Business as Moral Enterprise: Interview with Andreas Widmer

June 13, 2012
Posted by Joe Gorra

Is business an amoral, moral or immoral enterprise? How might one’s anthropology shape an answer to this question?

I recently interviewed Andreas Widmer about this topic, given his ability to think theologically about business and his seasoned experience as a business leader.

Andreas is the cofounder of the SEVEN Fund, a philanthropic organization run by entrepreneurs who invest in original research, books, films, and websites to further enterprise solutions to poverty. Among other things, he is also a Research Fellow in Entrepreneurship at the Acton Institute.

Here are a few excerpts from my interview with Andreas:

Entrepreneurship is in your bones. You are the co-founder of the SEVEN Fund, which is doing some remarkable work “to dramatically increase the rate of innovation and diffusion of enterprise-based solutions to poverty.” To start off, I want to have you address what might be aptly described as one of your life themes: business as a moral enterprise. Why is it a moral enterprise and not merely a profit-maximizing machine?

There is a misconception in our society that business is amoral, or that the pursuit of profit is mutually exclusive to conducting business with virtue. A Moral Enterprise is one that approaches business in the spirit of co-creation: as we pursue entrepreneurship, we mirror God’s image as the creator, and pursue his invitation to participate in his creative power.

Are you saying that the nature of business is a Moral Enterprise or that it is such as one approaches business in the spirit of co-creation? Both?

Business is an action, and every human action has a moral implication. Thus business is a moral enterprise. The co-creation perspective makes this even more clear – but that’s true not just for business but of other actions as well and sometimes in an even deeper sense, I’m thinking here of marriage, and specifically of the marital act of a profound participation in the creative power of God.

It’s true that CEOs are responsible for ensuring that their companies make a profit. But you know that they do more than that. How can CEOs (and, in general, business leaders) shape companies in ways that give rise to fostering ecologies of freedom, dignity, and self-responsibility within business enterprises?

It’s a widely held belief that CEOs ought to control profit. The only problem with that belief is that it’s wrong. CEOs don’t really have control over profit. What they can control is the creation of a company, a system that has a certain culture that enables profits.

Around the world, what have you seen to be as essential (if not surprising) elements of a company’s culture that enables profits?

Freedom, equality, subsidiarity, humility – these are all key ingredients in a company culture that results in all kinds of profit, not only financial profit.

What is prosperity?

Prosperity is human flourishing; the best definition of material poverty is a lack of connection to networks of productivity and exchange.  However, the greatest poverty today is not material but spiritual.

In what way is the greatest poverty today not material but spiritual?

Spiritual poverty is most visible in the lack of meaning that is so prevalent today. Relativism and nihilism are two of the most profound manifestations of that poverty. In my travels, I generally find people yearning for meaning in their life, for transcendence and purpose they can believe in. In the absence of religion, they end up following all kinds of false gods only to find themselves suffering and sorely disappointed – disillusioned. The cynicism that results from that experience is a tangible measurement of our spiritual poverty.

To read the full text of this interview, please go here.