Where Goodness Lies: An Open Letter to Students
By Judith Cone, Vice President for Emerging Strategies at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation:
"The world is hungry for what we often take for granted. I have been invited to visit countries around the world to speak with leaders on how to promote entrepreneurship as a way to create opportunity and hope for their young people. These leaders clearly understand that entrepreneurs create the net new jobs by bringing innovative products and services to customers. I experience the hunger in the world for the privilege of creating jobs through entrepreneurship, and then I return to the United States, where I see something that troubles me.
Some students and professors reject business as a morally responsible way to spend one's life. The issue I have is not that some people would rather work in the public sector (government) or the social sector (nonprofit work), but that they assign a higher moral calling to these two sectors than to the private sector (business).
As a college student, you are attempting to gain the knowledge, skills, networks, and inspiration to live a happy, productive, and meaningful life. I like to think of each of you as one unit of creative potential. Looking at it this way means that faculty members are more than dispensers of knowledge. They are guides along your journey, teaching the subjects, passing along beliefs and biases, hopefully inspiring you, and challenging you, to consider the types of people you will become.
Some professors attempt to influence you toward those biases. Some think dismissively of business, for instance, as if society would be better off without it, or they assign pernicious motivations to those who lead businesses. Throughout history, social experiments to this end have failed. Every day, these professors use and benefit from the products and services of business: Google, bookstores, clothing, transportation, and the local coffee shop. They fail to differentiate between business leaders and dismiss the whole sector as greedy, uncaring, and destructive. Yet, even with much evidence of greed and wrongdoing in the public and social sectors, that same categorical condemnation is not present.
In fact, you can make a vital contribution in any of the three sectors, because all three are needed for a society to function well. If just one sector is weak or absent, the result is usually a failed state. Think of the former communist states that tried doing away with private business, or the chaotic warlord states without effective government.
More to the point, in each sector there are models of virtue and there are scoundrels. Goodness has nothing to do with the sector. Where goodness lies is in the heart of the individual, and the choices that matter are the moral choices made in conducting the work.
Morality, ethics, and the ability to make the world a better place are not the domain of any one sector. It is individuals, and how they conduct themselves in the world, that matter. As you complete your college work, I hope you will take at least one course in entrepreneurship to learn how to translate your creative ideas into enterprises that create value for society. I hope you remember the many young people around the world who seek the opportunities afforded by entrepreneurship. And, I hope your story is told one day as an example of how you placed opportunity and choice in the hands of others. I hope people know through your actions that you used your unit of potential for good---whether in the private, public, or social sector."
HT: Ben Cunningham