Episode #146 Re-imagining our Relationship with Profit: Envisioning a genuinely sustainable future in a not-for-profit world with Jennifer Hinton
We live in a world run by profiteers: the rush to make money destroys people and planet with equal disregard. But how would the world look if all businesses existed to promote wellbeing in all its forms? How could we make this work? Re-imagining our relationship to profit with Dr Jennifer Hinton of Lund University.
Dr. Jennifer Hinton is a systems researcher and activist in the field of sustainable economy. Her work focuses on how societies relate to profit and how this relationship affects global sustainability challenges. Her relationship-to-profit theory uses systems thinking and institutional economics to explain how key aspects of business and markets drive social and ecological sustainability outcomes. She started developing this theory in the book How on Earth, which outlines a conceptual model of a not-for-profit market economy – the Not-for-Profit World model. She holds a double PhD in Economics and Sustainability Science. As an activist, she collaborates with civil society organizations, businesses, and policy makers to transform the economy so that it can work for everyone within the ecological limits of the planet. She is a researcher at Lund University and a senior research fellow at the Schumacher Institute.
In this episode, we explore the nature of the various Growth vs Degrowth/postgrowth paradigms and how the shift to not-for-profit businesses worldwide could signal a shift to the end of profiteering and a change in the focus of humanity. If we’re not simply driving for more profit for shareholders and bigger bonuses for the C-suite, then what can we be for? Can businesses pivot to a world where they actually exist to further the welfare of people and planet? What would that look like and how would it work?
This is one of the keys to a flourishing future. If businesses continue to push for sales growth/profits growth at all costs, then we’re finished. If they can begin to turn the extraordinary creativity that has seen their profits soar, to something worthwhile…then anything is possible.
Envisioning a not for profit future
Jennifer on LinkedIn
Paper: Fit for Purpose
Paper: A Not for Profit Economy for a Regenerative Sustainable World
Paper: Five Key Dimensions of Post Growth Business: Putting the Pieces Together
Paper: Relationship to Profit A Theory of Business Markets and Profit for Social Ecological Economics
Book: How on Earth: Flourishing in a Not for Profit World
Jennifer on Twitter
Book: Tim Jackson Prosperity without Growth
Patagonia going Not For Profit
Manda: Hey, people. Welcome to Accidental Gods. To the podcast where we believe that another world is still possible and that together we can make it happen. I’m Manda Scott, your host at this place on the web where art meets activism, politics meets philosophy and science meets spirituality; all in the service of conscious evolution and increasingly in the service of finding a way through to a future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that come after us. And always, when we have these conversations, the question arises of how are we actually going to make this happen, whatever this is? And we all tend to be iterating towards a point where we need to change the political and economic structures within which we currently function, and we need to change them together. Because at the moment, our politicians are the wholly owned subsidiaries of the multinationals which call the tunes, or call the shots, or whatever you want to say; that define how our governance works and for whom it works. And so what we need is a vision and a pathway to a future that is substantially different to the one that we have. We need to understand what it looks like and we need to see how to get there. And as part of structuring these podcasts, I spend quite a lot of time looking for people who I think are going to have pieces of the puzzle. And my guest this week is one of those who I think has one of the biggest pieces, or one of the most comprehensive pieces, or perhaps sees the puzzle in ways that we can unpick most easily and see how to change it.
Manda: Dr. Jennifer Hinton is a research fellow at the University of Stockholm and a senior research fellow at the Schumacher Institute. Before that, she was a marie Curie PhD fellow in Stockholm. And her whole work is investigating our relationship to profit and how a not for profit model of businesses and markets could be the way forward to the sustainable future that we want. She’s also a co-director of the Post Growth Institute, and she and Donnie Maclurcan together co-wrote the book How on Earth: Flourishing in a Not for Profit World. And Donnie was part of the podcast way back in episode number 64. So Jennifer has, for me, one of the most coherent and comprehensive models of what’s wrong with what we currently have. Which, as you’ll hear, is that we’re driving for profit all of the time. And an understanding of how we can shift that into a not for profit world. We took quite a lot of economic jargon, but I think we keep it very straightforward and we start off with the definitions. So I hope that this is all completely comprehensible to all of you and that by the end of it, you see as clearly as I do, the ways forward that are doable in our current system and how we might get there and what we as individuals can do. And it’s worth pointing out that we recorded this a little bit more ahead of time than we usually would, because I will be away in retreat with the elder Dreamers when we otherwise might have been recording. Which means that we recorded two days ahead of the moment when Yvon Chouinard (I’m not sure I’m saying that right), turned Patagonia completely into a non profit company. It says in The Guardian: Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard turned his passion for rock climbing into one of the world’s most successful sportswear brands, is giving the entire company to a uniquely structured trust and non-profit, designed to pump all of the company’s profits into saving the planet. Which is exactly what Jennifer Hinton is describing in everything that you’re about to hear. And it did cross my mind to come back and rerecord everything. But mainly we would be saying ‘just like Patagonia has done’ after everything that we’re saying. So I think you’re all smart enough to put that in for yourselves. So I will put a link in the show notes to the Guardian article. I’m sure you can find one in your local press, if The Guardian isn’t that. And if every company in the world followed this lead, we would be in a very, very different place. So your job, if you have a company or are part of a company, or know anybody who’s part of a company, is to very strongly suggest that. They follow the Patagonia lead. And with all that in mind, people of the podcast, please do welcome Dr. Jennifer Hinton.
So Jennifer, welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast. Thank you for joining us on this autumnal Monday morning, it is. How are you? You’re in Sweden. Where are you exactly?
Jen: Yeah. Thanks so much for having me, Manda, first of all. And yeah, I am based in Sweden, in Stockholm, Sweden. So it’s nice and autumnal here as well.
Manda: Excellent. Thank you. And you, of course, haven’t got a monarch who has just died, rendering your entire social policy static for the next ten days.
Jen: Yeah, that’s true.
Manda: While everything is static, you and I are going to create the circumstances in which we can completely transform the whole of our business politics and economics, so that we don’t fall off the edge of a cliff within the next three years. That’s my end goal. We’re aiming as high as we can. And if you can think of a higher aim, let us know what it is.
Jen: We got this.
Manda: We have it. People haven’t necessarily got my obsession with economics, and they haven’t necessarily listened to every single one of our previous podcasts. So I would like to start by exploring some of the frameworks of the areas that we’re exploring, so that we can define for people what we’re looking at. So can we look at what growth is and why we don’t like it, and then look at the difference, if there is one, between post growth and de-growth. And if there isn’t one, let’s have a look at what they both might mean and then we can begin to look at how we might get there. Over to you…
Jen: Yeah. Those are great starting points, Manda. So when we talk about growth or economic growth, we’re talking about the growth of economic activity, typically measured in GDP or gross domestic product. We’re I think all pretty familiar with hearing that term because if you’ve ever watched news or listened to politicians, they’re kind of obsessed with growing GDP year on year. And so GDP is basically just a measure of how much stuff is produced every year in a certain place, usually a country. And so the idea is that we need to keep growing the economy, growing economic activity, which means more consumption and more production, because the idea is that that consumption and production makes us happier, makes us better off, provides more jobs and income and all this good stuff that we need. And it sounds great. I think we’ve all been steeped in this story of economic growth as good. The problem is that all of this economic activity, all of this production and consumption entails environmental impacts. So we need resources and energy to make all of this stuff; the goods and the services. I mean, even just using our laptops right now, we’re using energy, right? And they required resources to make. And at some point they’ll become waste. And so all of this has various environmental impacts. We’re all concerned about the climate crisis. There’s emissions coming from all of the production and consumption.
Jen: That’s why we need to go beyond the growth based economy. That’s the environmental reason. And now some people might protest and say, well, wait, if economic growth is doing good for people, then we need to keep it, whether or not it’s having environmental impacts. And the truth is that actually the last few decades of global economic growth, have only served to make the richest in the world richer, and the poorest people have been left in poverty. So that economic growth isn’t actually benefiting most people. It’s benefiting a small minority who don’t actually need it. Furthermore, and this is the last point I’ll make on economic growth, is that study after study shows us that economic growth, or the growth of economic activity, does bring more well-being. So better health outcomes and such; better life satisfaction to people up to a certain point. But after that point; and there’s different studies have found different points; maybe like between 30,000 and $40,000 per year per household. Some have a higher number, some have a lower number. But after that point, more economic growth doesn’t make us happier or better off. It really flattens out. And some have even found that it declines after at some point. So economic growth is not necessary. It’s hurting our environment and it’s not helping people.
Manda: I think I’d like to, before we move off it, just because I think it helps people put it into perspective. So Kuznets devised economic growth during the Second World War. It’s not been an infinite thing. The Romans might have been aiming for it, but they didn’t name it as such. And as I understand it, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, GDP measurement measures quite a lot of stuff that we would consider to be quite bad. So wars are great for GDP growth because things are being destroyed and made and bought and paid for, usually by government bonds. But we don’t care about that; the economy is moving faster during the middle of a war, if you measure it right. Drug trading and prostitution and destruction of people’s lives. Industrial agriculture is great for GDP. And I don’t think anyone listening to this podcast thinks any of those things are good. So GDP not only measures things that politicians like, which is numbers going up, they measure it in a way that is socially destructive. Is that a fair assessment?
Jen: Yes. And that’s what ecological economist Herman Daly – so he’s sort of the grandfather of ecological economics – he calls it uneconomic growth. So it’s economic growth that actually causes more harm than good.
Manda: But our politicians are so locked into it. I remember reading somebody and I think it was probably the spirit level, but I can’t remember who. They they had suggested..or maybe it was Tim Jackson and his post growth… They suggested to the British Treasury that GDP actually isn’t a useful measure and we need to stop measuring it. And the response was: we cannot go to the G20 and have our numbers less than everybody else. So it’s become a public schoolboy ‘my organ’s bigger than your organ’ I’m being polite, but we’ve got our 18 rating to keep. It’s a contest amongst basically straight white men mostly, to to show that their numbers are bigger than anybody else’s numbers. It’s not even that they think that it’s useful anymore. Is that am I being deeply unfair to them now?
Jen: I mean, it’s hard to say. I think there is an element of that sort of collective lock-in for sure. Is that we’ve all agreed to use this as a measure of progress. And so to go into like an international meeting or agreement and try to use something different, you know, how can we even do that? It’s unfathomable. I think there’s another aspect to it, that there are still a lot of mainstream economists who really believe in the value of GDP and economic growth. So, I mean, there is widespread scepticism of using GDP as it is now, but then there are some ideas about, okay, well, just change it so that we still want growth, but growth of good economic activity. And that’s where sort of a post growth or degrowth critique and ecological economics comes in and says: well, that’s not even good enough. We need to focus directly on human well-being and environmental well-being. There’s no reason to assume that economic activity is actually a good proxy for our well-being. Let’s just measure our well-being directly.
Manda: Okay. And I think it was Herman Daly who said anyone who believes in infinite growth is either a madman or an economist.
Jen: Oh, it was that Kenneth Boulding actually.
Manda: Was it? Oh I’m sorry. Okay. There you go. It’s good to have someone who really knows what they’re talking about here. So let’s have a look then at.. Take it as read now that you and I and listeners to the podcast don’t think infinite growth is a good thing, however we measure it, basically. Anything that requires constant consumption isn’t a good thing, and anything that produces constant inequality is not a good thing. So in the world that I inhabit, I remember reading Jason Hickel’s Less is More – I even still have it on my desk. How Degrowth Will Save the world. And I’ve also read Tim Jackson’s book on post growth. Are they different and what’s their premise?
Jen: Yeah, I don’t think that it’s very different. Both provide/come at this idea of a healthy economy is an economy that meets human and environmental needs. It’s not something that assumes that economic activity or money is a good proxy for human well-being. And that we’ve we’ve overreached, we’ve gone too far on a global level. You know, we have grown our economy to the extent that it’s doing far more harm than good, especially in environmental terms. So we need to scale back. And then that needs to be broken down to look at the issues of equality that you just mentioned. That some communities have been overconsuming way too much at the expense of other communities that that don’t actually have enough, right? So there’s still 800 million people today in the world who don’t have enough to eat every day. They can’t meet their nutritional needs. So that has to be part of the equation and post growth and degrowth people are all on the same page with that. Post growth is often used as an umbrella term, that sort of encompasses de-growth as one way of tackling this conundrum of getting away from the growth based system. The way that I See it, is that post growth – and the reason I was attracted to this line of inquiry and this work – is post growth is the kind of economy that we have after the growth based economy. What comes after this messed up economy that we have right now? What would a post growth economy look like? Or many different kinds of post growth economies? De-growth is more about the the transition. How do we get from where we are now, especially over consuming communities, to that post growth future? And I’ve been in conversation with Tim Parrique; he’s a good friend of mine, and he’s become one of the more well known De-growth scholars lately. And he and I both really like that way of thinking about it: that we’re in this unhealthy growth based system now; we need to use De-growth pathways to get to a post growth future.
Manda: Brilliant. Excellent. And I remember listening to Jason Hickel saying that he was often asked about doughnut economics and how did De-growth match with doughnut economics? And him saying degrowth is how we get to a doughnut economy. And the principle of a doughnut economy is that our economy, however we structure it, functions within the boundaries of providing the needs of humanity, within the ability of the living planet to sustain us all, including the living planet itself. Okay, so in my very simplistic view of the economy, governments spend money into existence, banks lend money into existence, and everybody else makes the money move around and then the governments siphon off the excess as tax. But within all of that, the people who are actually now the movers and shakers are the multinationals, or the super nationals; the businesses that are taking that money and using it. And often storing it in very large quantities because they feel they need a buffer. And they also now control the politicians. So it’s not so much government spending money into existence, as supranational companies telling individual politicians how they want them to create the money and spend it into existence. So the whole of the economic sphere is to a greater or lesser extent, impacted by markets and business. When I have conversations with ordinary people who think they know about this stuff, not ordinary people in the street, the buffer that we always hit up against is yes, but the markets. As if the markets were some kind of strange alien being that had absolute infinite power and ordinary human beings cannot possibly do anything about it. So can we begin to unpick the role of business and the markets in the structure that we currently have, and this requirement for infinite growth?
Jen: Okay. Yeah, and that’s that’s a great question, Manda. Because businesses and markets are so central to our current economy. And if we’re going to move in a post growth direction and have this de-growth transformation, we’re going to have to change business and markets. So the question is how? And I started working on this about ten years ago. I was working with a group of researchers and activists who are really passionate about moving beyond the growth based economy. And one day, one of the people on our team brought to a team meeting this example that he had bumped into in his life in Australia. So he had just gone to a conference in Sydney and he had been hearing about this company named Myuma, that’s a civil engineering company, and they build roads and bridges and buildings and they have this turnover of over $20 Million Australian dollars per year. And at the end of his story about this company, he’s like and we’re not for profit. So all of our profit, all of our financial surplus goes back to the Aboriginal community that owns us, to benefit that larger community. And this was sort of mind blowing for all of us to hear about. And the idea that this colleague brought to our team was maybe this provides a leverage point to change the whole system. If businesses don’t have to constantly be pursuing growth and profit, maybe a market composed only of these not for profit kinds of businesses could be… It wouldn’t have to pursue constant growth, and it could really focus on meeting human and environmental needs the way that we need the economy to.
Manda: Okay. So I have read a lot of your papers, but I haven’t looked at it from this angle. So can we unpick what the market is? So again, in my super simplistic, Noddy goes to market town view, markets are where shares are bought and sold. And they are currently a huge Ponzi scheme where, let’s say vulture capitalist with huge amounts of money, invests in Facebook, demands 1,000% returns. Facebook has to keep producing not just profit, but increasing profit by harvesting our attention and getting us to work for them for free. And that then feeds back into the market so that super rich people can become even super richer by owning shares and not doing anything else. And if we were to say to Facebook, say… Or let’s no, let’s not, because we might get sued, let’s say to a social media company that suddenly arises and goes, okay, we’re a not for profit social media company. We’re going to not pay back the vulture capitalists or create anything in the stock market. We’re just going to reinvest. Does the stock market not at that point basically seize? If everybody does this, the stock market ceases to exist. And then I get to the question that whenever I talk to my friends who are maybe a couple of decades older than me, white haired, and they go, yes, but our pensions? And you go, you know, we need to change the economy. And they go, but pensions? And I’m thinking, well, you know, it can’t be beyond the wit of humanity to find a universal basic income for old people, which is what pensions are. We could manage to do that without needing the market, but if the market ceased to exist, is that where we’re heading and is that a good thing? It sounds great to me because I think Ponzi schemes that make rich people very much richer are not a good thing. But I can imagine a degree of resistance from the very rich people, if that’s what we’re proposing. Over to you.
Jen: Okay. Yeah, that’s a… It’s a great point and a great question. And you covered so much in such a short amount of time. So let’s unpack this a little bit. Because you talked about markets and shares and then also what happens to the stock market? Does it cease to exist in this not for profit type of economy? And then what happens to pensions and all of this? And on top of that, what happens in terms of resistance, right?
Jen: So let’s go back to that first part, of markets. The type of market that you described, a market consisting of shares bought and sold, that’s a financial market. And luckily, it’s not the only kind of market that can or has ever existed. And it’s really good that you brought this up because I think we all have ‘market’ is a term that we we’re all very familiar with. We talk about it, we throw it around, but we might not always be on the same page about what a market is. So when I say market, I’m referring to where people and businesses come together to sell products and goods and services. So think about this maybe from more of a historical perspective, and how we’ve had markets for thousands and thousands of years, where people have come together in a certain place. And now a lot of that is on the Internet, that’s sort of our place for these transactions. But it’s just where things are bought and sold, money is exchanged. Then on top of that, we now have this gigantic financial markets, where shares – so like bits of ownership and companies – are sold and traded for profit.
Jen: So right now we currently have a for-profit market, and that’s a really for me in this journey on this work, that was a big Aha moment for me. Realising, oh, we have a for-profit economy, we live sort of in this for-profit world. So it’s oriented towards, our basic economic institutions like businesses and markets, are all legally structured and set up in a way where the main goal is to make investors and owners rich. That’s really, if you want to boil it down, it’s to enrich private owners and investors of businesses. But that’s not how it’s always been and that’s not how it has to be. And so there are all of these not for profit types of businesses, like I mentioned Myuma before, but I’ve got so many examples that I’ve come across. And we sort of, when we started this work, did a scoping exercise to see can we find not-for-profit businesses operating in different parts of the world with different cultural conditions and whatnot, and can we find them in different sectors of the economy? And we were able to find them all over the world and in every sector of the economy.
Jen: So that really made us think, wow, we could have a radically different market here, if we transition away from for-profit types of businesses to not-for-profit. So we transition away from a market focussed on enriching a handful of investors and owners to meeting community needs and incorporating environmental needs into that. And then one more little thing is that yeah, so in that transition in a not-for-profit market, there wouldn’t be a stock market. So that was really astute of you to recognise right off the bat, that the stock market that we have right now is made up of private equity shares. So private ownership that then if you own a share, you are entitled to some dividends from a company’s profit, right. But not for profit businesses are not allowed to do that. So that whole financial market thing, which is so unhealthy and it’s sort of like a leech on the rest of our economy right now, goes away. Which I think is a really healthy thing. And then we can talk about what happens with pensions as well. That’s another discussion. But should I go ahead with that or..?
Manda: I think let’s do that at the end when we are looking at how a whole ecosystem of a not for profit economy might work. In the beginning Let’s see if we can unpick a little bit more about the unhealthy dynamics of for-profit businesses. Because I think we swim in a world of for-profit businesses. It seems obvious that that’s what business should be for. But then let’s look at not-for-profit businesses and why… That’s why it works, how it works, how it’s a much better way of doing things. And I particularly want to look at what the social benefit and legal structure of not-for-profit businesses actually looks like, and how we might help for profit businesses transition to not for profit. So let’s kick off with all of that: for-profit and then not-for-profit. How are they different?
Jen: Sure. So like I mentioned a bit before, the structure of a for-profit business is legally set up in a way where the core purpose is financial gain for private owners. And then in support of achieving that core purpose, you’re allotted private shares as an owner, whether you’re like a private owner and you own the whole business or there’s many shareholders, it can be done in different ways. But as an owner you are entitled to dividends of the profit of that business. And so it sounds really simple and common sense to us in a way. Like you said, it’s the water in which we swim. But this on a larger level, on the level of the entire economy, leads to some really unhealthy, unsustainable dynamics. So the first thing is that it’s constantly requires more and more production and sales in order to derive that profit, to generate that profit for owners. And so we get all of this advertising. We’re inundated by advertising every day. Our products are designed routinely to break before they need to. Like our laptops or our clothes or mobile phones. And that’s not a coincidence. That’s not something that a mistake or something that just happened. We you know, we are in these systems because these companies are set up to make more profit. And to do that, they have to sell us more stuff. They have to convince us in one way or the other. And then, of course, all of that consumption and production has environmental consequences.
Manda: And social consequences, because part of the consequence of wanting to make more money is that you must destroy the unions. You must persuade the politicians to destroy the unions, in order that the people who work for you can be paid the absolute minimum. And if you can outsource to somewhere where you can pay them even less, then you’re going to do that.
Manda: Though I think also core is that the point of for-profit is to destroy people in the environment. That may not be the the overt stated point, but that is the actual point. Yes? Is that fair?
Jen: Yes. And the thing is…yeah, I wouldn’t say point. I think it’s sort of this system is ignorant of the trade offs between private financial gain and social benefit and the the well being of the wider community. So it sacrifices the well-being of the wider community, both human and non-human, for private financial gain, because it’s just focussed on private financial gain. And yet like you were saying, so there are so many social consequences here. Because all of that advertising, makes us sort of… It has mental consequences for us. At the same time, all of the business owners of the most successful businesses are accumulating the wealth that they get from their ownership of these businesses over time. And that’s where we have these I mean, the incredible growth of wealth among our billionaires and a growing number of billionaires. But at the same time, like you mentioned before, there’s this inherent incentive to keep wages as low as possible because wages are a cost of business that takes away from the profit. So then we get this skyrocketing inequality that we’ve been seeing. And these are reinforcing dynamics. So they will tend to go faster and faster over time, which is why we’re seeing things getting worse at a faster rate over time.
Manda: I think it’s also worth just tagging in here that this is also why we have an obesity pandemic, because you make more money selling people stuff that has no nutritional value but is very easy to make. So you addict people to sugar fats and salt and then you feed them very, very expensive sugar fats and salt. And then we wonder why we have an obesity epidemic. But that’s okay, because the pharmaceutical branch of your company is then building mega hospitals the size of cities to cope with the fact that 50 years ago the rate of childhood chronic disease was less than 1%, and now it’s in the US at least 52%. And so it’s not just total inequality and destruction of the environment, it’s also destruction of people’s health and wellbeing on every level. And the corollary to all of this, as I understand it, is that when we do studies of the mindset of the people who are running these big companies, they all tick a lot of psychopathic boxes. Largely, I think it’s a self-selecting group. Anyone who’s got any human empathy just can’t make themselves do this anymore. So they leave. So the ones who can are the ones who don’t care. So it may be a spinoff of the race for profit, but it is absolutely baked in that the only way to do this is to not have any care about the social and environmental impacts. So let’s pretend that some humans are still in business and they have some empathy. How different are the not-for-profits and how do they arise and how do they survive in a market that’s designed for profit?
Jen: Right. Good question. And yeah, like like you’re saying, there’s a whole host of social problems that come from this also. Just want to add one more in there, on top of the pharmaceutical and food industry: all these algorithms and the social media that’s sort of dividing us politically and affecting our mental health. That’s very profit driven. So, yeah, how do these not-for-profit businesses survive? And that’s what’s very interesting about this model, is despite these for-profit dynamics, not-for-profit businesses have been able to survive. For instance, the YHA, the Youth Hostel Association in the UK is a really great example of a not-for-profit business that has been operating for like 85 years or something, you know, in an industry of recreation and accommodation that could have well been out competed. But I think there are quite a few advantages that not-for-profits have in the market actually, and these advantages tend to be becoming more important as we go along, as things – the social and environmental problems around us – get worse. People are looking more into ethical consumption. How can I consume in a way that is ethical? People are looking more for purpose based work. I want to use my working hours that I spend so much of my life doing, at a company that’s also doing good for the world and not just making its owners rich. And so these are some of the advantages that not for profit businesses have; is they can attract talent from purpose driven workers and employees, they can attract consumption from more ethically minded consumers, more locally minded consumers.
Jen: A lot of not-for-profit businesses are more locally rooted, because their social benefit mission is community based. And so it’s based around the needs of the people in their local community. And so that’s part of the reason they’ve been able to survive so long. And there are even in many parts of the world, I’m not so familiar with the UK legislation around this, but there are many anti competition or non competition laws around not-for-profits. And I think that’s because there’s a bit of a fear that they’ll create “unfair competition” for the for-profit players in the market. So they can offer their goods and services at cost because they don’t actually have to price in the profit for their private owners. The way that for-profits often tend to do. They can also use a lot of innovative pricing mechanisms, for instance, charging higher income customers more, and then using that surplus to make their goods and services accessible to low income customers and beneficiaries. So there’s all kinds of innovation there that is sort of being kept pushed down by a lot of these non competition laws. So if we actually changed policy in a way that would allow not for profits to compete, really, in the market, then I think we could see a much stronger emergence of them. But they’re already emerging in so many ways and it is a response to our social and environmental problems, that young entrepreneurs want to use business to help solve the world’s problems. They don’t want to use business to just get rich. It Doesn’t mean anything to them anymore. So yeah.
Manda: Okay, so let’s look at how a not-for-profit would be structured and then let’s look at some examples. So for-profit has at its core, whatever its great big, beautiful, fluffy mission statement on its website, basically it’s there to make money, however the best it can. And if it doesn’t, frankly, it will be outcompeted by the people in the same sector who are making money better.
Manda: So a not for profit, with or without non-competition laws. And I would need to look, because in Britain at least we have community benefit companies and community interest companies, which are two legal structures that you can make. But I have not yet looked at the non competition. Which is interesting because we’re about to try and set up a micro dairy as a community benefit company. So I would need to look. However, let’s look at what the different legal structure of a not-for-profit is in general, and then let’s really dive into some of the examples of not-for-profits that exist around the world.
Jen: Yeah. So I think that the community interest company and these other sort of social enterprise legal frameworks; those were developed in order to make sure that socially oriented businesses can compete in the market in the same way that a for-profit company can. So I think that there aren’t so many concerns around that. In terms of the legal setup, you can tell a not-for-profit from a for-profit just in the fact that there is a what’s called a non distribution constraint. So that means that no profit, 0% of the profit can go to private individuals. All of it has to be reinvested either in the company, keeping the company afloat; some of it can be saved for that purpose; but with the ultimate aim of providing social benefit. And so, you see, I mean, it depends on which part of the world you’re in. Like in Sweden where I am, a lot of not-for-profit businesses that I’ve come across, like a cinema and a hotel here in Stockholm, are actually for-profit legal structures, but they’re owned by a not-for-profit foundation. So the only owner of this business is a not-for-profit, which makes them sort of by default, not for profit themselves. So and that’s also an innovation. You know, it’s sort of a way people have found to make their businesses not-for-profit and still be able to be in the market.
Manda: So how does that work? So let’s suppose, let’s take the cinema. It makes a profit, but the profit then feeds into the parent not-for-profit, which then feeds it back out to something different? Because it’s not paying shares to shareholders, that’s the key. Where does the money go if it’s not being paid to shareholders? Or does it just go to some…Okay. So I have a key thing that I don’t fully understand here. If I am a shareholder in Boots, I might get a dividend on the shares. Actually, I probably make more money by betting the shares up against somebody else, but that’s the financial market. Technically, I make the money because Boots pays a dividend. If I had a not-for-profit pharmaceutical company, it wouldn’t be paying shares to shareholders. But let’s assume it runs as a predatory company, does. Ish. It’s making money out of creating drugs. Where does that money go once the company has made it?
Jen: Yes. So any money that the company wants to reinvest, for instance, like keeping the company afloat; some of the profit will be used for that. Maybe like also updating machines or whatever it might need there. Some of it might be saved and then the rest of it will go to the foundation owner. This is again a specific sort of setup, but it’s actually fairly widespread. So say the foundation is oriented towards helping people who are facing homelessness. So then all of the profit will go through that foundation to helping people who are facing homelessness, helping people get roofs over their heads, that sort of thing. So it really depends on what the social benefit mission of the owning foundation is.
Manda: And it can’t go to a single individual who goes, Well, I was homeless and now I’m not. So I count as being homeless. So you can just pay me the squillions of dollars that you’re making. It can’t go to an individual. Who checks that this isn’t a money laundering operation for a Russian drugs ring and that there are actually homeless people being benefited. What’s the oversight on that?
Jen: Yeah, and that’s where there’s actually so much more accountability for not-for-profits than for-profits, right? Because you could have a for-profit that is just making a lot of money for a Russian oligarch or whatever. I mean, those exist and nobody says anything because that’s what they’re set up to do, is make the owner rich. But with not for profits there are a few different layers of accountability. And so in legal terms, the government, you know, has issued this legal structure, so they will hold them accountable for making sure that they use their resources appropriately. There’s always going to be some corruption to some extent, but on top of that, you have accountability through the tax agency. Usually not for profits, get tax benefits, tax exemption. So you have the tax agency looking at them really closely. On top of that, there’s usually a board that is meant to hold them accountable. And on top of that, there are the wider community. Communities tend to watch not-for-profits pretty closely, because we have put trust in them to use their resources to help the larger community.
Jen: So there’s a sort of four layers of accountability that don’t really exist in the for-profit economy. And I think that last one, the level of expectation that we have of businesses in the market, is so much higher with not-for-profits; and it would be for a not-for-profit economy. That we would expect that economy and those businesses to be using their resources to meet our needs, not to get people rich. So it’s just a very different level of expectation. Right now our expectations are so low that it’s it’s quite sad. And that’s part of why we have the dynamics we have, right. Is like the for-profit economy up until now has been seen as a legitimate way of running businesses and markets. But this is what we get with that. We get all these dysfunctional dynamics. So I think that sense of legitimacy and justification is shifting our stories, around what we want the economy to be, are really shifting. And along with that, this not for profit framework sort of aligns with these different expectations that are emerging.
Manda: Brilliant. Thank you. I remember reading Christian Felber’s Change Everything when I was at Schumacher, and he developed the economy for the common good as a concept. And we also have the B Corp concept. To what extent are they aligned with not-for-profits? Because my understanding of those is that, for instance, you maybe have a 20 to 1 pay ratio between the lowest paid and the highest paid, so that you’re not-for-profit isn’t just enriching the chief executive officer, who technically is just taking it as a salary but is still becoming considerably richer than anybody else in the company. Are they ever aligned, always aligned, sometimes aligned to economy for the common good, or B Corp, or similar structures that maintain socially equitable structures and decision making processes within the company?
Jen: Yes. So the way that I like to think about this is: so the B Corp is a third party certification for businesses, for those of your listeners who haven’t heard of this before. And so if you want to be a B Corp, you go to this to the B Corp organisation and they sort of check you out as a company and they can certify you as a B Corp. So it’s a third party certification. It doesn’t have to do with your legal structure. And same with the economy for the common good. They sort of give you a certification. They have this nice, very nice business matrix and it’s sort of like they give you a grade, I think, how good you are as a business at providing for common good. And so both of these things are great and I would say they are more focussed on strategy and to some extent they’re focussed on governance of the company as well. What they tend to overlook is the legal structure and the importance of legal structure. So I think they can be fully compatible with the shift to not for profit. Because that’s one of the things, is if we just shift from for-profit to not-for-profit structures, there’s no guarantee that we’re going to have an environmentally sustainable economy or anything like that.
Jen: So we need to also really focus on strategy and making sure that every business has environmental impacts and goals at their heart as well. And that’s where these kinds of innovations and initiatives can be really useful. I prefer the economy for common good, because B Corps actually does say something about legal structure. They they require that you’re a for-profit business.
Manda: Oh really? Oh, I had no idea!
Jen: B corp, yeah. Quite a few not-for-profit businesses have gotten through that door, because they they have the same legal structure that we talked about before. They’re a for-profit business, but they’re owned by a not-for-profit foundation. So like Greyston Bakery is a famous example. It’s a B Corp, it’s a little for-profit bakery, but it’s owned by a not-for-profit foundation, whose mission is to help people get trained and employment skills who might not otherwise be able to find employment. So that’s a not-for-profit B Corp. But the the vast majority are for-profit because the B Corp certification requires so, and I think that, you know, you wonder why would they require a for-profit legal structure?
Manda: Yes, I really am wondering that.
Jen: I don’t know. But I guess that it’s part of this mythology, that you know, we are so steeped in the idea that without the profit motive, we won’t have innovation, we won’t have efficiency. But it’s really a bad myth, because the for-profit economy, like we just talked about, is ripe… I mean, it incentivises inefficiency, incentivises wasteful consumption and production of waste. It incentivises negative innovations like the algorithms that get kids hooked to their cell phones and these things. So I don’t trust the profit motive results in innovation and efficiency. But that would be my guess, why B corps. Whereas the economy for the common good, I don’t think they talk about legal structure at all. So it would be great to just pair that up with not for profit structures.
Manda: Yes, I did have a call booked with someone who was working for the economy for the common good and it fell apart. But I’ll do another one because it is an interesting idea. And his main thing was you get governments hooked in and they just tax the companies that have a bad score, and give tax breaks to the companies that have a good score. And pretty much overnight, having a good score becomes part of what you need to do, because otherwise you lose everything to tax. That would require governments that were on board. So we’re not heading into that world just yet. So let’s have a look at some existing not-for-profits, which are really good examples. And then I’d like to look at let’s create an imaginary world in which everything is not-for-profit and see how it works. And then we can look at pensions, which I’m still very aware of some of our listeners are worried about. So there are some really interesting examples in your work that I’ve been reading. And one of them is right next door to me here is Glas Cymru, which is a not for profit water company. In a country in the UK where the Conservative government, bless their little cotton socks, decided that it was ideologically sensible to sell off all of the water and sewerage to private companies who then basically began to make money by becoming financial instruments. They borrowed huge amounts of money because it was the most cost effective way to pay their CEOs mind boggling amounts of bonuses, was to have huge amounts of money going through the books. And the Welsh Glas Cymru managed to buy back their water company. I think, given that we’re now in a state in the UK where the water companies are pumping raw sewage into the rivers and the oceans, buying back all of our water companies would be a really good idea. So can you tell us a little bit about Glas cymru as an example of a not-for-profit, insofar as you understand it?
Jen: Great. Yes. And this is a wonderful example of how transformative not-for-profit structures can be. I’m just going to say a quick disclaimer that it’s been a while since I read the story, so I might get like the exact numbers wrong or something, but it is an inspiring story. So yes, this Welsh community, their waterworks had been bought up and owned and operated by a for-profit American company. So, you know, not even local to any extent. They decided they wanted it back. And so they came up with this idea of starting up a not-for-profit business to buy it out. And it’s a great example, because it shows that one of the concerns that often come up when I’m presenting this model, is but how can you get investment if it’s not, you know, shares. If it’s not equity based and profit driven? But Glas Cymru is a great example because they were able to raise £1.9 billion on the European bond market, and I think it was mostly on the European bond market, and they were able to buy back their water works and now it’s a not-for-profit business.
Manda: How is that not having shareholders? What’s the difference between a bond and selling shares, that you don’t have to then end up paying your your vulture capitalists forever?
Jen: Very good question. Okay. So a bond is basically the way I like to describe it, is it’s like a mini loan in a way. So it’s a debt based instrument. It’s not based on equity. So if you buy a bond in Glas Cymru, you sort of own a bit of debt that they owe you back, but you don’t own a part of that company. So after they pay you back the money that you sort of loaned them, through the bond, plus a little bit of interest for your time and for maybe some money that you lost during inflation, which is an issue now again. So you get your bond amount back, plus a little bit of interest, and then that’s over. They don’t owe you anything anymore. You don’t own them. You never did own a part of them. So it’s quite different from shares and it turns out to be a very effective way of of raising a large amount of capital, right. So that’s £1.9 billion. It’s huge.
Manda: Yeah. I gather it was one of the largest non governmental bond raises in Western Europe ever. And as far as I can tell, Glas Cymru is doing really well and presumably at some point quite soon they’ll have paid back that loan.
Jen: They already have.
Manda: And then they can just reinvest. Oh, they have already? Wow.
Jen: Yeah. I mean, the last time I checked and that was a few years ago, they had already paid back all of their bonds.
Manda: Right. Okay. And then they can just pour the money into having less cost for their customers and creating cleaner water in a better environment. And all of the things that are good water company would be doin. That’s very inspiring. So I’m going to go away and look at setting up local bonds. The thing that strikes me is that that was, I’m sure, very viable when interest rates were 0.25%, because at that point it’s hard not to be able to make enough money to pay back your loan, plus a little bit of interest. Now that we’re heading for 18% inflation, that gets trickier. Which is one of the reasons I get so blindingly angry with governments that claim that they haven’t got enough money to invest, at a point when interest rates were so low that it was basically their duty to invest. But that’s a whole separate conversation.
Jen: So and it’s worth mentioning that interest rates can usually be negotiated on debt based investment. So for instance, with bonds, especially if you get into more like socially oriented bond markets, or socially oriented credit unions or banks, you know, you can get pretty good interest rates. Or you can negotiate the interest rates with these lenders and bond holders, because they’re interested in getting more than just a financial dividend back. They’re looking for social benefit with their investment. So I think that’s the way to negotiate a fairer and more manageable interest rate for these kinds of projects.
Manda: We might be going to need you to come and be our financial advisor when we set up all of these little local water companies that we are definitely going to do. Okay. But in the meantime, let’s have a look at BRAC, Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee in Bangladesh, because this isn’t just a global north thing. This is something that works anywhere in the world. What do you know about that?
Jen: Yeah. So BRAC is a really lovely story because it was started up in the seventies, just after the civil war in Bangladesh, and so its founder went back to Bangladesh. I think he’d been an economist somewhere, maybe in the US, came back to Bangladesh after the civil war and saw a huge need for health care and education and sort of building the country back up, but especially in the rural parts. And so he started up BRAC, which focuses on producing or providing health care and education in an accessible way to rural Bangladeshis. And instead of relying on philanthropy and grants and donations to do that, he decided to go the business route and started opening up social enterprises, basically, you know, in a very new way, I think, in the seventies. So they run a dairy and they’re still going today very strong. They run a dairy, they run banking services that give micro loans to families and entrepreneurs in Bangladesh. And they have retail shops where they sell goods that are sort of handmade by the rural Bangladeshis, who will be benefiting from their services. And then, of course, all of the financial surplus that they get from those activities goes back to making health care and education more accessible for people in the countryside. And it’s been so successful that they’ve actually started opening up branches in other countries. So I think they might have one in Pakistan. And I think even in parts of Africa, I think Kenya now maybe and these all stay very locally rooted to the needs of the local communities. But this larger framework, I think, allows them to channel resources in a fairly efficient way.
Manda: And it is really inspiring. I’m going to put the website in the show notes. Because they’re saying on their website that they now reach 138 million of the poorest people in nine countries in Asia and Africa. And their vision is a world free from all forms of exploitation and discrimination, where everyone has the opportunity to realise their own potential. And they run a really easy access rural university. And as you said, they they’ve got so many little micro-businesses that are deliberately helping the people around them. I’m going to put a link to your paper in the not-for-profit quarterly, so people can have a look at that and see the ideas that you come up with. We’re, I’m aware, heading down the line towards the end of our time, what I’d like to do, let’s take an existing for-profit. Let’s make it a giant social media company, because as you said, they are the ones destroying our political frameworks, our faith in democracy, everything. And when we listen to Tristan Harris on his amazing podcast, his thing is always if Facebook or TikTok or Twitter decided to not run the algorithms that are destroying us, they would fold and somebody else would come in, and that all the social media companies need to change together. So if we were to create a model, let’s say, for all the social media companies to become not-for-profit, could they just do it overnight? Are there legal or would they have to fold, go into bankruptcy, tell their vulture capitalists that they’re bankrupt and they can’t do it, and then miraculously become reborn tomorrow as a not-for-profit that happens to employ almost all the same people and has the same algorithms. How would that work? Is it even workable?
Jen: Yeah, it’s workable. It’s definitely workable. Because where where there’s a will, there’s a way, right? And like I said, there’s a shifting sense of legitimacy around these organisations already. So I think that, that we can definitely find ways for them. Yeah. One way is to just close down and the next day you can just start back up as a not-for-profit either foundation owned, like I mentioned before, or use some sort of not-for-profit social enterprise framework. For these big guys it would probably be best to do foundation owned. Another way is the foundation could be started up to buy out the shareholders.
Manda: That would require quite a lot of money given the sheer equity of some of these people.
Manda: But I suppose, you know, Elon Musk could probably do it. Jeff Bezos could probably if he decided not to go to the moon any more, could probably do it. Whether he would want to is another question. But let’s assume somebody very, very rich is able to make the money to do it. So they close it down, port all the customers, you know click this link tomorrow morning at 6:00 and you’ll arrive in something that looks remarkably like the social media platform you just left, but actually isn’t trying to destroy you. What happens then? Let’s assume, let’s think big, that all of the big businesses in the world decide that this is a good way to go. That actually, and I gather this is true if you talk to most CEOs, the thing that they really don’t like is the fact that they have to create value for their shareholders. They would like not to have to. So we give them the out that goes, okay, you don’t have to anymore. Let’s give you a different social structure. What does the world look like? What happens to the financial markets? Because the people who make money out of the financial market, so the giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity is going to be quite cross. What are we looking at? And then how does the world look and feel if we’ve got there? Big questions, I realise, but I think you’re the person thinking about these.
Jen: Okay, so like you said, big questions there. I think so much of this transition relies on a strong social movement. There has to be a strong social movement in place pushing for this. And I think that we’re not far away from that, actually. We have strong social movements, are getting stronger and they’re growing every day. Fighting for more social justice, fighting for better equality, fighting for environmental concerns. They are increasingly coming together. So, you know, you hear more about like worker unions working with environmental activists in these sorts of things. So those bridges are being made. I think one important ingredient that’s missing is a coherent vision to shoot for, like a post growth feature like this not-for-profit economy.
Jen: So if we can get that vision and get enough people to sort of not just buy into this vision, but shape the vision themselves and push for it, then we can get the big change made. Because like you said, this like vampire squid that’s got a hold on all of our systems; we’re up against that and we have to take the power back from that. We have to reappropriate the power and the wealth that is not legitimate. It has not been accumulated in the hands of a few in a legitimate way. A lot of that profit has come from exploitation of workers, of community, of environment. So when we see things in that light, like this is not legitimate wealth accumulation, we’ve got to take it back, then I think we can do that. We can do that through reparations. We can do that through taxes and redistribution, universal basic income, those sorts of things. And then also shifting all of these business structures.
Jen: I think, though, I don’t want to set this up like World War Three. I think there’s actually a great bit of willingness and acknowledgement in the circles that hold a lot of the power, especially in the younger generations. They’ve been growing up hearing about this environmental catastrophes and inequality and poverty as well. And I think they’re more alert and more keen to actually discuss. I’ve even heard from some De-growth scholars that they’ve been invited to talk to some of these high net worth families and communities about De-growth, because there’s a growing interest, even in those circles, about changing. They see that the system isn’t working either and that it’s starting to collapse. So I think there’s more willingness there than a lot of people realise. I think that the for-profit economy is collapsing in on itself in such a clear and obvious way, that more and more people are looking for a way to transform it. So we just have to move with the momentum that’s already there, build it up and build it towards a very concrete vision of how the economy could operate differently.
Manda: Okay. You’re pushing against an open door here, because I think changing the narrative has been where I’ve been at for the last four or five years, which is creating the vision. And yes, I think particularly now, certainly in the UK, with the fossil fuel companies, quite obviously price gouging and profiteering to the extent that quite likely this winter people will have to choose between feeding and heating themselves. Or have neither. And a government that has no legitimacy at all. It’s just relaunched fracking. They are so obviously now just creaming off while they can. And we don’t want violent revolution and we definitely don’t want World War Three. But we want, as I was talking to Daniel Thorsen last night, we want the people with power to be wise and the people who are wise to have power. And achieving that requires that we have a vision. So if you were to step forward to the 2030s and we’d made all the right choices now. What is your vision? How does the world look and feel at a business and economic level?
Jen: Yeah. So in this positive future of a sustainable, not-for-profit economy, we only have not-for-profit businesses in operation. They all have social and environmental needs at their core. The economy is a lot smaller, so consumption and production have been downscaled, only to the extent that we all really need, you know. So sufficiency has become the name of the game and we only buy as much as we really need. There’s going to be a lot more sharing and swapping, which is good for the environment because we don’t all need to buy new stuff all the time. We can just share stuff that we already have, like tools and washing machines and bikes and cars. But it’s also good for us to have a larger sense of community, to have stronger community connections. All of this decrease in consumption and production also allows us to work less. Because we don’t need more money to constantly be buying stuff. Companies don’t need to be constantly be producing more. So we have a much shorter working week in this kind of economy, maybe 20 hours a week. And that gives us a lot more time to be connecting with our loved ones, to be spending time in nature, to be creative and active, and also more self provisioning. So growing our food, maybe in community allotments and these sorts of things. So it’s yeah, it’s utopian, but I think it’s a really realistic and practical utopia.
Manda: Yeah, we’re calling it Thrutopian. If we can see the steps to get there, then it’s not utopian. Utopian tends to be in one band they were free and something miraculous had happened. We’ve invented wet 3D printing and molecular deconstruction so we can make what we want. That’s utopian because it’s not here and unlikely to be here in a timescale we can get to. What does the politics feel like to you? Have you explored that? Because it seems to me at the moment we have politicians who are the bought and paid for representatives of the giant vampire squid, in all its forms. How has politics evolved to allow this to happen?
Jen: So the way that I see this happening from here to there, to the thrutopia, as you say, which I love, is that people sort of wake up. I think a lot of a lot of us are voting for politicians that we’re not really excited about. We’re voting for policies that we’re not really excited about. But we’ve sort of gotten into this dilemma of choosing the lesser of two evils because nobody’s coming to the table with something that is a concrete transformation. So we’re able to push things through on a political and economic level, because there has been this awakening that there is an alternative. I think that’s one of the biggest stopping points right now, is people see that there’s no alternative; they think that there’s no alternative. And this comes from like I call it Cold War Trauma, that so many of us grew up… And even if you didn’t grow up in the Cold War, this legacy has carried on; that we can either have capitalism and the only alternative to capitalism, which is the for-profit economy, the only alternative is a state planned communism. And we know that makes people think of Stalin and Mao and the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few corrupt politicians. And nobody wants that. So we just get stuck with capitalism. But this not-for-profit type of market economy is a totally different animal. It takes us beyond this dichotomy. It offers a way out of this very limited political spectrum of state and market, and market always being assumed to be a for-profit market. When you start talking about a not-for-profit market, we’re off of the political spectrum as we know it, and we get to create something totally different.
Manda: Okay, so what we need is a regenerative way forward that explores how we can create not-for-profits that can supplant the for-profit in a way that doesn’t crash the economy. This is our soft landing. Which is what all of us who want a progressive regenerative economy have been looking for, is how do we, in Molly Scott Cato’s words turn the 747 that’s in flight over the Atlantic into a helicopter in mid-flight, in a way that doesn’t kill everybody on board? And this is it. We take all of our for-profits and and persuade them that becoming not-for-profit is in everybody’s interests. I still worry that the people who don’t want to do this are the people currently in charge of the world. And I’m interested in how we get to them. But if what you’re saying is true, then some of them, maybe their kids are getting to them, are already beginning to look at this. Is that what you were saying?
Jen: Yes. No, that’s a great question. And because I think it’s a bit of everything here. So I think there are some for-profit companies whose owning families and shareholders are starting to move in this direction. And it would be fairly easy to push them in this direction or incentivise them, or they can already jump on board. I think, though, there are some who aren’t getting on board and they’re not so interested and that’s where we need to make them be relevant. So a couple of things can happen here. Either we force them to. I’m not sure that’s going to be very fruitful. I think that we build up the alternative system that makes the current one irrelevant and unuseful. And so the more that we can build up this not-for-profit economy, the less we need to depend on these crazy for-profit giants who may not want to move with us. And they become irrelevant, they get outcompeted, they get left behind. And then we can talk about the state of political capture and the importance of making sure our politicians are on board with us as well, and not just getting paid off by them. But again, I think that comes to comes back to like broadening our political spectrum and having some people that we can vote for, who have a transformative vision of change, rather than just more state to constrain the for-profit market. Because that’s basically what we get. Is either a more for-profit market or more state to try to constrain that market and redistribute the wealth. We don’t get this transformative, concrete alternative.
Manda: You mean we’re not being offered it at the moment?
Jen: Yes. From the politicians.
Manda: Yes. I think I’m feeling a whole new podcast coming on. The big companies that are the ones really driving this are the fossil fuel companies. And making them irrelevant takes us into the whole conversation of how do we power our very power hungry structures in a way that makes the fossil fuel companies irrelevant? But that is a conversation, I think that feels like quite a big rabbit hole and we probably can’t do it in a minute and a half.
Jen: But there is a short answer there, that I mean, that’s the post growth thing, right. Is we’re going to reduce our consumption and production only to what we need and reduce all of these rise that we’ve been hearing about over the years. That’s what we can actually do in a de-growth transition to a post growth economy, and that makes them irrelevant to some extent. Part of the reason they’re so relevant is we have this growth based economy that needs more and more energy all the time. If we start scaling back and we need less energy and we grow our renewable energy and our alternatives, at the same time, they do become less and less relevant. So I think we can push them out of the picture.
Manda: Okay. I live in a country where two days ago our monarch died and the night after the conservatives removed all restrictions on the fracking companies. So they’re not heading down that route. Has anybody crunched the numbers on this? I’m really interested in… This would be quite a big thought experiment of how fast, with the average person in the middle of a city who doesn’t get this and isn’t interested and, you know, still is functioning in the business as usual old economy. We have to carry them with us. So we have to do it in a way that doesn’t have them out in the street with pitchforks. How fast could we do this?
Jen: Yeah, I mean, there is a lot of research happening in that area. Crunching the numbers gets really hard because you have to make so many assumptions about how transformations in the future will happen, that having specific numbers gets really difficult, because it’s just assumption after assumption and the number itself becomes sort of meaningless. But just like sort of mapping out the steps and the pathways I think is really important for understanding how this could be possible and inspiring us to take action towards it.
Manda: Okay. All right. We really have run out of time. Jennifer, this has been just so inspiring. I would love to invite you back probably in about six months for another conversation when I’ve had time to really process this. But in the meantime, for people listening, is there a particular thing that ordinary people could be doing to help advance this, that you can think of off the top of your head? If not, that’s fine. But if there is, what would they do?
Jen: Yeah. So I usually say there are like four main things that you can do. The first is to spread these ideas. Spread the idea that a not for profit economy is possible and more sustainable and just have discussions. You know, you don’t have to like stick to your guns and defend it at all costs. But just planting that seed in discussions, in other people’s minds, can be very powerful for opening up these possibilities in our collective future. Another thing then is to maybe join a social movement and bring this vision, this concrete vision of a not for profit economy into the social movement. Encourage bridging social movements, bringing them together around this vision. So I think there’s a lot of work that can be done on the social movement front. The next thing is to push for policies that can make it easier for not for profits. So like to help social entrepreneurs start up their businesses as not-for-profits to get rid of these noncompete laws, like I said, to provide more funding for this transition. And there are some open minded politicians who, who will work with you, especially on the more local level for these things. And the last thing is to sort of shift your consumption away from for-profits, especially the largest transnational for-profits, towards the not-for-profit businesses and the social enterprises around you. So sort of map out where they are. That’s another thing that a social movement or a local organisation can do, is come up with a map or a directory of the social economy, the not-for-profit economy that already exists in your community, and that can help you and your friends and family change your consumption to support these businesses, rather than the larger for-profits.
Manda: Brilliant. I can feel an article coming on for our local area newsletter. Just seeding this idea, saying I’ve heard this is a really good thing. I would like all the local nonprofits to contact me and I will create the map. And then even if you don’t get an answer, the idea is out there.
Manda: I will put your website on the show notes and then people can look at ones in other parts of the world and find one near you to use as an example. And then you’re creating the narrative and beginning the directory. Jennifer This has been utterly fantastic and so inspiring and a perfect antidote to the horrors happening in the world around us. Thank you so, so much for coming on to The Accidental Gods podcast.
Manda: And that’s it for another week. I hope you come away from that as inspired as I did. With enormous thanks to Jennifer for thinking through things so clearly, for laying them out so clearly. I have put lots of links in the show notes because I discovered papers when I was doing the research for this in journals I never knew existed and that now I really want to explore more deeply. But Jennifer’s written a lot of things that are well worth exploring if this fires you up as much as it does me.
Manda: Head off to accidentalgods.life, go to the podcast section and please do explore all of the links. And then have a think about what you can do in your communities, your communities of place and of purpose. In terms of the four things that Jennifer suggested, just spreading the word. Find a social movement that is linked to your communities of place and of purpose through which you can continue to spread this word. Push for political change, if that’s possible at all in your area. And then shift your own consumption patterns and perhaps as an adjunct, create maps in your local area of the not for profit organisations that exist and help link other people to them. And I would suggest if you’re in the U.K., let’s see if we could buy back the water companies. Because renationalisation isn’t going to happen in the current economic climate. That’s such a cliche, but it’s true. And yet Glas Cymru exists. They did it. And we could still do it. And a network of us moving together could make this happen. And if we do it with the water companies, we can do it with the rail companies. We could do it with the national grid. We could do it with the power companies.
Manda: We could move towards not for profit companies owning all of the things that need not to be sources of price gouging, and thereby make a difference. So let’s think how we could do that, because I think it’s completely possible. That’s our mission for this week. And as ever, we will be back next week with another conversation. In the meantime, enormous thanks to Caro C for ironing out all the sound glitches that I somehow managed to create and for the amazing music at the head and foot. Thanks to Faith Tilleray for ironing out all the website glitches and for creating beautiful websites that help this reach the world. Thanks to Anne Thomas for ironing out all the glitches in the transcripts and enormous thanks to you for listening. I don’t think you have any glitches to iron out except in the world around us, and I sincerely hope that we are all doing that together. And if you know anybody else who’s interested in how we can shift the momentum of businesses and markets to be something that actually works for people and planet, then please do send them this link. And that is it for now. See you next week, people. Thank you and goodbye.
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