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Social Entrepreneurism

June 27th, 2009 No comments

One of the topics that came up in this week’s Thursday Morning Coffee Meetup was the extent to which companies should be following social rather than financial objectives. Most people want to do their bit for society and it seems that possibly the majority of people in the startup community are wanting to adopt a primarily social or charitable focus to their activities. I can’t help worrying that this is not a realistic path for most of the people following it. If one is generating cash then diverting a potentially significant proportion to charity definitely helps us all but trying to factor in social objectives to every business decision leads to some very difficult decision making.

One can barely travel to a client or deliver a product and present it as ecologically sustainable. Even the much heralded virtues of the ingredients of some chunky ice creams are really greening of a product which clogs arteries and even kills off customers. Trying to be truly consistent could lead to some very long office meetings. The effect would tend to be a weight on the ecologically and socially conscious businesses. The more equitable way forward, I would argue, is for people to be better informed to be able to make the decisions they need to make and to be less shy about regulation so that businesses are on a level playing field that takes account of wider social impact. For each company to try to decide this for itself is a less practical solution than the regulation adopted in Europe, Japan and increasingly in China.

The prevailing wish in the discussion this week to have corporations manage the decision is probably in large part an effect of being in US culture where there is minimal regulation, little supervision and a lack of any notion that government should have a more active social role. Or even be effective in general. Corporations seem to be looked to to solve all problems. Our national government spends less than 0.5% of spending on education, less than 1.5% on social programs and a total of 48% of non overhead spending on the military. So the idea that the national government should be taking care of social expenditure, taxing carbon emissions and other destruction often seems foreign. It does seem though that at least the need is being identified, which is a cultural change for the US, if the solution being discussed is still a very different one.

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Tennis at Grand Central

April 12th, 2009 No comments

Just when I thought I had found all the little features of Grand Central, walked the length of the pedestrian tunnels, heard countless references to the secret train line to the Waldorf, pointed out the one dirty roof tile above Michael Jordon’s bar showing the original state of the uncleaned ceiling, learnt to avoid the overpriced pickled herring in the Oyster Bar and found the best time of the week to get a seating area in the Campbel Apartments now I find that there had all this time been not one, but two tennis courts on the roof which were available to the public, at the unfortunate fee of $170 per hour mind you. But hurry the concession is about to close to make room for a staff locker room.

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Boat plane across the Atlantic

March 29th, 2006 No comments

Recently I was sitting at a snowbound Laguadia Airport in New York waiting for the runways to re-open. I had done my little planes, trains and automobiles routing having had the flight canceled, booked on the Acela high speed train and then had that canceled and gone to the airport to wait. I was at the Marine Air Terminal which is now used for the Delta Shuttle a 134 seater service using MD88s offering hourly routes to Washington and Boston.

The building is a grand old Art Deco building which appears to have been owned by Pan Am. I have always liked the spacious solid structure of the entrance hall and often still enter via it despite the more modern generic 70s building that now houses most of the services. Within the old building however are a lot of the bowels of the airport services. Offices for airline service companies and a small classic cafeteria.

On the walls are photos of old float or boat planes which use to use the waterfront of the marine air terminal. It appears that when the building was built it offered the sole scheduled route across the Atlantic in these large old float planes. I guess runways weren’t built for the size of plane necessary. The building is clearly just retained as a nod to history by what is now a bankrupt airline (Delta not just Pan Am) and it left me nostalgic for the past glories of air flight and wondering what price we should be putting on maintaining our reverence for such things. I would bitterly defend it but on the other hand we pay a high price for our nostalgia.

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