Last night Nobel prize winning Economist and philosopher Amartya Sen gave an address with Demos and the Indian High Commission. Sen has spent a lifetime studying poverty, its causes and how it may be alleviated. His writing is dense, often supported with mathematical arguments. He is not an easy read. By his own admission he is a theorist and a researcher. It is up to others to put his research into practice.
So what does Sen have to say? How is it relevant to enterprise? Well here is my interpretation and, no doubt, gross simplification – tentatively offered….
- Poverty is fundamentally rooted in injustice – the problem is not that there is not enough – but that it is not shared
- The challenge is to give more people the power that they need to play a positive and powerful role in markets; This means accessible and relevant processes to develop individual capabilities and power
- Development is a measure of the extent to which individuals have the capabilities to live the life that they choose. It had little to do with standard economic measures such as GDP.
- Helping people to recognise choices and increase the breadth of choices available to them should be a key objective of development.
- Developing the capability and power of individuals provides a key to both development and freedom
- Development must be relevant to lives, contexts, and aspirations
- Development is about more than the alleviation of problems – stamping out anti social behaviour, teenage pregnancies, poor housing and so on.
- It is about helping people to become effective architects in shaping their own lives
- We need practices that value individual identity, avoid lumping people into “communities” they may not want to be part of, and promote a person’s freedom to make her own choices. Promoting identification with ‘community’ risks segregation and violence between communities
- Society must take a serious interest in the overall capabilities that someone has to lead the sort of life they want to lead, and organise itself to support the development and practice of those capabilities
- We should primarily develop an emphasis on individuals as members of the human race rather than as members of ethnic groups, religions or other ‘communities’. Humanity matters.
- We need to make the delivery of public education, more equitable, more efficient and more accessible
Clearly Sen is not arguing that everyone should start their own business. Entrepreneurship is on the agenda but not at the top of it.
He is arguing for enterprising individuals and challenging us to develop our society in a way that encourages and supports them.
Anyone for enterprise?