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Should all organisations become social enterprises? On seasonality, sustainability and covenant leadership

By 12th November 2020 One Comment

Growing up on a Kibbutz, a collective community in Israel that was traditionally based on agriculture and on the value of “give as much as you can and get as much as you need”, I could identify all of the trees by name and character. I knew when they flourished, when they shed leaves and when they bore fruit. I had the trees I loved climbing up to sit and read on, the ones we planted as children. I knew by heart when it was the guava, loquat, pomelo and avocado season.

Connecting this to my recent research on value-led leadership in organisations, made me reflect on the connections between seasonality, generativity and sustainability.

Moreover, when working with organisations, I aim, in resonance with Talik & Co’s mission, to develop organisations that enable people, nature and society to flourish.

With trees and nature’s wise cycle in mind, I would like to start with an open question to aid us in this exploration:

Should all organisations become social enterprises? Should all organisations strive to change the world for the better as their opening statement?

From my conversations with business leaders as part of my research, I can outline four perspectives that are presented below. It is worth noting that these strongly correspond with Jewish values, which were the primary focus of the research. At the same time, these offer a global outlook and in many ways are congruent with one another.

Putting down roots:

This relates to developing long term relationships with your people and the environment, seeing your organisation as both solid and evolving. People here would relate both to the employees and clients. As one leader in the financial sector described it: “we’ve cultivated a culture of people who are looking for sustainability in life and business”.

Just like a tree, all parts play a significant role. The roots deepen and spread over time, as well as the interaction and the experience among all stakeholders. It is longevity that allows organisational wisdom to develop, to have ethical clarity and interestingly, enable new initiatives.

Keeping it live and kicking:

What keeps initiatives going? What keeps us growing, as living beings? What keeps organisations thriving? There is only so much inertia can do, and at the end of the day, it would be the roots and their health that will not only enable a clear sense of direction, but also the energy and motivation to make an impact, in a long lasting, generative way.

A leader of one of the leading global charities, talked about the insatiable demand with many of the initiatives feeling like drops in that demand ocean, and how that can be discouraging. Therefore, they suggested that: “the challenge is to try and create initiatives which themselves can multiply and be sustainable”. One of the keys to doing that seems to be working in alignment with the ecosystem. This leads to the next perspective.

Marrying values:

A couple of prominent Jewish values are the values of Tzedakah (charity), a word closely related to the word Tzedek (justice), and Tikkun olam (world repair). A leading social enterprise based in Africa has connected these two values with the African philosophy of Ubuntu, espoused by Nelson Mandela, which can be translated as: “I am because we are”.

Just like trees in a forest that communicate, interconnect and are interdependent through the “wood-wide web”, this allows growth, transformation and transcendence. This perspective also offers a fresh angle to look at positive impact. As the leader of the organisation mentioned above stated: “We measure ourselves by the amount of support that we give to one another”.

It is about asking – where do we come from, where are we now, and how can we support this ecosystem we belong to? By connecting it all, we can get involved in the sense-making of where we are heading.

These three perspectives lead us to the fourth one.

Covenant leadership:

Whether it is about collaborative vision creation, serving, leading by example, teaching or empowering, shifting towards covenant leadership (a leadership approach that emphasises ethical duty, mutual responsibility and long-term perspective) could allow a real movement to take place. A leader who shared their experience and learning of converting their massive organisation to a social enterprise, concluded that: “we need to move from contract to covenant… we need to bind everybody together. We need to stop working in silos”. We need to reinvent organisations.

Coming back to the question I started with, should all businesses become social enterprises?

Coming back to nature, it is not only that trees can heal us, as I learnt growing up, they can teach us a thing or two as well. And just as trees flourish when the forest around them flourishes, and vice versa, the same goes for businesses that flourish when the communities, environment and economy they belong to flourish as well.

So in short, the answer is yes. The longer answer is, I am not sure we can afford not to. The slightly longer answer, which in a traditionally Jewish way is also a question, would be: Why would we not want to?

One Comment

  • Stephanie Ball says:

    Absolutely! Well said, Hagit. Silos and/or selfish motives do not yield inspired ideas or complex solutions. We can, and should, both as individuals and as organisations, strive for and embrace the concepts of purpose, community and self-transcendence. As you said, “why would we not want to?”

    P.S. I love treeeeees 🙂

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