SEATTLE — Capitalism: To so many people, it’s a symbol of the “dog-eat-dog” nature of the world, of the increasing gap between the haves and have-nots, a testament to the dangerousness of too much power and the all-consuming nature of selfishness.
But in an economic structure that generates so much profit, there have been several propositions for how to divert a portion of the profits to causes that are crucially worthwhile.
Simon Mainwaring is a brand consultant who envisioned “We First” capitalism, a twist on the traditional model of capitalism that, in essence, places the idea of the collective good over the profits for one individual or one company.
Several versions of capitalism have been proposed that aim at creating a more humane and less harshly profit driven structure, from John Mackey’s conscious capitalism to Umair Haque’s constructive capitalism to the philanthrocapitalism advocated by figures such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
Like these models, “We First” capitalism looks at the creation of a more ethically sound economic model for businesses, but with a focus on the relationships between companies and consumers, and, in particular, the newly critical influence that consumers have over companies in the digital age.
Today, the consumer has more power than ever with the rise of the Internet and accompanying social media. Transactions are a lot more about interaction. Consumers are so bombarded with feedback about companies from other consumers and a huge array of options in the form of competing companies that pleasing the customer is more important than ever.
Mainwaring says that he believes “this technology is teaching us to be human again.” This optimistic view can be backed up with statistics. For example:
- 87 percent of consumers believe businesses need to prioritize society’s interest at least on par with business interests.
- 71 percent of people say they would help a brand promote their products or services if they are backed up by a good cause.
- 91 percent of global consumers would switch brands if a different brand of similar price and quality supported a good cause.
In the digital age, consumers find themselves with a newfound sense of power, and, in Mainwaring’s eyes, they feel a moral imperative to support companies that are doing social good. “The supposed bliss of ignorance,” he says, “is being replaced with the responsibility of awareness.”
Mainwaring’s vision of “We First” capitalism is based on three main tenets.
- As figures such as Bill Gates have said, philanthropy and government cannot fix the world alone: the private sector needs to get involved. To Mainwaring, this means that private sector brands need to form partnerships with their consumers. Companies will need to lay out exactly what they stand for, and consumers who support the mission of the company will need to hold them to it.
- Next is the idea of contributory consumption. It’s easier than ever for consumers to support companies in today’s world, with credit cards, online money transfers and the ever-expanding world of retail. Companies need to take action that reflects the mission they have set forth. Thus, by consuming a companies products, consumers are contributing to a clearly established set of actions.
- Finally, there is the concept of cross sector collaboration through what Mainwaring has termed the Global Brand Initiative (GBI.) In short, the GBI would allow companies to pool the resources they have available in order to tackle problems that are larger than the scope of a single company.
Once companies are working toward common goals, such as the Millennium Development or Sustainable Development Goals, they help to raise people out of poverty, thus opening up new markets and creating an entire new class of consumers that can be educated and take part in the cycle of “We First” capitalism.
As Mainwaring puts it, “We can no longer run business on the premise of profit for profit’s sake, because what it is costing us is more valuable than money. We need to end this false separation between living and giving, where we give a damn after we’ve taken our profits.”
Through intertwining the concepts and the purposes of the private sector and philanthropy, “We First” capitalism and the Global Brand Initiative is an honest and innovative approach to reducing global poverty and promoting sustainability.
– Emily Dieckman