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Promoting Quaker values in Business and the Workplace

Gathering 2016 - What would today's Cadbury look like?

Held at Dorking Quaker Meeting House, RH4 2LE, on Saturday 25th June 2016

People at Gathering 2016

Thirty-three Friends met at Dorking to discuss 'What would today's Cadbury look like?'

The Gathering started with this overview:

Cadbury, like several other Quaker companies during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, took a socially concerned stance to its business. The business produced high quality chocolate using high quality ingredients - an important ingredient in its success. Significantly, as a family business it could use its profits to help address the issues of the day and improve the quality of life of its workers, creating schools and colleges and building housing.

The Cadbury model was made possible because it was a tightly held company with limited public shareholding. Once it became a publicly listed company its social concern was soon undermined by the increasing focus on "shareholder value", the dominant force in business today. This raises the question, is there a model by which a Quaker business can address today's issues the way Cadbury once addressed those of its time?

The day was a combination of presentations and workshops. Q&B member, Eoin McCarthy, shares his experience of the valuable work carried out:

We gathered in bright sunshine at Dorking Friends Meeting House to a warm welcome. Having started in worship we were reminded by Ivan Hutnik of some of the relevant Cadbury History to keep in mind during the day. He reminded us of Adrian Cadbury's dictum "People behave well if properly encouraged". We briefly discussed the 1905 slavery allegations, and noted that their honesty in the handling of the incident showed that the Cadbury's normally managed business risks well.

The morning workshop led by Cait Crosse from QPSW New Economics Project. Cait introduced the project and the scope of her work. She distributed samples of the first two ("What's the economy for" & "Good work in the new Economy") of a series of seven booklets to come, exploring alternatives to the current economic system. You can read Cait's blog post about the day here.

After preparing in pairs we shared our perceptions of the positive and negative aspects of the social outcomes of business now, and then, and as they could be in the future. From this work some nuggets were: Quakers can wear suits; all materials usage can be conceived of as a loop including recycling, rather than a linear process ending in waste, as is widely the case at present; trade for profit has improved health and well-being in new markets; we will always have imperfect systems with agents operating well and badly in them; we see inadequate oversight of monopolistic behaviour.

Next we worked in small groups taking one topic each from those raised earlier. The five substantive outputs from this work: Growth v values; The lack of business purpose; Closing the pay gap in organizations; Articulating values in organizations; The manipulation of human perceptions, and Short Termism, will be written up and shared by Cait.

After lunch we heard a lively, interesting and engaging presentation of the current condition of the Friends House Hospitality company from Peter Coltman and Nicola Purdy. The company hosted 321,000 non-Quaker visitors last year, served 46,000 coffees and saved over 44 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Their recent experience in closing down their zero hours arrangements were discussed, and handing out an impressive brochure, Peter pointed to the five commitments generated by all the employees and supported by the company: employees' commitment to uphold each other; commitment to customers; commitment to suppliers; commitment to the board and the boards' commitments to the employees.

Our afternoon workshop was led by Jon Freeman. Jon spoke to the issues of Volatility, Uncertainty Chaos and Ambiguity that a new Cadbury would face in today's business world. Setting out a spiral and dynamic assessment of the development of business practice over time, and referring to Dee Hock's notion of Chaordic Systems, Jon pointed to the usefulness and uplifting effects of: focus on evolutionary purpose; a perspective of the wholeness of the world and its inhabitants; the cost reducing impact of self-managing teams and an adaptive leadership stance. Jon noted that "Living systems thrive between chaos and order". For more see Aligned Organizations.

We closed a full and exciting day of fellowship and learning with silence and then tea and farewells.