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The past few weeks, we have been looking into the possibilities for Africa, Ethiopia and ourselves to arise, to step up to the challenges and opportunities that this continent
offers and to begin to rely more on production for the domestic as well as the export market instead of depending on imports, and thus turn the trade balance more in our favour. It can be done but it must be done in a way that sustains our environment and in a way that is fair and decent and does not exploit workers, children or the poor. There are many business opportunities indeed, but very often business is done with the aim in mind to make profit in the shortest possible time, using short cuts and doing harm to people and the environment. It is the story of the Goose with the Golden Eggs, which reminds us of what may happen if we are not considerate and only think of our own benefits. It is the story about a farmer who one day found that his goose had laid a golden egg. To his astonishment, the goose laid another golden egg the next day and continued to do this day after day, making the farmer rich and wealthy. But with his increasing wealth came greed and impatience. Unable to wait every day for another golden egg, the farmer decided to kill the goose and get all the golden eggs at once. But when he opened the goose, he found it empty. There were no golden eggs and there was no way to get them anymore. The farmer destroyed the goose that produced them.
Instead, we need to do business with integrity and in an ethical way. Ethical behaviour is that which is normally accepted as good and right, as opposed to bad or wrong. Is it ethical, for example, to pay a bribe to obtain a business contract? Is it ethical to dispose of hazardous waste in an unsafe manner? Is it ethical to withhold information that would discourage a potential partner to join your business? Is it ethical to ask somebody to do a job which you know will not be good for his or her health? Is it ethical to underpay workers? Is it ethical to expect certain favours from workers outside of their job description? Is it ethical to deliver below standard goods and services? Is it ethical for workers not to deliver at their capacity but instead deliberately slow down production? And so on.
Regardless to what your initial response to these questions would be, customers expect that government officials, managers, workers and companies and organizations in general all act in accordance with high ethical and moral standards, but we all face questions like the ones posed above on a regular basis.
We also need to do business in a sustainable way, because if we do not find solutions that are sustainable, we will continue losing and consuming the very resources we need to provide for respectful livelihoods.
Thomas Friedman, in his book “HOT, FLAT and CROWDED”, writes the following about sustainability:
“Our overarching goal has to be sustainable globalization. Why? Because a world defined by the values of sustainability is not just a greener world. It is a safer world, it is a more just world and it is a politically more stable world. Sustainable development provides a framework for humans to live and prosper in harmony with nature rather than at nature’s expense. Everything we care about – a growing economy, human wellbeing and security – is compromised, undermined or lessened by environmental degradation.
Now what exactly does sustainability mean? What are the values that underpin sustainable behaviour, whether in the financial world or the natural world? Something is sustainable when it protects, restores or regenerates our resources and assets rather than degrades it. Sustainability is not about size and scale. Being big does not make something sustainable. What makes an institution sustainable is not the scale and size it reaches, but how it does its business, how it relates to its employees, shareholders, customers and suppliers. Sustainability is about the disposition, the mindset, and behaviours which shape and develop relationships – relationships with family, friends, customers, investors, employees, borrowers, fellow citizens, the community, the environment and with nature. In both the natural world and the financial world, it means thinking and then behaving in a way that literally sustains – sustains the natural world around us, sustains business relationships, sustains personal relationships, sustains the community, the country, the planet, sustains the relationship with our grandchildren and with generations to come. And that mindset automatically leads to the values that connect us deeply as people to other people and as people to institutions, to communities, and to the environment – values such as transparency, integrity, honesty, and shared responsibility. This mindset also leads us to think about the impact our actions will have over the long term.
Back to the story of the Goose with the Golden Eggs; we need to ask ourselves what the geese are in Africa, in Ethiopia and in our own business. Are they laying any golden eggs? Do we care for them, feed them, strengthen them, make them capable of producing golden eggs? Or are we neglecting them? Are we expecting them to continue laying golden eggs, without looking after them? Do we eat all the golden eggs without saving some for later? The suggestion here is that we recognise what our goose is and to look after it in order to guarantee sustained production of golden eggs. It may be our natural resources, workers, employees, equipment, assets, capital, knowledge, clients and even competitors. They make it possible for us to position ourselves and make a profit from our products and services. They lay the golden eggs and they all need to be managed and looked after with integrity and in a way that is sustainable. Neglecting any of them will result in exploitation of resources and people, impaired functioning, less production, decreased profit and a weaker market position. While we are making profit at first, we may soon begin to lose it.