I recently attended a one-day vision summit in Berlin on the subject of microfinance, social business, and social entrepreneurship.
I am not a banker, an economist or a businesswoman but I have an interest in these topics, as it seems that in this realm of activity exciting solutions are emerging that address, with intelligence, some of the world’s thorniest problems; poverty, pollution, inequality, environmental degredation etc. People such as Mohammad Yunus (who spoke at the conference) are re-envisioning the reality in which we live and acting on that vision. Big ambitious aims such as eradicating poverty are gradually being realised in a quiet, practical manner, one bit at a time. This is where idealism and realism meet.
In one sense the scope of the conference was broad and somewhat scattered in focus. It seemed like many of the projects presented were very new and experimental. I have an image of all these baby projects growing stronger and in the process becoming more connected; everything finding its place. As all these pieces of the puzzle gradually come together a huge transformation in the way things are done in the world is possible or even inevitable. In Bangladesh where the Grameen bank and its family of businesses have been active for many years, this already seems to be happening. Each piece – such as microcredit, healthcare, training, nutrition, IT, ….. elegantly fits together and supports each other to provide a strong foundation for change.
For a long time I have felt that any big shift in how we humans live on the planet would come from the bottom-up; that the big overarching systems of power would topple, allowing for the emergence of a healthy and more balanced system, based upon the growing number of small organisations that are working at a ground level all over the world. This is most evident in the financial world, with the gradual collapse of the big debt-based systems, and the emergence of new small banks that are more sustainably based in a grounded reality, and are choosing to support those who are active in creating a healthier world. There is also a rapid spread of microcredit institutions that are lending money to the poorest, enabling them to participate in the global economy. (You can find out more about these banks and some other organisations by following the links at the end of this article.)
So I found myself sitting in a conference room filled with around 1000 intelligent, engaged people, feeling very connected to everyone, and excited by the sense of a common vision. I heard businessmen speak from the heart, with passion and a love for their involvement in enterprises that benefit the many not just the few. At times I felt my heart expand and was moved to tears as this I saw this vision of the future not just being spoken about as a distant idealistic goal, but as a present reality in front of my eyes. I felt very inspired by the sane words of compassionate action being spoken, particularly by Mohammad Yunus who was clearly speaking as an embodiment of what I am going to call ‘the new energy’.
So what are the characteristics of this ‘new energy’, that I see gradually replacing the ‘old energy’ as more and more of the old reality disintegrates?….. This is how I see it….
- Unity instead of divisiveness: the old divisions and conflicts between man/woman, rich/poor, corporation/citizen are no longer active, and no longer a motivator for action. Action comes as a response to viewing a situation or problem from a point of view of connnectedness, respect for each other and for different points of view.
- Not about ‘doing good’, or acting from guilt or unworthiness, the days of religious matrydom are over.
Instead an emphasis on a love of creating and participating in projects which benefit all, because we are all connected. We can no longer deny this to ourselves.
- No more dwelling on the mistakes of the past; no blame, no judgement. Instead a creative, open willingness to look at what is here now and how best to meet that.
- No need to convince, preach or convert anyone to this way of acting. Allowing the individual to choose the kind of world they wish to live in and how they wish to participate in it.
- Emotions and feelings are openly shared and respected. The recognition that LOVE is essential for success.
- A simplicity and practicality. Action rather than endless discussion and analysis.
- Starting small and growing from small successes. Creating small scale models that can then be replicated on a large scale.
- A sense of ease and cheerfulness, when working on even big challenges, but with a focused intent. (“do it with joy” is one of the seven basic principles of social business as put forward by Grameen creative lab).
- Inclusiveness: the new can also include the old. Using existing models and structures, expanding and loosening them. Providing new alternatives alongside the established ones. (Rather than a need for destruction of the old, or to struggle against it. That is the old way!).
- Willingness to speak out, stand up for these principles when faced with criticism, doubt, challenge, anger. Use these situations as an opportunity for greater clarity and integrity.
I noticed all of these characteristics being shown to me that day at the conference. Sitting there it was also clear that not everyone was yet living in this new energy, or fully embodying it, and the difference was sometimes quite obvious. This connected to me on a personal level. I saw how these different perspectives play out within my inner experience. I saw very clearly that this ‘new energy’ is already available as a choice for me in each moment. It was obvious to me how what I see in the world out there is a mirror of my inner world.
The excitement and feeling of deep connection I experienced that day was a big confirmation to me of this. The principles outlined above are reminders to me of how I wish to live, and of how I can meet with love and patience, those parts of myself (or other people) that are not yet in alignment with this preferred reality.
SOME GOOD IDEAS and links:
Small loans to the poor, mainly to women. No need for collateral. Low interest rates. Allows them to start small enterprises to support their families and bring them out of poverty. Has been a huge success and spread throughout the world. Encourages community support, as the individual loans are also backed by a group within the community. (Read Yunus “Banker to the Poor”).
A business created to solve a problem rather than for personal profit. Investors will get their initial investment returned, but from then on all profit is returned to the business, to expand its success. At first this seems a shocking idea. We are so conditioned to believe that big earnings will make us happy, that financial returns are the way to measure success. But on closer investigation this idea makes so much sense. A world of divisions, vast poverty, dependency, unbalanced relationships, exploitation etc, in the end benefits no-one.
Entrepreneurs can have the excitement and satisfaction of creating successful businesses and solving problems, knowing that they are contributing to a happier, wealthier world. Payment is not financial, but from an energetic perspective is vast. Everyone wins, not just a small group of shareholders. These businesses are eventually self-sustainable, they are not reliant on charity or donations from remote sources, (governments, world banks or ngo’s). If successful they can be replicated. They can provide employment and training opportunities, and encourage self-reliance and responsibility in the most desperate communities. The lack of profit-pressures of these businesses places them in an advantageous position, and allows for the success of even very small enterprises. Goods that are made can be sold very cheaply, affordable to the poorest.
To find out more I highly recommend Yunus “Creating a World without Poverty”.
Unconditional basic income:
Professor Gotz Werner, who spoke at the conference is an advocate of this in Germany. It sounded intriguing so I did a bit of research….
This proposal turns on its head the ideas we have about work and money, by positing the principle that everyone receives a basic wage, enough to live simply on. People would then be free to do what they actually want to do. The economy would no longer be reliant on high employment levels to sustain it. The religious work-ethic, the imbalance between corporate employers and low-paid workers etc, would no longer be central to the economics of employment. The Unconditional Basic Income would encourage innovation and creativity in people. They would be free to create social businesses, solve problems, invent. This would lead to greater automation of tasks that nobody really enjoys doing. Fast-food restaurants for example – would either have to pay people a lot, employ young foreign travellers, or become more fully automated. There would be more leisure time, a less stressed and more content and fulfilled population, which would lead to less crime. The same amount would be given to every citizen, so no need for complicated bureacracies, assessments, or social security administration, thus freeing up a lot of money to help fund the system.
For the very poor, the income would act like a microcredit loan – inviting them to become active, creative citizens. A pilot-project in Namibia was successful, and did not lead to greater idleness as critics of the system predicted. Instead, a desperately poor village became a hive of activity and enterprise. Find out more here: http://www.basicincome.org/bien/aboutbasicincome.html http://basicincome2013.eu/
http://www.genisis-institute.org/index.html?&L=1 (organisation that organised the vision summit)
http://www.handswithhands.org/ (Self-sustaining children’s homes, microcredit and other projects in Nepal. Volunteer opportunities)
http://www.triodos.co.uk/ (triodos bank – a great place to put your money, also in netherlands, spain and germany).
http://www.betterplace.org/ (online platform for social projects)