Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Wise Man's Call For Action

Social responsibility is not just a decorative layer over a deteriorated surface. It is not a marketing gimmick for short-term increases in sales. It is not the catch phrase of a political group, or lobby, scoring points for the interests of a chosen few. Social responsibility is possibly the most important key part of the ethical core of civilisation. The level of manifestation is an accurate indicator of the maturity, awarenessand connectedness of an entire generation. It reflects upon the ability of citizens to understand interdependence and interconnectedness, and proves that we truly understand our responsibility for, not only our own our posterity, but also that of future generations. And it stands for how much we appreciateand value ourselves.

Simultaneously, dynamic social responsibility also inspires and encourages innovation in all fields, particularly technology, business and organisation, but most of all in social innovation. A man who is living his creative life among us in Slovenia has dedicated his life to social responsibility and innovation. A cosmopolitan man, capable of of vision and radical choices. We are very proud to present an interview with Matjaž Mulej, PhD. We spoke with him just before his departure for Vienna where we will all participate in a conference about cognitive science. This is his story.

Who is Matjaž Mulej?
Matjaž Mulej, PhD: Born 1941, he is a Professor Emeritus of Systems Theory and Innovation at the University of Maribor and who is still active at the University and elsewhere. Having published over 1,600 articles in nearly 50 countries; he is the Chairman of the International Academy of Systems and Cybernetic Sciences (Vienna) and member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts in Salzburg and Paris, a double PhD in economics and management; he has been a visiting professor at foreign universities for 15 semesters; he is a co-founder of the IRDO - Institute for the Development of Social Responsibility, etc.

Where do you usually find inspiration? What is the muse of your academic vision?
Matjaž Mulej, PhD: My greatest inspiration comes from knowing how many unnecessary problems of humanity are caused by the practices of decision makers. By people who, due to their incompleteness are incapable of considering all that is absolutely fundamental. My muse of academic vision is in the efforts aimed at replacing the economic theory which is concealing its fundamental error by using the ‘neo-liberalism’ label to vilify Adam Smith's liberalism, and block the market operation in the name of the ‘free market’. The current economic status quo supports monopoly, instead of a systemic or appropriate comprehensive thinking and approach, and non-technologic innovation related thereto. We need to find a way out of the ‘crisis of abundance’, as pointed out by professor Porter more than 20 years ago. And this cannot be achieved with the same neo-liberal approaches that have caused it.

Photo: Matjaž Mulej, PhD.
Source: IRDO Institute

Why is it so important to promote social responsibility?

Matjaž Mulej, PhD: In the new strategy on corporate social responsibility issued in October 2011 the EU explicitly recognises the absence of corporate social responsibility as the core source of current global economic crises and issues. Neo-liberalism did not bring us prosperity and neither did it resolve the fundamental problems of humanity. Instead, it reinforced problems that resemble those of feudalism. The EU defined social responsibility as each individual's responsibility for their own impact on society. It is based on documents issued by the UN and ISO – International Organization for Standardization, which define seven principles and seven areas of action with respect to social responsibility, and identify two key elements of systems theory, i.e. interdependence and comprehensive approach, as the key underlying concepts. This is the first instance of such a formulation and results from international bodies having realised that social responsibility is the key, or perhaps even only, alternative to the destruction of humankind – which will be the final consequence of continued neo-liberal practice.

Is social responsibility subject to evolution? What are the elements that strengthen or disintegrate it?
Matjaž Mulej, PhD: Social responsibility is strongly subjected to evolution. Its general social essence is the same as that of practically all religions of the world. Unfortunately, only a small, but nevertheless important part of social responsibility – humanitarian action – has been implemented in practice so far. Meanwhile, integrity and a suitably comprehensive approach have been pushed aside to allow abuse of power by business people, leaders, and other influential people in their relationships towards colleagues, business partners, customers and natural resources critically needed for survival of mankind. Social responsibility is disintegrated by the tendency to operate according to short-term and narrowly defined criteria, and by the dilemma of what is ethical, i.e. god or bad, or in other words, neo-liberal and feudalistic. On the other hand, social responsibility is strengthened by the realisation that it prevents problems, lowers costs and calls for long-term solutions.
Implementation of social responsibility is conducted as a non-technological invention-innovation-diffusion process.
How is social responsibility implemented in Slovenia, Europe, China, and globally?
Matjaž Mulej, PhD: Most decision-makers are still under a very strong influence of a neo-liberal short-term and narrow view emphasising direct benefits to owners, and share-holders, regardless of the destructive impact on long-term benefits. To my knowledge, economic theory has not yet provided an alternative and is still far from putting such an alternative into practice and political decision-making. If it had, the UN, groups of progressive companies, ISO and the European Union would not need to issue documents, such as those previously mentioned, and there would be no need to discuss social responsibility or the great concerns for our children and grandchildren, if it is not generally adopted. The situation is similar across the globe.

What are the short-term goals of efforts for social responsibility and what issues do we need to concentrate our energy on? What about its long-term success?
Matjaž Mulej, PhD: Social and economic crises such as our current one – which can arguably be called a ‘crisis of abundance’ for it is without precedent as to the accumulation of wealth, rate of destruction of natural resources and the environment, and the quantity of debt – were historically resolved by no other means but war. Wars cause destruction and create the need to rebuild. The short-term goal of implementing conceptual documents about social responsibility is to prevent war, which would – given the current global alliances and weapon proliferation, including nuclear weapons – inevitably lead to global destruction. Long-term success greatly depends on updating the criteria for business success, as well as the economic and organisational conditions for according to examples known in theory for years, such as ‘visionary companies’, ‘cooperative management’, and on understanding the fact that success depends on the 3 T's – tolerance towards individuality of talented people and targeted investments into technologies where the concentration of tolerance and talent is the highest – cooperatives and ownership according to Mondragon and use of creative cooperation methods, e.g. de Bono's Six Thinking Hats. All of the above has been proven in practice; however, it prevents abuse and thus makes it unattractive to the most powerful people for it disintegrates the ‘power, wealth & pleasure’ relationship.

Photo: Kaja Rangus, Matjaž Mulej, PhD., Violeta Bulc
Source: Vibacom, EMCSR 2012, Vienna

What are examples of good practices of social responsibility?

Matjaž Mulej, PhD: The practices mentioned earlier, and for example the realisation of globally renowned business people, such as Tatjana Fink from Trimo, that business partners who do not practice social responsibility are insufficiently reliable, and therefore too expensive to conduct business with. Gerzem's study about American citizens as customers published two years ago showed that companies with a reputation of social responsibility tend to attract more customers than others – the benefit from social responsibility by living with it.

Are global changes influencing awareness about social responsibility?
Matjaž Mulej, PhD: Absolutely. The documents mentioned earlier were coming into existence over the last decade, which means they are a response to problems the neo-liberal view is unable to deal with.

How would you raise awareness about social responsibility?
Matjaž Mulej, PhD: I expect the greatest influence will be the realisation that reliability and honesty are more beneficial than abuse coupled with short-term goals. The latter is coming back to haunt us. This has been evident over the past few years with the decline of political monopolists, bankruptcies of large banks and other companies – including those in Slovenia – that have been following short-term criteria of success.

What is your next major challenge?
Matjaž Mulej, PhD: To achieve implementation in the parliament and by government of the Republic of Slovenia of the EU guidelines issued in October 2011 stating that government bodies should become the role model of support for and promotion of social responsibility. During the previous mandate of the current Prime Minister, the Institute for the Development of Social Responsibility drafted a strategy for promoting social responsibility. We published it and presented it to Minister Žiga Turk who was responsible for development, at the time and he expressed his support. However, this did not lead to any actual action. Perhaps, the mandate ended too soon. We have had support from the President of the Republic of Slovenia since the beginning – both the current and the previous presidents participated as honorary sponsors of IRDO's conferences about social responsibility. Unfortunately, the President does not have enforcement authorisations.

Direct, determined and visionary. Just as our times demand. with an explicit and urgent call for action. There are wise men and women among us. Matjaž Mulej, PhD is one of them. Support his ideas and help create a better future for us and our posterity.

Best wishes,

Violeta and Kaja

Additional links and publications:

- Article by Violeta Bulc, MSc in Journal of Organisational Transformation & Social Change

Video from the "Vdahnimo navdih" (Inspire Inspiration) event, Studio12

- Recommended: Danier Kahneman, "Thinking, fast and slow"