What’s in it for me?

What’s in it for me?

written by Colin Crooks

Published by Clearly So  4th July 2012

Serial social entrepreneur Colin Crooks highlights the importance of job creation and the need for a more inclusive, socially minded approach to business.

Recently I spoke about unemployment on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Four Thought’ programme. My speech was far reaching – I said the situation was much worse than is ever reported, there are actually around 6.5 million people wanting to work but unable to do so. An incredible proportion of our working age population is very poorly skilled and I bemoaned the failure of policy to acknowledge the power of parental role models. In creating work for adults we would be creating role models for children and teenagers, which would probably make many of them more employable. And finally I pointed out that our top firms have squirrelled away a mighty £754 billion in cash they won’t spend.

The broadcast was recorded at the RSA in London in front of a live audience of about 50 members of the society. There was time for a Q&A session after the speech and the one that struck me most was from a young lady who asked, “What’s in it for business?”

I’ve been round the block enough times to know this is a key question when actually talking to business nowadays. I was nevertheless saddened to find that the insidious culture of ‘What’s in it for me?’ has seemingly percolated through to every part of our society.  It’s now simply not enough to demonstrate that something is a public good anymore, you have to describe why people should do anything at all to advance that good in terms of how they will directly benefit.

Of course, I think that there is a superb and compelling ‘business case’ for my approach but I think it bodes badly for our society if that is the first question that is asked rather than “How can I help?” After all, business, finance and economics are human constructs. They are not found in nature. They were designed by humans to improve the human condition and help to provide more goods for humanity and make life easier.  However they seem to have evolved in a way that in many cases is antipathetical to the human experience.

We see it every day in the environment where our business model dictates the constant destruction of our natural resources without, it seems, any heed of how future generations might have enough to live with. We see it also in employment. Business seems to be designed to remove human input by as much as possible, to eliminate ‘human error’ and indeed to reduce the cost of human resources. And if we can’t reduce that human input we transfer the jobs abroad to a country where labour is cheaper. But as humans we value work incredibly highly, it is a source of pride, it creates dignity and it gives us a status in society, which we value enormously. Without work humans become depressed, unhealthy and apathetic.

So for me it’s self-evident that we should endeavour to create jobs that people can do at all opportunities. A country where most people could find work would be a fairer, happier and more decent country to live in. This would have benefits for all of us, not least our corporate citizens who would have a better educated and engaged workforce to recruit from and a larger market for their goods. So instead of asking ‘What’s in it for me?’ we should start asking “What’s in it for us?”

I’m crowd funding my new book.  Can you help me?  I want it to be printed in time for the party conference season. For more information and to make a donation visit http://authr.com/title/348/one-million-jobs_a-social-entrepreneur’s.html