A positive economy is compassionateThe Realizing a Compassionate Planet made me think about what organizations can do to help solve the global challenges, both ecological and social. A positive organizational culture is the basis for positive added value. Ecological and social challenges represent a huge business opportunity; imagine the new markets, transitioning to new technologies, contributing to people’s lives. A positive mindset and culture are key to success, especially in this era of transition.

In this series, I’ll share some reflections on compassion and climate – relevant for organizations, leadership, and positive organizational cultures. Here’s an interesting conversation between well-known economist Katherine Trebeck of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, and Andrew Simms, co-director of the NewWeather Institute, led by John Gillies of the University of Edinburgh.

Social justice on a healthy planet

John kicks off: “All gaps grew wider during the covid-pandemic. The poor became poorer. Can compassion grow together with the economy?”
Katherine: “It’s so far off currently, we have billionaires and very poor people. Surely we can do better. Compassion isn’t translated into tax and other systems. We should change that and go beyond fixing ecological and social damage. We need social justice on a healthy planet. What can the economy do? That requires new thinking. The economy is a means and not an end.”
Andrew: “There’s evidence-based hope. The selfish competitive individual is just a part of humanity: most are compassionate, as research shows. We think others are selfish, but let’s believe in humans and the possibility of change. We gather evidence and examples and we’ve seen in the pandemic that we can change fast for public interest and health: we changed behaviors.”

So, there’s hope. Most people are compassionate, especially within their bubbles of people they know and trust. But how can we enhance it across groups? As Monica Worline, compassion researcher and co-host of the event stated: “We have built many ways to avoid and look away from our own suffering, as well as the suffering of others. It is one of the biggest barriers we face in creating a compassionate planet but also a compassionate home, community, or organization. We must notice suffering first, before any of the rest of the compassion process can unfold. If we want to create more compassion around us, we have to be willing – and courageous – to notice suffering and to interpret that it is part of our concern to be with it. We’re waking up. Compassion is a value.”

We have the tools, but we need belief

How could we bring compassion into the structure of our economy and society? “We need different forms of corporate ownerships and different tax laws. We need mutuals and cooperatives. In disasters you see communities come together. The football club collects food from shops for poor people here in London. We need collaboration”, says Katherine. “Huge change is required. We have examples of compassion and projects indeed, but the economic system, the context, should change. What is the goal of the economy? Isn’t it wellbeing and added value for all? What sort of GDP (gross domestic product) do we need, how to include wellbeing instead of just monetary earnings? There are wellbeing frameworks based on statistics.”
Andrew: “We could use ecological interest rates. If you take care of low carbon emissions and realize a social just transition, you pay no interest on your loan. If people borrow money for fossiles, make that expensive. We need a global green new deal; a massive re-investment. We have all the tools, but we need to believe in ourselves and in change.”

Hope from the streets

John: “Climate change is the biggest market failure the world has ever seen. If nature were a bank we’d already saved it. And the rich got richer during the pandemic. So, how do we change the minds of those in power?”
Katherine: “Remind them that the public wants it. Politicians should address it. Look at the demonstrations Fridays for the future: people take to the streets. Let’s consider a citizen’s assembly for more democracy and collaboration. When people talk to each other they reach consensus.”
Andrew: “The paradox is to give up power when you are in power. When you do and you have diversity in the room, you get better outcomes. Every good thing came from the bottom; from strikes and communities and unions, never from those in power.”

John: Do we learn fast enough? After the banking crash in 2008, Occupy Wall Street lasted a short time and petered out. Are things different now?
Andrew: “Politics is leading from behind. I feel optimistic about the young generations in the street, not leaving it to people in parliament. The moment you protest you’re the enemy and the victim, but later they thank you.”
Katherine: “Students of economy say: Stop teaching the old-fashioned stuff about money and GDP and teach us feminist and ecological economy. Those are hopeful signs. Nevertheless, I get a feeling it’s time for revolution not patching. We need fundamental change that addresses the root causes.
Even if it is disruptive and challenges the rich and powerful. We can’t keep patching.”
Andrew: “Yes, we must tackle social injustice.”
Katherine: “With hope and compassion, we can mobilize and redesign the economy to serve humanity instead of the other way around.”

How can your organization serve humanity? Check your purpose, vision and mission. Re-evaluate strategy and goals. Are you contributing in a positive way to all stakeholders – not just shareholders? Do you take the interests of “silent stakeholders” into account? Silent stakeholders are nature and future generations. How can you give them a voice? This is a must for positive cultures. A positive culture is compassionate. A positive culture can also lead to positive deviance in performance and the bottom line – while helping all stakeholders thrive. Are you up for the challenge?

The University of Edinburgh’s Global Compassion Initiative, the Global Health Academy and the Center for Technomoral Futures, and Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) organized the Realizing a Compassionate Planet conference.

© Marcella Bremer, 2022

© image: Alexander Ink

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