The Editor’s Post: 'Find a cult of radical do-gooders and make life more difficult' – provocateur Rutger Bregman's call to impact leaders

Speakers at the B for Good Leaders summit in Amsterdam call for "moral ambition" and the UK impact sector reacts to the announcement of a general election. This week’s view from the Pioneers Post newsroom.

People in the purposeful business world sometimes fret about being too absorbed in a “bubble” that’s removed from and failing to engage with more mainstream thinkers. 

Dutch historian Rutger Bregman disagrees. Asked how business leaders could be consistently courageous, his advice was to “find a cult of radical do-gooders who encourage each other to set the bar even higher”. This was a feature of successful movements in the past like the abolitionists or the suffragettes, he added: “It starts with a really small group of people who [are] not trying to get out of the bubble, they are the bubble… that’s really important: surround yourself with like-minded, morally ambitious people.”

Bregman was speaking at this week’s B for Good Leaders summit in Amsterdam, a gathering of more than 1,000 CEOs from so-called “B Corps and beyond” – certified B Corps plus the many other businesses that aren’t yet or never will be B Corps, but which share similar values. 

How difficult do you want to make your own life? If you’re really serious about this, it’s not all going to be fun and relaxed

Bregman’s straight-talking style went viral in 2019 when he challenged the hypocrisy of the Davos elite. Now, he is calling for more “moral ambition” – essentially a call for people working across all sectors to “stop wasting their talent” and start applying it to solve the world’s biggest social and environmental challenges – and he’s just as provocative. Obsessing over your own environmental footprint is pointless – zero footprint and you “might as well not have existed”. In the fight for social justice, it’s not enough to know we did our best – it’s our moral duty to win. The climate activists of the 1970s, more so than those of today, were really morally ambitious – so in the “relentless prioritisation” of what matters, we need to consider which even more neglected cause those activists would be fighting for today.

And – following an opening session in which speakers shared personal dreams for the future to a backdrop of John Lennon’s “Imagine”, Bregman swiftly suggested the “do-gooder movement” could try harder. Self-help books teach us how to make life easier, he said, but what we need are books that teach you to live a more difficult life – because making change is hard. “That’s one challenge I have for the audience: how difficult do you want to make your own life? If you’re really serious about this, it’s not all going to be fun and relaxed and, ooh, let’s listen to ‘Imagine’”.  


In a later discussion on corporate activism, one sustainability director echoed this point. Companies were often fearful of taking a stand on social issues: “Shouldn't we as businesses challenge ourselves to make it hurt a little bit?” That’s where they could create true value, she suggested. 

But no matter how “incredible” the work of business leaders assembled this week, we need a reality check, said Sandrine Dixson-Declève, the outspoken president of the Club of Rome. Nothing would change, after all, if we did not stop burning fossil fuels, which would take a real shift in the system – or, as she put it, “kicking some ass”.

Meanwhile, B for Good Leaders wants to grow its own movement but also see more connection with the many other “bubbles” working for a regenerative economy. “We are territorial animals,” said co-founder Marcello Palazzi. “What can we do to elevate our openness to change and share with each other?” The answer, as yet, isn’t clear. 


UK impact community reacts to news of election

Finally, back in the UK, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has at last set a date for this year’s general election. We asked some of the UK’s leading impact organisations for their first reactions to the news - find out what they had to say.


This week's top stories

Hot takes: social economy leaders react to UK general election announcement

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Half of UK social enterprises already using AI, new report reveals


Top photo: Rutger Bregman (TED Conference, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED)


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