Mission can have a lower-case ‘m’
The world is closing in on itself.
A few nights ago, I turned on the TV just before the news. It was airing a show called The Enemy Within. An undercover journalist had infiltrated a group of extreme-right activists. The type that take pleasure in fabricating lies about their chosen political opponents and then printing those on leaflets to ensure their opponents look ‘objectively’ bad for the community, and also enjoy hanging white supremacy banners in public places. Like opposite schools and stuff.
The documentary wasn’t particularly compelling. And that’s what packed its punch.
It was so banal.
The very folks who cheered Jo Cox’s murderer are ramblers, for crying out loud. They go on wee walks in the countryside with dinky banners to remind immigrants they are not welcome here.
Jam, scones and a sprinkle of racism.
Jingoism is not new.
Racism is not new.
We’ve been battling their ugliness for centuries.
And this new flavour of parochial nationalism is not new either. And by that I mean we have definitely seen it before this time round, and this time round has been with us for nearing on a decade.
And it’s not localised.
Borders are becoming talismanic again. Our horizons are being hemmed in by our governments and our reduced circumstances after two years of effective house arrest where even for the most adventurous of us, our horizon stretched as far as our stamina for a long walk could carry us and no further.
And with the cost of living crisis, for most folks those horizons will stay shrunken.
Because it costs money to go further afield, to travel, or go to the theatre and let your mind roam while your body sits still. And sure, there are cultural assets available for free, but if you are struggling to feed your children, I am not sure that you will even notice the free impressionist exhibit at a downtown museum.
Poverty and anxiety make the world smaller.
Each person’s world.
As our ability to navigate shrinks, so does our horizon.
And that’s when promises to make it better are needed the most. Where jingoism flourishes the fastest.
And where the promises are emptiest.
Because where none of the actual problems are local, how can their solutions be?
And you’d think we would learn.
A global pandemic. The clue’s in the name. Pan means every. As universal as things come.
A global supply chain crisis.
A global energy crisis.
A global cost of living crisis.
A war that wreaks devastation locally but is affecting us all globally. Materially and, thankfully for the sake of our humanity, emotionally and mentally.
And why am I telling you all this now?
I had a professor at university who used the term ‘Glocal’ a lot.
There is no such thing as a truly local place in a globalised world.
Stay with me.
Effectively it means that in a globalised economy, your ability to make local choices is fictional. You can do a bit. You can buy carrots from the farmer’s market but you probably drove there in a car whose parts and fuel came from far away or walked yourself there on shoes whose soles were made far away from materials that may have a lot to answer for when it comes to deforestation.
The point is you can’t opt out of it.
So understand it.
And if you don’t agree with it, engage meaningfully with what it is you are not agreeing with.
Because the world doesn’t entirely care about your nationalist borders.
The pandemic did not come to a screeching halt when it reached a border guard, your industrial giant neighbour’s polluting habits don’t refrain from poisoning your waters, and the cost of living crisis is not contained in one place.
In that world.
Where we can’t opt out of the big picture but live our lives in as small a tile of the puzzle as our circumstances (or preferences, in some cases) permit us, in that world where ‘local’ seems to be the domain of either hyper-sustainability or ugly nationalism and ‘global’ the place where all bad things come from, from war and illness to crises and boatfuls of desperate souls.
In that world, we, as the fintech hub of the world, what problems do we choose to solve?
You can go local. You can go big. You can go lofty or be pragmatic. As long as you are thoughtful.
What problem are you trying to solve?
Your business, your idea, your start-up, your programme of work?
I am not saying that you need to build the ‘people’s case for quantitative easing’, though I also sort of am.
I see so many folks giving a very lofty social impact facade to a business that is a pure utility play: I saw a problem, I am fixing it in a way that makes me money. But first let me talk to you about saving the blue whale for a bit.
I am not against being pragmatic.
Not all business will save the planet.
But all business impacts the planet. All business, and I mean all business, no matter how young or small, operates in context.
Both local and global.
You are part of all of it, whether you like it or not.
So as my professor said more than 25 years ago: think it through.
Particularly the banal parts.
The stuff that everyone talks about without necessarily feeling it is their place or their problem to fix it. From diversity to carbon emissions, from ethical sourcing practices to value-based partner selection.
You can’t fix it all.
You may not even try to fix any of it.
But at least be mindful of where you fall in all this. What impact you have, unwittingly or intentionally. What impact you could have, perhaps, and what impact you could avoid.
Your business may be all about solving a B2B problem with the sole mission of happy customers and money in your pocket. No lofty ideal. Just, you know, capitalism.
Are you hiring in a manner that provides access? Are you managing in a manner that provides support and inclusion? Are you buying your team t-shirts from a sustainable supplier and monitoring the carbon footprint of your technology and ensuring the partners you engage with are not operating in sanctioned countries? Are you taking a stand in the way your culture operates? Did you provide a visa scheme for Ukrainian or Syrian refugees? Did you support a small supplier? Did you check who makes your pens and where?
Did you care to check?
Do you have an employability scheme? For army vets or working-class kids or returning mums?
Do you see where your work could impact the world and seek to do good or at least seek to avoid harm?
You don’t need to be a mission-driven business to be a decent one.
In a world where you can’t avoid being part of interlocking, overlapping contexts, what problem are you solving and what problem are you not adding to?
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem. She is chief client officer at 10x Future Technologies.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!