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Ethical Business Executives Need to Commit to Social Responsibility

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We are on the eve of a historic election at a time of great tumult and uncertainty.

Regardless of what happens, one thing is sure - our society has reached the point where we have to take care of the common good. We can no longer be a society of unbridled Wall Street pirates, hedge fund gamblers and greedy executives who watch out only for themselves.

When the Puritans landed on Plymouth Rock, they said they wanted to build a "city upon a hill, a beacon to all mankind." Stewardship - leaving things better for the next generation than we found them for ourselves - is part of who we have always been as a people. Recent events confirm that we have failed this bedrock test of responsible stewardship - of our economy, of our land, of our core institutions, and of our national trust.

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It's time to get back to basics. It's time to think of the common good, or we are on our way to the ash heap of history.

Peter Drucker wrote that leaders have two main responsibilities, whether they lead a business, a nonprofit or are in government: 1) They are responsible and accountable for the performance of their institutions and 2) They are also responsible for the community as a whole.

It's this second part that concerns me. He asked a question: Who looks out for the common good?

He answered the query in his masterwork, "Management," when he wrote, "No one, unless the executives of society's institutions take on a second responsibility that looks beyond the borders of their institution to the common good."  And he added that they must encourage people to volunteer their time and resources to help solved the problems of society.

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As usual, Drucker was ahead of time.

On Sept. 11 of this year, I attended the National Service Summit in New York where a new coalition of 110 organizations dedicated to volunteer service, ServiceNation, helped convene the gathering to bring together thinkers and leaders from all walks of life to solve our most pressing national problems through national service. Both major presidential candidates were also in attendance - and in nearly total agreement about the need to promote community service as a galvanizing way to bring America together, to put America back on track, and to restore a sense of national pride and purpose.

Time magazine has started a tradition of putting out a special issue to coincide with this event. Richard Stengal, Time's managing editor, framed the issue this way: "America is the original DIY culture - Do It Yourself. From the first settlement at Jamestown through today, we have been doing things ourselves. Last year I wrote a cover story called 'The Case for National Service.' Now that the argument has been made, this year we're asking, how do we help execute that vision? Well, by doing it yourself - except in this case, we have hundreds of partners."

That's the key. We have to do it ourselves.

Whether it's in the Inland Empire, greater Los Angeles or in all the cities and towns across this great country, we have to roll up our sleeves and get involved.

Thomas Sander, the director of the Saguaro Seminar on Civic Engagement at Harvard's Kennedy School, wrote the following wise words in Time's National Service issue:

Banding together to provide community service builds Army-foxhole-like solidarity. Programs like City Year, in which ex-gang members may serve alongside college students who have deferred admission, prove that small corps can accomplish vital community service. They also implode stereotypes. We learn that what unites us - our musical tastes, the jokes we find funny and, more fundamentally, our belief in healing cities through grime and sweat - dwarfs our divisions. Why is this important? Virtually all forms of social engagement have declined over the past generation, from the time spent visiting neighbors to the number of community projects and close friendships. And these social and civic connections actually lubricate society, helping connected Americans improve their health and happiness and find meaningful work. These connections also strengthen communities. Among the most critical yet hardest-to-build social ties are bonds that cross racial, ethnic and class cleavages, especially as our communities become increasingly diverse. Daily, many of us inadvertently reinforce racial barriers; national service can catalyze our moral obligation to dismantle them.

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So as we await the results of this year's election, let's also begin to turn our attention to serving our community, to coming together to build social ties, to strengthen our communities and, as the great Drucker said, "take on civic responsibility" before it's too late.

Ira Jackson is the dean of the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management, the business school of the Claremont Colleges.

 

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About Claremont Graduate University Founded in 1925, Claremont Graduate University is one of the top graduate schools in the United States. Our nine academic schools conduct leading-edge research and award masters and doctoral degrees in 22 (more...)
 

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