Santa Barbara, CA, January 13, 2012
When I was in high school, I attended several music camps, which gave me my first experience of being a full-time musician. Adults attend various types of health camps, sports camps, church camps, and camps devoted to various groups and themes. Attending a Fielding Graduate University national session is like attending a camp for the mind, a convening of intellectuals, a convention of professors, philosophers, luminaries, and scholars. It’s a week of concentrated thought and contemplation.
During the time Susan has been pursuing her doctorate during the last five years, I’ve attended at least half a dozen national sessions of the Fielding Graduate University. This month’s session is extra special because tomorrow, Susan will walk down the aisle in cap and gown and officially receive her doctorate.
As usual, the intellectual climate of the assembled faculty and students is very stimulating. We missed the national session one year ago, because we were stuck in a hotel near the Atlanta airport for four days, due to a huge ice storm that had cancelled all flights. So it’s been good to see old friends and acquaintances again after two years.
Business as a force for social good?
The first three-hour session that I attended was centered on the subject of social entrepreneurship. This refers to business conducted in a manner that is good for workers and for society in general, in which companies taking responsibility for the hidden costs of doing business, e.g. pollution, unemployment compensation, “living wages” (i.e. wages high enough for the worker to live on without needing to work two jobs), etc. Social entrepreneurship is a relatively new movement that stands in opposition to the standard business practices and values.
The standard American business values follow the philosophy of the late economist Milton Friedman. One of Friedman’s most famous quotes is, “The business of business is business.” Another, “The single goal of business is to generate profits for its owners and shareholders.” Friedman was against any and all government regulations that might restrict businesses in any way. Friedman trusted “the free market” to regulate itself and solve any societal problems through competition and creative corporate or individual ingenuity. Thus followers of Friedman are against a mandated minimum wage, against environmental regulations, and against all taxes on businesses. Indeed, this philosophy believes that “freedom” in the USA means completely unregulated and untaxed business environment, as if the Constitution had been written by “We, the Corporate Businesses”, instead of “We, the People”.
The same conventional business rules and principles apply to social entrepreneurship as to any other business. The difference is that in businesses run according to the tenets of social entrepreneurship, the profits go to advance social causes that benefit the people, the nation, and the world.
Two successful examples of social entrepreneurship were discussed. Perhaps the most famous is the Grameen Bank, founded by Nobel Prize winner Mohammed Yumus, located in one of the world’s poorest countries, Bangla Desh. Yumus invented “micro-loans”, in which his bank loaned relatively small amounts of money to (mostly) women, who would never qualify for loans from traditional banks because they had no collateral to secure a traditional loan. The micro-loan/micro-philanthropy movement has spread to many countries in the third world, proving to be an important tool to fight poverty.
The second example of successful social entrepreneurship discussed in the session was Better World Books. This company was started by a couple of college students who were frustrated by the fact that after buying expensive college textbooks, the college bookstores would not back them back. So all too many used textbooks were ending up in landfills. These young social entrepreneurs created a company that buys back textbooks and resells them, mostly on Amazon, or donates them to third world countries, while simultaneously donating 5-10% of its profits to literacy programs. Better World Books has rapidly expanded to buy and sell approximately forty thousand textbooks per day, in the US and in a number of other countries. Check them out for your textbook needs at betterworldbooks.com.
Special Guest Speaker
Every FGU national session hosts a special guest speaker. An honorary plaque is awarded from the Creative Longevity and Wisdom Institute from within Fielding. This year’s guest honoree was author Richard Leider. Leider is best known for his books about finding one’s life-purpose. Inspiration comes when a person finds his/her “calling”, that greater purpose in life that transcends lesser goals, a purpose worth striving for one’s whole life.
Leider proposed that the traditional learning “curve” in life should not take the form of an inverted U, but rather should be an ascending line throughout life, referred to as “lifelong learning”. Leider was one of the original founders of Outward Bound, a travel country specializing in tours to exotic locations. Leider continues to lead (with the help of a native Masai guide) a yearly walking tour in Kenya, through the Great Rift Valley. He’s climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, seven times.
An interesting anecdote: Leider was hiking a group leader, led by the Masai tribal guide, in which all the hikers were carrying full backpacks, loaded with many unnecessary items. At day’s end, Leider and his fellow hikers were exhausted after hiking with their heavy packs. The guide asked Leider what was in his backpack. Leider proceeded to unpack the medicine kit, the Goretex rain jacket, the canned food, the maps, the satellite phone, etc. The guide simply asked, “Does carrying all this heavy stuff make you happy?”
This was the title of a workshop that dealt with both literal and figurative borders. There was an interesting discussion of “imagined communities”, which refers to the coalescing of countries through a process of self-identification of previously separated people that transcends identification with tribes, language groups, historical boundaries, and geographic barriers. Examples from the 19th century include Germany and Italy, which were originally a patchwork of small kingdoms and provinces. In the 20th century, one of the prominent examples of a country coalescing was India. In India’s case, its emergence as a nation was facilitated by its having been a British colony. The British built Asia’s largest railroad system in India, unifying distant territories, and introduced the use of English as a common language. Indian English has emerged as a major dialect of English, and is one of India’s official languages. It allows a Hindi-speaking north Indian to communicate with a Tamil-speaking south Indian.
Human development was described as occurring along a continuum between a combination of polarities:
Subjective—objective; Singular—collective; Interior—exterior;
Additional nuggets of wisdom:
A collection of anecdotes does not constitute data.
Healing=Coming to terms with “what is”
Appreciative intelligence=ability to reframe, perceive positive potential, and act now
January 14, 2012, Graduation Ceremony
The graduation ceremony began with the Human and Organizational Development (HOD) faculty and seventeen graduates marching in to a recording of Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March. One retiring faculty member was honored. Then, instead of the usual guest speaker who likely would deliver traditional platitudes, each of the seventeen graduates got to speak for several minutes, either about their studies, their experiences at Fielding, or to express appreciation to faculty and family.
The average age of Fielding students is somewhere in their forties, as opposed to the typical mid-twenties of traditional universities. Most are mid-career, often holding high executive positions either in corporations or in government service. Some, like Susan, are CEO’s of their respective companies. The seventeen graduates presented a wide variety of dissertation subjects, representing collectively thousands of hours of scholarship and research. In Susan’s case, it represented approximately five years of work. Congratulations Dr. Mazer!