unless the rising middle class and rich make sure that there is equality in the creation of the ecosystem that will allow the poor to compete. Hence, Mr. Porter, we need to look at social sustainability in a more holistic and long-term way. Amidst rising income inequality, corporates need to realize that social responsibility is essentially insurance against social instability. Why aren’t we getting there? Because today we are judging success by a single parameter – capitalism, which is sadly preached in numerous business schools around the world. History of the world shows that stable societies were not built on capitalism. Successful civilizations were built on the basis of balancing social and financial sustainability. And today in the 21st century, we have to add another dimension: environmental sustainability. It is fair to acknowledge that this balancing act cannot be done by corporates alone – but also with the partnership of government and civil society with equal responsibilities. How to do it? Ask the 30 Social Entrepreneurs at Davos and they will tell you.