Fritjof Capra on Communities and Flourishing Business Models

In order to help propagate the teachings of his works, most notably The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision, which was co-authored with Pier Luigi Luisi, Fritjof Capra created his on-line course Capra Course, to reach as many people as possible around the world. We are now about to start the fourth edition, which begins on September 6th, and I am really looking forward to it.

Credit: Capra Course

At the request of those who had already taken the course and who wished to carry on the rich conversations, we created the alumni network. This allows people to discuss their own projects, form groups based around specific themes such as health and education, as well as taking part in the on-line forum which Fritjof joins, time permitting.

I have recently published a dialogue between Fritjof and myself on Sustainable Brands where we discuss ecological economics, and I have also recently published my review by Professor Ove Jackson’s Transformative Ecological Economics. These two articles led to a hugely interesting discussion around this theme on the alumni network, with Fritjof joining in as well. So I would like to share Fritjof’s contribution, and afterwards I will look at one real example of this approach to business which comes from Canada.

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Fritjof Capra

Fritjof: The often-cited adage that “corporations are in the business of making money, not of saving the world” can also be expressed by saying that ethics have been systematically excluded from our economic system and from our businesses. It is therefore of the utmost importance, in my view, to put the question of ethics on the table.

However, ethics work only when practiced within a community. As I emphasized in the course, ethical behavior is behavior for the common good. I think, therefore, that the emphasis on community will be critical if we want to change the current economic system. This is also an important theme in Ove Jakobsen’s book.

There are three main reasons why community is of paramount importance today.

(1) Our current economic system has resulted not only in rapid and extensive deterioration of the natural environment, but also in rising social inequality, a breakdown of democracy, and increasing poverty and alienation. To counteract these harmful tendencies, it will be vital to strengthen and mobilize communities around the world, many of which have been threatened by global capitalism.

(2) Sustainability is not an individual property but a property of an entire web of relationships. It always involves a whole community. This is the profound lesson we need to learn from nature. The way to sustain life is to build and nurture community. A sustainable human community interacts with other communities — human and nonhuman — in ways that enable them to live and develop according to their nature.

(3) Today, one of the greatest obstacles to moving toward sustainability is the persistent illusion, maintained by economists and politicians, that unlimited growth is possible on a finite planet. Economic and corporate growth are pursued relentlessly by promoting excessive material consumption. A continual barrage of advertising tells us that buying more goods will make us happier. The most powerful antidote against this corporate onslaught is to find happiness in human relationships — in other words, in community.

So, the strategy would be to emphasize these three interlinked issues relating to community:

  1. the protection of communities around the world from the harmful effects of global capitalism;
  2. the teaching that sustainability requires human communities thriving within the community of life;
  3. the emphasis on finding happiness in human relationships, i.e. in community, rather than in material consumption.

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Maria and I have been working with a number of companies here in Brazil which are exploring the dimension of community in their business models. One tool we are using to inspire their thinking is the flourishing business canvas. This was developed by Antony Upward, and it is being studied and validated by the Strongly Sustainable Business Model Group which is based in Toronto, Canada, and of which I am a member.

The Flourishing Canvas is published with permission from FlourishingBusiness.org

As you can see, the context of business (the mustard-coloured centre) is located within the wider context of community, which itself is embedded in the context of the environment. When constructing business models in this manner, both community and ecological resources which are shared between the organisation, society and the planet are made explicit.

In the video below, Antony takes you through one fully-worked through example of the flourishing canvas, which is Tiffinday, whose founder is Seema Pabari. She is explicit in discussing the mission of her company: “I believe that the very act of revenue generation whether it be as: a government earning taxes a corporation earning revenues or an individual earning a salary is pointless…unless it improves lives and communities.”

Fritjof is one of the world’s leading thinkers in systems theory and the author of many influential books, such as The Tao of Physics; The Web of Life: A New Synthesis of Mind and Matter; The Turning Point: Science, Society and the Rising Culture; The Hidden Connections: A Science for Sustainable Living; and Learning from Leonardo: Decoding the Notebooks of a Genius. What I think makes Capra Course so uniquely special is that not only do participants enjoy twelve weeks in the company of Fritjof, discussing systems thinking, ecology, economics, biology, health, law, and many other inter-related subjects besides, there is an equal focus on finding real world and systemic solutions to the issues and theories which are discussed.

A very diverse range of people always take part, the majority of who have many years of experience in a wide range of disciplines and fields. One such participant was artist and designer Susan Umbenhour, who recently wrote to Fritjof sharing her experiences of the course, having completed the Spring 2017 edition. You can read here letter here. The next edition of Capra Course will begin on September 6th. If you think that you may be interested in joining us, please visit www.capracourse.net.

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