With the world’s population approaching 8 billion people, it is more crucial than ever that we reevaluate the concept of capitalism. Will we continue to sacrifice the environment, our health, and our children’s future in the relentless pursuit of money and power? Or will we take the destiny of the planet into our hands by reimagining a world where we put the needs of all people at the center, and where our creativity, wealth, and other resources become a means to achieve those needs? Rethinking and remaking our economic system is not simply a nice idea. There really is no viable alternative if we hope to enjoy a future on this planet. While short-term trends may appear to benefit a few of us at the expense of many others, in the long run only policies that will allow all the people of the world to share the progress are truly sustainable. The fate of high-net-worth investors served by bankers on Wall Street and that of poor women working in a garment factory in Bangladesh are linked together. The fate of a sorghum farmer in Uganda, a maize farmer in Mexico, and a soybean farmer in Iowa are all intertwined.
Over the past decade, we’ve seen our world lurch from one crisis to another: financial disasters, famines, energy shortages, environmental catastrophes, military conflicts, floods of refugees, rising political instability. Populist leaders are calling for walls to be built between countries; they are calling for nations to suddenly abandon international unions built over decades of dedicated diplomacy and high hopes for shared peace and prosperity. This is the time to bring the world together to face this series of crises in a well-planned, well-managed way—to seize the moment as our best opportunity to design and put in place a new economic and financial architecture so that these types of crises will never occur again, long-standing global problems will be addressed decisively, and the incoherence and deficiencies of the current economic and social order will finally be repaired.
The most important feature of this new global economic architecture will be to bring the half-built theoretical framework of capitalism to completion by incorporating the second type of business, social business, and by reworking the theory to recognize that all human beings are entrepreneurs, not merely providers of labor as present theory assumes. Once these changes are included in the framework, they can play an important role in solving the financial crisis, the food crisis, the energy crisis, and the environmental crisis. The new economic structure will provide the most effective institutional mechanism for addressing the unresolved problems of poverty and disease. Social business can address all the problems that are left behind by the profit-making businesses while correcting their excesses.
The Highest Form of Human Creativity
Social business isn’t just an essential tool for resolving the crises that humankind faces. It also represents a wonderful expression of human creativity—perhaps the highest form of creativity that humans are capable of. We know that the objective of a social business is to meet human needs. But when we are creating a social business, the needs to be met must be defined precisely, because the entire business will be designed according to this objective. This is not a problem in conventional business, because, in a fundamental sense, the objective of every conventional business is the same—to achieve the highest return on investment. Not so in social business. The concrete objective varies from business to business. That’s why defining that objective clearly is so important.
Then comes the design of the business. This has to be appropriate to achieve the objective. And because the concrete objectives of social businesses vary so widely, social business design calls forth enormous creative power. In most cases, a social business designer is envisioning something that has never existed before. The task demands a lot of creativity, and that’s why it is so exciting. My own experiences have shown me that once you are successful as a social business designer, you don’t want to quit. Once you are bitten by the social business bug, you find yourself wanting to design another business even more powerful than the one you designed before . . . and then another, and another.
Social business is a powerful avenue for self-discovery, self-exploration, and self-definition. Best of all, seeing the social benefits created by the business—the hungry children fed, the homeless families given shelter, the diseased people cured—offers a profound inner satisfaction that no other creative endeavor can match. Believe me, nothing in life is more rewarding than fulfilling the creative passion through the act of imagining a social business and then translating it into reality.
Let every young person grow up knowing that he or she can enter the working world as a creative entrepreneur. Let them get ready every day, thinking about what they will do as adults that will let them take care of their families and make a big difference in the world at the same time. Many boys and girls will fall in love and build a life with their partner because they have the same purpose for their lives and believe in the same goals for the world. They can go on to develop a social business together, creating a family life filled with satisfaction and joy at the same time as they bring greater happiness to the whole world.
We are fortunate enough to have been born in an age of great possibilities—an age of amazing technologies, of great wealth, and of limitless human potential. Now the solutions to many of our world’s pressing problems—including problems like hunger, poverty, and disease that have plagued humankind since before the dawn of history—are within reach. Most of these solutions could be accelerated through the creation of a new economic order that includes the powerful tool of social business.
In a world that seems to be creating more and more depressing news every day, we can create an outburst of hope, demonstrating that the indomitable human spirit need never yield to frustration and despair. The purpose of human life on this planet is not merely to survive but to live on it with grace, beauty, and happiness. It is up to us to make it happen. We can create a new civilization based not on greed but on the full range of human values. Let’s begin today.
Excerpted with permission from A World of Three Zeros: Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions by Muhammad Yunus (Hachette India) that is out now in bookstores.