The first LH Forum was held on September 13th and 14th in Le Havre. French president François Hollande was one of the participants. Over 100 experts, corporate executives, NGO representatives, academics, politicians and union representatives gathered to discuss and promote the positive economy. Visions were shared and propositions were articulated to build the foundations of this new way to do business. The LH Forum event was created and is supported by PlaNet Finance Group, one of the leading global microfinance groups. Arnaud Ventura, its co-founder and CEO, deeply believes that the LH Forum could and should, one day, bring together representatives from all the fields of our economy, because the positive economy will have become a major orientation in our society. We therefore asked him a few questions about the positive economy concept, and what he hopes the LH Forum will bring to the issue.
Is this positive economy by essence set in contrast with a “negative” economy? Could all the actors in all fields of the economy be economically positive?
Theoretically, any economic actor can have a positive impact. It depends mainly on their behaviour, and the rules they set for their own activity. Now, some sectors have further to go than others to become positive: when you are in the weapons trade business, for instance, you may not contribute positively to society, although one could argue that selling weapons is crucial and very positive when they are used to fight dictatorships or arbitrary regimes. But when your economic activity has a positive impact on the lives of people and on the environment on a daily basis, this activity can be defined as positive for society.
Beyond environmental impact, there is also social impact and the behaviour of economic agents towards their staff and clients.
Looking at classic businesses, what interest could there be for them in turning to the positive economy? What kind of added value can it bring to their activity?
For a company, adopting the schemes and goals of the positive economy is firstly a guarantee of sustainability – in contrast to economic actors who are solely motivated by short-term profits, with a short-term vision. In terms of the relationship with your employees and your customers, having a business which is socially and environmentally responsible is undeniably a plus. You develop and secure their loyalty. Revelations that a company like Nike outsources the manufacture of its products to Chinese companies which contravene human rights can cause a major setback. And these reputation problems have an impact on the profitability of the business. For a classic business, at the end of the day, working within the frame of the positive economy brings nothing but profit.
Do you feel that our world, and our economic system in particular, are entering a new era? Can the positive economy define the contours of the next phase?
It is well know that with crises comes change. The many different crises that we are currently experiencing were caused in part by economic agents that have nothing to do with the positive economy, and first and foremost by people who speculated on subprimes. PlaNet Finance Group is also in the business of lending to poor people but, like most microfinance agents, it operates very differently from the former subprime players. Microfinance players are mainly motivated by social goals, and therefore lend money only when they know that clients can pay it back. We help generate economic activities, not crises. The instability that we are experiencing now is the result of actions that are often linked with incorrect behaviour by some economic agents. In order to change this, we have to make sure that our system moves toward a positive economy. There are of course many challenges down that road. First of all,
no one really knows or understands what the positive economy is, nor how it can exist within the scope of classic business.
We also lack laws and regulatory frameworks to support these activities. We now need to define, support and regulate the positive economy, so that it can develop more easily and strongly.In the light of the first LH Forum recently held in Le Havre to promote the positive economy, Arnaud Ventura, co-founder of micro-finance Group PlaNet Finance and Founder of the Positive Economy Movement, explains how this new way of doing business will shape the future of our economic system.
We hear a lot about social business, responsible economy, social and solidarity-based economy, etc. What does positive economy mean exactly, and how does it relate to these different concepts?
We define “positive economy” as the part of the economy which contributes to society in a positive way. This contribution can be made by corporate companies, social businesses or any other economic actor, particularly those involved in the social economy… virtually anyone, really, who works to create value beyond profits. This is what we are trying to capture with the launch of the Positive Economy Movement.
(Photo from http://www.lehavreinfos.fr)