Here at FEE, we are more encouraged than ever by the increasing reach of our one-day seminars. We recently announced plans to expand to 200 programs annually by the end of 2021 in order to engage and inspire 30,000 students with the ideals of economic freedom, entrepreneurship, and personal character.
While we are delighted to report the growing numbers reached by FEE seminars, I want to share the details of a recent program as just one example of the impact these experiences are having on the lives of the students we meet.
Economics, Entrepreneurship, and Social Justice
On November 19th, I joined a class of aspiring entrepreneurs at Antioch University Santa Barbara to lead a workshop on Economics, Entrepreneurship, and Social Justice. While the content of this program was tailored to fit the class, the principles we discussed are consistent with what students would hear at any FEE program.
I knew FEE’s focus on humane values would resonate with this audience.
At each seminar, we strive to connect FEE’s message in ways that are personally relevant to students’ lives. The students taking this particular course are serious about starting a business. Some already have. I knew FEE’s message of entrepreneurship as a driving force for social good would resonate well with this group of motivated students eager to make a difference in the world.
The instructor also informed me that social justice was a core learning objective on the course syllabus. I knew FEE’s focus on humane values would resonate with this audience. According to Antioch University, since its founding, the university “... has stayed at the forefront of social justice, inclusion, and equality for all people, regardless of ethnicity, gender, creed, orientation, or ability.”
What Do Economics and Entrepreneurship Have to Do with Social Justice?
At the opening, I asked the class to imagine their ideal society and describe the most important qualities they’d like to see. The students listed outcomes such as prosperity, clean environment, access to health care, and opportunity for individual fulfillment. They also listed the personal character traits of individuals in that society such as honesty, benevolence, and compassion.
Students in the class brought different perspectives and experiences to the conversation, but they also share many similar core values. They all want well-being for themselves and others in society. They don’t want people to use power to unjustly take advantage of others. They want to live in a society where the dignity of each individual is respected and opportunities for a good life are widely available.
I introduced the idea that economics is a toolbox we can use to better understand the alternatives we face and the choices people make.
We went on to discuss social justice, including various conceptions of “fairness” and “equality.” It seemed most disagreements came from differing ideas about the means of achieving our largely shared goals. Students agreed that it is not enough to want a better world. It’s not even enough to signal that we want a better world. If we truly want to make the world a better place, we need to think with our heads as well as our hearts. We have to learn what actually creates the kind of economic and social progress we all want—and then act in ways that advance our goal.
After capturing our shared values on the whiteboard, I introduced the idea that economics is a toolbox we can use to better understand the alternatives we face and the choices people make. It is up to our moral judgment to set the direction of our goal, but economics can help guide our path.
If we want a prosperous society, the most important question we have to answer is, “What creates wealth?” This is exactly what economists since Adam Smith have been studying.
A Rapid Improvement in the Quality of Life
Contrary to the hunches of most of the students when I polled the class, global poverty has actually been reduced by nearly 50 percent in the past 20 years. The solutions we might propose would be very different in a world where global poverty was rapidly increasing from a world where poverty is rapidly declining.
Using a series of mindblowing charts from ourworldindata.org, we discussed the short history of improving global living conditions, and why it matters that we know where things stand today.
While we’ve seen dramatic increases in wealth around the world, not all countries are sharing in that prosperity. In a discussion about the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World report, we explored the link between economic freedom and a flourishing economy.
This led into the heart of our discussion about the essential role of entrepreneurs in society. Entrepreneurs solve problems and discover opportunities to serve unmet needs. When left free to produce and trade, they generate wealth for themselves and their communities.
The Pursuit of Profit Is Pro-Social
We continued with a Socratic dialogue on the nature of wealth and profit. Using an article from FEE.org the students had read before class, “The Pursuit of Profit Is Pro-Social,” I explained that profit is a signal that the entrepreneur has created more value for society than it cost to produce. Profit provides an incentive to serve the highest needs of society, and losses indicate wasteful projects that should be stopped. Successful entrepreneurs create value for their customers, suppliers, and employees while earning a profit in the process.
Students often believe that non-profit charities are the avenues for bettering the world. They think of business as selfish. In this class, we learned that entrepreneurs operating for-profit businesses are responsible for the incredible rise in living standards and positive social change we enjoy today. The essence of entrepreneurship is serving yourself by serving others well.
The message of entrepreneurship as a means for lasting, transformative change seemed to resonate with the class. One student, Timothy Eurman, wrote,
The class discussion was eye-opening and inspirational for us upcoming entrepreneurs. He showed that the role of the entrepreneur is much more than simply pursuing a profit, but that it carries a significant impact on the social environment, whether this was the initial intent or not. The article "The Pursuit of Profit is Pro-Social," detailed this idea nicely. This article explained how not only do social-enterprises generate a positive impact, but even the traditional entrepreneur can create a positive social impact. This is simply based on the fundamental that solving problems creates value in people's lives. I found this to be a really cool point of view. It is with articles like this, among many other things, my mindset has shifted from being that all business is cut-throat and solely profit maximizing, to be more about the positive impact that businesses can bring to society. With the entrepreneur mindset of always looking for innovation and solving problems, I believe the world is capable of anything.
Economic Freedom Helps People
In the second part of the workshop, we moved from theory to application with a screening of FEE’s new documentary, Made in Mekhe. This 30-minute film profiles the Senegalese entrepreneur, Magatte Wade, and her mission to share the beauty of Africa with the world through business.
Despite having so much richness to offer, many people in Africa remain poor because they do not enjoy the same economic freedom as do wealthier parts of the world.
Magatte explains that people are poor because they don’t have jobs. There are no jobs because there are few businesses. And there are few businesses because government policies make it very difficult for entrepreneurs to start and run businesses in her country.
Through the power of business, Magatte is fighting to bring prosperity and freedom to her home country of Senegal.
After the program, Maja Jonsson wrote:
There are no words that can describe how moved I was by Magatte Wade, who she is and what she is doing. I’ve talked about her and what she taught me to everyone around me and also incorporated that knowledge into my other classes as it covers those issues as well. I will forever carry with me her words on poverty and escaping poverty "the root of the problem is the solution of the problem.”
The surest path to prosperity is removing the political barriers that are keeping entrepreneurs from solving problems and creating wealth.
Entrepreneurship Is for Everybody
The final section of the workshop is designed to make the day’s lessons personally relevant. Our goal is to inspire students to action.
Drawing from Dan Sanchez’s article, “Entrepreneurship Is for Everybody,” we discussed what it means to think like an entrepreneur, even if you never start a business of your own.
Entrepreneurs look at challenges and problems as opportunities. They embrace a growth mindset. They are visionaries and innovators who realize they have the power to create the change they want to see in themselves and the world.
Another student, Johanna Smeds, remarked:
It opened my eyes to so many new ways of looking at entrepreneurship and its possibilities. I have always questioned if one needs to be involved in non-profits in order to be considered a “good entrepreneur.” Therefore, I was so happy when I learned from Jason that this isn’t the case. As he mentioned, entrepreneurs are constantly creating value for people all over the world. The profit works as a signal that society is appreciating the value you are creating for them, as well as a reward. I can’t remember the exact words, but I remember Jason saying something like, "If you make a profit by being fair and creating value for people it is considered noble." Lastly, this class discussion gave me so much energy and inspiration to work hard for my entrepreneurial dream. Because of all the things that have been happening in the world lately, and especially in California with the fires and shootings, I have felt like we were on a very negative path. However, I got very relieved and happy by seeing the statistics of how the extreme poverty has been reduced in half and how the global life expectancy has increased by more than 10%. To then also learn that entrepreneurship is one of the factors contributing to making the world a better place was absolutely amazing and very motivational!
Comments from students like Tim, Maja, and Johanna leave me optimistic for the future. These are the young minds who will change the world. In a time when the political world seems more divided than ever, the message of ethical entrepreneurship cuts across political and ideological lines to offer a clear path to progress.
Through entrepreneurship, economic freedom, and strong individual character we will achieve our shared goals of making the world a better place. FEE’s programs are inspiring the next generation of leaders to create that world.