I have just hit the “update and save” button on my now ready idea-creation website for governance, compliance and ethics in business and society. It’s ready to be launched.

Five years ago, I hit the save button on my computer and stored a strategy paper entitled “theGovernanceProject.org – A concept outline for the development of Socially Responsible Capitalism”.  

The discussion was rife then, concerning Pickerty’s book “Capital in the 21st Century” discussing the origins of wealth and income inequality in Europe and the USA, and the perpetuation of privilege serving their own social class. It was a challenging idea only 5 years ago, yet now privilege is under attack. The defence of privilege remains strong, be it in terms of a continuing push for lower taxes for the rich as argued by the Dutch historian Rutger Bregman, or to retain the dominance of white privilege and purported traditional culture expressed in an outburst of nationalist populism: In Trump’s America, in Britain’s Brexit, or anti-immigrant sentiment found in Europe, from Hungary in the South East to Scandinavia in the North. The debate however is in full throttle, and opinion ever more divided between nationalists on one side, and collectivist environmental parties on the other. The point of discussion may have moved slightly, but at their base the issues are the same. The only change is the reclassification of climate change concerns to “Climate Crisis”, and a debate where teenagers speak with authority and their elders, like the guilty generation we are, prefer to mumble in our beards about the slowness of imposing change on society.

The opening statement of my paper read “I left mainstream banking in 2012 to focus on promoting integrity in business. Since then, I have joined a hitherto unknown world of “Ethics Workers”, professionals who are frustrated with the direction society and commerce is headed and who are dedicated to the same purpose as me. … Although Ethics Workers may enjoy small victories and exercise some influence, there is little evidence of lasting, significant change in general behaviour – or at least, incremental progress is slow.”

I was concerned about the need for socially responsible business then, even more so today. If anything, the scope of my ideas has enlarged to encompass government and society as much as business. 

In the year that followed I used my concept outline to discuss with potential partners at business schools, not-for-profit organisations and political institutions how my lofty aims and ambitions might be realized. I reached three conclusions:

  1. There are many actors who agree with the need for change in business behaviour and the development of a debate around socially responsible capitalism. There are many who willingly will provide moral (as opposed to financial or operational) support.
  2. The OECD is an organisation, which, through its Forums, its network and resources, do a fantastic job of promoting debate on the role of business, government and civil society in promoting responsible and sustainable practices.
  3. My contribution to such a process is to seek to help the many other, individual, ethical workers who are trying to have an impact, to make progress in their work.

Returning to my paper, I evolved an objective with slightly less ambition that that of changing the world. What I said then was “TheGovernanceProject.org is intended to become a focal point for knowledge-sharing, and a platform for a change movement based on combined energy and the propagation, the load hailer, of best solutions. … TheGovernanceProject.org is to provide a fountain and reservoir of knowledge and inspiration; at best it will create a community offering a common belief in values-led management and good governance, and of mutual support through shared learning”. 

It has taken me, working alone and distracted by other projects, three years to get theGovernanceProject.org website from concept, to design, to build and now launch. It is not atypical of the experience of other ethics workers – relying on one’s own wit and resources is a slow business. Building on the premise that two heads are better than one, and that many hands make light work, this website is about building a community for these individuals, enabling them to find reliable and safe partners with whom to confidently share ideas, create new ones and collaborate and help one another to get better results, faster. This is step one, and we stand ready to take it. Step two is to breathe life into the venture, and then we shall see if it can produce its promise and start to aim for my original, higher aspirations by capturing the attention and support of larger organisations than mine. 

TheGovernanceProject.org is a private, not-for-profit social impact initiative without outside funding until it has proved its worth to a select and exclusive membership who have demonstrated commitment and creativity in the pursuit of integrity and social responsibility in either business or society. If you care to follow our progress, we will post regular updates on our website, where further information about the project may be explored. 

I suppose this makes me an entrepreneur of sorts: an ethics entrepreneur, perhaps?

Anthony Smith-Meyer

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