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How profits can fuel the flight of development

Inclusion can neither be sustainable nor transforming if it is driven as mere philanthropy or charity by influential agents of the economic order

Representational image: Our sole dependency on public welfare schemes has not ended people’s miseries so far. This means, something must change. (Unsplash)

Sometimes, it is the audacity of hope that makes stories so unfathomable. But we love stories. And the stories of a ‘better world’ are enshrined most deeply in our hearts along with our systems—academia, government, businesses, political manifestos, non-profits. The caution, here, is to not let our love for stories make us blind and take us away from the truth. Because the truth is not just ugly, but also scary.

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Our dominant narratives are based on ‘equality’, when we are living in perhaps the most unequal of times in the history of civilization. Our climate is changing much faster than our collaborative response to it. And despite all our advancements in space and technology, we are yet to solve very basic problems of hunger, healthcare, education, and many others.

Of course, we do not hesitate participating in occasional armchair activism on these issues, but the fact is that our lovely stories are losing the plot. Maybe, the deadweight of the truth is exposing our collective hypocrisies. On top of this, the pandemic has further aggravated most of these seemingly impossible issues of inequality, ruthlessly. But I choose to look at narratives not as a victim but as a futurist.

In my new book, For the Greater Common Good, I have explored some of the alternates that carry the possibilities of liberating hope that’s colonized in our world. The book talks about our notions of all that happens in the name of development and its many variables. Development is complex in its interdependence, interconnections and intersections with everything else. Yet, it is mostly seen as somebody else’s responsibility. As a matter of fact, all the problems that are part of our existential frame need resources that lie with the private sector.

For the Greater Common Good: On the Business of Development by Akanksha Sharma, Bloomsbury India, 288 pages,  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>799
For the Greater Common Good: On the Business of Development by Akanksha Sharma, Bloomsbury India, 288 pages, 799

Before I get judged, I must make it clear that I am a big advocate of profits. It is profits that can promise prosperity to the people. Without capital, it is impossible to fuel the flight of development. Of course, we need coherent policies, too, that don’t consider people as an abstract idea.

The truth is we have not yet figured out a solid collaborative socio-economic order that can thread the needle of our utopian ideas of a ‘better world’. Indeed, this calls for rebooting our imaginations with urgency and explore ways to embrace the multiplicity of many worlds, many perspectives, many ideas and many stories. We need to reinvent capitalism with plural possibilities for the greater common good to solve a myriad burning problems, from poverty to pollution to public services.

Nothing interests me more than the multiple relationships of people, policies and profits. There is unfortunately not much serious discourse on the complexities of this important subject that impacts our worldview on an array of issues—economy, social justice, global affairs, policies and politics. In my book, I have attempted to spot solutions at the centre of this triangle to build the blueprint for a better world.

In the present global economic order, more than one third of the 100 largest economic actors account for private companies and not countries. In such a scenario, bridging inequalities between the poor, disadvantaged, and unaware sections of the society with the endowed ones can be done only through inclusion. But inclusion can neither be sustainable nor transforming if it is driven as mere philanthropy or charity by the advantaged and influential agents of the economic order.

Author Akanksha Sharma.
Author Akanksha Sharma.

Our sole dependency on public welfare schemes has not ended people’s miseries so far. This means, something must change. The appropriation of the inequality narrative by existing socio-economic contributors in some way translated into measures of power negotiation. But the locus needs to be brought back to development, not just in our speeches, arguments and social media posts, but also in our structural forces to address poverty and income inequalities.

In some ways, the institutionalization of sustainable development for achieving equality has brought some interesting perspectives. In the process, evidently there are conflicting goals and contradictory pathways of development, calling for negotiation of not just resources, power, priorities but also of purposes. The Environment, Social and Governance (ESG)-led innovations in the financial sector promise unbound possibilities and great social returns. We need a people’s economy, led by innovations dismantling the age-old narrative that invests in social and environmental causes as charity and not business. We need stronger ways to build optimism in sustainable innovations for futuristic capitalism.

In thinking of inequality, our central normative ideas revolve around poverty instead of innovation-led social justice to reduce discrimination. Functionally, we are yet to explore better to drive impact through our socio-economic models of capitalism. Also, the social sector, which is the playing field of these policies and resources, is still a scattered and dispersed space and constitutes multiple variables, participants and parameters. Furthermore, most of the rudiments of the social sector are usually placed outside the confines of business and market economy, owing to which they lack both structure and resources. Because of this, achieving scale and generating impact is a major challenge for the sector.

We need a people’s economy, led by innovations dismantling the age-old narrative that invests in social and environmental causes as charity and not business

Social Stock Exchanges (SSEs) can be one such sealing centriole of the social sector. The social organisations are usually funded by grants by philanthropy, corporate social responsibility, government aid, or multilateral organisations. SSEs allowing the listing of non-profits on stock exchanges will be a big leap forward to provide social organisations augment more resources. But we need many such innovations coupled with coherent actions.

Perhaps, none of these are fool-proof vehicles, celebrating the idea of a ‘better world’. Maybe, there is none. But these alternatives stretch above our pessimistic views for a shared future and give us reasons to sustain faith—faith to confront our disillusionment with the truth and look at it in an alternate way for the greater common good.

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