Tom Adams, Director of Impact at Acumen

Tom Adams

I think the generation I grew up in was dealt a bit of an anti-purpose double whammy. The zeitgeist of the 80s was that the individual was king, and then under New Labour we were told “we’re all middle class now”. We scarcely grew up with a social agenda. Some of the biggest issues we face today like inequality and climate change that were already on the march were basically ignored — ostrich’s head in the sand style. Perhaps we wanted to believe that social issues were solved. I think that means we grew up with a sort of “non-purpose”, a-look-after-yourself and the market-will-ensure fairness mentality.

And if there is one quote I would disagree with more than anything it would likely be Milton Friedman’s that the only social responsibility of business is to increase its profits. That notion is at the core of shareholder capitalism, which we know is both the best way to create efficiency and growth but also inequality and injustice. I believe we need to steadily replace shareholder capitalism with stakeholder capitalism; getting the best out of the dynamism of capitalism but ensuring it generates wealth and wellbeing for all stakeholders by caring about more than just profits. I think one of the tools we can use to move towards a stakeholder capitalism is social accounting, the idea that a business would create both a financial and a social bottom line. I hope to make some contribution to that and therefore hopefully to the creation of a more progressive capitalism.

Tom Adams is Director of Impact at Acumen, an impact investment fund set up to change the way we tackle poverty.

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