This week has been perhaps the most inspiring week of 2017. Despite the ugliness of Charlottesville, the tragedy of Barcelona and the continued petulant divisiveness of Donald Trump, we at Jericho Chambers have spent time with 20 of our WikiWorkLabbers – a unique work experience programme – working with them to better understand the what role (if any) business has in building a better society. We have been listening and learning together – enjoying great conversations and developing inspiring new ideas.
Huge thanks to the Jericho team, led by Rebecca Perrin, who pulled this together and to our dazzling array of speakers and real-world learning hosts, including KPMG, Network Rail, RICS, Business in the Community, Blueprint for Better Business and John Lewis Partnership. Special thanks to co-sponsor CIPD and its CEO, Peter Cheese.
In a series of brilliant feedback presentations earlier today, we covered many themes and memes – from the impact of technology bombardment on mental health in the workplace, to the need for genuine honesty and transparency from corporations and their leaders.
The group talked about skills gaps and apprenticeships; the need to think beyond comfort zones; celebrating moral purpose among co-workers; the circular economy; quality versus quantum of growth … and so much more. Without a doubt, this group of 20 will become fantastic members of any organisation they choose to join; many will be outstanding leaders of tomorrow.
Much is said about “Generation Snowflake” and its alleged sense of entitlement. Earlier in the week, Indy Johar challenged this thinking (“intellectual shock-jock bullshit”) and argued that “entitlement” is used to project fear into future generations and is little more than an attempt by older generations to exercise economic control over those they have in fact betrayed. Instead, he said, Gen Z’ers need to recognise themselves as “discoverers, explorers and value creators”. This sense of hope and optimism was happily felt across the week together. And this is what we saw today.
The Jericho team was struck by the group’s knowledge, thoughtfulness, compassion and warmth – and energised by the thought that they represent the next generation of leaders. Final presentations from today have been filmed and will be published and shared within the next couple of weeks. Below is a preview of some of the most striking thoughts and ideas.
“Business cannot reform capitalism otherwise it would have happened by now. Positive government intervention is also needed – and we are seeing this happen. For example, the government is introducing T-Level qualifications and has funded 2.5 million apprenticeships. “
Rohit Bansal, University of Cambridge
“Social responsibility and the potential of business to shape society is something we are genuinely passionate about. What this week has taught us is that – with a lot of hard work – business can play a role in creating a better society.”
Ella Sumner, Tiffin Girls School
“The future of business’s positive role in society hinges on courage.”
Ardi Janjeva, Kings College London
“We are going to be spending a goddam long time at work. Employers therefore need to strive to create workplaces where there is a sense of wellbeing and – dare I say it – enjoyment.”
Francesca Bilocca, University of Durham
“Organisations are waking up to the fact that there is both a moral and a business case for striving towards playing a role in creating a better society. Businesses are stepping back and asking themselves what their purpose is…”
Peter Cheese, CEO, CIPD
“Business’s moral imperative to contribute to society is subjective. We can’t forget that business must also focus on having a profit. The key is balance. Businesses need to sustain the society that helps sustain them.”
Jack Chilton, University of Durham
“Business is about community as well as KPIs. Business needs to create value in people, unlocking the potential in each employee. From the shop floor to the boardroom, businesses can think about the Aristotelean concept of philia – friendship.”
Aman Khokhar, Queen Mary University of London
“Business’s role in society can be thought of in terms of its responsibility for the wellbeing of its employees and those it interacts with within society.”
Caitlin O’Callaghan, Tiffin Girls School
“Companies and individuals need to be mindful – and also responsible – about the amount of time we spend looking at screens (70% of waking hours in some developed countries). To become the explorers and value-creators of the future, we need some time experiencing real life.”
Paige Ingram, St Martin-in-the-Fields High School for Girls
“Don’t underestimate the power of your generation – business is obsessed with your generation. Your courage and optimism have the capacity to bring about real positive change.”
Sarah Gillard, Director – Insight and Assurance, John Lewis Partnership
“People will respect companies more if they aren’t afraid of treading on toes when standing up for their values. There will always be critics and nay-sayers – and people aren’t dumb. We can tell if you are trying to please everyone through soundbites. Corporates should embrace transparency and standing up for their values regardless of what they think the media might say.”
Chantale Phinda, University of Exeter