Exploring the Tension between ‘Doing Good’ & ‘Making Money’

May 10, 2017

This blog was written by TDi’s Pacific Investment Readiness Program Lead, Anna Moegerlein.

TDi exists to awaken the possibility of doing good and making money; this deeply motivates us and shapes how we work with businesses and not-for-profits. However until recently, I didn’t realise how difficult this can be, and how deep my own dualism often runs.

Socrates, Plato and later Descartes held that the immaterial mind and the material body are two completely different types of substance. For nearly 2,500 years this dualist thinking, deeply rooted in Greek philosophy, has more often led us to compartmentalise and separate things, rather than acknowledging integration and interdependence.

We can see this today in the way our education system is structured, with the liberal arts separate from the sciences and commerce; or in how see ourselves as separate from the natural environment, as if we exist independently from it; and we see it in how we separate our profit-making from ‘doing good’ in business.

The thing is, TDi’s work in the South Pacific is teaching me much more about integrated business than I ever could have discovered in my own culture. Last month, we went to Samoa to set social outcome metrics for an impact investment. We had been referring to our trip as a ‘social measurement trip’. But the trip turned out to be much more than just agreeing on social indicators. Our interviews with farmers revealed a lot more about the health of the business and our investment than just expected social returns. It opened up a whole world of risk and opportunity. Our conversations over two days were the best due diligence we could have done on the business.

For the last 5+ years, TDi has been focused on building blended value business models; businesses that – by design – are scalable and do more good as you scale them. However, we have still been unhelpfully falling in the trap of associating the ‘social’ part of our work primarily with impact measurement. We are now trying to change our language and practice to something more integrated. We are looking at risk and opportunity, which is driven by both financial and social factors. We are trying to ensure the social analysis is integrated with the business and financial analysis, rather than sitting as the final tab on the spreadsheet.

While not every business in the South Pacific is committed to supporting community outcomes, Polynesian and Melanesian culture often supports the idea of the two going hand in hand – with the ‘social’ being embedded in the business from the outset. I recently asked a Samoan colleague if he thought a local business owner took social impact seriously. He found it an odd question and answered that since the business owner is Polynesian himself, he would of course be committed to community development.

I wonder if there is a word with a different etymology to the English word ‘business’ (which has its roots in busyness and anxiety). I haven’t found it yet, but it seems we need a better word to describe the possibility of integration, of doing ‘do good and make money’. If you know of one I’d love to hear it.

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