Anthrocapitalism: The New Way For Organizations To Find Meaning


By Alex Pattakos & Elaine Dundon|FAST COMPANY|December 14, 2012

It’s clear that many of us want more meaning in our work as well as from the products, services, and organizations with which we choose to interact. The old style of capitalism, the one that focuses on the primary goal of making money, is losing its appeal in the face of this growing desire for meaning.

When the only or even primary stated goal of an organization is to make money, people tend to follow the money and lose track of the deeper meaning of the organization. This results in organizations being viewed as evil, focused only on greed, and increasingly, being vulnerable to volatile employee and customer sentiment. Old-style capitalism, focused on “delivering the financial plan,” is no longer inspiring to most employees and their level of engagement suffers as a consequence.

The world has changed and it’s time for a new style of capitalism, anthrocapitalism. At one end of the spectrum or continuum lies the traditional, old-style capitalism and at the other end lies the new style of capitalism, anthrocapitalism. Every organization can benefit from determining where along this continuum it chooses to operate as well as how it is perceived by its broadly-defined community of stakeholders.

The ancient Greek philosophers taught us many things, including the concept of philanthropy. Unfortunately, the word philanthropy has become misunderstood and limited in its modern interpretation–“an act or financial gift made as a charitable donation.” The original, larger, and more accurate definition of the word expands to include all actions that care about, enhance, and improve the lives of humanity. The word philanthropy is derived from two Greek words, philo meaning “love” (in a non-romantic sense) and anthropos meaning “mankind or humanity” so, in essence, philanthropy is really all about the “love of humanity.”

In this context, anthrocapitalism combines the workings of traditional capitalism with the expanded benefit of loving or helping humanity. It represents a more humanitarian and humanistic approach to work and specifically, business. Importantly, it’s not limited to nonprofit organizations that are seen to be caring for humanity and doing good for the world; while, on the other hand, for-profit organizations are seen to be narrowly focused on their ROI or financial “return on investment.” The worlds of the nonprofits and for-profits are converging under this new style of capitalism whereby doing good and making a profit are not necessarily in conflict with each other.

However, we’re not talking about “corporate social responsibility,” which is often a separate initiative layered onto the organization. It’s not about making a profit and then setting some aside to give to charity. It’s about doing good and doing well financially at the same time. It’s about integrating meaningful capitalism into every aspect of how the organization functions, into every aspect of the business model. It’s about beginning from and always returning to the “core of meaning.”

Organizations such as Timberland, Seventh Generation, AVEDA, and Interface intuitively understand anthrocapitalism because they begin with the bigger goal of focusing on meaning. They understand the deeper meaning of their products; map out the entire cycle of how their products are made, distributed, used, and discarded; design organizational cultures within which employees can find deeper meaning in their work; and importantly, determine how the whole organization can positively and meaningfully impact the broader community around them. Employees and customers, in turn, have responded positively to this search for deeper meaning because they appeal to and reflect similar core values and goals.

There is a deeper purpose for everyone and for every organization. If all leaders thought of themselves as philanthropists, “lovers of humanity,” imagine how our workplaces would improve. If all leaders thought of helping humanity first instead of the “delivering the numbers or profit” first, imagine how much more relevant our products and services could be.

The shift towards anthrocapitalism represents a new role for leaders and a new role for organizations. It’s time to ask what you as a leader and inspirational role model can do to focus on both doing well and doing good, making the world a better place


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