Catching up with Chip Hauss and Imperative 21

by Heidi Burgess

Nov. 5, 2020



This post is part of the Constructive Conflict Initiative Blog


We have listed Chip's blog on our Colleague Activities Page and included some of his past posts (both summarized and in full) here on this blog.  Over the summer and early fall, I got distracted and lost track of Chip's blog, but coming back to it now, I have discovered he has posted a lot of great stuff that really relates to what we are trying to do here.  So, for those with time, I suggest you look at his blog directly. But for a quicker summary of some of his key points which seem particularly relevant to our work in the CCI, continue reading.

What Kind of Recovery - Originally posted July 21, 2020:  This post outlines a new book Chip is starting to write on movements that are both needed and already starting to recover from COVID-19 and its associated crises, even as we are still in the midst of a third and apparently most serious yet, wave of disease. Our crises have become so severe, Chip wrote, that "a paradigm shift might be on the table."  Both we and he have been calling for a paradigm shift in the way the U.S. (and, indeed, the world as a whole) addresses what we call "intractable conflicts" and he calls "wicked problems."  While the situation we face now is dire, he sees the interconnected nature of these crises as having the "surprising side effect of making profound change possible," much more than it had been before. He reports on "some cool initiatives" that have already started—not from the top, but rather from "average citizens who adopt new norms and build new movements in their neighborhoods, workplaces, and communities."  None of these, alone, he says, "will change the world. Together, they just might."  This is exactly the notion that we have been trying to propose with our "massively parallel peacebuilding" idea.  

We don’t get to choose when we were born.

We don’t choose what natural disasters, epidemiological emergencies, stock market crashes, tyrannical regimes, or wars our generations face.

We only get to choose how we react.

--Wendy Beth Hyman

Also in this post, Chip quotes Oberlin English professor Wendy Beth Hyman's words that really struck a chord with him—as they do with me:

We don’t get to choose when we were born.


We don’t choose what natural disasters, epidemiological emergencies, stock market crashes, tyrannical regimes, or wars our generations face.


We only get to choose how we react.

He goes on to talk about the #BuildBackBetter movement, several initiatives that are starting to do that, how we need to scale upward, outward, and inward, and move out of our "comfort zones" to work with people different than ourselves to make real, meaningful change.   

This post was followed with two more, "Thinking Like a Startup" and "Reality Tells Me What to Do: The Peacebuilding Pivot" which I am not going to summarize here,  but I do recommend them."

I do want to talk about his next set of five posts on Imperative 21. In his first Imperative 21 post, he explains:

Imperative 21 itself reflects the work of some 70,000 businesses that employ 20 million people, bring in close to $7 trillion, and have more than twice that amount in assets under management. So, this is not a fringe group crying out in the wilderness. Instead, it is a group of successful corporate leaders who want to bring their colleagues along with them in a reset that responds not simply to the half century or more of capitalism’s systematic shortcomings but to the immediate crises that have hit us this year while the team was preparing to launch this campaign.

Imperative 21 launched its campaign on Sept. 13, 2020, which was chosen because it is the 50th anniversary of Milton Friedman's famous New York Times Magazine article that asserted that shareholder value was the only legitimate purpose of corporations. That initiated a series of very damaging economic trends that contributed to inequality, climate change and other environmental and social ills. So Imperative 21 chose that date to launch what they call an "economic reset" in which they argue for what they call "stakeholder capitalism" instead of "shareholder capitalism."  By "stakeholders," they mean everyone--owners, employees, customers, people/organizations in the supply chain, the environment, even future generations. And one of their three fundamental principles is that businesses must "account for stakeholders" by measuring their own success in terms of the value their business creates for all stakeholders.

Business isn't just responsible to its shareholders; it is responsible to its "stakeholders" which comprise everyone--and the planet itself.

Imperative 21 has two other fundamental principles: Designing for the Future and Investing for Justice.  Designing for the future involves "creating an economy that takes the interdependence of the planet for granted—an interdependence that takes us beyond climate change to include all of the issues in the UN Sustainable Development Goals...Because they are focused on influencing the business community, they stress the importance of free and fair markets, but they understand private enterprise has to be anchored in partnerships with government, civil society, and more."  Investing for justice involves investing in a way that produces just results.  This means, Chip says, that corporate leadership and ownership needs to become more inclusive and investment funds need to be made more available to underprivileged populations.  "Since many of its [Imperative 21's] founders built their businesses either in or by using new technologies, they stress the importance of using IT platforms to advance democratic ideals and human rights by enabling the voice, power, and opportunity of those who are currently marginalized.

Chip goes on to observe that there is considerable overlap between Imperative 21's goals and many peacebuilding goals, and he suggests both communities would benefit from working together.  His next three posts detail more of what this might look like: one post focuses on Designing for Interdependence,  another on Investing for Justice, and a third on Stakeholder Accountability.

His last Imperative 21 post is entitled Beyond the Election.  Here Chip explains why, no matter how the election comes out, we can't depend on Washington to implement these goals.  And, he asserts "As impressive and as ambitious as they are, initiatives like Imperative 21 are not going to be enough unless they are:

  • Woven together with other similar initiatives into reasonably coherent movements that can have an impact nationally
  • Using them to accelerate the cultural changes that are already underway."

He says that "I’m seeing promising signs of movements on both fronts even though most of us have our attention fixed squarely on the election in which neither long-term economic change nor building grass roots movements has played a featured role. [But] so much is going on that you should not have trouble finding a promising, culture-shifting movement being built where your live and work.

Think about how you can be part of the economic, environmental, and political reset that we need and then find a culture-shifting movement near you and join in.  Everyone has a role to play in this cultural reset, so take that first step!

Don’t expect to find the perfect movement that meets all of your needs and hopes to solve all of our problems. Like Benioff did when he created Salesforce, you may have a lofty goal in mind, but it will take lots of twists and turns and false starts before you get there.

Only one thing is clear. If you don’t take that first step, we’ll never get there. ... and [after the election,] " take some time to plan how you can be part of the economic, environmental, and political reset that we will be able to build."

These suggestions very much align with our suggestions in the Constructive Conflict Initiative and our plan for Massively Parallel Peacebuilding. We encourage you to go to Chip's blog to read more about Imperative 21, and how it, together with peacebuilders and others can respond in a constructive and effective way to the myriad challenges facing us in the coming year(s).