Isn’t that the primary driver of businesses, governments and pseudo-businesses around the world? Profit. Total revenue minus total expenses. The singular pursuit that provides people in the world with the drive to get up every morning and repeat mundane tasks into oblivion and absolute mindlessness. That creates corporate structures and requires corporate governance so that no one gets too greedy in their pursuit such that they turn on and cannibalize the very organization they are said to be serving.

And this pursuit has birthed countless strategy upon strategy. Business strategy, sales and marketing strategy, HR strategy, financial strategy, operations strategy, communications strategy, IT strategy, PR and Advertising strategy, internet strategy, social media strategy… subset upon subset upon subset of maneuvering all aimed at providing their companies or governments (which are really run like companies these days – and I used to think that was a good thing) with the winning edge. The end game? Profit. Because with it comes ‘prestige’ or the love and worship of men.

The pursuit of profit has ensured that customers will never really get a fair price and citizens will not really get a break from governments. No. They will get ‘value for money’, or convinced to do it ‘for the greater good’ which is another way of saying that they will be charged as much as possible while being given some small trimmings on top so that governments and businesses can assuage their corporate guilt at charging so much in order to please their shareholders with profit – or pay themselves such hefty salaries.

One company exec once confessed about the ‘ridiculous’ profits they were making on one particular line of business. Partly embarrassed and partly proud at their ability to dupe the consumer. Some governments tax their people into the ground, all the while paying public ‘servants’ sky high amounts and misappropriating the rest.

The quest for profit has led to many businesses opting to increase prices, governments to increase taxes, companies to cut corners in production or service quality, employers to fire workers so they can have more for themselves and their well-paid c-suite, employers to threaten and mishandle employees for ‘not doing enough’ towards the ‘bottom-line’ in a situation where they have increased targets and shrinking markets to contend with, finance officers to mishandle and manipulate suppliers … all the while calling it savvy business know how… the list goes on. At the end of the day they receive accolades in the form of awards or ample news coverage about just how ‘successful’ they are because their ‘profit’ has shot through the roof… or they recovered from a loss-cycle. In other words – rejected basic human compassion in order to grow their bottom line or feed a development agenda that is fueled purely by ego. After all, it’s not personal, it’s just business (or development).

The Real Cost of the Pursuit of Profit

Already struggling families forced to tighten their belts when one parent’s income stream is cut off. Fewer purchases made of already over-priced goods and services. Inability to afford basic necessities or get your family the care they need. Health impacted by stress or poor diet. Businesses suffer because they’re not able to generate more revenues and so they go through spending cycles where they roll out dancing monkeys to try and attract more business. Governments suffer because they now have fewer tax payers, therefore less tax, so they squeeze harder causing the businesses to repeat the cycle. Madness!

But beyond this dehumanizing cycle is the actual cost of laughing employees out of their jobs because they supposedly ‘couldn’t cut it’ (gauged against some fake made-up standard designed to cull), or cutting off needed supply to those who were already struggling. It’s that the businesses do get richer (for a time) but society is much poorer for it. Wounded, impoverished financially, yes… but more so spiritually, relationally and emotionally by the injuries inflicted by a selfish system that seeks to gain for itself… forgetting that it is part of a larger whole made up of the very people it exploits as consumers, employees and suppliers.

At the end of the day, the basic humanity of our society is afflicted in the mindless pursuit of profit. Mark 8:36-37 “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

If it is evident to the consumers, employees and suppliers (and it is) that what gets rewarded and celebrated is heartless behavior that puts money above people… guess what the society will engender?

If it is taught in business schools, and taught to entrepreneurs that the ‘holy grail’ of business is profit and that’s how they will be recognized, be appreciated and grow… guess what type of focus businesses will have?

For Africa in particular, this is a really dangerous road to travel down. Why do I say that? A quick look at our claims to have ‘ubuntu’ at the core of how we think and how we approach things i.e. I am because you are (or a heart of compassion) will show how far removed it is from modern capitalism and the current business template that many pursue. There are businesses that pursue a ‘triple bottom line’ approach where they make an attempt to ensure that community welfare is considered in what they are doing, and that is commendable. Sacrificing wild profit for the greater good is not a popular approach at all, but it does lend itself to sustainability. Absolutely and totally.

And I’m not talking about CSR or CSI or whatever feel-good name it has these days. I’m talking about a business choosing not to make $1 billion in a year and opting to make maybe half of that because they want their employees, suppliers and communities to thrive. I’m talking about governments opting to reduce the tax burden on their citizens because they are people (not slaves) thereby allowing them to have some room to breathe, plan and grow. I’m talking about basic concern for our neighbors in every approach we make. A c-suite that opts to take a hefty pay-cut permanently (and not one that is announced to the world through PR) so that some employees can keep their jobs and feed their families. A government that does not measure its success or economic growth on GDP (I wonder who taught them these things?) but based on the actual living standards of all its people, their mental health, their community health, the quality of relationships… based on the price of drinking water (why does it even have a price? It is a necessity provided for freely by God!), based not on the number of hospitals but on the number of those living in health because their food and drink is not poisonous to them. The freedom to move around the continent without fear of harassment because there are opportunities elsewhere. They must begin to redefine what success or economic growth really means. Not from numbers but from actual life and living in liberty.

It’s About the People – it always has been!

I’m talking about business and government unusual, that is about the people. Because the cost of doing things any other way is the cost of our souls.

To be unusual in business and government, like I suggested, means that you have to strive to be different and to be different simply means you have to be more people oriented than profit oriented or road construction oriented. You must be a long term thinker, rather than a short term profit and glory hunter. For all this to be achieved, it takes one who has walked away from cowardice. Meaning only strong, bold and brave people do real business or governing that puts the people first…there are too many cowards out there already. Only too willing to embrace the status quo and insist that because ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’ then ‘that’s the way it must remain’.

For Africa to succeed, she needs to be so invested in the success of her people that she throws the rule book out the window and begins again, but this time from the heart. And the heart is you and me.