Beyond the Bottom Line: Socially Innovative Business Owners

Beyond the Bottom Line: Socially Innovative Business Owners

Beyond the Bottom Line: Socially Innovative Business Owners

Beyond the Bottom Line: Socially Innovative Business Owners

Synopsis

Quarter examines business owners who use their firms as laboratories for social innovation. After providing an introduction to this phenomenon in an historical perspective and discussing the 19th-century British industrialist Robert Owen, he provides ll case studies of contemporary innovators from six countries-the UK, US, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, and New Zealand.

The case studies fall into two broad groups. The first involves business people who promote innovative ownership and decision-making strategies such as donating their shares to a trust and thereby creating a company without shareholders so that employees can assume greater control; creating a worker co-operative; and transferring ownership to employees through an employee stock ownership plan. The second group of case studies involves innovative efforts at changing the relationship to the surrounding community through creating socially and environmentally responsible businesses. Quarter concludes by looking at the potential and limitations of this phenomenon for building a social movement. A provocative look at the social organization of work that will be of interest to scholars and researchers of industrial organization and to business leaders examining innovative ownership arrangements.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

JACK QUARTER is a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, where he specializes in the study of workplace democracy, cooperatives, nonprofits, community development, the social economy, and social investment. His recent books include Canada''s Social Economy: Co-operatives, Non-Profits and Other Community Enterprises; Crossing the Line: Unionized Employee Ownership and Investment Funds; with Paul Wilkinson, Building a Community Controlled Economy: The Evangeline Co-operative Experience; and coedited with Uriel Leviatan and Hugh Oliver, Crisis in the Israeli Kibbutz (Praeger).

Excerpt

Businesspeople are a privileged group, who have attempted to protect their advantages against movements for social justice. Rather than being the leaders of such movements, they tend to be the object of them, as suggested by class-based theories. Nevertheless, there are businesspeople who have departed from tradition and have either thrown their support behind movements for social justice or have taken a leadership role in them. Generally, this is done apart from their business, but in exceptional cases, their business is used as a laboratory for social innovation. They are not only business entrepreneurs, but social entrepreneurs— that is, innovators and social risk-takers who devote themselves and their businesses to achieving and promoting their ideals. This group is the subject of this book.

Even though there is an element of philanthropy in these initiatives, in that they are motivated by benevolence and humanitarianism, it would be inappropriate to describe this group in that manner. This point requires some elaboration, because it is important to demonstrate how the socially innovative businesspeople who are the subject of this book differ from typical philanthropists. Take, for example, Andrew Carnegie, the emigrant from Scotland who became a wealthy U.S. steel magnate in the latter half of the nineteenth century and a leading proponent of philanthropy as a duty of the wealthy. the post-retirement Carnegie was guided by bis motto mat “he who dies rich dies disgraced” (Carnegie 1901, 43). By 1913, he had given away $332 million, an astonishing sum for that time, including the endowment of 2,500 libraries in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. (Wall 1992). Among his benefactors were the Andrew Carnegie Relief Fund, established in 1901 to provide financial assistance for his former employees in need, and the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, a cause to which he devoted much energy in his final years.

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