Last year, the First Minister became one of the few politicians invited by Curator of TED Chris Anderson to join the line up at the annual summit of the TED Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas.
Delegates from 84 countries arrived for TEDSummit at Edinburgh International Conference Centre to discuss the future of democracy, economics and the climate, during the week that Scotland experienced its hottest night since records began.
Hours before Nicola Sturgeon took to the stage to talk about why governments should look beyond GDP and start measuring their economies by the well-being they create for citizens, I tweeted my prediction about what the First Minister would have to say at TEDSummit and, from the references to Adam Smith to the importance of redefining economic value, I got it exactly right.
So how did I know? It wasn’t due to bribing any speechwriters, we’re too ethical a bunch for that. After meeting with the entrepreneurs that have shaped the Scottish business for good movement over the last decade and having observed how they’ve inspired a host of policy initiatives – from the Scotland CAN DO Business Innovation Forum to CivTech® – it seemed clear to me that the First Minister would take the opportunity of TEDSummit to pitch Scotland as the epicentre of a shift in public policy making and private sector leadership that is happening slowly, but surely, worldwide.
In no small part due to the influence of the Scottish business for good community, Scotland is now among some of the first nations in the world, including Canada, Sweden, Iceland and New Zealand, to recognise that, within the next 10 to 30 years, public policy for social, economic and environmental stability could look very different.
The future of public policy is in fundamental systems change: meaning new ways to engage in democracy; new rules to govern economics and new means to access justice. Just a few months after TEDSummit, the Financial Times announced its own call for a better form of global capitalism, stating that “The liberal capitalist model has delivered peace, prosperity and technological progress for the past 50 years […] But, in the decade since the global financial crisis, the model has come under strain, particularly the focus on maximising profits and shareholder value […] The long-term health of free enterprise capitalism will depend on delivering profit with purpose.”
It’s an argument backed by increasing academic research and one that’s been wired into the Scottish entrepreneurial community since it learned the lessons of the last recession. Working for Amiqus, a tech-for-good software company, it can be easy for me to forget how unusual it is to be part of a profit for purpose business model within the existing liberal capitalist global economy.
Yet in the last decade, a community of entrepreneurs, including the founders of GearedApp, Float, Appointedd, Trickle and Sustainably, have all played a role in inspiring the ambitions of the Scottish Government to see Scotland ranked among the top quartile of OECD countries not just for productivity, but for equality and well-being too.
Intentionally or not, Scotland’s business for good movement is among the first champions of the new economics: the idea that global challenges, like mass migration or climate emergency, can only be solved if the private sector is willing to lead the emergence of a more democratic distribution of wealth and opportunity.
In other words, businesses must acknowledge that economics is ultimately a choice and not an unchanging set of natural laws. We can choose to raise the minimum wage and increase the
spending power of the most financially vulnerable in society, or we can choose not to.
As ‘profit for purpose’ enters the public lexicon, and with citizens ever more conscious of their power to reprimand the companies they perceive to be out of step with their values, more business leaders and politicians alike would do well to consider what they want their roles in the new economics to be.