Thanks to generous donor support, including a new major six-figure gift to the university, the Academy is launching a new Project on Business and Society. The goal of this Business and Society initiative is to spur thinking about the critical interconnectedness of for-profit businesses (large and small) and all aspects of human and social well-being, including inequality, fairness, equal opportunity, environmental quality, social tolerance and discord, and how to move beyond the toxic negativity that has come to dominate contemporary public discourse. The Project’s launch includes the addition of two new Senior Fellows and faculty members to help support the Academy’s educational mission.



With a direct gift of $100,000 to the College of Business and additional significant funding from donors the Academy has helped launch a new Project on Business and Society at the University. This project will allow professors and students at the University of Illinois and other institutions the chance to explore “the big picture” of how businesses, the presence or lack of a market economy, and human well-being and social progress all interact. Contrary to popular discussions and political debates there are not separate spheres of life: one for the economy, driven by greed and selfishness; and another for social progress, driven by fair-mindedness and generosity. Debates about economic policy or policies toward business by definition include impacts on individuals, families, and communities. They are all part of the larger fabric of modern life and cannot be separated and rearranged like pieces of a puzzle. To understand these complex relationships and to promote a better society and brighter future a multitude of disciplines and approaches needs to be taken that transcends traditional academic boundaries or ideologies.

Too often political, popular, and even academic debate focus on over-simplified historical narratives and the rosy, overly-optimistic promises of proposed “solution” to society’s challenges. The process of economic growth and the wealth and convenience that have come to be expected with it are taken for granted as normal in modern societies. But taking for granted positive outcomes and focusing discourse only on critical challenges masks the real story. How was progress and wealth achieved? What methods of economic, social, and political organization and competition led to the results that are being studied and either praised or criticized? How did those unique processes differently shape culture, society, and politics in various countries around the world and even within different regions of many countries like America?

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To understand the interconnectedness of all aspects of society and the economy new approaches are needed. And new questions must be asked and explored. Thanks to visionary donor support the Academy is helping to build a Project on Business and Society to help identify and answer those questions. The goal is to work across traditional divisions, disciplines, and boundaries and ask big questions and look for big answers at a time when society seems more divided and narrowly focused than ever.  Public universities and scholars have a responsibility to the society they serve to advance knowledge and share important insights with the public. The Project on Business and Society aims to do that in new and innovative ways.

Conscious Capitalism

Alexander McCobin, former CEO of Conscious Capitalism, explains how “conscious” businesses can “do well” while “doing good” and make society better while making a profit. “We believe that business is good because it creates value, it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange, it is noble because it can elevate our existence, and it is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity. Free enterprise capitalism is the most powerful system for social cooperation and human progress ever conceived. It is one of the most compelling ideas we humans have ever had. But we can aspire to even more. Conscious Capitalism is a way of thinking about capitalism and business that better reflects where we are in the human journey, the state of our world today, and the innate potential of business to make a positive impact on the world. Conscious businesses are galvanized by higher purposes that serve, align, and integrate the interests of all their major stakeholders. Their higher state of consciousness makes visible to them the interdependencies that exist across all stakeholders, allowing them to discover and harvest synergies from situations that otherwise seem replete with trade-offs. They have conscious leaders who are driven by service to the company’s purpose, all the people the business touches, and the planet we all share together. Conscious businesses have trusting, authentic, innovative and caring cultures that make working there a source of both personal growth and professional fulfillment. They endeavor to create financial, intellectual, social, cultural, emotional, spiritual, physical and ecological wealth for all their stakeholders. Conscious businesses will help evolve our world so that billions of people can flourish, leading lives infused with passion, purpose, love and creativity; a world of freedom, harmony, prosperity, and compassion.”

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