Make a Difference

by Ted Cleaver

Tomorrow is Make a Difference Day. It’s about making a difference, get it? With business. Two speakers with impressive titles, created by progressive companies, will start off the day. Then, 6 companies forced some of their young talent to provide workshops for us. We are students. I imagine most students present have a strong set of morals and an intrinsic drive to do good. As do I, and who knows, maybe the day will be more interesting than reproduction of politically correct idealism.

“The business of business is business,” a man whose ability to bridge theory and reality was fried by mathematical abstractions once said. Neo-liberal derivatives of Smith’s paradigmatic ideas created a maelstrom: the academic justification of uninhibited greed. Pursuing economic gain in a strictly rational fashion became a deeply rooted assumption across the board. Everything was subjected to economist’s reductionist market functions. Think about it. It took a Nobel Prize for the world to realize that cost/benefit analyses will not always result in the rational maximum. Who knows how long it will take until the realization seeps in that supply and demand functions will not produce stable equilibriums by the slight of an invisible hand.

Tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow will be about doing the right things right for the right reasons. Tomorrow will be all about ideals. It’s an interesting proposition. Is it possible that the influx of a generation who have heroes like Yunus and Obama can fundamentally change a system that runs on profit alone? Will sustainability become more than a marketing tool when most of the decision-makers in a company are of a generation that grew up with impressive and memorable documentaries on our planet? It is entirely possible. Reality is constructed socially. The individual is a minor actor, but change the moral fabric of a generation and anything is possible. History has proven that anything can happen, for better or for worse.

For worse, most recently. Capital is without a doubt the most important production factor in our economy. What, 8 (or 7?) of the biggest companies are banks. And then, the financial crisis, largely attributable to the ability of it’s main actors to uncouple their system from their environment, hits. 2008 delivered evidence beyond reasonable doubt that the most powerful industry in the world functions according to principles that champion only one of the three P’s, and that this industry is relentless and harmful.

There is this seeming dichotomy. There is capitalist structure, there is the dark side of power, there is the incredible skill of the elite to bend governmental law to their will. Then there is hope, the potential for change, and perhaps most significantly, manoeuvring space for innovation that does take People and Planet into account. My mission for tomorrow is to press the representatives of two of this countries’ biggest companies (one retailer, one construction) for answers. I want to know which actors and institutions inhibit a more green, or blue-sea, or sustainable, or take-your-pick trajectory. And I want to know which actors facilitate positive development. How much can you achieve as an employee? How much can you rely on governmental support, societal pressure, and NGOs?

To be continued.