Stakeholder engagement drivers – Part 5: altruism

In earlier blogs in this series we looked at self-interest and enlightened self-interest as sustainability and stakeholder engagement drivers. This post explores altruism as a driver.

It seems natural that business leaders who prosper seek ways to give back to the community. The survival imperative driving the earlier days of their careers may have prompted self-interested behaviours. As survival needs are met we move up the needs hierarchy. Maslow talked about self-actualisation – is altruism a manifestation of self-actualisation? Anthony Robbins includes contribution as one of six human needs.

We all have a deep need to go beyond ourselves and to live a life that serves the greater good.  It is in the moments that we do this that we experience true joy and fulfillment.  (Anthony Robbins from Personal Power II)

Altruistic enterprises come in various guises. They include:

  • philanthropic ventures initiated by the wealthy
  • not-for-profit organisations
  • profit generating organisations with an altruistic mission
  • social business.

Philanthropic ventures

Successful business leaders such as Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Warren Buffet have given millions. Bill Gates has set up the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “dedicated to bringing innovations in health, development, and learning to the global community”. As these ventures typically target the disadvantaged, dealing with social issues, they are sustainable in intention.

Not-for-profit organisations

These are the most numerous of the “altruistic” sector. Many are strongly aligned with environmental or social sustainability issues. Most have strong survival instincts and devote significant effort to self-interest.

Profit generating organisations with an altruistic mission

Along with social businesses, these organisations have emerged relatively recently and have a clear sustainability agenda. The Grameen family of businesses established by Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus is a clear example. Founded in 1983 the Grameen Bank now has over 8 million members. The mission of the bank is “to eradicate poverty”. The bank spawned several other innovative enterprises that raise the quality of life and well-being for the people of Bangladesh.  Muhummad Yunus’s letter to members, on the eve of his forced departure from the bank, beautifully summarises the Grameen story. This video about Grameen Shakti illustrates the multiple benefits generated by a brilliant altruistic business.

Social Businesses

Grameen Danone was launched in 2006. This social business was inspired by Muhummad Yunus and is a partnership between Gameen and the French company Danone. It stands alongside Danone’s for-profit businesses as a “no loss, no dividend” company. Any profits are returned to grow the business. Social businesses exist to deliver social good. Grameen Danone produces nutrient fortified yoghurt at a very low price to relieve malnutrition in Bangladesh. Muhummad Yunus also drove an environmental agenda, asking Danone to produce a biodegradable, and then edible yoghurt container! Several other social businesses have followed. Here is Muhammad Yunus explaining the social business concept.

The recent development of organisations such as the Grameen Bank and Grameen Danone are, I believe, indicative of a shift in human consciousness to a more empathetic business model that looks beyond self-interest and recognises our interdependence. These are the early days – it is exciting to imagine what will emerge as more businesses learn to transcend the drivers of self-interest. Tell us about where you have seen these businesses emerging.

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