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by: Rabia Abrar

Are you a bit uncomfortable using Facebook and other social media platforms these days – but don’t feel like you can stop using them? 😰

You’re not alone! After all, one of our five universal human needs is connection! That’s why we’re all on social media platforms to begin with. 

With all the news around Facebook lately, I’ve been giving this question a lot of thought: 

What exactly does ‘connection’ mean, at a societal level? 🧐

The WEAll membership has defined it as “a sense of belonging and institutions that serve the common good”. I want to dig into that last part: “institutions that serve the common good”.

I would say that, due to its size, influence, and the central role that it plays in connecting the world, Facebook IS an institution. ☝️

Facebook is the biggest of all the social networks, by far. 

With this much power, tech is no longer just a ‘tech issue’. It’s a societal and economic issue! 

Serving the common good?

For over a decade, we’ve become aware of multiple instances where Facebook has failed to ensure the privacy of its users’ data, allowing it to be harvested for targeted advertising, particularly political advertising, as well as failing to stem the spread of misinformation, conspiracy theories, and calls for violence. We’ve all heard at least a little about the controversies around Cambridge Analytica, the GDPR, the pro-Brexit Leave EU campaign, and the 2016 US presidential election. And most recently, the controversy around changes to WhatsApp’s privacy policy, which states that Facebook reserves the right to share data collected on WhatsApp with its family of companies:

“We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services and their offerings.” 

In reading about these issues, you have to wonder:

Is Facebook serving the common good? 👀

Source: Annie Spratt, Unsplash

It all comes down to the business model.

As a vehicle for creativity and innovation, business is a key player in creating the solutions we need to deliver social justice on a healthy planet. But in our current system, finance and the economy tend to serve themselves, rather than serving society and the environment. 👎

“Today, society and the environment are serving business, when business needs to be the servant of society.” 

Martin Rich, Co-Founder and Executive Director at Future Fit

Since economist Milton Friedman declared that “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits” in a 1970 New York Times op-ed, the ideal of ‘profit maximisation’ and continual growth to increase shareholder value has become the dominant model for how businesses operate. This often means deprioritising the interests of others stakeholders.

This seems to be true in the case of Facebook.

One of many popular ‘Mark Zuckerberg is a Robot’ memes; Source: Know Your Meme

As Alan Woodward, a computer scientist at the University of Surrey, explains,

“Facebook openly says that their business model is to use data related to users for profit.”

This explains why we can use social media platforms for ‘free’. This makes logical sense. How else would they make money? 🤷‍♀️

This raises a foundational question:

If Facebook’s primary goal and business model was not centred around growth and profit maximisation, how might it approach issues of data privacy and digital safety? 🤔

Social Media in a Wellbeing Economy

“If a business is designed to maximise financial return, delivering environmental and social return as well, is inevitably a cost on the bottom line and competes with the financial return. However, if a business is designed to deliver environmental and social return as well as financial, it enhances rather than competes with financial return.”  

Hugo Spowers, Chief Engineer and Founder of Riversimple

To see business playing a key role in the shift toward a Wellbeing Economy (where the economy serves society as its core purpose), they must embody the principles of ‘Wellbeing Businesses”. These include: 

  • Connection – a corporate culture that aligns the organisational purpose with collective values. 🙏
  • Dignity – a business model that creates the means for employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders to live with dignity. ✊
  • Participation – balanced and values-based relationships with all stakeholders. 🤝

Olga Koretskaya and Gus Grosenbaugh explain that, to put these principles of care and responsibility into practice, Wellbeing Businesses work to:

1. Ensure transparency and accountability 🔍

When multinational corporations work across multiple regional and regulatory borders, it often leads to a lack of transparency and accountability. 

“Listed companies are in effect owned by nobody, because everybody does. The result is a lack of responsibility.” 

Martin Rich, Co-Founder and Executive Director at Future Fit

Wellbeing Businesses recognise the importance of transparency and disclose data about environmental, social, and economic performance to all employees and the public in a way that is easy to retrieve and understand, across the entire supply chain or footprint of the organisation. 

For example, if Facebook were a Wellbeing Business, we might have seen more transparency and clarity upfront when Whatsapp’s new privacy policy was announced, about where metadata collected about users would be used and if and how it may be shared with third parties.      

Source: Glenn Carrie, Unsplash

2. Internalise externalities 🤓

A “negative externality” in business or industry is something that the business makes or produces, that negatively affects other people or the environment, and for which the business does not pay and is not reflected in the price. Wellbeing Businesses don’t ignore these “externalities” – they take responsibility for them and embrace different strategies for avoiding, reducing, or paying for harm. 

Here are 10 proposals for concrete actions that tech companies like Facebook and governments can take to prevent social media platforms from damaging democracy, spreading hate, or inciting violence.

3. Evolve toward stewardship

As a business grows and occupies a new role in the market, Wellbeing businesses evolve toward a model of stewardship, so that a range of stakeholders have a say in the business decisions that affect them. Riversimple, an eco car company, demonstrates one way to do this. Their governance model includes representatives of 6 different stakeholder groups: The Environment, Customers, Communities, Staff, Investors and Commercial Partners. 

Do I have a choice?

I know what you’re thinking – all of that is well and good, but what can I do about these issues around social media today?

Source: Markus Winkler, Unsplash

In our own work, WEAll still has to use some social media as it helps us spread the messages of a Wellbeing Economy to global audiences. But while it may not be possible to fully step away from social media, we can start to take steps to reduce our participation in some of the harm these platforms cause (and hold them accountable to make changes!). 💪

“After careful consideration WEAll has come to the conclusion, shared by countless others, that Facebook is no longer a platform we want to engage with. We feel that to be actively present is to be complicit. Therefore, we will keep our page open – but will no longer be actively engaging with it. While we still as a team rely on WhatsApp and as an organization use Instagram – this is the first step to move away from these predatory platforms.” 

WEAll message on our Facebook page

WEAll supports the #StopHateForProfit campaign, which calls for changes needed, including preventing lies in political ads, closing down groups that are associated with violence, and allowing victims of severe harassment to immediately reach a live Facebook representative for help. 

Believe it or not, social media platforms like Facebook are not our only options to stay connected. 🙌

For example, if you’re looking to connect and collaborate with like minded changemakers in the movement toward a Wellbeing Economy, the WEAll Citizens platform is a great option.

With over 2200 active users daily and at least 30 new members joining each week, Citizens is a thriving space to connect and feel a sense of belonging – minus any advertisements. 😉

Resources

In order to measure and manage social and environmental performance in a similar way to financial performance, businesses must consider their own operations as well as the full supply chain and product life cycle.

Tony’s Chocolonely was founded by journalist Teun van de Keuken, who was shocked to discover that much of the chocolate sold in supermarkets was made by people, especially children, working in slave like, illegal, and dangerous conditions. When he tried to discuss the situation with chocolate makers, many declined to discuss the issue.

“Malpractices in the cacao industry drove me to set up Tony’s. Many plantations in Western Africa practice slavery and child labour even today. That’s what we want to help to prevent.”

From the outset, it was clear that a mission to eradicate modern slavery from all chocolate production went way beyond measuring Tony’s direct impact.

“Alone we make slave-free chocolate, together we make all chocolate 100% slave-free. One of the main things we’ve learnt along the way is how difficult it is to change an industry. After 11 years we’re not there yet. We’re actively seeking partners who apply our model.”

Tony’s strategy roadmap to achieve the goal of 100% slave-free chocolate production consists of 3 pillars: createing awareness, leading by example, and inspiring others to act. It is these three pillars that form the measurable impact of Tony’s Chocolonely. The company also follows the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) guidelines for sustainable reporting as well as the usual financial accounting metrics.

13 metrics relating to their roadmap and three pillars, are used to track impact and success. The newest of these metrics is linked to the third pillar and is all about the start of Tony’s Open Chain, an open source platform where chocolate companies can access the necessary knowledge and tools to improve their supply chain.

The company also follows the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) guidelines for sustainable reporting as well as the usual financial accounting metrics. The company has also created an open source platform where chocolate companies can access knowledge and tools to improve their supply chain.

“On its own, a certification label does not enable farmers to live above the poverty line and provide a decent income for their families. The way we see it, chocolate makers are responsible for their chocolate supply chain – not the certification inspector.”

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Unusual Rigging is UK’s most experienced provider of rigging and stage engineering solutions. The company is working towards a fully circular business model, with a goal is to become effective at closing material loops. It does this by prolonging the life of their products, designing products for disassembly and resource recovery, and offering products as a service. Unusual reuses 50 tonnes of steel during the course of a year, saving thousands of tonnes of CO2 emissions. Through collaboration and sharing with their community of suppliers and customers, they are demystifying innovations in the circular economy and showing that it is not just achievable but optimal for medium size businesses to also embark on that journey.

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A car manufacturer founded to ‘pursue, systematically, the elimination of the environmental impact of personal transport’. The company is working towards its vision is of mobility at zero cost to the planet.

Riversimple’s business model aims to completely rethink the automobile sector, from open-source design to a circular economy approach to car use.

The founders redefine ownership by including key decision makers in their governance structure, not only investors but also the Environment, Customers, Communities, Staff, Investors, and Commercial Partners.

The Board’s duty is to balance and protect the benefit streams of all six stakeholder groups, rather than maximising the value of one.

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Patagonia’s mission is to be good stewards of the environment. The company’s values include building the best product (built to last, premium materials), causing no unnecessary harm, and using the business to protect nature.

Patagonia has led the outdoor industry in using recycled nylon and polyester fabrics; currently, 68% of its products use recycled materials. The company is also committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050, with achievements including 100% of electricity needs met by renewable electricity in North America.

Patagonia also prioritises human wellbeing, with 66,000 workers supported by its Fair Trade program.
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Basque Country has a strong culture of cooperatives and employee ownership, which have one defining purpose: protecting workers.

One example is the Mondragón Corporation, which is a vast collection of 96 cooperative enterprises. Its cooperatives employ more than 70,000 people in Spain, making it one of the nation’s largest sources of paychecks. They have annual revenues of more than 12 billion euros ($14.5 billion). The group includes one of the country’s largest grocery chains, Eroski, along with a credit union and manufacturers that export their wares around the planet.

Most of its workers are partners, meaning they own the company. Though the 96 cooperatives of the Mondragón Corporation must produce profits to stay in business — as any company does — these businesses have been engineered not to lavish dividends on shareholders or shower stock options on executives, but to preserve paychecks.

In the town of Mondragón, the cooperatives trace their origins to the wreckage of the Spanish Civil War in the early 1940s, when a priest, José M. Arizmendiarrieta, arrived in the area bearing unorthodox ideas about economic betterment. The priest viewed cooperative principles as the key to lifting living standards.

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Maroma is a multi-million dollar Indian business that sells home fragrance and body care products. The Auroville community in India owns all shares in Maroma and employees have the autonomy to run and manage the business.

Maroma is the largest employer in Auroville and the biggest contributor. Each year, 40% of Maroma’s profits are returned to the community to further growth and development i.e. road building, water and sanitation, sustainable power, telecommunication and housing for Auroville residents.

Maroma also contributes financially to secondary and higher educational institutions in Auroville.

Maroma is a quintessential example of an enterprise fully embedded in its community and is a social enterprise that is certified Fair Trade for its implementation of all 10 Fair Trade Principles in all their operations and supply chains.

Find out more here.

Locavore is a Community Interest Company and social enterprise in Glasgow which exists to help build a more sustainable local food system which is better for the local economy, the environment and communities.

Running since 2011, Locavore has been working to improve Glasgow’s food network by means of the production and distribution of ecologically produced fruit and vegetables, as well as education around food. They operate a shop, a veg box scheme and grow on three sites, totalling around 1.2 hectares, which are all within 10 miles of Glasgow city centre.

Locavore’s ambition is to use the money raised from food sales to achieve social and environmental gains by funding projects and education about the global impact of food including climate change, animal welfare, exploitation, and workers’ rights.

Locavore is explicitly anti-corporate and strives to create an alternative to the supermarket model which has dominated food production and sales in Scotland.

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LOVE is a group of organisations providing social services to promote social justice, inclusion, and wellbeing. Charitable services in one part of the group are financed by commercial activities in other parts of the group.

LOVE is a one-of-a-kind social business that funds its outreach charitable services – such as education and social care – through corporate services, such as wellbeing, professional training, and recruitment. LOVE’s outreach services include education support, employability, sport and physical wellbeing, and social care.

LOVE’s approach differs from other outreach providers in that they identify gaps or opportunities to support vulnerable individuals who would otherwise have limited or no access to the services they need. For example, they deliver services to vulnerable people with 24/7 crisis care where standard services operate during office hours only.

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The first Scottish resort to transition to a model of employee ownership. A trust owns 100% of the company’s shares on behalf of its 160 employees. Efficiency targets boosted profitability, allowing for the introduction of the Real Living Wage. Meanwhile, the resulting lower staff recruitment costs (due to higher retention), greater productivity, and increased occupancy from an improved reputation, paid for itself and more.

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India’s Amul milk brand is the world’s largest milk cooperative company in the world.

In 1946, the Amul Cooperative was created as a reaction to the exploitation of local milk producers by the dealers and the agents of the main dairy of that time, the Polson dairy. The government had given monopolistic rights to Polson to collect milk from Kaira dairy farmers and supply it to the city of Mumbai.

Cooperatives were created for every town, allowing for milk collection to be decentralized, as most of the makers were minor farmers.

Today, Amul Cooperatives are federated at a regional and national level.

Overall, India has a long-standing cooperative movement, which focuses on benefiting all communities involved in its production.

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Together with a number of local and international stakeholders and investors, Futuro Forestal developed the ‘generation forest’, a combination of the dynamics of natural forests and reforestation which absorbs carbon dioxide and ensuring biodiversity and recovers soils and water sources. It also helps to create income earning opportunities for locals.

Futuro Forestal’s reforestation model improves on the timber plantation model by harvesting and replanting mainly native tree species, reducing risk in the business model, ensuring everlasting cash flow, and maintaining forest biodiversity.

Futuro Forestal has become one of Latin America’s largest and premier providers of tropical hardwood, and worked on the reforestation of over 9000 hectares, the creation of 4,500 hectares of private reserves.

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Ben & Jerry’s is a pioneer in embedding social purpose into their business. The social enterprise operates on a three-part mission that aims to create linked prosperity for everyone that’s connected to the business: suppliers, employees, farmers, franchisees, customers, and neighbours alike.

Ben & Jerry’s has taken a stance on nearly every major social issue of the last three decades, ranging from same-sex marriage to criminal justice reform and from fair trade to campaign finance.

It’s also worked to reflect those values internally by sourcing ethical products throughout its supply chain and paying Vermont employees a liveable hourly wage. (The company starts its entry-level Vermont employees at $18.13 an hour ― $7.17 above the state’s minimum wage ― and allows workers to take home three pints of ice cream at the end of every workday.)

The company also stopped including criminal background checks in the first stage of its application process in 2015, in solidarity with a national campaign to remove the check box that typically appears on job applications asking about applicants’ criminal history.

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The Linwood Community Development Trust (LCDT) is a £2 million turnover venture group founded by six women with the backing of the local community in Linwood, a town of just over ten thousand people in Scotland. Their vision of a community-led local economy drives their work in galvanising bottom up economic development to improve health and wellbeing, reduce social inequalities, and build social capital.

The LCDT came about in response to private sector-led economic development that excluded residents from much of the promised economic benefits and ignored their voices in decision making. Previously, the small town used to rely on employment in one factory which closed in the 1980s.

Efforts started with online petitions and email campaigns protesting local government actions and were continued with extensive consultations over 2 years with 2500 local residents to inform plans for projects to address issues the community identified as being important.

The Trust successfully stimulated local development in line with what local people said they want and need. Successful initiatives include a community owned village (‘Mossedge’) including an all-weather football pitch, centre, theatre, and café and the Roots of Linwood Grocers, which generate local employment and meet local needs.

This work aligns the outcomes of the economy with what local people value. Linwood’s employee-owned small businesses capture and maintain circulation of funds locally – the surplus of which is reinvested in Linwood.

Along with keeping wealth circulating in the community, the LCDT’s progressive development measures have improved health and sense of community and participation in the town.

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