Walden Gathering: Conscious Capitalism

The Power of Cooperative Capitalism

 
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What we act on today will determine the world we will live in tomorrow.

 

Most people realize that we're living in a time of incredible economic opportunity. More wealth is being created today than in any other time in human history. That’s the miracle of modern capitalism and voluntary exchange.

It’s vitally important, however, to ensure that economic opportunity exists for everyone -- not merely society’s leaders. When inequality becomes both severe and entrenched, it limits economic mobility, lowers social cohesion and creates political instability.

So how do we reap the benefits of capitalism while ensuring that everyone has access to opportunity? It’s a difficult question without an easy solution -- but one of the most promising approaches is "Conscious Capitalism."


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Why Gather?

 

Our choices today build the world we’ll inherit tomorrow

Conscious capitalism is a way of thinking about capitalism and business that better reflects where we are in the human journey, the state of our world today, and the innate potential of business to make a positive impact on the world. Conscious businesses are galvanized by higher purposes that serve, align, and integrate the interests of all their major stakeholders.

THE WALDEN GATHERING FOCUSED ON:

Working towards a higher purpose

Stakeholder Orientation

Leadership

Community & Culture

 
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Working Together

Conscious Capitalism can be simply defined as business guided by a higher purpose. While making a profit is an imperative, it isn’t necessarily the animating principle. Instead, profits are a means to a higher and more noble end.

Few organizations embody these ideas more than Conscious Capitalism.Org, an organization dedicated to popularizing the principles of business for a higher purpose.

Walden Gathering has partnered with Conscious Capitalism.Org in an effort to build on the synergies we share.

“We believe that business is good because it creates value, it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange, it is noble because it can elevate our existence, and it is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity. Free enterprise capitalism is the most powerful system for social cooperation and human progress ever conceived. It is one of the most compelling ideas we humans have ever had. But we can aspire to even more.”
— The Conscious Capitalism Credo

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Walking Discussions

We started the day with a rigorous networking hike around the Walden property. A steady uphill climb among the leafy coastal oaks, let us breathe and introduce ourselves in a relaxed style as 20 individuals from diverse backgrounds and fields joined the discussions.

 

setting the tone through INTRODUCTIONS

What are you going to make happen in 2019?

 
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Scaling purpose focused businesses

Work with the UN to solve global issues.

Give people a new way to see money as a mechanism towards a purpose focused life

Create a book and tool-kit for companies to scale their focus on purpose, and make it stick!

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Focus on my dream, not the dollar.

Use my children to guide my focus on purpose.

Be generous with myself and ask in return for giving.

Find new communities - learn, engage, share.

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Drive companies to find their “why” mission

Scale a support system for purpose driven businesses.

Advocate for KPIs other than financial returns.

Think of ways to leverage the idea that data is the new oil and China is the new Saudi Arabia.

 

Gathering Discussions

Following the morning hike a farm to table breakfast was served; providing Nick Jekogian with the opportunity to introduce the philosophies behind Walden Gathering.

“We use a design-thinking format around the table, walking discussions on nature trails, and guided meditation to inspire the group to solve big problems. Instead of the hyper-intense networking of your typical conference, participants spend the entire day outside with a carefully curated small and diverse group of people.”

After the Gathering intro, members presented current issues, focused on:

  • Systematic Problems in Capitalism

  • Using Nature as a Catalyst to Change

  • Creating Community to Create Change

During these discussions, participants break up into groups to increase contributions and engagement. Topics are addressed, opinions are shared and summaries are presented to all.


Key Themes

 
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Can Capitalism Fix The Problems It Has Created?

 

Key Takeaways from Discussions

How do we evolve capitalism?

Redefine Value, incentives & the foundations of business

Measure what matters

Increase transparency, accountability and communication

Stakeholder not shareholder

Stewardship not ownership

Increase access to positivity

Opening paradigms for kids

Mentorship / Leadership / Role models

Be the leader

 

The Benefits of Conscious Capitalism

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The idea behind Conscious Capitalism is simple: Instead of being purely motivated by profit, businesses aim to serve the interests of all stakeholders: Their customers, communities, the environment, employees, suppliers and investors.

In a landscape where maximizing shareholder value has become a paramount objective, it's natural to voice some skepticism about the concept of corporations focusing on the common good rather than the bottom line. The truth, however, is that it's possible to do both.

So does it work? The answer to that is a resounding "yes," according to the best-selling book "Conscious Capitalism," written by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and Rajendra Sisdodia.

Mackey and Sisdodia offer research that claims that brands following the principles of "Conscious Capitalism" outperformed the S&P 500 by a factor of ten over a decade-long study. Additionally, these same brands were able to develop deeper trust among consumers, higher employee engagement, lower turnover and a better understanding of their audiences and markets.

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So what does Conscious Capitalism look like in action? The outdoor goods firm Patagonia drew plaudits from environmentalists after taking a firm stance against the Trump Administration's plans to reduce the size of two national monuments by two million acres, potentially opening the land for drilling.

The Container Store has drawn praise for paying each full-time employee a minimum of $50,000 in annual salary, one example of a trend toward paying workers a livable wage. Tom's Shoes, meanwhile, announced they would donate a free pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair the company sold.

 

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Nature As Inspiration

 

Key Takeaways from Discussions

Research proves that our brains work best when in Nature. Solutions come when we exit our comfort zones and look outside the norm.

Immersing ourselves in nature can help us gain the right perspective. Seeing the awe-inspiring beauty of the wild diminished by pollution or misguided development reminds us how precious -- and precarious - nature is.

Nature needs to stay in balance - if business just focuses on profit it will be out of balance.

Nature is an education of synergy / abundance.

Question - Have anyone ever heard a Hummingbird complain? Nature is a facilitator, nature creates flow - Don’t complain, evolve.

 
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While capitalism has been a gift to humanity, making us immeasurably richer in so many respects, it’s critically important to maintain the proper perspective. Capitalism that isn’t guided by higher principles can lead to devastating consequences, including the despoiling of the environment.

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Community Building

Key Takeaways from Discussions

Scanning for affinity groups - don’t reinvent the wheel

Share vision & purpose

Include all relevant perspectives. IE : A self sustaining community needs adequate capital, time, expertise, etc.

Define community’s purpose - Boundaries, expectations, similarities, goals

Make commitments - Give & take, create & preserve, evolve, constitution timeline

Diversity of perspectives & constitution - Variety of stakeholders, age, background goals - Beginner knowledge vs expertise

Incentives at stake

Facilitation - Empathy, leadership, time management , structure

 

Looking At The Bigger Picture

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While these examples show the power of purpose-based capitalism in isolation, the benefits would be far more profound if we saw a broader societal shift toward Conscious Capitalism.

One person who has been thinking deeply about this issue is Mohammed Yunus, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and social entrepreneur who pioneered the concept of the microloan.

Yunus believes modern capitalism is in crisis, as it is a machine designed for the ruthless and efficient transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top. Wealth acts as a magnet -- the more you accrue, the easier it becomes to gain.

Additionally, Yunus believes, pure capitalism is in fundamental conflict with human nature. He maintains we are not largely motivated by profit or self-interest; instead, we are a mix of selfish and selfless. We want to prosper, but not when it causes serious hardship to the greater whole.

Conscious Capitalism threads this needle by allowing enterprises to solve people's problems with market-based solutions that recoup costs and and allow for the recycling of money. Many businesses built around the concept of purposeful capitalism are specifically designed to address a societal problem: Bringing clean, safe water to villages or improving education or health care in resource-deprived areas.

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Social businesses like these, harness the natural entrepreneurial spirit of human beings, then point those energies in a direction where it can deliver real societal good, often in places where the government -- or existing, profit-focused businesses -- have failed to do so.

Larger firms are spinning off new, standalone social businesses. Fore example, McCain Foods, one of the world's largest potato product producers is developing new social businesses designed to help potato farmers improve their yields while also hiring young people struggling with unemployment.

While Conscious Capitalism is still a small movement, relatively speaking, proponents such as Yunus and today’s attendees believe that its success is vitally important -- not just to local economies, but to the ultimate fate of human society.

We must be aware of the troubles presented by capitalism and its byproduct of wealth inequality. If the needs of our communities, environment and individuals as a whole are not better addressed it is likely that wealth inequality will be the focal point of anger and distrust, leading to disorder on such a scale that "it will destroy" our politics and our society.

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We live in the most promising and difficult times - take any problem in the world and you can solve anything by finding the right people to sit at the table.

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Gathering Actions & Solutions

 

A Skeptical Eye

Using the power of capitalism for good rather than ill is a position most people would probably cheer. Yet the idea of Conscious Capitalism shouldn't be free from examination.

Some observers have noted that businesses may be adopting a pro-social posture in an effort to be perceived as part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. Their commitment to the idea of social entrepreneurship is shallow, and PR-focused.

It's fair to ask tough questions:

Are all companies truly committed to the ideas that define Conscious Capitalism -- or are they using the concept as a fig leaf to disguise other behavior that causes harm?

Is Conscious Capitalism being used to shift government responsibilities onto the private sector in a socially-acceptable manner?

Is philanthropy merely a band-aid -- rather than the stiff medicine -- needed to treat the chronic illness of wealth inequality?

Is the "businessman as savior" archetype ultimately harmful to society?

These questions are all reasonable. If we're going to expect Conscious Capitalism to have the kind of profound, broad-based impact necessary to have a significant effect on wealth inequality, it will need to survive in the purer form advocated by people like Mohammed Yunus and all of our attendees.

 

WALDEN GATHERINGS ARE NOT JUST FOCUSED ON TALKING ABOUT SOLUTIONS, BUT PUTTING SOLUTIONS INTO ACTION.

While ideas are shared throughout the day, we gather to create change.

In order to improve the world around us, we must not only speak about the issues at hand, but work towards solutions. The point of the discussions is to establish the framework for identifying and understanding the problems.

What follows, is most important.

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How can we improve the current state of capitalism?

What can we do today?

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Develop a Mentorship Program for Leaders

The group at the end of the day was most passionate about the establishment of programs to share the importance of working with purpose, with the goal of increasing the amount of “stakeholders” within our communities.


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3 Keys

Participant Perspective - Nick Jekogian - Founder & Moderator

Three keys!

Not one, not two, but three keys, the women said, will give us the protection we need to ensure that food is properly distributed to our village.

These three keys ultimately became the solution to one of the largest and most successful social missions on hunger.

This story, shared by Josette(TED Talk linked below), helped illustrate something for all of us.

Big problems, really big problems, are all solvable if the right people have a voice at the table.

This was a big lesson for me as we closed out the first year of our Walden Gathering series. For the past 10 months, we’ve hosted very diverse groups of 20 passionate people coming together to discuss and create actionable solutions. This past week was no different; not only did we find a solution to conscious capitalism to run with, but we also planted a seed -- an idea to build upon for next year’s gatherings.

Here’s the key: Instead of viewing problems as a solitary activity with no easy solution, we should view them as a puzzle -- one that needs multiple people and perspectives to see the angles and put the solutions in place.

Diversity has always been a prerogative for Walden Gathering, and we have capital providers, social entrepreneurs, artists, doers, and even regulators at the table.Yet I have to admit we’ve never focused on ensuring that all the stakeholders had a seat at the table. This is a great lesson to take away for next year’s plan, and one that I think inspired the gatherers towards their ultimate goal of creating a mentoring platform for CEOs and other managers to help better connect them with stakeholders.

Reverse mentoring, personal satisfaction and user feedback are words that came up in the problem solving sessions. Changing the paradigm from making money to doing the right thing was an underlying tone of the day.

The mentoring platform is such an amazing, effortless way to get in touch with others to help them with problems that need a different perspective, while also gaining something in return.

Perhaps it’s just the feeling that you helped someone, or that you solved a problem. Maybe it’s the empathy you discover that helps you deal with some of your own problems, after a phone call or in person meeting that unlocks a world you’d never looked at.

Mentoring for CEOs can bridge the gap between purely making profits and consciously making the world a better place. Sometimes all it takes is “three keys” to unlock the solution, but the holders of those keys may not be the people we are surrounded by.

So to modify Margret Mead’s advice:Never underestimate the power of the RIGHT small, passionate group to solve the world’s problems. It’s the only way it’s ever been done.

I’m looking forward to seeing the latest Walden Gathering actionable solution rolled out through the idea of Conscious Capitalism, encouraging others to make a difference in the world.

Come join us next year, as we focus on bringing the right passionate problem solvers to our table under the old oak tree, in order to bring actionable solutions to the problems that matter.


Team

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We aim to bring together passionate individuals, groups and organizations to gather, learn and collaborate in small groups on how best to contribute and invest their time, talent and resources to innovative solutions -- and then take them back into the world.   We see everyone who joins as an equal expert at the table because we believe in the wisdom of the crowd to find solutions.
 

Chris Mion | Brandon Peele | Grant Hunter Joanne Fedeyko | Steven Siegal| Alexander McCobin Stephanie Staidle | Katya Akudovich
Megan Lathorp | David Brown | Rosaebl Tao | Josette Sheeran | Zak Freedman | Nick Jekogian


Follow up & Recommended Reading

Future Search - Marvin WeisbordSandra Janoff

Factfulness - Hans Roslings

21 Lessons for the 21st Century - Yuval Noah Harari

Planet on Purpose - Brandon Peele

Necessary Endings - Dr. Henry Cloud

Three Stages of Global Movement Building: Soil, Seed, & Eco-system Activation - Otto Scharmer


Josette Sheeran, the head of the UN's World Food Program, talks about why, in a world with enough food for everyone, people still go hungry, still die of starvation, still use food as a weapon of war. Her vision: "Food is one issue that cannot be solved person by person.

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