Spotlight on The Summit 2017: The Business of Hope

Commentary
By Reid Murchison 12-29-2017
A "just business" convening at the Summit for Change 2017. 

Editor’s Note: The Summit: World Change Through Faith and Justice is Sojourners' opportunity to bring together 300+ leaders, to deepen relationships and build more intersectional movements. The following series of posts offer reflections from participants, as a glimpse of the experience. We are grateful for the ways our supporters make this gathering possible. 

Our second reflection comes from Reid Murchison, who was a first-time attendee at the 2017 Summit for Change, and is a supporter of Sojourners.

Why would an aging white businessman of moderately conservative temperament, who is less than wholly comfortable with the language of intersectionality, attend the Sojourners Summit?

Because, as I read just this morning in my prayer and meditation time, God is always calling us to "maintain justice, and do what is right" (Isaiah 56:1). 

As one who enjoys the benefits of privilege in today's world, I felt it important to submit my own sense of what is just and right to other perspectives, especially other perspectives that are informed by biblical witness and the Christian gospel. The 2017 Summit represented that sort of challenge for me.

Surprisingly, the "just business" track, consisting of a business salon and convening, were the highlights of the Summit for me. The gathering was as diverse a group of people keenly interested in business enterprise as I have ever been around, and the energy was almost entirely positive. That seemed remarkable, given the current state of our nation's political discourse.

We were reminded that as recently as the 1980s there was widespread agreement that the purpose of business is to serve a mix of stakeholders or constituents: customers, employees, shareholders, the community, and the nation.

“Responsibility to all these constituents in toto constitutes responsibility to society…Business and society have a symbiotic relationship: The long-term viability of the corporation depends upon its responsibility to the society of which it is a part.” This is from a 1981 statement by the Business Roundtable, one of the pre-eminent mouthpieces for corporate America.

The notion that the ultimate purpose of business is to maximize shareholder value, first articulated in a 1970 New York Times op-ed by Milton Friedman, represented a philosophical shift that increasingly pervaded corporate culture through the late 1980s and 1990s. By 1997, the Business Roundtable had changed its tune, stating that “the principal objective of a business enterprise is to generate economic returns to its owners.”

Those involved in the "just business" track at the Summit yearned not only for a return to a more expansive view of business responsibility, but to break new ground.

Ranging from B Corporations, to impact investments, to creative thinking about how to bring to bear one's vision of God's kingdom on one's role in business, the discussions all revolved around the desire to create something good and worthy. There was a sense of hopefulness, which is often absent in discussions that revolve around the need to resist what is not good or not worthy.

I am thankful for that sense of hope, and an attendant feeling of encouragement, with which I left. (Read more about the 2017 "just business" track here).

I encourage others who may not imagine the Summit to be their natural milieu to consider attending.

Learn more about the 2018 Summit program and how to attend here.

Reid Murchison is a financial advisor in Wilmington, NC.

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