By *Ian MannThe Social Contract with Business by Jopie Coetzee
RETIRED University of South Africa professor Dr Jopie Coetzee is on a mission to alert business leaders to their obligations to create a better world.
His book, The Social Contract with Business, is not the outpourings of a theologian or philosopher, but those of a mining executive (for 35 years) turned business school lecturer (10 years.)
His call is credible because he has "been there",and it is solidly grounded in extensive research for which he was awarded a PhD.
I know of no one who after only a few moments of reflection would say that they are comfortable with the state the world is in.
We are all subjected to "threats without borders" against which we are individually, and sometimes as communities, unable to defend ourselves.
These range from poverty to infectious diseases, from environmental degradation to organised crime and from terrorism to weapons that could destroy entire cities.
For much of human history we had no alternative to being "problem experiencing"” rather than "problem solving".
That has changed. We have the capacity to eradicate diseases, send people into space, find answers to complex questions, access information at unprecedented levels and speed, and more.
As artist and business school teacher, Nancy Adler asks: "Now that we can do anything, what will we do?"
Coetzee's starting point is the acceptance that all thoughtful people want things to change. However, the next question, "change to what?" is less clear.
Society has been subject to many experiments with delivery systems all purporting to be able to change the world for the better, from all-embracing Communism through to unbridled capitalism.
The former has failed and the latter is at best suffering from a severe body blow.
With the connectedness of the world, a function of technology, finance, mobility and more, we can no longer think of improving conditions in one arena without consideration of the broader, global context.
We can no longer accept the naive and short-sighted business goal of profit with no concern for the plight of the suppliers or customers, if for no other reason than that it is unsustainable. Without clients who are thriving and energetic suppliers, no business can continue to deliver profit.
To identify the appropriate goals for our future, Coetzee draws on the insights of the world's finest thinkers, Nobel laureates and other carefully select leaders he terms "global icons".
Their positions were not obtained through interviews with them in which leading questions lead to pre-approved answers, but from speeches and writings that contain the informant's considered opinions.
The conclusion is that the mandate to business, societal and political leaders is to lead humanity away from the destructive globalisation we see today, to an inclusive globalisation for the betterment of all.
This is an ambitious, but far from impossible vision that encompasses the elimination of systemic poverty, securing that humanity does not live in fear - either of disease or terror - but inpursuit of a sustainable green economy and an overall robust respect for all of nature and all people.
To put this simply: it is estimated that 4 billion people in our interconnected world currently live in a state of systemic poverty and earn less than $2 a day.
If through a concerted global effort their earnings could increase by $2 a day, consider the worldwide economic benefits that could be derived. Then consider the social, health, educational, emotional and other benefits.
Coetzee places little faith in the ability of government to fulfil this obligation, and a much stronger faith in the power of business to fulfil its role in the betterment of society.
He cites many great leaders whose business skills have led to important strides towards a better world for all.
They range from Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, to the leaders of the Royal Bafokeng tribe whose prudence has made them the most prosperous tribe in Africa.
They include the Fair Trade movement dedicated to assisting vulnerable producers of goods and services in developing countries to get deserved rewards for their work, to the huge Allan Gray bursary scheme for disadvantaged students.
But the larger question looms. How does the world ensure that there are hundreds of thousands more leaders committed to a better world?
Part of the answer, Coetzee suggests, lies in the curriculum of the MBA qualification, the world's "premier postgraduate management qualification". His position is that the current curriculum is not fit for the purpose any more, and he proposes a significant overhaul.
The MBA programmes need to evolve beyond their current curricula to the transformation agenda of saving the planet and improving the lot of its people, while delivering profits to shareholders.
With committed graduates in key positions, many with their hands on the tiller of important businesses and organisations, we all have a better chance of a better future.
Coetzee’s intriguing book deserves a thoughtful reading and careful reflection.
Readability: Light ----+ Serious
Insights: High +---- Low
Practical: High --+-- Low
* Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy.