Macro vs. Micro in the World of Ethical Business

The business world has been blamed for just about everything from the dissolution of native cultures to the exploitation of natural resources. But Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and academic innovator Michael Strong take different angle. 

Spurred by conversations with Bookstop and Hoovers founder Gary Hoover, they decided entrepreneurship and markets could improve the world and the reputation of business at the same time. The product was Flow Inc.

We believe we can make the world a better place and that entrepreneurship and markets are the most powerful tools in doing that,” says Jeff Klein, Flow’s Chief Integration Officer.

Four years after starting the organization, Flow has partnered with NGOs and universities in an effort to focus on three core tenets: conscious capitalism, peace through commerce and fostering women entrepreneurs. They’ve also established Flow Activation Circles in New York, San Francisco, and Austin as well as partnerships in countries like Iraq, Israel, Colombia, and Rwanda.

But is Flow’s macro-level approach thinking too big? Perhaps. Organizations like Kiva have used far simpler means.

Via the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, Kiva allows users to track budding entrepreneurs and provide small amounts of funding, often $25 gift certificates, to further their business vision.

With organizations like Kiva getting endorsements from economists like Jeffrey Sachs, the micro-loan, first established by Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank in 1983, is one of the most enduring financial tools for leveraging progress in the developing world.

It’s too early to tell how effective Flow’s macro-level approach will be, and it doesn’t look like Mackey will be leaving Whole Foods anytime soon to run Flow. But even if Flow is merely a pet project, it sets a high mark for the rest of the corporate world to emulate.

Further Viewing:

Ray Anderson explains how he got his company to go sustainable at TED.

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