Posted by & filed under Alternatives to Political Systems, Economics, Ethical Investment, People Systems, Society.

by Donnie Maclurcan and Jen Hinton

Imagine waking up in a world where you feel good about going to work, no matter the nature of your job. You feel positive and motivated, knowing that your work provides you with a livelihood that also contributes to the wellbeing of others in a way that respects the ecological limits of the planet.

Welcome to a not-for-profit world, where businesses can still make profits, but any profits are always reinvested for social or organizational benefit, rather than being accumulated privately by individuals. This world emerged because, around 2013, a large number of people came to the realization that any economic system that centralizes wealth and power is, ultimately, socially and ecologically unsustainable. People were fed up with excessive executive salaries, a financial sector divorced from the real world, corporations with more say than people, endless spin from politicians and entrepreneurs about the latest technological ‘solution’, and the trappings of mindless consumption.

As the mainstream attention on the Occupy movement faded, protesters even started to question whether being fed up was worthwhile.

Then a real alternative emerged. The people already had a business structure that wasn’t centered on creating private profit and concentrating wealth and power; all they had to do was grow the not-for-profit sector, shifting power away from the for-profits. A not-for-profit economy changed the game by decentralizing wealth and power, while maintaining incentives for innovation and increasing people’s desire for meaningful work.

Before 2013, when for-profit enterprise was the main business model, it was contributing to financial inequity and vested interests. This had led to an increase of status anxiety due to drastic differences in material wealth. The majority of people often felt that because they didn’t have as many material possessions as the wealthy classes, among whom the money had been concentrated, they couldn’t be as happy. For some people in the lowest income brackets, this inequality not only meant status anxiety and shame, but even a lack of consumption choices, affecting diet and health. For many, the solution was to consume more of whatever they could afford.

On the global level, this overconsumption went hand-in-hand with production practices that exploited workers in sweatshops to make cheap and plentiful products, while decimating key natural resources. This was clearly unsustainable. As more and more people realized that all forms of capitalism and socialism – grounded in a growth mentality – centralize wealth and power and are therefore unsustainable, they also began to see how a not-for-profit economy offered a way to decentralize power, whilst maintaining innovation. When a critical mass of people reached this realization and accelerated the shift to the not-for-profit business model, everything started to change for the better.

How on Earth could that be possible?

This scenario of a not-for-profit world is closer to the present reality than you might think. Across numerous countries, the economic contribution of the not-for-profit sector has been on the rise since the late 1990s. In Canada, for example, not-for-profit institutions now contribute 8% of the country’s gross domestic product. This is possible because not-for-profit does not mean ‘no-profit’ or ‘can’t make a profit’. Not-for-profit actually means not for private profit or not for the primary purpose of making a profit. Across most countries and jurisdictions, not-for-profits can make as much or as little money as they want, they just cannot provide payouts to private individuals from any surplus.

The pioneering work of not-for-profit businesses, from sectors as diverse as construction, manufacturing, banking, hospitality and healthcare, suggest that innovative, sustainable economies, with high levels of employment, can exist without the private profit motive.

Many not-for-profits also understand that generating their own income allows them to fund the good work they do (as opposed to the traditional approach that depends on grants and philanthropy). Take, for example, BRAC, the world’s biggest not-for-profit organization. Since 1972, BRAC has supported over 100 million people through its social development services, but almost 80% of its revenue comes from its own commercial enterprises, including a large-scale dairy and a retail chain of handicraft stores, all of which are run according to a holistic vision of sustainable business.

More importantly, not-for-profit enterprises could regularly out-compete equivalent ‘for-profit’ businesses in the near future, based on a combination of factors, such as:

  • not-for-profit enterprises better utilizing the benefits of the communications revolution on reduced organizational costs;
  • an increasing awareness of the tax concessions and free support available solely to not-for-profits;
  • the trend in consumer markets toward supporting ethical businesses and products;
  • the ability of not-for-profit enterprises to survive and even thrive during years of downturn, given their sustainability does not rely on making profits and that profit margins will continue to get smaller as resource constraints impact business costs.

How on Earth can you help?

Here at the Post Growth Institute, we are writing a book: How on Earth? Flourishing in a Not-for-Profit World by 2050. This will be the world’s first book to explore the prospect of not-for-profit enterprise becoming the central model of local, national and international business, by 2050. It will also outline practical steps that you, as a member of the public, can take to fast-track this evolution to a sustainable economy.

We have created a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo in order to gather the financial support needed to finish researching and writing the book, as well as the funds to publish, print, market and distribute it. You can help by contributing money to the crowdfunding campaign here and spreading the word about this project and crowdfunding campaign as far and wide as possible.

For an outline of the book’s main ideas, see this 2012 talk by the book’s lead author, Dr Donnie Maclurcan, at the Environmental Professionals Forum.



What if? Thriving Beyond Economic Growth (53 minutes)

4 Responses to “How on Earth? Flourishing in a Not-for-Profit Economy by 2050”

  1. Anon

    A very positive and empowering article, which is completely invalidated by the second to last paragraph where it asks for donations. This is in complete contradication to the earlier statement:

    “…not-for-profits also understand that generating their own income allows them to fund the good work they do (as opposed to the traditional approach that depends on grants and philanthropy)…”

    Reply
  2. Tom Toogood

    A marvellous article and concept, and I disagree with Anon’s comment that inviting donations destroys the articles’ validity.
    A freely given donation is not a price, it is not a profit, it does not turn “not for profit” into “for profit” at all, either in its intention, or its application, given that mutual trust and integrity undergird the project. We’ve had 2 successful FAIR SHARE FESTIVALS here in Newcastle, Australia, educating the public on ways to transform greed into goodness, as in this article…the attendance has grown by 140% over 2 years. This article is the best I’ve seen on the subject. Tom T.

    Reply
  3. Tom Toogood

    I should have added to my previous comment, recognising Anon’s point of projects or services being self-funding,… that the donations invited are for the start-up phase, which is not yet the self-funding service planned, but which leads to it being created, and if properly designed, then rapidly becomes self-funding. An embryo in the womb needs a bit of help, Anon. And lets not deny people the privilege they feel from helping the great transformation to become real.
    from Tom T, Permaculture Designer-Teacher, former Lecturer in Systems & Project Management, RMIHE Austraia (now Charles Sturt University).

    Reply
  4. Donnie Maclurcan

    Thanks to both Anon and Tom for your reflections.

    As co-author of the article, I’d like to make two points.

    Firstly, seeking financial support through crowdfunding does not have to be the same as seeking donations. With our crowdfunding campaign, for example, contributors receive ‘perks’ in exchange for every level of financial support they provide. A $50 contribution to our project receives a print copy of the book when it is published. So it’s actually a model of social enterprise, an important part of self-funding.

    That said, Tom’s point is a good one. Even in a world of not-for-profit businesses, philanthropy will likely continue to be important to helping organisation’s thrive in embryonic stages. Here an exciting development is that not-for-profit businesses, like the Myuma Group in Australia, are increasingly playing the role of community philanthopist with their profits.

    Donnie Maclurcan
    Post Growth Institute

    Reply

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