In “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity,” Author Douglas Rushkoff argues that Capitalism is failing, and the rise of a new dominant business form is coming — the Nonprofit!
His basis premise is that while the public looks at nonprofits as “do-gooders,” they are also very important business entities in a community. Because they are not for sale, because they’re not shareholder (or stock value) maximizing companies, they promote revenue and the exchange of value. This means there is a circulation of money, which revives a whole economy, rather than enriching the very few.
“I think that the nonprofit sector in particular is perfectly situated to help us transition to a different economic landscape. You know, most nonprofits think of themselves as doing something good, but what I want to try to make them more aware of is that the nonprofit structure itself, the way the business is actually structured, may be doing more good than whatever their particular business is,” Rushkoff said.
In comparison, in traditional corporate capital, growth is the key. You need to show your shareholders that your quarter-over-quarter business prospects are doing better and better so that you can get a higher and higher share price and keep your shareholders happy. “Big business” looks at money as something you extract from a customer or a community. The bigger a business gets, the easier it is for them to buy up smaller businesses. You see this with big banks and large technology firms. It’s much quicker and easier to buy out the little shop then it is to spend years competing, especially if that company is agile enough to do something new and innovative you can’t. This money doesn’t stay in the community; the profits go to the share-holders and it can bankrupt small towns and communities in the process.
“Traditional corporate capitalism always worked this way, but it was a bit slower. It took Walmart 20 or 30 years to bankrupt one of the communities that it was extracting value from,” writes Rushkoff. “So now Walmart is in trouble, because so many small towns where it operates are impoverished. Once you have a Walmart, you can’t make any money doing anything else. Everyone just either works for the Walmart or buys from the Walmart, that’s it. And it’s an extractive force, so eventually the towns go belly up, and now there’s Walmarts closing because the towns they’re operating in have died.”
Rushkoff reports this isn’t sustainable, but the businesses really don’t care. And with a digital business, it can happen much faster. “When you do it with a digital platform like an Amazon or an Uber, that value extraction happens a lot faster. So, what used to take 30 years now might happen in three years, but they don’t care because they’re going to move on to another and another and another. It’s the scorched earth practice.”
On the other hand, Nonprofits look at everyone in their community (from their supply chain, to their employees to their clients) as people that they want to make “rich.” When Nonprofits purchase their goods locally, and pay their employees fair wages and then provide quality services to their clients, they are making the community “richer” in so many ways. When that community is richer, the money will come back again and again. This creates a sustainable resource or asset for that community that is in place to help for generations.
Douglas Rushkoff is a professor of Media Theory and Digital Economics at Queens College and is the bestselling author of a dozen books on media, technology and culture. He was named one of the worlds’ ten most influential thinkers by MIT. “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus” was published in March 2016 and is available at Indie Bound (http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781617230172).
Food for thought...
One of the potential “value-added propositions” of the Quad Cities Open Network could be to increase community awareness of the cumulative impact of local not-for-profits. Attempting to measure the cumulative impact, however, presents a mind-bending challenge.
Here are some observations and questions that might prove food for thought at a future Quad Cities Open Network members meeting.
Every Quad Cities Open Network member organization has its own unique mission. Not only do we define our missions distinctively, but even when there appears to be an overlap in mission or client population, our services are guided by our individually defined core values. On top of which our specific methods are selected independently. These various emphases on mission, values and methods impact how we define positive impact and how we measure it.
Beyond these fundamental differences, we are accountable to different sources of funding who often define what to measure and how to measure it. We have different data management and outcomes measurement systems that it might be possible to aggregate, but not without a tremendous effort.
Then there are the time honored conundrums such as:
How do we measure prevention?
How do we measure a subjective experience such as general well-being?
How do we know that progress reported at long term follow-up is due to our intervention as opposed to other subsequent life experiences?
Supposing we found some satisfactory answers to these questions and others, how would we communicate them to the community at large?
We have been talking about changing the conversation when it comes to human services and the role they play in the community.
It starts with recognizing all that our own individual agencies are doing. While of course, our focus and our commitment is to each and every individual we serve, we serve a far broader purpose as well, and that is what we have to start talking about.
During the last QCON open meeting, we talked about what the human services sector does for the economic development of the community and also how exceptionally important it is to the whole Q2030 action plan.
Connecting the dots between how human services serve individuals in need and how they strengthen our entire community is an essential function of every human services provider. It is this connection that will increase understanding of the value of, and the wisdom of investing in, the work that human services providers do.
Check out our FOR OUR MEMBERS section for the full article and attached link. See how it illustrates the connection between the work you do with individuals and families and the huge impact on the entire community.