While it is contended that entrepreneurship has the potential to address the global Sustainability Challenge (Villar and Miralles (2019), its impact has been somewhat limited despite the introduction of concepts such as ecopreneurship, humane entrepreneurship and social enterprise. Indeed, questions have been raised about whether entrepreneurship and sustainability are compatible (Gawel, 2012). Also, both academics and practitioners continue to explore “whether modified and completely new business models can help maintain or even increase, economic prosperity by either radically reducing negative or creating positive external effects for the natural environment and society.” (Schaltegger, et. al, 2016, 4).
This article presents the new concept of Harmonious Entrepreneurship as a response to the contradictory nature of entrepreneurship and sustainability, providing a bridge between the two worlds. For universities, it has a direct implication for their Education, Research and Third Mission Activities, which corresponds to ACEEU Standard 12.
The Planet is a System
In the search for a global solution, it is necessary to recognise the systemic nature of the global Sustainability Challenge. As a system, the planet is composed of several interconnected subsystems, of which the economic, environmental and human or social subsystems are perhaps the most significant. This means that if one subsystem is impacted, the others will be affected. Accordingly, it is not possible to resolve the challenge by addressing just one aspect of it. Rather, in accordance with Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety, the solution has to be as complex as the problem itself (Ashby, 1968). This means finding solutions that address the involved or interconnected subsystems.
The Need for Harmony
If entrepreneurship is to impact Sustainability, it is necessary to produce a holistic, systemic solution, rather than continuing to implement economic, environmental, humane and social entrepreneurship separately. Such a solution shall integrate each element and ensure a triple bottom line (Elkington, 1999) in which profit, planet and people are in harmony.
To effect this, however, it is also necessary to revisit and recreate Friedman's (1970) doctrine that the social responsibility of business is to satisfy shareholders by “making as much money as possible". All too frequently this thinking has dominated both theory and practice over the past 50 years, if not longer. Indeed, the search for wealth has often been at the expense of people and the planet, thereby contributing to the present crisis, if not being responsible for it.
In 2020, we (Kirby and El-Kaffass, 2021) formulated the concept of Harmonious Entrepreneurship, which integrates economic, eco, humane and social entrepreneurship. It has been modelled on the SEKEM Holding, in Egypt (Kirby, and El-Kaffass,2022), an award-winning enterprise that, according to the Right Livelihood Judging panel, “shows how a modern business can combine profitability and engagements in world markets with a humanistic and spiritual approach to people and a respect for the natural environment".
Subsequently the Harmonious Entrepreneurship Society was founded to promote and implement the concept among universities. We have developed a MOOC, written some 80+ start up cases exemplifying and proving the concept, and beta tested an online international student enterprise competition. The latter is intended to raise awareness of the concept and also to create innovative graduate-led harmonious new ventures. To put this into practice, a global competition during the academic year 2022/23 will be launched.
Implications for Universities (ACEEU Standard 12)
In the global knowledge economy, access to knowledge is as important to economic, environmental and social development as access to raw materials was in the industrial revolution. Universities have an important role to play, therefore, in the future of the planet. However, to impact the Sustainability Challenge through Harmonious Entrepreneurship, and to evolve from wealth creation to sustainable development (Kirby, et. al, 2022), universities will themselves need to become harmonious as well as entrepreneurial institutions. They will need to embrace the third mission and demonstrate, through the way they operate, their commitment to economic development and to the environment and people. Additionally, they will need to introduce their students to enterprise as well as to sustainability, systems thinking and ethical responsibility. This does not apply just to students of business studies, but to all students, irrespective of discipline and whether, eventually, they work for themselves or for others. Through their research and teaching, universities must now contribute to repairing the parlous state of the planet - and with some urgency. They need to embrace the Third Mission and help bring about the very necessary attitudinal and behavioural changes that are needed through knowledge transfer as well as the transfer of (new) technology. Inevitably, such Entrepreneurial Universities will want to make as much money as possible but not at the expense of planet and people, for “when harmony prevails all things under the sun will flourish” (Xun Zi 310–235 BC).
Is your University addressing the Sustainability Challenge or contributing to it? How should it and you respond?
Ashby, W.R. (1968), Variety, constraint and the law of requisite variety. In W. Buckley (Ed), Modern systems research for the behavioural scientist. Chicago Il: Aldine Publishing Co.
Elkington, J., (1999), Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business. Mankato, Minn: Capstone
Friedman, M., (1970), The Social and Ethical Responsibility of Business to Increase its profits. New York Times. September 13, 122-126.
Gawel, A., (2012), Entrepreneurship and Sustainability: do they have anything in common? Poznan University of Economics Review. 12(1), 5-16.
Kirby, D.A. and El-Kaffass, I., (2021), A New Approach to the Challenge of Global Sustainability. The World Journal of Entrepreneurship, Management and Sustainable Development. 17(4), 846-855.
Kirby, D.A. and El-Kaffass, I., (2022), The Characteristics of a Green, Innovative and transformational entrepreneur: an example of transformative entrepreneurship in an efficiency-driven economy. International Journal of Technological Learning, Innovation and Development. 14(1/2), June.
Kirby, D.A., El-Kaffass, and Healey-Benson,F. (2022), Harmonious Entrepreneurship: evolution from wealth creation to sustainable development. Journal of Management History. DOI 10.1108/JMH-11-2021-0060.
Schaltegger, S., Hansen, E.G., and Ludeke-Freund, (2016), Business Models for Sustainability: origins, present research and future avenues. Organisation & Environment. 29 (1),3-10.
Villar, E.B and Miralles, F., (2019), Sustainable Entrepreneurship in Response to Grand Challenges: What do we know and How do we move Forward? DSLU Business and Economics Review. 28(3), 102-111.
Photo by amenic181 retrieved from Envato