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A Zeitgeist-Inspired Social Enterprise Jan 17, 2010

12% ROI: A Zeitgeist-Inspired Social Enterprise

Of Sellers, Buyers and Employees
In the documentary movie, Zeitgeist Addendum, social scientist and Venus Project founder, Jacque Fresco expressed very clearly that in a capitalistic system of free enterprise where the bottom line of every business is profit, all stakeholders participate with conflicting interests. The business owner wants to sell his products for the highest possible price, pay his workers as low as possible and keep his costs as low as possible. The employee on the other hand wants to work with the least amount of hours but be paid as high as possible. The consumer in turn, wants to get the highest quality products at the lowest price possible. Sure, all the variables come to a shakey equilibrium where commerce takes place. But what if it doesn't? What happens? Shit hits the fan. To wit,

When Shit Hits the Fan
Businesses, in pursuit of profit and lower operating costs, use Melamine (fancy word for plastic) instead of protein in the manufacture of food we eat (to hell with people if they get sick, as long as our profitability profile is good!). Even at the basest level, you never get your hamburger as good as the picture, do you? Do you find your iced tea too watered-down with too much sugar dumped on it? On a global scale, businesses dump toxins into our environment wrecklessly. The water we drink and the air we breath have become a mild form of ingested carcinogen. Why? Businesses operate on a template based on profit without regard for anything else - not the customers, not the employees, not the planet.

A Great Divide
Jacque, in answer to this social predicament, founded the Venus Project - a resource-based economy leveraging on technology to create abundance outside the boundaries of the monetary-based market economy. We're talking renewable energy, Maglev superconductivity, etc. Wow! But now I pause, and ask, Wow what? I can see the wonders of the Venus Project, but just how do I transition between what I see around me NOW, to what this Venus Project is talking about? To be perfectly honest, I have no's all too abstract.

The AHA Moment
But what he said about the pitfall of this capitalistic economy reverberates. I pondered on it. I slept on it. I'm not exactly all too excited about starting from square one with Jacques' vision of a new world order. Somehow, there should be something in this existing template we can use. Maybe we just need to tweak a few variables to make it work better. That's when I had my "AHA!" moment. With a little LESS GREED, it just might work.

Factor 1: Friends in Need
I've always been sympathetic to friends who go through hard times. I find myself thinking that if I were only a rich guy, I'd put up a business just to keep my friends employed - put food on their table and send their kids to school. I'm not a big fan of giving away bread, but I'd be happy to teach someone make bread. And I'm a big fan of working for your keep - no dole-outs. Let's call this area, Factor 1.

Factor 2: 12% ROI (return on investment)
I never considered myself a good business man. If I had a wad of money, I'd be happy putting it in a bank paying 12% on my money. Let's call this Factor 2.

Going Into Business
So, let's combine these 2 to come up with our Zeitgeist-inspired social enterprise. If I had a wad of money, I'd put up a business (nothing concrete, but definitely a GREEN company). For employees, I'd hire my friends. For products, whatever it may be, it will be of the highest quality my selling price can afford (the actual product will look as good as the a metaphor). Simple, right? But here's the twist.

The Magical 12%
if the business turns out profitable, I only get my 12% - just 12%. I'm happy with 12%, right? So, where do the rest go? To my employee-friends and to the products I sell. Allow me to illucidate.

First, I'd be making it clear to my employee-friends in no uncertain terms that their friendship only gets them through the door. Once inside, they're expected to deliver, or be replaced by...guess who? another friend. Anything over my 12% gets them any or all of the following: bonus, medical and dental coverage, in-house gym, occassional masseuse, excursions, tax deferred retirement program, college funding for kids, etc. I would want them to prosper, or at least have a dignified way of making a living. Hey, they're my friends!

If I get into the laundry business, I'd weight the laundry when it's clean, dry and packed, not when it's still dirty, damp and heavier (yes, try to weigh your laundry before and after a wash!). If I'm in the food business, the serving will look like the picture! If I'm a baker, I won't use Bromade. In short, no deception, no shortcuts...just good old fashioned value for the money. My branding will be iconic for honest fair play.

Business Operations
My benchmark will comply with the natural laws...with mother nature. Thus, it will far exceed whatever law is in place. Fundamental questions will be asked. Will I cause pollution? Will I harm the environment? Will it contribute to global warming? Anything that may even potentially be harmful to the planet is a no-go. Simple. Better yet, I may even take the business along the lines of reforestation or sustainable farming.

Strong Middle Class
Making these decisions won't be very difficult anymore after I get my 12%. Why? Because whatever is left, I won't consider mine. Take this paradigm a step bigger. Who's the biggest employer in the country? Maybe it's Henry Sy, given all the malls he operates and the number of sales clerks he employs. What if he only took 12% of this money and distributed the rest to his employees? Perhaps the average behind-the-counter sales clerk would be a homeowner, able to send her kids to the a decent school and spend weekends with kids or just doing quality alone time.

The only looming complication I see here is the GREED factor. Hey, that's not to say I'm not greedy. In fact, what I'm proposing is new ground for me. I have no idea at what profitability point my greed will start overriding my altruistic intentions. But I'll cross the bridge when I get there.

Ending Thoughts
I'm convinced this 12% approach turns the zero-sum nature of a profit-based economy upside down. The business prospers because the employees will make sure it does. What greater assurance can a business owner get? Customers will patronize the products because they know they get good value for it. Collectively, we'd have a strong middle class with a purchasing power to rival any top GDP country. Me? Hey, I get a decent return on my money (12%) and I see my once jobless friends make it to easy street. That makes me happy too. Sounds simple because it is.

--- TheLoneRider


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