This blog is part of an Erasmus Mundus, international research and curriculum design project, which aims to provide opportunities for higher education students to study social enterprise. Here are some personal reflections on my motivations for co-writing and participating in this project.
The economy reached crisis point in many countries in 2007-8. However, I do not believe this was a matter of bad luck, as the economic models building up to this have had serious limitations. The imperative for economic growth on a macro level and over a short time scale have caused collateral damage which far outweighs its advantages. In the UK, for example, we have systemic unemployment, with the psychological devastation caused to communities by this, and a chasm between the highest and lowest paid in society which threatens social cohesion.
I would argue that exploring ways in which all in society can have meaningful work is an urgent problem to which higher education needs to make a thoughtful contribution. The equitable distribution of the benefits of the fruits of economic activity should be accessible to all, after all ‘equality is better for everybody’ (Wilkinson and Pickett 2010). I take the standpoint articulated by Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank and pioneer of micro credits to those in developing countries with no access to capital: ‘Mainstream free-market theory suffers from “conceptualisation failure”, a failure to capture the essence of what it is to be human’ (Yunus 2007, p.18).
In the video above, Muhammad Yunus explains that ‘Economists have misunderstood human beings’. He suggests how businesses can put the creativity and innovation of capitalism to uses other than making money. He talks about how his model of social business has worked in Bangladesh and looks forward to a world where no one will be known as ‘an unemployed person.
In response to a question to leading economists by the Queen in which she asked why economists had not seen the crisis coming, Hodgson, et al (2009) stated:
“We believe that the narrow training of economists – which concentrates on mathematical techniques and the building of empirically uncontrolled formal models – has been a major reason for this failure in our profession. This defect is enhanced by the pursuit of mathematical technique for its own sake in many leading academic journals and departments of economics”.
The economy was being run on mathematical models and people had been left out of the equation. Furthermore, higher education was perpetrating this dogma.
In the project we aim to challenge the one-dimensional view of economic well-being and human motivation for work which has dominated the economic ecosystem, causing impoverishment and collapse. The ecosystem needs to be re-populated with ideas. The spectrum of economic beliefs and activity, previously disregarded or discredited, needs to be understood, taken seriously and to take its place in studies about business and the economy and to become more mainstream in thinking about how we manage our affairs.
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Hodgson, G. et al (2009) Letter to the Queen of England. Available http://www.feed-charity.org/user/image/queen2009b.pdf Accessed 15th April 2013
Wilson, R. and Pickett, K. (2010) The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone. London. Penguin.
Yunus, M. (2007) Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism. New York. Public Affairs.