Next week, i officially become a ‘woman of a certain age’ or ‘in her late forties

Next week, I officially become a ‘woman of a certain age’ or ‘in her late forties.  A lot has happened to radically change my life over the past year and it gives me pause for thought about how I want spend the second half of my life…

I’ve always been a big believer in the ‘common good’, empowerment and being true to yourself.  Given that we are daily at risk of tripping over into a Moral Abyss, I tend to check my moral compass daily, be it in my personal or professional life.

Inner city riots in my early years, meant I became involved in what has become a life-long commitment to work with other people to improve their lives and their environment.  What challenges me nowadays is that I that I want to continue these community orientated efforts as an entrepreneur.  How to balance the pursuit of profit as a woman business owner, with ‘making a difference’ is a source of endless professional satisfaction to me.

Ideas of ‘empowerment’ and ‘citizenship’, of achieving the greatest benefits for the greatest amount of people, through combined team effort is one of the ethical decisions I have made in my business. I am not alone. More women than ever are now pursuing their passions in starting a new business, galvanised by economic and job uncertainties.

Price Waterhouse Coopers recently undertook research about the effects of the recession on women and found:   “The research that we have done on women in the recession shows that 72 per cent say that it has got them thinking about a new start,” she says. “And nearly half of them want to shift into a small business or a social enterprise“. (Dame Julie Mellor quoted in the Times Online

Community activism is greater than I could have ever anticipated before having my own business. Collaboration is a survival strategy amongst entrepreneurs, especially in times of economic challenge in order to ‘raise the boat for everybody’.

Lofty business ideals, maybe. I certainly don’t lay any claim to easy answers, but I am a practical person and know that pooling skills can potentially create something greater than any individual might otherwise achieve and that business ethics is palying a greater role in profit margins.

I recently heard a speech from eminent philosopher and author, Mr Michael Sandel.  I was gripped.  How to express that it could be ok for people to make money and not burn the earth or each other in the process had been on my mind for weeks… He offered me some comfort I was heading in the right direction.

If my business entails sharing ideas on how people can achieve dreams of wealth, I need to be clear that this is indeed a ‘worthy’ goal, given the belief I have wrestled with about money ‘being the route of all evil’.

Professor Sandel called economics “spurious”. This seemed counter-intuitive to me. I had been listening to debates on taxation, inflation, employment and economics on the radio for years; I thought I was gradually figuring out how we all fit into place within these big macro-economic systems; I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  Knowing that he was wiser than me, however, I turned the radio up and listened – my practical business activities could wait! Learning something about ethical business practicalities was far too important.

What he argued, was that economists tell us what we SHOULD be doing for the health of the economy: GDP, employment, inflation and so forth (work harder, for longer hours, accept high taxation, etc) – as if it was all about the Economy and money.  But all of these subjects -which businesses also wrestle with – are MORAL and political issues; they have to be weighed up in terms of justice, fairness, ecology and so on.  We, the individual business owner and collectively as a business community, have to have our say in order to discover ways to go about our daily life which will enable the future of our communities, our families AND our environment to be secure and thrive…

The role of economics is merely to inform us of what might be the practical results of our decisions, no more than that. The crucial words here: ‘might be’. We are still learning all of the time, because the world is constantly evolving, as we learn new things about our world on a daily basis. Answers are not carved in stone!

So, if our everyday behaviour as entrepreneur or individual local citizens and even nations of people and international communities effects the balance of payments, distribution of welfare, health of the planet, the future of all living beings,  for instance, then there are ethical implications of ignoring getting involved with each other in subjects about which we care passionately – particularly in the misplaced belief that business transactions are free of ethical considerations and “should be neutral”. There is no such thing as value neutrality; it’s a myth and a lie unscrupulous business owners tell themselves in the pursuit of profit.  In other words, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem”.

When I worked for other people in the past, we shared the same ideas to some degree, but quite often the politics of different personalities and value systems working closely together could get in the way of positive results. In the words of my all time favourite song-writers, Neil Peart and Geddy Lee: “Glittering prizes and endless compromises shatter the illusion of integrity.”

So now here I am, a mature woman, a newbie woman business owner; I get to CHOOSE how I work and whom I work with.  I select my team carefully. If I am not convinced that they want to raise the bar for themselves and others, then I really have little interest in supporting them. It’s just not how I want to live my life. Fortunately, there are plenty of would be business owners out there who want to empower others and contribute to redresseing historical power imbalances – for instance, raising womens’ expectations in terms of how they earn a living.

I set out in my working career in paid jobs working alongside or on behalf of communities in the belief we were changing lives for the better. I am still that ethical person.  Nowadays my methods are different as a business owner than when I was employed to do this work, but my daily purpose remains – empowerment. There’s hardly anything more exciting to me than hearing from someone who wants to change their own life and who also has big dreams they want to share with others for everyone’s mutual benefit.

Some might say that knowing how the world really is – the level of injustice and deprivation, etc – is depressing and de-motivating.  Not for me! From direct experience, I know what is possible when people work together; the trick is finding the right people, who want the same results as yourself. Hope, learned belief, together with action and combined effort are the only way any of us will achieve success and fulfil our dreams. This is as true for the entrepreneur as the social activist.

I want more and better for more people and planet and I intend to build a team who feel the same.  So what about you? What would you change if you had the economic power to do it? Please share with me what inspires you to do well in your business and share my birthday contentment together.

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