Finding Meaning

Sinead Doyle

Meaning is a conference for purpose-driven organisations.

For me, Meaning is an opportunity to question how the world works. Last year, Kate Raworth introduced Doughnut Economics, and we tasted Tony’s Chocolonely slavery-free chocolate bars: from ethical business and conscious capitalism, to new economic models and organisational structures, there’s something for everyone to take away and apply. Speakers this year included journalists, academics and activists, talking about meaningful work, mental health, climate change and the circular economy. Here are a few highlights from Meaning 2018.

Gaming the Global Goals

The first workshop of the day was a card game designed to raise awareness of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. These Global Goals seek to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity, but most people don’t know what they are, or how they can help! First developed in Japan in 2016, the SDGs game simulates the decisions business leaders and politicians make, to show how our decisions impact the world around us. It’s basically Monopoly for people who hate Monopoly.

Each team is given an objective to achieve, which may be oriented around the economy, the environment, or society. The basic resources available are time and money. Projects are allocated to teams, who collaboratively decide which projects they will attempt, based on the expected outcome of the task. Completing projects generates either money or principle cards for the team, and has a payoff for the overall world scoreboard, adding or subtracting points from the economy, the environment, or society. For example, our team completed a yellow project which is good for society, and some blue projects, which contribute to the economy. We chose not to use children in the workforce: although this boosts the economy, it’s bad for society!

Teams moved around, swapping projects, trading time, money or principle cards, and asking for donations. Some prioritised meeting their own financial goals first, before donating resources to others. Consortiums started to form, as teams realized they needed to work together to reach shared goals before they could complete their projects. Within half an hour, we found ourselves playing the role of CEO, VC, fundraiser, activist and philanthropist!

At the end of the game, we looked at our global scoreboard to see what kind of world we had made. Had we prioritised profit, and ruined the planet? Had we preserved the environment, but failed to meet basic human needs? Together we reflected on how decision making had changed as the game progressed. Most players reported focusing on their own needs at the beginning, but developing more altruism as they realised they’re playing in a complex, interdependent system. It was inspiring to see how people rallied around in the final minutes to achieve projects for the greater good.

In real life, of course, we don’t have perfect information, but we still need to take responsibility for our choices. The SDGs game was a great reminder of how important it is to consider the impact of our actions, and adjust our priorities in view of the bigger picture. Time is running out!

Bringing Buurtzorg to Britain

Buurtzorg is Dutch for “neighborhood care”: a network of small, self managed teams providing home care in local communities. Famous for being one of the most successful examples of flat hierarchy in the healthcare sector, they have grown from 1 to 1000 teams over 10 years. There are never more than twelve nurses per team: if they need to expand, they split into a new cell. Small empowered teams provide higher quality nursing care, with lower staff churn.

As they expand to new markets, Brendan Martin spoke about the challenges of bringing this business model to Britain and Ireland. Opening in new regions means adapting to different healthcare models and regulatory frameworks.

How does a self-managed organisation support new cells springing up in other countries? There is an operational framework, and a group of coaches who help new cells get established and troubleshoot problems. The management layer is as thin as possible. Technology is built collaboratively with front line staff, iterating until the system meets their needs. In the UK, they’re starting small with a few local councils, beginning to build partnerships with the NHS. I’m excited to see how Buurtzorg’s methods can transform healthcare in Britain!

Retail Activism

In the final session of the day, Atif Choudhury shared the story of Zaytoun — the first company to bring to market fair trade olive oil from Palestine.

The woman in the picture is an olive farmer protecting her livelihood — the last olive tree on her family’s land. Farmers in conflict zones face violent disputes over land ownership, and risk losing title to their land if they can’t prove they are using it. These families have not only lost safe access to their land to harvest crops, but also access to markets for processing and distribution, via physical barriers and trade restrictions.

This disruption of agriculture in occupied territories results in thousands of families finding themselves impoverished, while valuable food is wasted. Zaytoun supports farmers in forming regional production coops: families come together to pool their produce, rather than competing against each other to sell their harvest. This provides the scale and reliability needed to service an export market.

Over the last 10 years, Zaytoun has found routes to get the raw materials to processing and bottling plants, guaranteeing quality and provenance that satisfy the Fair Trade certification and building overseas demand for high quality oil. As sales increase, the product line has diversified to include dates, almonds, couscous, za’atar herbs, and soap, supporting more families and local businesses.

Retail has a valuable role to play in raising awareness of the impact of territorial disputes on local people. Seeing “Product of Palestine” on a bottle of olive oil means that Palestine exists — people live there, and they matter! Trade is power: commerce can be a useful tool in political activism.

Meaning 2018 was a powerful provocation: how can we change the world through our day jobs? I’ll be taking some of these thoughts into conversations with our clients about purpose.

This story also features on the Friday website — why not check out some more Friday thinking?

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