That is a big question isn’t it? I like to ask a lot of questions, it is how I learn. I usually ask too many questions starting with why and I am learning that asking questions with why, does not always lead to an answer.
My question today though is about responsibility: social responsibility, responsibility for sustainability, responsibility to ourselves and more importantly in the end, the responsibility to our children, whether they be ours or someone else’s. As we continue on our journey each day I am learning that we need to continually ask ourselves:
What is my responsibility?
We are not sure if we are coming out of a recession or heading into more trouble. It depends which newspaper you read, which country you live in, and how deeply you want to bury your head in the sand. If we look at what is going on in Europe, between Portugal and Greece, it does not look like we are emerging from anything. If we look at the Horn of Africa we are not only seeing economic hardship, we are seeing human hardship that is beyond comprehension. But is it our responsibility to help those people? Is it not our responsibility to at least care? But what can I do as an individual? And is it up to the individual? If it is not up to the individual we must look to governments and business. With government debt ridden and dealing with unmanageable political and fiscal policies, do we need to look to business for the solutions?
Right now it seems that business is making profit their main focus and responsibility. As a student of economics and a believer in the power of the free market I would argue that for any business, profit is the priority. I believe that Keynesian economics sound good on paper but from what we are seeing in the US for example, it does not seem to be working. Yet, as governments, businesses and individuals are being affected by world economies, our personal and social aspirations become less important than our survival. Survival of course depends clearly on where we live – if we are in Canada or the US our definition of survival is much different than if we are living in a developing country where water, food and shelter top the list.
With the economic austerity that we see pervading our communities it is a good excuse for business to shelve projects, to stop giving to charity and to use economic issues to become only profit driven, either for their own personal gain or to answer to shareholders. I would like to argue that it is those businesses that have a purpose beyond profit that will go the furthest in the end and come out the winners; for themselves and for each one of us.
As business becomes involved in their local communities they see the immediate effect on their bottom line. As companies tackle sustainability, they are seeing more and more what innovation can do to drive growth and profitability. If they are big enough corporate citizens to look beyond their own borders, they see what taking responsibility for transforming tomorrow can do.
So what is our responsibility in the end?
As business leaders, we must accept the responsibility to engage in our communities where we are present as a priority rather than a choice. This approach will ensure long term and sustainable advantages for both profitability and growth. Businesses are in a unique position to make much wider contributions in our communities than we can as individuals.
As employees we have the right and responsibility to ask about the environmental and sustainability policies where we work. What are the human rights policies if our company does work in developing countries? What is the company doing to participate in the communities where it does business? I am sure you can think of more questions related to wherever you work.
As individuals we have the choice each day when we make a decision to buy from a company that is responsible. Our dollars drive profits that these companies are looking for. If each one of use can affect change in our world, the more of us that actually do something with the power we must realize we have, will help to make real differences in our communities.
In the end, each one of us is ultimately responsible in helping to build a healthy, sustainable, and let’s hope, happy society that is socially aware.