Thursday, February 28, 2008

In Praise of Unreasonable People

A Book Review from Ode Magazine, March, 2008

John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan's new book, "The Power of Unreasonable People."

Spot the similarities. The Childline India Foundation offers a free hotline for the countless street kids of Mumbai, India. Sekem, a cluster of Egyptian companies that produce organic food and medicines, among other things, reported joint profits of $1.7 million in 2005. These initiatives appear to have little in common. The first is a charity run by volunteers and funded with donations; the second, a financially strong, profitable business that operates on the world market. Yet both fall into the category of “social entrepreneurship,” a broad term that encompasses organizations that offer goods and services­ of benefit to society.

Both Childline and Sekem (which reinvests its profits­ in the companies as well as in services for local communities) are described in The Power of Unreasonable People (Harvard Business School Press, 2008) by John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan, a chronicle of this emerging blend of activism and entrepreneurship.

It’s a fascinating look at the achievements, challenges and limitations of a relatively new field both authors know quite well. Elkington was one of the first and most prominent corporate sustainability advisers, while Hartigan is the managing director of Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, which has been active for 10 years selecting and supporting the most effective social enterprises.

The book’s title refers to an aphorism by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” In that context, the social entrepreneurs portrayed in the book are clearly unreasonable. They are unreasonable because they want to change the system, because they are insanely ambitious, because they aren’t guided by reason but emotion, because they think they know what the future will bring, because they will not listen to “no.” And that’s precisely why they’re so successful.

Elkington and Hartigan’s book offers an image of social entrepreneurs that is at times lyrical, then sobering. They can’t shower enough praise on the non-profits for their idealism, but claim the greatest impact comes from combining forces—at the very least—with the commercial sector. The authors believe the ideas that can be carried out and repeated on a large scale come from social enterprises that are allowed to make a profit. This explains the recent expansion of the Indian telephone support line to include the organization Aflatoun, which teaches children about their rights and how to handle money. The alliance with banks is meant to ensure that this strong model can stand on its own financially.

Surely such an approach would meet with the approval of Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Bengali microcredit institution Grameen Bank and winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. In his new book, Creating a World Without Poverty (Public Affairs, 2008), Yunus dreams of companies that come up with profitable products or services that address social problems—and use the profits to combat those problems elsewhere. His vision includes an economy in which social value is as highly regarded as financial value. He also sketches the contours of a social stock exchange­ and a Social Wall Street Journal.

Yunus’ book refers to the recent collaboration between Grameen Bank and the French food giant Danone. Women can take out a small loan from the bank and use the funds to buy containers of vitamin-rich yogurt from the factory, which they then sell door-to-door or on the street. When the women repay their loans, the factory reinvests the profits to build new plants elsewhere in the country.

Yunus’ enthusiasm is infectious, and the thoroughness with which Elkington and Hartigan have researched the field makes for a hopeful perspective of capitalism with a human face—the faces of lots of unreasonable people.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Zentrepreneurism Now in Paperback


The world of service coupled with entrepreneurial success has been building for the past thirty years. Only now has it begun to explode with great strides and creativity. We seek a life where our families, businesses, and our efforts merge into a single harmonious whole-and where we measure our success in more ways than just the balance of our bank accounts.

This book can bring back the values in our lives that often get lost in the quest for success. One does not have to be a Buddhist to benefit, as the success stories within will testify to, but should simply be open to trying a powerful, compassionate, new way of doing things in the business world.

Instead of the greedy, short-sighted business mentality of the past, we can move into areas that will improve the lives of many others beyond, but still including, ourselves. With the ever-increasing value of service on the rise, one can actually achieve larger success in many cases, than if generosity and service were not creatively employed.

What people are saying;

“ We have a situation where we don’t trust our government or our capitalist system. The level of distrust right now is probably unparalleled since the 1930’s”- Charles Lewis, Founder, Centre for Public Integrity.

"People are expecting more from the companies they're working for, more from the companies they're doing business with, and more from the companies they're buying from”, - Sydney Finkelstein, professor of strategy and leadership, Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business

“Allan Holender has looked unflinchingly at the dark and
self-destructive aspects of our business culture that most commentators
ignore or deny. Zentrepeneurism, the profound but practical
philosophy that he dramatically outlines in this book builds upon
capitalism's most powerful assets while infusing it with a higher
purpose. It is more than a new business model. It is an inspiring new
value system for business leaders, a guidepost for the 21st Century.”-Robert L. FitzPatrick, Business analyst and author of the book, False

"Allan Holender reveals the valueless and destructive tendencies of
contemporary business while remaining passionately and optimistically
committed to the possibility of a better future."-Joel Bakan, author The Corporation


For more on the growth of the Zentrepreneurism movement go to

Friday, February 15, 2008


Contributed by David Servan-Schreiber | January/February 2008 issue of Ode Magazine

When I was 15, a church sermon left its mark on me. The priest began with the question, “Where should we seek God?” Years later, I found my own answer. I believe what for centuries has been called “finding God” means finding meaning in our lives. A new perspective has emerged from neuroscience in the past 20 years. What gives life its richness does not come from reason and intellect. It comes instead from a well-balanced emotional brain, that deepest and most archaic part of the nervous system. And what does a balanced emotional brain need? Above all, strong connections, full relationships. These can be found in four areas of our lives.

Our physical existence: If we don’t allow ourselves to taste, smell, touch, listen and look while concentrating on the present moment, we are not connected to our bodies. Yoga, an ancient source of wisdom, is first and foremost an education in connecting to our physical beings. Exercise, too—which engages our attention, our agility, our strength and builds endurance in our cells—is another means of connecting. As we grow aware of our bodies’ reactions to the world, we are connected to the roots of our emotions.

Intimacy: The emotional brain is connected to the body, but it is also designed to regulate our emotional relationships. Naturally, love is an effective way of giving us meaning. When we look each other in the eyes and feel our hearts beating faster, we stop asking existential questions. All that involves us in intimate relationships anchors us firmly in our existence. We don’t question the meaning of life when we take a child by the hand on his first day at school, or when we watch our daughter singing in a choir. All those to whom we feel close connect us to life and give it meaning.

The community: I had a 30-year-old patient whose life expectancy was limited to a few months by cancer. He was no longer working as an electrician and spent his time moping in front of the television, in anguish at his approaching death. I saw him once a week and we talked about his fear and what his life had been like. He ended up volunteering his time to repair the air-conditioning system in his local church. He spent several hours at the church almost every day. People greeted him by name when they met him in the corridors. When he was working on the roof, they waved to him, and brought him food and drink. In a few weeks, even though his health was getting worse, his anxiety abated. All it took, in the end, was to feel useful and appreciated.

Spirituality: It is possible to feel connected to a dimension beyond the body. For some, the greatest source of meaning is the sense of being in the presence of something much greater. We often feel this simply when we are face to face with nature, or in certain places that remind us how insignificant we are in the universe. Strangely, it is at the precise moments when we experience how small we are that life itself seems to fill with meaning—and so do we.


David Servan-Schreiber is a psychiatry professor in France and the U.S., and author of Healing without Freud or Prozac.


Lost in the clutter of the American presidential election, and the Obama love affair, is some important developments along the lines of human conciousness raising.

Of course it took an American Queen to bring it into mainstream America. When Oprah talks, everyone listens, when Oprah annoints, the masses worship. Oprah, for better this time, has annointed a local spiritual author, Eckart Tolle. Reminds me of the old EF Hutton brokerage firm commercial, "When EF Hutton talks ,everyone listens". This is symbolic on two fronts.

One, this is America's wake up call. As I have said in my book, America has lost it's soul and is desperate for anything or anyone that can fill the void, left by a President the likes of which has defied logic in every humanly way possible; from an unjustified war based on lies and deceit to his failures in New Orleans. He will go down in history as the worst President ever. When Bill Mahr, the comedian was asked how he would rank Bush in terms of 13 Presidents before him, he said, 14th. But the big picture in America is all about honesty and integrity. No one knows what or who to believe anymore, whether its' sports heroes like Roger Clements or business leaders like Lee R. Raymond at Exxon Mobil, Richard D. Parsons at Time Warner or Ivan G. Seidenberg at Verizon.

Maurice R. Greenberg of the American International Group, for example. (A.I.G. paid $126 millio to settle federal investigations into whether it helped other companies to inflate their earnings. Then there is Franklin D. Raines of Fannie Mae, forced to resign amid allegations that Fannie had fudged its books, and Henry A. McKinnell Jr. at Pfizer, under fire for keeping the drug Celebrex on the market despite research linking it to increased risks of heart attack and stroke.) . When he joked that it was good to be king, Mel Brooks couldn't have imagined how good some corporate kings have it. Consider Charles K. Gifford.

Mr. Gifford (Chad to his friends) spent almost four decades at what was Fleet Financial, the last two years as C.E.O. Luckily for him, he was in the corner office when Bank of America bought Fleet in 2003.

That opened the taps on executive benefits that go beyond mere cash, though there is plenty of that: a bonus of as much as $8.6 million and $3.1 million a year for life. Mr. Gifford, now 62, also gets a host of perks, like free use of the corporate jet and the option to buy tickets for 15 Red Sox games from the bank, which has season tickets. That may seem plenty, compared with the severance of two or three months' pay for the 12,500 others who lost their jobs in the merger.

So are the American people ready to hear about the message of climbing the consciousness ladder rather than the corporate ladder. Well judging by the new TV Shows; "Cashmere Mafia" and "Lipstick Jungle" there is still a struggle going on between the two. Will enlightenment ever be viewed as profitable by the media giants?

And then there is "Eli Stone" on ABC , the story of a corporate lawyer who keeps hearing voices from above with messages, that he has a mission and it's not about greed and the pursuit of the American dream, it's about the pursuit of compassion, purpose and service.

His boss and potential father-in-law who is head of the firm, thinks differently. And so you have the battle between a toxic learned pattern of behaviour and a new way of thinking. The timing of Eckart Tolle's re-awakening with Oprah and a "New Earth", also means that the stars are aligned for a "NEW WORLD OF BUSINESS", meaning the timing of the release of "Zentrepreneurism"
to the American public is no accident.

Let the Zenning begin!

Thursday, February 07, 2008


By Contributing Writer Amy Domini,

Last year, when Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize, millions of people around the world learned of the miracles that banks serving the poor could deliver. It was a well-deserved honour for Yunus, and a great reminder of what microloans and other slight tweaks to “business as usual” can mean to hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised people. Yunus’ Grameen Bank is a marvelous example of the potential of community lending, the third leg of the stool for socially responsible investing. (The others are setting standards for what shares we will buy and entering into dialogue with companies we own.) For large populations around the globe, “the triumph of capitalism” has meant no improvement to personal well-being. Even in wealthy nations, large pockets of poverty are scattered throughout crowded and crumbling inner cities and hard-hit agricultural areas. Around the globe, many people are able and willing to work, but have little opportunity.

Access to capital is an essential component of building healthy communities. But capital is not always available to the poor. Banks are driven by the desire to be ever more profitable. Since a $600 loan and a $6 million loan take about as much effort from the bank, and have a vastly different impact on the bottom line, the bank opts for eliminating smaller customers.

In addition, poor people seeking a loan often appear suspicious or quirky to bankers. For example, let’s look at the case of a mobile-home park where an old couple running the operation wants to retire by selling the land. Between them, the owners of these mobile homes may have enough income to buy the land with a loan to be paid back over a reasonable period of time. But banks don’t lend to new co-operative ventures. They lend to a person or a corporation with good credit. Since no single person living in the mobile-home park can guarantee the payments, there can be no loan. Community-oriented financial institutions have come about as an answer to this problem. Such institutions may be a bank (or a bank branch) dedicated to making loans that boost the community and alleviate poverty. It may be a credit union, created perhaps by a church or community group, that loans money only to its own members and only for the purpose of building healthier neighbourhoods. It may even be a non-profit group, set up to borrow from caring people and lend to those in need.

Support for these kinds of community-development financial institutions is one of the ways sustainable or socially responsible investing can be approached. At Domini Social Investments, we have a fund that purchases bonds, backing up community institutions that make microcredit loans globally; we purchase insured deposits that support poor populations; we even use activist tools to help the community-development world.

Community-development loans have an important place in socially responsible investment portfolios, allowing investors to participate directly in relieving poverty and—unlike philanthropy—enabling them to keep their money even after using it this way. Most important, such loans offer evidence that finance can be used to alleviate poverty and create universal human dignity. Nowhere is the connection stronger than it is when investors support these grassroots lending organizations, be they microcredit institutions like Grameen Bank in Bangladesh or community-building groups like Latino Community Credit Union or the Self Help Credit Union, both in North Carolina.

Amy Domini is the founder and CEO of Domini Social Investments, and author of several books on ethical investing