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Flourishing in a Not-For-Profit World by 2050

By Jen Hinton and Donnie Maclurcan of the Post Growth Institute

What would the world be like if the primary goal of all businesses was to help enhance the health of people and the planet? What if businesses didn’t have to make decisions based on trade-offs between employee well-being and profit margins? What if economic and environmental sustainability were no longer at odds?

The world described above is not as distant as you may think. It is already emerging.

How on Earth is this possible?

There is massive potential for innovative not-for-profit enterprises to take the center stage in the 21st century, creating a more socially just, ecologically sustainable world economy. A process is underway in which the maximization of private profit as the number one priority of business is being replaced by a deeper motivation of purpose and, accordingly, better ways of doing business. An economy is emerging that addresses real human needs rather than manufacturing new “needs” in order to grow profits. This is an economy that aligns with the better parts of our human nature. It’s an economy that’s fit for purpose. Welcome to a Not-For-Profit World.

Researchers at the Post Growth Institute are currently writing a book called, How on Earth: Flourishing in a Not-For-Profit World by 2050 about how this transition to a Not-For-Profit World is viable, sustainable and maybe even inevitable.

What exactly is a not-for-profit enterprise?

The not-for-profit enterprises that are weaving together this new economy have social well-being and ecological sustainability written into their mission statements, but they are not dependent on philanthropy and volunteers. They are financially self-sufficient, generating profits that are then recycled back into the organization’s mission and/or given to projects that benefit the community. And they are having an enormous impact!

Whether you look at BRAC, the world’s largest not-for-profit organization that runs all kinds of commercial enterprises, from dairy production to a retail chain of handicraft stores, or Jenee Telcom that just started providing mobile phone service in Australia and uses all of the proceeds to provide services to people with disabilities, there are myriad examples all over the world of how not-for-profit business models are making a big difference.

There are even some businesses that are filed as for-profits but are actually leading the way for these self-sufficient not-for-profit business models, like Newman’s Own food company in the U.S. Although it is listed as a for-profit company, it donates 100 percent of its profits to charities.

Towards a not-for-profit World Economy

The vision that “How on Earth” puts forward is of an entire world economy based on not-for-profit enterprises. That is to say that every business will:

  • support its employees/members with meaningful work and agreeable wages,

  • directly support the well-being of individuals and the community through the provision of goods and services,

  • indirectly support the well-being of the community by passing on surplus profits (profits not needed by the organization itself) on to other work that benefits the community.

Right now, we have an economy that holds the maximization of private profit as its centerpiece. Accumulation of private wealth is the highest motivating factor of the current system and companies are expected to sacrifice all else (including the health of people and the planet) for the sake of private profit. This is built into the for-profit business model and, thus, our for-profit world economy.

So, it follows logically that we have the problems we see today; corruption on all levels, skyrocketing rates of inequality and environmental destruction galore.  The companies that are taking part in all of this are only playing by the rules of a game in which private profit is priority number one.

An economy fit for purpose

I think most of us know, on some level, that this is still a bit out of balance.  After all, profit is only supposed to be the means by which people and the planet are kept healthy, not an end goal in and of itself. The Not-For-Profit World model takes this thinking a step further, by taking the maximization of private profit out of the mandate of business. Not-for-profit businesses exist to serve people and the planet and any profits gained from this are recycled right back into serving people and the planet. That’s an economy fit for purpose. As this economy emerges, the need to try to mitigate the social and environmental problems that come as the by-products of private profit maximization will fade away.

Are you ready for a Not-For-Profit World?  Learn more about the “How on Earth” book project and how you can contribute here.

Jen Hinton has a very diverse background, with academic and professional experiences ranging from theater to business to environmental studies. Her expertise is systems thinking and she has a contagious enthusiasm for seeking holistic ways of moving beyond humanity’s current crises.

Donnie Maclurcan is a community facilitator and social innovator. He's the Ideas Guy at Project Australia – a community organisation helping people launch not-for-profit initiatives - and co-editor of Nanotechnology and Global Sustainability (2012).

[image credit: Zamber, Flickr Creative Commons license]

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