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Nature vs. Nurture

Nature vs. Nurture:

Are Social Entrepreneurs Born or Made?

Blog by Wayne Visser

Part 7 of 13 in the Age of Responsibility Blog Series for 3BL Media.

What do Taddy Blecher, Anurag Gupta, Wang Chuan-Fu and all of the other social entrepreneurs have in common? Is this a special breed of human being? Are social entrepreneurs born or can they be made? In the academic literature, there is an interesting thread of research that is around the concept of ‘champions’ in organisations, especially ‘environmental champions’. The idea draws on prior conceptions of the human resources champion in the 1970s and 1980s, before HR became institutionalised.

Academics define environmental champions as people who can attractively express a personal vision about environmental protection that is in tune with both industry’s needs and wider public concern and who convince and enable organisation members to turn environmental issues into successful corporate programs and innovations. Environmental champions have been showed to imbue a combination of characteristics, including being a catalyst, champion, sponsor, facilitator and demonstrator. Their skills include the ability to identify, package and sell environmental issues within their organisations.  Their effectiveness in engaging others rests heavily on expertise, top management support and a strong appreciation for the problems that every business unit or operations manager faces.

Research on champions is not confined purely to the environmental dimension of sustainability. Others have written about socially responsible change-agents, as well as managers’ individual discretion as a component of corporate social performance. British academic Christine Hemingway, for example, finds that CSR can be the result of championing by a few managers, based on their personal values and beliefs, despite the personal and professional risks this may entail. Individual managers are also often mediators in corporate philanthropy and stakeholder influence. Hence, the notion of CSR champions has emerged as an important concept, which I will return to this in the final blog on individual change agents.

Bill Drayton, who has been involved in selecting and tracking the progress of the 2,700 Ashoka Fellows, believes social entrepreneurs ‘focus everyday on the “how to” questions. How are they going to get from here to their ultimate goal? How are they going to deal with this opportunity or that barrier? How are the pieces going to fit together? They are engineers, not poets. … The entrepreneur’s job is not to take an idea and then implement it. That is what franchisees do. The entrepreneur is building something that is entirely new – by constantly creating and testing and recreating and then testing and recreating again’ …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”download” new_window=”false” link=””]Pdf[/button] Nature vs Nurture (blog)

Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=””]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=””]Link[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

Cite this blog

Visser, W. (2012) Nature vs. Nurture: Are Social Entrepreneurs Born or Made, Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 20 March 2012.

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Productivity Through Interdependence

Productivity Through Interdependence:

Heeding the Lessons of Nature

Article by Wayne Visser

In our modern economies and businesses, unlimited growth is constantly striven for, institutionalised, almost idolised.  We hold it up as the measure of success.  Yet, by doing this, we could be sowing the seeds of our own destruction.  We know this because in nature, unlimited physical growth is almost nowhere to be seen.

When it does occur, we call it cancer, or imminent species collapse, or ecosystem decline.  Also, we are already seeing many of the signs of exceeding what environmental scientist Donella Meadows called ‘the limits to growth’.

Growth in Nature

In his visionary book on the evolution of life (The Awakening Earth), scientist and business author Peter Russell makes the critical observation that, while exponential growth does frequently occur in nature, it always levels off into an S-shaped curve as soon as a harmonious and life-supporting situation has been reached.  What actually happens is that quantitative growth is always superseded by qualitative growth after a healthy infrastructure has been established.  Our own human growth patterns are testimony to this.  US ecological economist Herman Daly extends this principle to the economy, suggesting that a distinction needs to be made between traditional economic growth (typically measured by Gross National Product), and holistic development.

According to Daly, ‘growth’ means a quantitative increase in the scale of the physical dimensions of the economy, while ‘development’ means the qualitative improvement in the structure, design and composition of the physical stocks of wealth that results from greater knowledge, both of technique and of purpose.

A growing economy is getting bigger; a developing economy is getting better.  In a business context, impetus for this change has already been provided by MIT Professor Peter Senge’s concept of a ‘learning organisation’ and World Business Academy fellows Willis Harman and John Hormann’s notion of Creative Work, in which “employment exists primarily for self development, and is only secondarily concerned with the production of goods and services.”

Practically, this shift away from blind growth will only occur as companies begin to value, measure and integrate qualitative dimensions into their strategic planning, operations and public reporting processes.  Two excellent tools for achieving this are the Balanced Scorecard and Social Auditing.

Productivity in Nature

Another common misconception about Nature is the dominance of competition in its processes – the so-called ‘survival of the fittest’ adage.  In fact, in nature, competition is the exception and cooperation and symbiotic relationships are the rule.  The principle incorrectly ascribed to Darwin could more appropriately read ‘survival of the species best adapted or integrated within their dynamic environment’.  Size, strength or physical agility are seldom the best survival qualities (remember the dinosaurs?).

Among the unsung prophets of the 20th century who first described the dynamic complexity of Nature in these terms was former South African Prime Minister, Jan Smuts.  His Theory of Holism was the precursor to modern day Living Systems Theory, which Fritjof Capra has subsequently applied to the economy and Peter Senge has applied to business organisations.  According to their observations, the key to productivity is synergy – creating the cooperative relationships which …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”download” new_window=”false” link=””]Pdf[/button] Productivity Through Interdependence (article)

Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=””]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”info” new_window=”false” link=””]Page[/button] Business Frontiers (book)

Cite this article

Visser, W. (1998) Productivity through Interdependence: Heeding the Lessons of Nature. Earthyear, Edition 17, June.

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