Why social enterprise should support the Occupy protests
This group has sparked some strong opinions – evidenced by the passer by who helpfully suggested I ‘get a job’. However to dismiss them somewhat misses the point.
The first thing to say is that society owes these folk a great debt. These people who have been camping out – be it in St Pauls, Finsbury Square or Wall Street – represent the conscience of all of us. They have held a mirror up to our economic system and forced us to face our mistakes. They minimise the substantial risk that we just carry on as we have. This would be unsustainable and they help to force us to think, reflect, and hopefully reform.
The second is that the financial crisis is the direct result of a game we have all allowed to persist. It’s a win/win game for the bankers. If the great risks they take pay off, then they make lots of money. If, on the other hand, they backfire then the public picks up the tab. Who wouldn’t want to play a game like this? Any idiot would stay at this table for as long as possible (except, sadly, this idiot). We as a society have elected people who have allowed this game to continue.
Stopping this game is not easy. Ring fencing and regulation will not solve the problem. The only way to succeed is to literally close the table. We have to remove the incentive to play this extremely unsustainable game. The pay of executives at state guaranteed (explicitly or implicitly) financial institutions much be capped. If they are indeed too big to fail then it is unreasonable that they should be enriched at public expense. To be workable, though, this solution needs to be done on a global basis and that brings a whole new set of challenges.
However, being angry at the banks and wanting change is all very well. The question that remains is what can be done about it? I would argue that we can bring balance back into our economy by making it a social one. We need to foster and support firms which seek financial stability, but in addition have social, ethical and environmental objectives at the top of their agendas.
The good news, for those protestors and the rest of us, is that this is happening. At ClearlySo we have thousands of such businesses on our website of all shapes and sizes. These include businesses which many people will have heard of such as Cafe Direct which was one of the pioneers of Fairtrade coffee or Just Giving which helped to create a market for online charitable donations. It even includes companies in the property sector such as the Ethical Property Company which provides discounted rent for social change organisations – a growing number of businesses are proving that what’s good for the bottom line does not necessarily have to be bad for the world in general.
Each and every one of us can offer our support. We can work in this sector, support these businesses with our custom or even invest in them. As well as piling on pressure through public opinion to change, we can use our collective financial muscle – using our pensions, our savings and our deposits to invest socially. There is so much to be done in the future, but there is plenty we can do today.