For 100 years the world has been on a fairly consistent march towards more and more free enterprise, and deeper and more sharp edged caverns of capitalism. And for approximately 80 of those years, most of the developed world was not on a bad path.
People (entrepreneurs) created things of real value to other people, and society too, and in the process of us paying for them, productive new industries were stood up (think of the automobile industry, the wired and wireless telephone industries, etc), people were hired, and a middle class was born. And on the backend of this, the entrepreneurs themselves often got rich, enjoyed fame and lived what most would call an exceedingly successful life. But somewhere long the lines of the last 20 years, the bi-product strangely became the product.
Versus worrying ourselves about creating something of real value to society and the people within them, many (no, most) actually just fast forwarded their discussion to the profit and money part. Take an average conversation with almost anyone doing almost anything in the past 20 years, and you could add the same basic tag line.
So why did you go into business? To get rich. To make money.
So why did you become a Wall Street or London banker? To get rich. To make money.
So why did you sell that company, or buy it in the first place? To get rich. To make money.
So why did you become a professional athlete? To get rich. To make money.
So why did you become a drug dealer? To get rich. To make money.
It's about the only time that I can think of when the fancy guy on Wall Street, and the hustler working in the gritty neighborhood of my childhood street, where I grew up, are the same guy. Everyone seems to have come down with the same bug -- greed with little other purpose.
When the bi-product (cash money and getting rich) becomes the product (producing something of meaningful value to society and individuals within it), all the bets are off. Society, countries, communities, companies, and the individuals within them, cannot help but ultimately fail. We have all lost our story line.
We Need A New Storyline
We need a more dynamic, holistic and engaging storyline for society -- and all the actors within it.
We need a new storyline that creates and nurtures real, new sustainable customers organically (through real wage increases and real job creation, or by changing the individual dynamic, such as raising credit scores, as we do here at Operation HOPE in underserved communities of the U.S.), rather than 'manufacturing' so-called new customers, by giving them say a predatory subprime loan that they do not understand, and ultimately cannot afford.
A storyline that says in parts of the world where women are mistreated and left out of society, you will never succeed until you treat women with respect. You simply cannot succeed with half of your population oppressed and sitting on the sidelines of life. In fact, there is no successful society today in the world that oppresses women as a matter of state policy or acceptable social norm.
A storyline that sees the so-called poor as an opportunity for emerging market growth, rather than a dead weight which must be shunned, ignored, or worse, spurned and turned away. We have consistently raised credit scores at Operation HOPE on average of 120 points over 18 months of intensive financial literacy counseling in our offices.
There is nothing that changes your life more, other than love or God, than moving your credit score 120 points (in the U.S.).
To put this into context for countries without credit scores -- if you have a 500 credit score, you are a check cashing customer. But if you have a 670 credit score, you are a prime bank customer. This is financial literacy in action.
Most everything about your attitude about life, and yourself, changes. The poverty state of mind I so often talk away, begins to fall away, and it is replaced with an empowerment mindset. The civil rights focus of consumer protections, most be coupled and partnered with the silver rights focus of consumer empowerment policies, partnerships and possibilities. This begins with financial literacy, continues with financial engagement and financial inclusion, moves on to financial and economic empowerment, and concludes with financial dignity.
When you (as policy makers and leaders) do this, you create individuals who are not only not burdens to society, they are increasing individual pods of untapped economic energy, opportunity and aspiration, waiting to be born. Hope, made real.
A storyline that shuns increases in military budgets and instead installs a HOPE Business In A Box Academy in every public school. A place where young people can get a lesson in financial literacy (the language of money), a primer course in entrepreneurship, and dream up a small business that can be funded with $500 or less. A place where this same kid can go onto a stage or public area in their school, and are given two minutes to shine -- to pitch their ideas. Preferably before a panel of local business role models. Young people who then get funded, just like a venture capitalist or banker would do for you and me, and are then given a business role model, and a bank account, to operationalize this youth small business or entrepreneurship dream. A young person who then sees themselves differently, and who has their hope, wellbeing, engagement and youth economic energy measured by the likes of Gallup, every October.
This is the plan we are rolling out, nationwide in schools across America, through year 2020.
This is something that you can do too, in city, township, state and your country.
After all, our youth literally are, to quote my friend Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup, "the bench strength for the playoff game for the rest of our lives."
The real focus of success should not be on the narrow minded agenda of 'making money,' but rather creating real and sustainable value for society and individuals too.
When you do this, you not only have an opportunity to get rich, you also build sustainable wealth (and personal legacy) too.
John Hope Bryant wrote this piece as a delegate and featured speaker at the Global Economic Symposium which took place in Kiel, Germany on October 1st and 2nd, 2013. Bryant's engagement at the GES was in preparation for the HOPE Global Financial Dignity Summit, 2013, scheduled November 13th-14th, 2013, in Atlanta, Georgia.
John Hope Bryant is an entrepreneur, author, advisor, and one of the nation's most recognized empowerment leader. He is the founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, The Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), the only African-American bestselling business author in America, and is chairman of the Subcommittee for the Under-Served and Community Empowerment for the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability, for President Barack Obama. Mr. Bryant is the co-founder of the Gallup-HOPE Index, the only national research poll on youth financial dignity and youth economic energy in the U.S.