Global progress, education and enterprise

The President of the Global Progress Commission, Felipe González, delivering the opening speech, outlined what he described as the context in which discussions had been taking place, with reference to the commission’s work, as well as his personal approach to the topic for debate at the Seville seminar, namely education.

The Global Progress Commission.

Having set out the two types of seminar which the commission organizes – regional meetings or seminars and subject-specific seminars – the President went on to list the seven items for the proposed debate. He told his audience in Seville that three defining features of the contemporary world could be identified: economic globalization, increased capital movements and the technological revolution.

Keeping to the analytical method espoused by the Global Progress Commission, he highlighted the three main impacts of the said features on nations and their domestic affairs: the impact upon the structure of the state (moves towards supranational and ‘intra-national’ structures); the impact upon the state’s size and role (the quest for a ‘leaner and meaner’ state); and the state’s room for manoeuvre with regard to macroeconomic policy (the drive for sound and balanced macroeconomic policy and the scope available to left and right to put forward alternative income and spending policies).

Lastly, he reminded those present that the seventh item for general discussion, reintroducing a global analysis, dealt with organizing the international community and the open regionalism proposed as a working formula to counterbalance the power concentrated in the hands of the United States.

Education, education, education.

Taking as his basis the view that education constitutes the single most important strategic factor in meeting the challenges of the next millennium, the President of the Global Progress Commission described education as the purest form of investment in human capital – not merely social expenditure.

Education can also be approached from the point of view of solidarity. Primary education, for instance, has a crucial part to play in fostering a spirit of solidarity, provided that it is neither elitist in nature nor channelled solely towards encouraging competitiveness. Elitist and competitive schooling will not provide us with the foundations upon which to educate human beings able to distinguish, and thus respect ‘otherness’. In higher education, though, we can and must educate in order to achieve excellence; ‘qualificationitis’ is unnecessary as well as inadequate.

Let us therefore educate human beings in whom a sense of solidarity and of discernment of differences has been instilled, for it is education of that kind which reaps dividends.

Initially it might appear that this approach of combining education, solidarity and humanism has nothing in common with the strategy of short-term gain employed in the business sector, and its representatives would be inclined to disassociate themselves from it. That is why, as we know, Felipe González has suggested tackling matters from a new and different angle which does away with tribal rhetoric, yet whose virtue may be seen to lie in its adopting a business mentality. As regards the future of a company in the medium or long term (or, if you prefer, the chance of its generating profits beyond the short term), by supporting education in the same way as you support sound management, you are quite simply investing in human capital, the key to keeping growth in an open and globalized economy on track. Here the authorities have a role to play which no one else can.

But to return to our focus on education in terms of the solidarity that we, the advocates of progress, espouse, let us not forget that human solidarity also demands that expertise be redistributed in order to enable a huge number of countries, most of them African, to surmount the obstacle to development represented by a lack of expertise. These countries must make up lost ground in this area if they are to stand any chance of joining the development train, and here the strategic role of education comes to the fore once again. Fortunately, at the same time we have what might at first seem a paradoxical situation whereby the need for an industrial revolution could be sidestepped, and knowledge and expertise redistributed through the technological revolution. Here, then, new technologies and the information society could contribute to global human development in large measure.

The spirit of enterprise.

Redistributing knowledge and education is a necessity, but there is something missing when we fail to convert that knowledge into developing creative potential – that is, enterprise. What seven- or eight-year-old child does not dream of being this or that? Yet by the time we reach our adolescence or early adult life we have become people who would prefer to have our future arranged for us. Our education systems turn out people highly akin to bureaucrats or civil servants, for the public and private sectors alike. How else might we explain why of the 150 or so people who earn degrees from a certain Spanish business studies faculty, none wish to set up a business or seek a management post?

We must ensure that our education systems embrace a spirit of enterprise, of creativity, of running risks and making mistakes, and that they instill a sense of obligation. ‘We’ll support your enterprise in going it alone, and should you fail we’ll be there to help you out’.

The suggestion here is not to adopt the American lifestyle – anyone can become another Clinton or Reagan – but to arrive at a more active, more inclusive and more creative form of society, a process which includes reforming the welfare state.

Economic growth, cooperation in education, the university and global progress.

Their methodological approaches, the cultural backgrounds and the subjects they dealt with may have varied greatly, but the speakers at the four round-table discussions (see enclosed seminar agenda) followed the same robust line of argument in examining in great detail the key role played by education in information societies, providing as proof the connection between economic growth and education.

Ilva Johansson, focusing on the northern European perspective, laid emphasis on the need for education to be permanent and continuous, and stressed that the objective of education for all should be pursued steadfastly. Citizens must be educated in order to cope with change, and education was a tool to foster economic development, social justice, equality, democracy and integration.

Anissa Bouhadef highlighted a different cultural, political, social and economic context in which education is envisaged as a crucial element in progressive national policy, a means of curbing violence and an indispensable factor in establishing a culture of peace, democracy, pluralism and respect. She saw civic education suffused in humanist spirit and with the human being at the heart as the most effective means of achieving peace and social democracy. Although presented with reference to Algeria, her beliefs could nonetheless be applied to similar climates where violence, terrorism and authoritarianism have been frustrating the potential emergence of a pluralist, interdependent and peaceful society which would bind together progress, development and respect for human rights.

Giving the Latin American viewpoint, Jesús Rodríguez stated that the anxiety to leave behind a lengthy period in which economic development had been accompanied by social inequality had led to the suggestion that education should be viewed as the most remarkable means of guaranteeing equal opportunity in society and ushering in growth with equality. Ensuring that such a view prevailed would require hands-on policies in the public sector.

The discussion on cooperation in education highlighted an interesting contrast at the seminar. On the one hand, Vittorio Campione put forward the progressive European vision of education for development, undoubtedly based upon humanist values, solidarity and respect for diversity and different cultural identities, through which investment in the form of education and knowledge was transferred to those regions where education was lacking. On the other hand, Joseph Kisanji gave the African vision, according to which education equals development. In our view, these two approaches complement rather than contradict one another. In effect, Campione did not advocate education for development as a form of aid, but favoured an enhanced role for education within the policy towards more deprived countries and regions to produce a broad learning spectrum which geared people up to react to change. Kisanji took a similar line in his defence of educating Africans in other areas as well, such as technology, natural science and mathematics – in other words, ongoing education resulting in development and a nation able to educate itself, in complete contrast to the effects of the systems inherited from the colonial era and the period of decolonization alike.

The message delivered by Yehudi Menuhin and the education programme presented by Ricardo Lagos provided an equally interesting contrast. Again, however, they did not prove incompatible, for although they differed in form and method, a common humanist thread ran through the philosophy of both presentations.

Menuhin the great musician outlined a genuine manifesto calling for tolerance, mutual trust and reconciliation between adversaries. Once again education was presented as the most valuable means of attaining those goals, the special feature of Menuhin’s approach being his firm belief in the pedagogical virtues of fostering the creative arts and the senses, by which he was, of course, referring to music, song and dance. Focusing education in that direction develops trust in other people and things, and stimulates the pleasure derived from discovery. Education should be applied to the world of leisure as well as the world of work. We must nurture critical and original thought, not insecure people who will always be just a step away from violence and revenge. Finally, we should aid the emergence of a movement to reconcile capitalist and socialist values which would tackle the problem of unemployment and the new concept of work or activity.

Ricardo Lagos set out a broad programme for a progressive education policy which he expounded by listing the four challenges he felt education would have to overcome in the 21st century. The first would be the intellectual challenge of providing education with an emphasis on depth rather than width which would teach us how to learn and adapt to change at a rapid pace. The second would be the moral challenge of moving on from education geared towards competition to a blend of solidarity and competitiveness, of identity and pluralism whereby values, not truths, would be instilled. The third would be the challenge of achieving equality, not so much by extending education to more people as by improving the chances of equal achievement and access to quality education for all. The fourth and last would be the organizational challenge, implying decentralized education and monitoring standards.

Lastly, the seminar analysed the role of the University in education and development. Emphasis was placed on the ease with which universities could maintain mutual contact and thus enhance the redistribution of knowledge; on compiling and then disseminating available research; on the vocation of the university in fostering cooperation in education; and on the potential of institutions of higher learning to train the voluntary corps for professional life. Marta Elena Cassaus gave a particularly eloquent account of her experience with regard to the pilot project on intercultural education for development, promoted by Madrid University and designed to educate leaders of indigenous peoples in Guatemala. Based on the conviction that formal education fails to further solidarity or cooperation in education, the project intends to adopt a new multicultural and inclusive approach which recognizes peoples of different backgrounds, regardless of ethnic origin or gender.

Socially committed entrepreneurs

The Global Progress Foundation held a seminar on socially-committed and democratic entrepreneurs on 20, 21 and 22 February 1998 in Madrid. Felipe González and Fernando Flores spoke at and presided over the seminar.

There were some sixty participants, mostly young people, from a wide range of fields of activity (small-business people, members of cooperatives, help centres for the unemployed, further education and training centres, computer specialists, artists, volunteers, students) and from various different places (Asturias, Andalusia, the Basque Country, Madrid, Extremadura, Castilla-Leon, Castilla-La Mancha, Catalonia and Chile.

Goals

In the left-wing weltanschauung, the notion of entrepreneurship is primarily associated with business activity and linked to right-wing ideology. The aim of the seminar was to break with this traditional view thus opening up new horizons for the Left and to ask a series of questions aimed at enabling these new horizons to be surveyed.

In their answers to these questions, some of the questions and replies being quite novel, the speakers attempted to establish some clear, and at times similarly novel, concepts with the aim of breaking down the existing ideological, psychological and behavioural inertia.

What is a (socially-committed and democratic) entrepreneur?

The need for a breakdown of inertia follows from a stock-taking by the Left as we approach the end of the century. According to the basic premise of the seminar, the Left must stop being a XIXth or even a XXth century movement. We must enter the XXIst century and take on the challenge of redrawing the frontiers delimiting our ideas. Young people wishing to create something new, to launch new projects, young people who are not resigned to a life as bureaucrats and conformists cannot be indifferent to such a premise.

The concept of ‘entrepreneurship’ is one of the touchstones for the Left in its effort to create a new paradigm. On the one hand, an entrepreneur is not just a businessperson. Anyone who has an idea or project is an entrepreneur. Thus, politicians can also be entrepreneurs whose enterprise or undertaking is to develop their country or society. On the other hand, entrepreneurship is not – or should not be, regardless of whether in the past it might have been – the domain of the Right. The enterprising spirit is universal. However, other than in the field of culture, the left has retreated from the field of enterprise and entrepreneurship leaving it to the Right.

In order to effect a change in attitudes we need to alter current conceptions. The aim of an enterprise need not be to make money or to do business. An enterprise, according to the premise of the seminar, can also be to satisfy others whilst doing what one wants to do. You become an entrepreneur because you have an idea or project, because you like what you do. Basically, being an entrepreneur means entering into a commitment with oneself.

Thus, in this sense, undertaking an enterprise is not the exclusive capability of business people or of the Right. Enterprise is a natural ability. It is the natural and independent ability to invent new worlds. Moreover, this is something that can be done with enjoyment. In the words of Fernando Flores, the Left needs to loose its fear of contentment. We need to start enjoying enterprises which fulfill a social need whilst providing satisfaction for ourselves, including in terms of entertainment and happiness.

Ideas for the development of enterprise

Having provided sufficient arguments to show that every human being is capable of enterprise, the seminar suggested some constructive measures to develop entrepreneurship, including one’s own enterprising spirit.

At the root of any enterprise one usually finds some anomaly which engenders social dissatisfaction. Thus, in order to be successful, an entrepreneur needs to posses the requisite sensibility to home in on this anomaly even more than he or she needs to be intelligent, wise, knowledgable or rich. This constitutes the origin of innovation which the entrepreneur translates into a new product or service on offer on the market. However, neither innovation nor supply are merely the result of having ideas. Placing an offer on the market is an act of communication; it is an act requiring meticulous preparation on the part of the entrepreneur in order to seduce the public – customers made of flesh and blood i.e. ordinary citizens – or in other words to make himself or herself relevant to other people. However, it is not goods that are placed on offer but practices.

The timing of the offer – and we should not understand the concept merely in commercial terms but instead should also think of the art offered by Neruda – the policies offered by Lenin or the religious concepts offered by Ignatius Loyola, is decisive. Entrepreneurs invent offers, taking a given thing with whatever shortcomings they have observed and refashioning them anew. In fact, invention and innovation do not consist in creating something new; nobody ever creates anything wholly new. Innovation and creativity exist in a social context whose conventions and practices go back in time; thus the achievement of a creative person lies in inventing new conditions to satisfy needs on the basis of an interpretation of different earlier practices. Such creative people or entrepreneurs see what others do not – be it an anomaly, social dissatisfaction or a fringe activity whose potential is unfulfilled – and take advantage of their freedom to offer their discovery in order to cure this blindness. In fact, innovation and invention consist essentially in cultivating the anomalous and the marginal.

Seen in this light, creativity and entrepreneurship are not difficult but instead rather trivial.

Entrepreneurs, and democratic and socially committed entrepreneurs in particular, must seek perfection and excellence; in order to achieve excellence, one must be seriously dedicated to one’s project (and thus stop being an ‘eternal adolescent’). In practice, this means that entrepreneurs must not only plan their offer meticulously, they must also cultivate the client’s confidence in them, entering into a commitment to fulfill the promises inherent to any offer. Style has an important role to play in this regard in the same manner as the above-mentioned capacity to seduce. Finally, a successful entrepreneur believes that someone will say yes and accept his or her offer.

In order to be successful, entrepreneurs must be imbued with a culture of commitment (the commitment to fulfill the promise contained in the offer) and of client satisfaction. This is true for all types of undertakings, including political ones.

Conclusions

The approach and methodology of the seminar are not ideally suited to the drawing of conclusions in the narrow sense of the term. As was pointed out in the introduction to these notes, the aim of the seminar was to put forward a series of questions and some answers in order to prepare new ways forward with the ultimate aim of promoting progressive – socially-committed and democratic – entrepreneurs.

Nevertheless, it is possible to put forward a number of conclusions without limiting oneself to what was said and heard at the seminar, and how better to do this than to quote the conclusions proposed by Felipe González in one of his talks during the seminar:

  • The ‘signal code’ used by our ideological and political family produces a false sense of security; we need to have an open approach to the world and not be afraid of the intermingling of ideas. We must banish ideological prejudice.
  • We have accumulated an enterprising and innovative capacity which needs to be redistributed and seminars such as this help to do so.
  • Entrepreneurship implies the application of knowledge.
  • It does not matter if you fail and we must not fear failure; if at first you do not succeed, you must try again.
  • You have to fight for what you believe in and not in order to raise your profile or take up some post; we must eliminate bureaucracy as a vocation.
  • Democratic entrepreneurs must assume responsibilities and direct, and consequently they must also respect people who, for example, only want to earn their salary without any further commitments.
  • Creating jobs is the first socially-committed act of an entrepreneur; the second is to create another entrepreneur, particularly where there is a dearth of know-how.