Dr Kleio Akrivou, a judge for our student Henley Challenge competition, shares her thoughts on the Henley Challenge ‘Social change…business gain’ theme question and advice for students taking up the Challenge:
This year’s Henley Challenge theme is tricky and will surely stretch you intellectually and in the impact you make as presenters:
Social change…business gain
How can your sector or field contribute to creating a better society for all?
My advice for you:
Do not deny the real tension that naturally exists between aggressive profit seeking business and ethical dimensions of society, economy and life. However, it is also to be acknowledged that the tensions between business and ethics may not mean a priori mutually exclusive domain, of course.
As I wrote in an introductory chapter in the book ‘Challenges of Capitalism for Virtue Ethics and the Common Good’ (Akrivou & Sison, 2016), the world has been doing business for thousands of years but what was making a difference in times, periods and civilisations of the past was that societal well-being and a positive impact for society and all involved were genuinely driving business and enterprise. Virtuous business relied primarily on virtuous and noble persons and was primarily aimed towards higher aims and the service of the good (Akrivou, 2016).
But servicing the good is not just achieving the maximum good for the most (powerful) stakeholders, which is the utilitarian basis of many businesses today. It requires all involved to reflect seriously on how to serve good ends and resist to sacrifice the means. Business can really serve society only when it’s subordinates itself to the broader ethics that bind us all together in sharing a common humanity.
‘Social change – business gain’ does not automatically qualify a business as ethical…what is required may be the creation of “a new normal” which brings us back to: what are the outcomes of business besides profit, why we are driven to do well by doing good, and what good business is for our direct community and society, our neighbours in the continent sharing close history ties, and others in the world.
Good luck to all, I will be seeing you the night of the competition as one of the judges!!
Dr Kleio Akrivou
Henley Challenge judge
Associate Professor, Business Ethics and Organisational Behaviour