Irina Fedortsova








Jan 2016 - Sep 2017

By Irina Fedortsova

About shaping the mind and shared value

Being born in USSR and being a great fan of Ayn Rand’s novels about the goodness of capitalism, “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged”, I didn’t believe in socialism. Taking into account red tape and absence of meritocracy, I clearly realized what ‘good’ socialism can do altogether with bureaucrats in their attempt to create equal society, where all people were alike. Rand’s political philosophy emphasized on individual rights, and she considered laissez-faire capitalism to be the only possible moral social system because, in her view, it was the only system which was based on the principles of protection of those rights.

I have tried to understand why people, especially from rich families from capitalist countries, started thinking about other models of society and doing business. Luckily, study modules I completed in other countries helped to answer some of my questions.

While visiting Cape Town for the Inclusive Business in Africa module, I did face the dark side of capitalism as apartheid and greediness were obvious. One of the ideas of capitalism is effectiveness and capital division based “on merit”. What can be more effective than the opportunity not to pay for the labour of others and to exclude them from the life of ‘white people’? Why is it so? In fact, there are numerous reasons, e.g. the color of the skin may happen to be not appropriate.

Throughout the history of South Africa, local communities were barred from using wealth of their own land; no wonder that now millions of people are still living in slums without access to education, decent medical services and other blessings of civilization. The history of India, China and other Asian countries also showed how the Western world tried to make a use of resources of Eastern communities, how human values and lives were exploited and humiliated, and sometimes even destroyed in favor of making extra profits. The book of Richard Bernstein “The East, the West, and Sex: A History” provides a lot of similar examples. It describes the historical and ongoing encounter between Western explorers, merchants, and conquerors who have visited the East and the morally ambiguous opportunities they found in foreign lands.

Is there a right model of state government? To find the answer to this question it is necessary to step one level down and answer the question what the right model of doing business is. It is even more important to answer the last question because nowadays the world is shrinking and some companies’ turnover is more than some countries’ GDP (Amazon (US) – US$135.99 billion in 2016, Alibaba (China) – US$23 billion for twelve months as of March 31, 2017).

Plenty of companies are trying to employ corporate social responsibility policies, but are they real or greenwashing (when significantly more money or time has been spent advertising being “green” than is actually spent on environmentally sound practices) for marketing purposes? How to evaluate what companies really need to do – just not to harm others or to think about future of environment and society where they operate?

Speaking about making business and working in the business field, at some point in my life I believed that profit-making organizations were not charities and what they needed to think about was only “creating added value to theirs shareholders”. Added value, in my young mind, usually meant additional profits, sustainability and increasing market shares.

But now I see the problem with a so-called rule of “more value to shareholders”. People, who have been following the rule of “creating more value” invented apartheid. It may seem to be just a problem of that time but apartheid seized only in 1991; therefore, the question is why Shell didn’t create apartheid in Alaska, but shared its income with local citizens? Shell paid $2.2bn for leases to drill oil in Alaska, and it should be noted that the oil industry provides about 40% of Alaska’s tax revenue and underpins the payment of an oil royalty to each Alaskan citizen. One more surprising thing I discovered while visiting Cape Town is that there are only 5% of black people in restaurants in the city center, and this is the 21st century! Is it really a normal situation while you are in Africa?

Why do people think only about themselves? It is common to worry about one’s own family and not to worry much about children who are dying in some war conflict. But… we need to create value of making good for ourselves without destroying other lives. South Africa with the highest GINI-coefficient (which measures inequality) shows the opposite. 20 years ago, the remnants of slavery were still present there: the local habitants simply didn’t have possibility to get education, normal work, and they were excluded. Why? How can one decide what is wrong or right there? Of course, now there are huge problems in South Africa, and there is positive discrimination, but how to create livelihood opportunities for its excluded population on a long term sustainable basis with a significant outreach? Too many questions remain without clear answers.

Maybe, my words will seem to be full of pathos, but the Oxford EMBA shapes my attitudes and makes me think about shared value. Oxford EMBA gives me an opportunity to see real shared-value companies, and this experience turns my mind. I wonder how we all can make our world better? Of course, it is hard to shape global environment and perception, but beginning with yourself sounds not bad as a first step to make. I believe that teaching our children simple values such as responsibility, respect, caring about environment and others will definitely help us build a better world.

Oxford EMBA group photo

My successful friends, from left to right and me (in the middle):
Ayodeji Sotinrin, Nigeria. Founder and Managing Partner, SAO Capital (investment and advisory firm focused on investments in agriculture).
Eric Idiahi, Nigeria. Partner, Verod Capital, raised approximately US$200m across two funds portfolios for investments in Nigeria.
Olwethu Mafanya, South Africa. Portfolio Manager, Eskom Pension and Provident
Fund (Development Impact and Private Equity).
Lorraine H Wright, UK. Director, Security IT, UBS Management of strategic initiatives for security IT including global organisational change initiatives.

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