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The Koeze Business Ethics Initiative plans to concentrate its focus for the upcoming 2020-2021 academic year on social sustainability and engaging the academic and local community in reflection that addresses problems that have been identified as perennial: environmental stewardship, financial fairness, racial and gender inequalities and attendant hardships, building social capital, etc. The goal of this work is for a greater understanding of the role that business could and should play in navigating these concerns. Project and discussion-based work has begun on building bridges between the academic and business community.
The Trustworthiness of Michigan's Largest Publicly-Held Companies: A Public Perception Survey
Businesses, no matter how large or small, private or public, are predicated on trust. Ultimately no business gets done without at least an element of trust and a sense that the business and its agents are trustworthy.
To get a better sense of how Michigan’s largest publicly-held companies—companies collectively (and in some cases individually) worth billions of dollars and thousands of jobs in our state—are doing relative to trustworthiness, the KBEI has embarked on a three-year study seeking to answer some fundamental questions:
- how does the public in Michigan perceive these large companies?
- what will a “deep-dive” scholarly investigation of these companies’ practices reveal (i.e., looking at employee relations, corporate governance, vendor relations, risk management, environmental stewardship, etc.)?
- what courses of action might these companies currently be on, or take, to improve their trustworthiness?
Results from this survey are available now. The Trust Index, the “deep dive” referred to above, will take into consideration measures like financial strength, ethics and compliance, supplier ratings, governance and a host of others and be available September 2017. Professors Kevin Lehnert, Vijay Gondhalekar and Michael DeWilde of the Seidman College of Business have begun to work on building the Index.
What makes a city, a community, or a region a “good” place to live? What gives it an advantage over other places? And how do these “good” places to live and work sustain themselves? Inspired by a 1946 study conducted on these sorts of questions (and that included Grand Rapids) by the noted American sociologist C. Wright Mills we at the KBEI have been doing our own research into these questions. Our first article on the topic, titled “Social Capital, Economic Diversity, and Civic Well-being in Flint and Grand Rapids,” attempted to answer questions about how and why Grand Rapids and Flint took the paths they did, but in the process we saw yet again that generalizing about the experience of an entire city had its problems. Race, ethnicity, social class and immigration patterns and mindsets all serve to distinguish and make distinct the levels of “well-being” that residents are enjoying.
Understanding that we needed to become more detailed in our analysis, KBEI research assistant Annie Taccolini spent the summer of 2016 interviewing those who live and work in the Grandville Corridor section of Grand Rapids, an area that includes the Roosevelt Park neighborhood, which has been now for some time the Hispanic center of Grand Rapids. Her work describes the environment she found as residents ranging from business owners to workers to agency heads talked about what they wanted for themselves and their community. Taccolini and DeWilde will be making these findings public in September of 2016, using frameworks developed by Harvard sociologist Robert Putman and political philosopher Michael Sandel, also of Harvard.
Social capital has been defined by Putnam as “the informal ties to family, friends, neighbors and acquaintances and involvement in civic associations, religious institutions, volunteer activities and so on...” Social capital is critically important, he writes, because “social capital has repeatedly been shown to be a strong predictor of well-being both for individuals and for communities…social networks have powerful effects on health, happiness, and educational and economic success…”
What is the level of social capital in the Grandville Corridor? What role will the growing Hispanic population come to play in the civic well-being and economic diversity of Grand Rapids? How does it compare with the experiences of other ethnicities? How welcome will they be to assimilate, and to what do they aspire? These questions are the focus of our current social capital project.
Re-Entry: An unflinching look at life after prison
Picture of Markeith Canada
In 1991, at the age of 16, Markeith Canada was arrested on open murder charges. Markeith plead guilty in 1992 to 2nd-degree murder, and in 1993 was sentenced to 20-40 years in prison. He was housed at prisons in Jackson, Ionia, and Muskegon, MI.
In 2009 he was paroled from prison and returned to his hometown, Grand Rapids. He took a job, fathered a son with his then-wife, and returned to school at Grand Rapids Community College. In August of 2010, however, he was arrested on a gun charge that put him in violation of his parole. According to his testimony and the forensic evidence, it was not his gun and had neither his fingerprints nor his DNA on it. Nonetheless, Markeith was found guilty and sentenced to serve a two-seven and a half years sentence on a “felon-in-possession” conviction.
In the spring of 2016 Markeith was finally released and in July we met up in Grand Rapids for lunch to get caught up on what his plans were. As I listened to him talk I thought about all the well-intentioned efforts in west Michigan to help people like Markeith with re-entry challenges, of which there are many: jobs, housing, transportation, mental health issues, education, debt from the DOC, and the like. It occurred to me that, were he willing, it might be instructive to begin writing (or filming) parts of his life as a way to help anyone who was interested understand, from Markeith’s point of view, just what it is like to try and pick up – or create – a life that was interrupted by a total of 24 years of incarceration (Markeith is 41 as of this writing).
Our purpose is not to suggest that Markeith was solely an innocent victim of an unjust system – he understands he was not. It is, rather, to be as blunt and honest as possible about what he has experienced, what he is responsible for, and what he hopes for now that he is, once again, back in the “free world.” It is to look unflinchingly at his own mistakes but also to call out the absurdities of a system that, as he sees it, regularly makes it more difficult for a returning citizen to succeed than it has to be.
As we go on we will ask local businesspersons, lawyers, prison activists, educators, and others involved in Markeith’s story and in prison reform generally to weigh in. We look forward to an on-going dialogue with all of you who may be interested in Markeith’s story and what it may mean for how prisoners are housed, treated, and released in our current system.
The KBEI and Talent 2025
The KBEI is currently working with Talent 2025 to better “align the efforts of business, government and philanthropy to maximize investments in talent development by directing resources to what is working, identifying unmet needs, and eliminating duplication.” Business leaders across West Michigan came together in 2010 to form Talent 2025, a working group of more than 100 CEOs and executives representing over 75,000 employees and a wide variety of industries across 13 West Michigan counties. Employers are key to a region’s economic prosperity and Talent 2025’s member CEOs have as their goal “to dramatically improve the quality and quantity of the region’s talent to meet increasingly more complex and diverse workforce needs. Regional collaboration among all stakeholders in the talent system will ensure that our region is globally competitive with a greater quality of life for all.”
By convening major stakeholders in all three sectors (Business, Government, Philanthropy) Talent 2025 has seen what might be possible if there were to be greater alignment among the three, but contends that as of yet “no community or region has accomplished this, that “the solution needs to be innovated.” The purpose of KBEI’s involvement is to help innovate that solution by charging Professor DeWilde with the task of harnessing, analyzing, and contextualizing the “network of industry, community and professional involvement of its CEO Council members” such that they might come to a greater “collective commitment to maximizing the impact” of their investments. Our first report to the leaders of Talent 2025 was be given in November 2016.
In partnership with Fred Keller, the visionary founder of Cascade Engineering, and Joe Jones, the head of the Grand Rapids Urban league, the KBEI will be convening a series of dialogues on “Race in Grand Rapids,” largely involving invited leaders from both the white and black communities in west Michigan. Again, our research from the various social capital projects demonstrates that while by many measures the west Michigan region has outperformed other comparable ones, it shares with most of them unfortunate racial disparities, and in fact is worse than many. When it comes to housing, education, income and other measures, blacks in Grand Rapids have lagged behind whites in attainment, and continue to do so. According to Todd Robinson, author of A City within a City: The Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this is not exactly an accident. His account of how the black struggle for equality played out in Grand Rapids is both informative and something of an indictment of the city, and his data correspond with some of what we and others who address this issue in Grand Rapids are finding.
The purpose of this series of roundtable discussions is to bring together black and white leaders in the city to discuss the issues in Robinson’s book as well as their own experiences. We want to look dispassionately at what has been done in Grand Rapids, what is being done, and what can be done to champion real avenues for something Americans traditionally prize, which is equality of opportunity. These dialogues began in December, 2016 and will continue monthly for the next year.
Empathy, Emotion and (Neuro-) Ethics: The Changing Landscape of Business Education
The KBEI is keenly interested in behavioral ethics and the ways in which evolutionary biology, moral psychology, the cognitive sciences, primatology and neuroscience are changing our understanding of what ethics is, where it comes from, how malleable we are, and our ethical blind spots. Professor DeWilde researches this topic, presents on it at conferences, but most importantly brings it into the classroom for the consideration of students. As pedagogy changes to one that is more affective and wholistic, involving role plays and other techniques that seek to educate the emotions as well as the rational intellect, the KBEI is positioning itself as a place where the ethical education of future business leaders can include a wider array of critical topics and insights. Our article The Neuroscience of Ethics is scheduled to appear in BizEd magazine early 2017.