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Profit, People & Planet = true prosperity

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26 November 2013

A director of a leading think-tank told the BBC this month that the only duties for a company are to make a profit and to obey the law.

What do we think of that statement?

Profit is a necessary and good part of business. It funds growth and research, creates reserves for a rainy day, is a return on the risk of investment and a reward for doing a good job. But to have a bottom line of just profit and nothing else, sells business short. 

In the past I think business and the not-for-profit sector have been mutually suspicious. Business sees NGOs as being full of 'lefty' dreamers who couldn’t hack it in the cut and thrust of the commercial world – maybe something to try when you’re in your 50s, with a healthy pension and wanting to ‘give something back’.

On the other side, NGOs see the people who work in business as tainted by greed with no concern for any ideas beyond profit – willing to cut corners and exploit people.

There hasn’t been a lot of middle ground.

But that can change. Business has a social role and benefit. And I don’t think I’m being naïve if I say that capitalism works better if there is a triple bottom line of profit, people and planet.

I’m not talking about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds or T-shirts for the local football team. These may be nice and do some good but in many cases they are not more than window dressing. I’m talking about successful businesses contributing to successful societies.

Pope John Paul II once told bankers, “The purpose of a business firm is not simply to make a profit, but is to be found in its very existence as a community of persons who in various ways are endeavouring to satisfy their basic needs, and who form a particular group at the service of the whole of society.”

And this sort of purpose and possibility of success is being recognised by the world's governments and the United Nations, which want business to play a key role in formulating the post-2015 global development goals.

The High-Level Panel looking at what development might be like from 2015-30, was chaired by the leaders of Indonesia, Liberia and the UK. They consulted with 250 companies in 30 nations as part of their research.

And this is what they said in their report released in May: “Businesses spoke of their potential contribution… Not just providing good and decent jobs and growth, but delivering essential services and helping billions of people access clean and sustainable energy and adapt to climate change.” What could business look like if it is serving the whole community, providing quality goods or services, employing people and making a profit?

It would be:

More female, allowing women access to credit to set up businesses (a current barrier in many developing nations).

More environmentally sustainable, seeing the opportunities that ‘green’ growth provides and recognising that we need to pass on a healthy planet to our grandchildren.

More transparent in its governance because corrupt practices and business ‘shortcuts’ are anathema to God, and rob nations (that’s us!)

More willing to be philanthropic because generous contributions to the common good are a reflection of God’s generosity to us.

I know quite a few gifted business people who see business as their calling. I pray that they can be successful in every way so they contribute to the well-being of us all.

P.S. There is a great practical toolkit for small and medium sized business owners and managers (and anyone who is thinking of going into business) on Godly ethics in financial practice, produced for the EXPOSED campaign. You can download it here

Article by: Amanda Jackson, Micah Challenge