Working for Common Good

Over the last few years I’ve been an advisor to REACT (Research and Enterprise in Arts and Creative Technologies). It’s been a great experience and really exciting to see such an amazing range of innovative new projects created. I was asked to write a piece for the ‘The Rooms‘ event, which celebrated four years of collaboration on the theme of ‘working for common good’ – James @kidhelios

There’s a wind of change a’blowin’ through business. The last few weeks have seen the launch of B Corps in the the UK and Kickstarter’s announcement of its reincorporation to become a benefits corporation. In real terms B Corps offers a fairly new way to structure and condition a business to be a meaningful social enterprise. In the five years that Kickstarter has been around it has always been profit making. By re-incorporating they are making a clear statement that they will never sell the company, and that their ethical ambitions are open and crystal clear to their investors and supporters.

One of the experiences in The Rooms

Amidst the enterprise scramble to re-imagine new ways of operating in a new world, there are plenty of startup and existing businesses who have jumped onto the social bandwagon and who are enthusiastically social-washing themselves to appear more ethically and socially responsible that they actually are.

But social enterprise is much more that placing stock photos of meadows filled with laughing children on the ‘about’ page of your website or stating boldly that you don’t dump nuclear waste, or deal in weapons of mass destruction. It’s actually much harder than it should be set up a business structured to operate in a different way.

There are plenty of people who might for instance consider setting up a cooperative, but the non-exhaustive list of options presents a bewildering array of at least sixteen legal forms and around ten different organisational types. Faced with these choices many new businesses opt for a straightforward limited company, which may not have socially or ethically ambitious articles of association at heart and which may not be the best option for them or for society in general.

Rather than the culture of suspicion that can be so evident in the world of venture capitalists and flinty eyed investors, we need instead a culture of permission. Triumphs should be celebrated and failures learned from. Ideas held in a knowledge commons, and enthusiasm and insights are shared with an applied and practical generosity, underpinned with the belief that we all benefit from ideas and projects that fly.

This approach extends beyond the ideas, individuals and projects involved in this newspaper, to offer new ways of operating to potential new business. These re-imagined models of working are becoming a requirement in the mutable and sometimes unsettling world that we live in where a job for life no longer exists, and where instead we nurture a framework of skills and relationships for life.

Projects like REACT demonstrate that it’s ok to be innovate in theory and practice, and that there are creative, social and business opportunities to be exploited for the common good.

The longer term benefits for all of us in generating new approaches to solving both old and new problems might in fact be REACT’s most important legacy.

James Richards is director of Chromatrope, a digital innovation consultancy