Quakers and Business Group
Promoting Quaker values in Business and the Workplace

Quaker Business Conference 2008 - personal reflections and observations

Context:

I attended the conference as I intend to start a PhD in Quaker Studies in January. I am interested in how Quakers live faithfully their testimonies of truth, integrity and equality in the 21st century workplace.

Some Personal Observations and Reflections:

  1. There seems to be a perceived need amongst Q and B members for the group to exist.
  2. I picked up on a sense of solidarity.
  3. There was a freedom to speak.
  4. Anticipation is central to business.
  5. Identity is important.
  6. Problems are solvable.
  7. In some ways, 'Quakers' and 'Business' and 'Capitalism' express a difficulty or even a paradox.
  8. There was a strong sense of purpose at an individual level.

An Idea about the 'Future of Work': Quaker Capital 

(This is based on some conversations and reading)

The notion of 'capitalism' is generally based on a financial or economic model. Some disagree that this is the whole picture. An idea of 'social capital' has been formulated. This capital is individually and collectively accumulated through social contact. Quantity and quality of social contact varies but, generally, more is better. It can be 'thin' (e.g. brief, impersonal) or 'thick' (e.g. durable, meaningful). For Quakers, this might not be too important, however, compared to how this capital is used.

Social capital can be utilised in two ways. 'Bonding capital' helps to strengthen personal ties within a group. 'Bridging capital' creates and strengthens links beyond the group. It seems to me Quakers in business are able to utilise both these kinds of capital. They are in an especially strong position, however, with regard to utilising bridging capital. Their work provides an opportunity to engage Quakerism meaningfully with the world of business and financial capital in which all of us live our lives. They are well placed to bridge the gap between spriritual faith and the realpolitik of the secular.

A Rationale for Engagement with our Capitalist System

Why build those bridges? Research has shown correlations between our 'wealth, health and happiness' and other factors. These other factors could include social class, race, education, religious affiliation, occupation, even country of residence. It has been argued that one factor above all others correlates most closely to the wealth, health and happiness of individuals and communities: social capital.

Quakers in business are in a position where they can create social capital. (Definition of create, online dictionary: to cause to come into being, as something unique that would not naturally evolve or that is not made by ordinary processes.) They can benefit personally. They can also reach out to the business world as Quakers and business people. People in business can profit in different ways from contact with Quakers. Similarly, Quakers can engage and learn. Working within the Capitalist system can have a spiritual purpose and real social outcomes. Engagement with capitalism does not preclude the creation of social capital. Importantly, the creation of social capital requires active involvement.

And the Future of Work...?

I can't pretend to know. However, Quakerism can and does consciously build bridges into business. If it can do this well, it has the capacity to create social capital, quite probably in a unique, Quaker way. In the context of social capital, at least, it seems that Quakerism and capitalist enterprise can be compatible and profitable in the widest sense. And...Well, over to you, dear friends.

 

Mark Read