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The Guardian December 06.1998, London
The ideals of the sixties are caching up with capitaslism and the company of the future will, of necessity, be driven by the values of its customers
It is no accident that some of the campaigning organisations that have carried elements of the sixties counter- cultural agenda into the nineties , including greenpeace and amnesty, have decided to work with pioneering companies In the intervening decades, business has evolved into the most powerful institution on the planet, Business, however, does not operate ina vacuum, Nor is it totally impervious to the values of a growing proportion of its employees, customers. consumers and investors,The values shift, in short, is also catching up with capitalism.
Indeed. one of te most exciting books I have read recently is Liber ating the Corporate Soul( Butter worth- Heinemann) by richard Barrett. formerly " values co-ordinator" at the World Bank. He has sincemoved on to promote the values revolution in business. Early on, Barrrett quotes Levi Strauss CEO Robert Haas" In the next century a company will stand or fall on its values"
So it is hardly surprising that we now see many of the values that surfaced in the sixties beginning to infiltrate some corporate board room. The central point , however is that: corporations don’t transform. peopople do. Corporate trnsformation is fundamentally about personal transformation.
Nor is this simply a trend in the developed world, although the bright spots in the south are harder to find, One is the Grameen Bank Bank, described in Banker T The Poor (Aurum Press0 the autobiography of its founder, Muhammad Yunus. The story of the bank is worth repeating.
In 1974. Professor Yunus under went his own personal transforamtion. He had taken his students on a field trip to a poor village, they interviewed a woman who made bamoo stools, learning that she had to borrow money at sucha high rate of interest that there was little profit left. So she was unable to raise and har prnly above substence level
Yunus ient the equibalent of f17 from his own pocket to 42 basket weavers. He found that even with such a small amount it was possible for them not simply to survive but also to create the spark of initiative and enterprise needed to Pull themselves out of poverty Against the abvice of of the banks and government, he carried on viginv micro loans " and in 1983 formed the Grameen Bank Bank meaning " village bank’ In Bangladesh today Grameen has more than 1,000 branches, employs over 12,000 staff, and serves two million borrowers in some 37,000 villages.
Of the borrowers,94 per cent are women and more than 98 per cent of loans are repaid, a recovery rate higher than for any other banking system, Anyone who doubts the potential power of " new capitalism " to transform the lives of the poor or the world for better should read this book.
THIS IS an amazing account of the way in which one man with a vision and the right values can turn the established order on its ear. But however powerful such revolutions in commercial and business culture may eventually be, they need to be accompanied by parallel revolutions in government and governance.
It is a sad fact of human nature that for every Humammad Yunus there are always competitors ready and willing to cut financial sosial or envirounmental corners
John Elkingtion is chairmdns of strategy consultants sustain Ability Ltd. www. sustasinability . co. Uk His latest book. co-authred with julia Hailes . is Manual 2000 Lief Choices For The Future You Want (Hodder & Stoughton,E9.99)