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BW Businessworld

Return On Values

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I have had the privilege of watching upclose workers and executives who not only have a ‘sense’ of ownership but ‘actually own the company they work for’. This was a couple of years ago in the Basque region of Spain where the facilities of the seventh-largest industrial concern are spread and one had to experience it first hand to actually soak it all in. On display was an enhanced spirit of enterprise, dedication, devotion and contentment, all rolled into an environment of cutting-edge technology. The group, Mondragon Corporation, is one of the examples Marjorie Kelly cites in Owning Our Future, which is an exceptional work on ownership. And I use the expression ‘work’ instead of referring to it as a ‘book’ deliberately. The book is a disruptive, thought-provoking and an engaging thesis on the future that needs to recast in order to allow future generations to thrive.
Kelly believes — and has painstakingly substantiated her beliefs with plausible arguments — that the time is up for businesses to be set up to exclusively focus on maximising income for a limited few. The economy is getting locked into endless growth and ever-widening inequality. The sensitive few in India who have witnessed growth since liberalisation with a sociological perspective have often raised their concerns on the widening gap, but more often than not, they have not offered arguments, and more significantly, solutions, in the manner that Kelly does. Kelly is the co-founder and editor of Business Ethics, a publication on corporate responsibility, and she is a contributor to a wide range of periodicals and is read and regarded by high-level opinion leaders in the US. This book follows her equally insightful first book, The Divine Right of Capital: Dethroning the Corporate Aristocracy.
To learn from some alternative ownership entities that thrive, Kelly visited a few community-owned, foundation-driven setups. She makes a strong case for cooperative banks and even state-owned ones such as our own SBI — where the purpose is not just about maximising profits but embedding a strong social blueprint into the business model. Such new forms of ownership are taking shape all over the world and she calls them ‘generative’ or ‘living companies’. 
These companies are not just responsible, or ethical, or in possession of the right legal charter, but are literally alive. She explains that these firms are not just about physical technologies, but have a social architecture in a sense that the enterprise comes alive in a human, social sense. These firms do the right thing; they enhance the stability and beauty of the total ecosystem.
Kelly closes her book with hope and solutions that shift the paradigm. She persuades us not to allow ownership to become the gravitational field that holds our economy in its orbits, locking us all in to behaviours that lead us to financial excess and ecological overshoots.
(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 07-01-2013)