One of the main messages from COP26 was that governments and businesses need to be more generous to avert further catastrophes on this planet. The lack of generosity the West shows the rest of the world is shocking – for example, if we showed more generosity and paid for the rest of the world to be vaccinated, it would reduce future covid variations and benefit everyone.
Capitalism has always revolved around taking as much as we can from both nature and workers and extracting what we can from ‘natural resources’ and ‘human resources’. The heart and drive of many entrepreneurs is to take, use and extract – they are never satisfied with enough. However, business is not a zero-sum game; we can both give away more and receive more in terms of growth and profits.
To fight climate change, we need to break some of the myths that surround capitalism – that resources are ours to take, and that individualism is better than community.
From accumulation to abundance
One of the key ways to move away from extractive capitalism, which increasingly benefits the few at the expense of many, is learning ‘Lagom’. What is ‘Lagom’? Some people think it comes from the Swedish ‘Laget om’ meaning ‘around the team’. The story goes that the horn of mead was passed around a circle and everyone had to take the right amount so that there was enough to go around.
Lagom carries a sense of fairness and egalitarianism with it which is desperately needed in today’s world. There is enough to go around, but the top 10% of the world has hogged 90% of the resources. Much of business has propagated this inequality. As business people, learning what is ‘enough’ for us personally allows us to be both inwardly content without ridiculous director’s salaries and then also allows us to be generous towards those who work for us. Companies full of generous bosses and people who are treated well and generously will be the successful companies of the future. How generous are you? How generous is your business? What can you do to be better?
Business leaders need to build generosity into the foundation of their businesses. So many of us (especially in the Western world) are trapped in unhappiness because we haven’t experienced the joy of giving freely. I remember once being given some money by a very generous person to buy as many turkeys as I could to give to impoverished families in London on Christmas Eve. It was a privilege to be able to enjoy that generosity and brought tears to my eyes.
Leaders need to ensure generosity is carried into the workplace. Our company aims to make sure that all our activities and meetings have a ‘people’ and ‘planet’ element, as well as normal business. This applies to our company goals and aims each year, and to ensure we hit our people and planet goals as a company.
In 2021, we introduced a ‘compulsory’ volunteering scheme – all employees must carry out 12 hours volunteering, which will be paid for by the company (although it’s usually something everyone is very willing to do). They are paid their normal wages for volunteering either as a block of time, or a couple of hours every other month, and we plan to increase the hours every year. Some individuals will do more than this if they have community and charity activity included in their roles – but this new initiative ensures that wide participation in volunteer work is an integral part of the company.
Many people would rather leave their legacy in other people’s lives through their generosity, rather than cash left behind after they die. A funeral I recently attended was for someone very generous – one of our company’s suppliers. The event was incredible, and you could see the impact he had had on others. Everyone was given the opportunity to speak about his generosity, and if more leaders lived their lives like him, the world would be a very different place.
About the author: Paul Hargreaves is a B-Corp Ambassador, speaker and author of The Fourth Bottom Line: Flourishing in the new era of compassionate leadership out now, priced £14.99