The Corporate Capture of Social Change

“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”

Anand Giridharadas isn’t afraid of controversy. His debut book Winner Takes All is a blistering take down of the faith put in the biggest beneficiaries of capitalism to lead capitalism’s reform and change the world for the better.

Be it the next Silicon Valley start up or philanthropic foundation, the underlying assumption pushed by the rich is always that business, entrepreneurship and the private sector are the most efficient and effective means of tackling society’s collective problems.

Giridharadas describes how even the language of social change which has historically been associated with grassroots movements, social justice and mass protest has been colonised by market logic and the billionaire class.

Rather than discussing social change as being rooted in rights, justice and systemic reform, the new corporate conception of social change sees inequality, climate change and poverty as a set of technical problems with market solutions. For these people  fixing the world is not about challenging powerful interests and overhauling a rigged economic system but about empowering “global leaders and opinion formers” to leverage “capital, data and technology to improve lives.”

What this actually means is cutting the public out of decision making for what the future should look like. Instead of community leaders, unions and businesses engaging in dialogue to decide whats best for their communities, we are instead told to look to McKinsey consultants and Goldman Sachs analysts to crunch numbers and provide reports on how to “restructure” the economy, to prepare for “inevitable” disruption and spur economic growth.

The glaring contradiction of putting the winners of our broken economy in charge of its repair is that the winners are actually quite comfortable with the status quo. Why would Goldman Sachs want solutions to social change if social change threatens their status, money and power?

By capturing social change within their control they are able to ensure social change is not pursued at all. Angel Gurria secretary General of the OECD describes the top down approach as “changing things on the surface so that in practice nothing changes at all.”

[END of part 1]

 

 

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Why Universities Are Just A Corporate Conveyor Belt

A Career Fair is a microcosm. A dizzying snapshot into the absurd world of work. Fake smiles, branded ‘gifts’ and the unnaturally perky trainee enlightening you how his internship last summer really gave him an insight into “the culture of the firm” and explaining how he is now “making a global impact” working with multinationals seeking to “restructure their taxes more efficiently.”  

The hollow atmosphere and disorienting degree of pretense is an apt introduction into the artificial and often contradictory way of corporate life. The initial flood of smiles and joy mimic the beginning of the corporate career. Lively work nights out and complimentary company perks are used as bait during internship programs to give the illusion that life at the company is a balanced, eclectic mix of work and fun.

Yet as soon as you sign your name on the dot the fun quickly evaporates and is replaced with entrapment and demands of constant productivity. Fourteen hour days at a desk drowning in cesspools of endless files and spreadsheets sacrificing every piece of your soul to help Company A merge with company B to make profit X – because “that’s just how the world works – whether you like it or not.” 

Yet it’s our resignation and acceptance of this status quo which is most baffling. With the existential crises of climate change, smartphone addiction and global corporate domination all looming large, why are we content with the best and brightest minds of our generation being snapped up by banks and law firms putting endless energy into continuing the cycles of profit maximisation and wealth insulation to further cement and exacerbate the problems threatening our collective future?

Former head of Data at Facebook, Jeff Hamerbacher aptly summarised the situation when speaking about his genius graduating class from MIT, “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads – that sucks.” 

The people best equipped to tackle and solve the world’s problems are the ones being actively recruited to make them worse.

The people best equipped to tackle and solve the world’s problems are the ones being actively recruited to make them worse.

Universities should carry a considerable portion of blame. The biggest banks, investment funds and law firms have been allowed to monopolise the career opportunities of graduates and given an unfettered access to students without any pushback. Luxury events, sponsored lecturers, paid internships and on campus brand ambassadors are just some of the ways they cement hegemony and normalise corporate careers at a time when students are apprehensive about their future.

Many are not even aware that there are viable alternative career options outside corporate. One minute your in university, then suddenly all your peers are scrambling for job application deadlines and your family keep asking you “what are you doing after college?” In a flurry of insecurity and pressure you decide to apply for lack of better alternative and take the security of salary over the time to do something different. 

Many of those who enter these industries never re-emerge. They initially justify taking the position by saying things like it’s a steady income straight out of college or a good stepping stone to the career they really want. Yet after two years the lifestyle becomes so draining, so exhausting and so financially comfortable that most never decide to take the risk of stepping outside and trying to do something with meaning and value.

In order to confront this corporate capture of youth and redirect the next generation of work to meaningful, constructive and fulfilling jobs it’s essential we begin to break down the false image and empty branding of the corporate lifestyle. It is not glamorous successful and prestigious, it is brutal, greedy and callous. The sooner we accept that the sooner we move forward.

 

There’s no such thing as an ‘Unpaid Intern’

The legal loophole for exploitative labour is expanding at an exponential rate.

Remember the days when we used to work for money? Well welcome to the world where you work for experience in the hope that one day you’ll be lucky enough to work for money. That’s the bleak reality for many young people in Ireland today faced with little option beyond unpaid internships, emigration or unemployment.

You’d be justified in thinking such a pernicious phenomenon as not paying people for work must have caused quite a stir. Well guess what? You’re dead wrong. Unpaid internships have nonchalantly become the norm while crowds in the colosseum of public opinion fervently cheer the corporate lion as she devours the young and spoiled, smartphone generation.

Rare does a week go by without the media letting off some steam on the Avo-toast munching, millennial punching bag as the cold hard facts and figures of rent prices, extortionate mortgage rates and looming student loans are quickly dispelled by a story that a twenty-two-year-old spent 3 euro on coffee! Argument Won!

Yet with new CSO figures revealing that 500 graduates a week are leaving the country, those who were bowing to cranes and rejoicing “recovery” have been left puzzled and scratching their head. It’s not difficult to see why people who wear suits and work in Grand Canal Dock are questioning why the whining, spoilt brats are flocking in their droves.

Unpaid work is still a heavily sector-specific problem. If you want to work in a bank or corporate law firm – the moral gatekeepers of society- you can still expect to be paid handsomely. But look to the arts, academia, public health or journalism and you’ll see the vital organs of our society collapsing around us. Is there any long-term plan for their survival? For a country which prides itself on producing some of the worlds most acclaimed artists and musicians’, we seem awfully content with a bland, spreadsheet future of tech and finance.

Creative jobs are rare, generally located in Dublin and nine times out of ten contingent on previous experience. If anyone can explain to me how a young person is expected to work for free in Dublin for six months with its stomach churning rent and transport costs, please let me know.

Ivanka Trump recently gave it a go when she published a piece online entitled “how to make it work as an unpaid intern” with some brilliant advice on how to get by working for free with your measly billion dollar bank account.

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Ivanka epitomizes the classist, exclusivity of unpaid internships. “What’s the big deal just live off money from your parents?” and if the poor people really want to work in film or graphic design they can slog it out as a kitchen porter for two years, save up and get the reward of working for free in Dublin for a few months.

The argument often rolled out to justify the current dynamic is that companies simply cannot afford to pay young people and the wage of “work experience” is the best they can offer. The last time I checked non-payment for work wasn’t an option on the table for businesses and we hadn’t (yet) amended the minimum wage laws to exempt young people. But spend thirty seconds skimming Linkedin’s list of graduate entry jobs and you’ll quickly see unpaid six, even nine month “internships” being offered at an alarming rate.

The minimum wage exists for a reason. It’s not just for show. It’s to protect people from the very exploitation and systemic greed which unpaid internships are capitalizing upon through peoples’ desperation for work.

The youth unemployment rate in the EU may be decreasing but non-standard forms of employment are rising exponentially. Unpaid and unregulated internships are replacing entry-level jobs and the app economy is luring people into insecure, zero-hour contracts.

If businesses genuinely can’t afford to pay their interns the minimum wage then they are either not commercially viable enterprises or illegally and systematically breaking society’s most basic and fundamental bargain.

 

 

 

 

 

When A Desi Girl Goes to University

Rabia Khan writes on the everyday difficulties of university life for women in the sub-continent. 

 

‘My mom asked me to send her a picture of what I was wearing.’ 

All of us flinch. 

OMG, same.’

More flinching.

‘What did you do?’

‘I stopped replying.’

All of us laugh.

I can’t say if this is something all girls living away from home at university experience but it’s definitely something common. 

About two years ago when my sister was preparing to leave for university,  she was sent out a list of clothing she was allowed to wear on campus/ dorms etc. She had to get almost an entirely new wardrobe. According to university requirements; necessary wearing of dupatta (long scarf), no jeans, no short shirts, no heels, no capris etc. I remember my mom rushing my sister from gulf to dolmen mall, buying her dupattas, longer kurtis etc.

Thankfully, the university I am currently attending doesn’t have a strict dress code like this but conversations like the one at the beginning of this piece still take place. The only difference is, now, far from home, there is only so much your mum can do to check up on what you are wearing.

We live in a society where girls have to dress a certain way, be back home at a certain time, have a certain sort of  company to not be termed ‘loose’ women. Therefore going away to university is a whole new world, especially for women. There is so much more space and freedom to navigate around; it’s liberating, yet, at the same time it’s overwhelming.

Conversations between friends tend to go something like this: 

‘Man, I went back to my dorm room at like 4 a.m last night.’ 

‘What were you doing until then?’ 

‘Nothing just hanging out with ‘x,y and z.’ It was so boring and exhausting, yet, I didn’t want to go in.’

‘Why not?’ 

‘Because, like, at home, my parents have never let me stay out this late ever. And now, to be able to do that, it’s just like you don’t want to miss the chance to stay out.’ 

I remember my first week at university was spent staying out of the dorm till at least 2 a.m, doing absolutely nothing but sitting with a group of people and laughing over the stupidest stuff. It felt great. The conversation eventually grew stale and boring, but knowing that hey I can do this. I can exist outside of ‘home’ this late at night, without being told that girls aren’t supposed to be out at this time of night, was worth it.

When you start living in a hostel with a bunch of other girls you start having conversations and start noticing how many of the things we do are simply because of the restrictions placed on us by the society we have lived and have grown up in. 

If you are out with a group at the mall, someone is going to say, ‘hey, I wanna get a picture with just us girls so my mom knows that I have female friends.’ Or that she knows I was out with girls only. 

You ask your roommate to take a picture of you in a proper shalwar kameez and dupatta, to send on your family group, because that’s what good girls wear, and because you know that’s what your family expects you to wear. 

Before your roommate’s mom comes to visit, you both have ‘the talk’ where you decide what things you are supposed to mention and not mention. And, as her mother asks what time her daughter goes to bed at, you tell her with your face in the closet, ‘Aunty, she is back by 10 everyday.’ 

The first few times you go out in jeans and that T-shirt your borrowed from a friend, you are extremely apprehensive. You keep asking if you look fine, if your butt isn’t too obvious, or maybe if you should just change into a kurti. 

When you go out late for coffee or dinner off campus, you are scared and you keep asking your friend ,’ what if my mom calls?’ You make sure that you call your parents early and tell them you are tired and going to sleep so they don’t call you when you are out. You stay off social media, in case they see you online. 

You hear the line, ‘ there is a difference between lying and omitting the truth’ about a gazillion times, because you have told your roommate, about a gazillion times, how much you hate lying to your parents. This conversation takes place right after you have both just told your mothers that ‘yes, we have been praying.’ 

Sometimes the worst thing is sitting in a group of people listening to your friend talk to her mom, trying to convince her that she isn’t lying, and then being made fun of by the boys at the table because they just don’t understand. 

And the thing is, it is so hard to come to terms with the fact that what you are doing isn’t wrong, but that you have been socially conditioned into believing that it is. It isn’t easy to rid oneself of almost two decades worth of conditioning. It is relentless and unreal how difficult existence is made for women in society. 

Rabia is a blogger and university student in Pakistan, you can visit her blog ‘Travesty’ here: 

https://rabianajmkhan.wordpress.com/

Why Schools Fail Students

Author: Edducan

Charles Ponzi. Bernie Madoff. Benedict Arnold. Richard Nixon. Lance Armstrong. Some copper-bottomed, hall of fame, heavy weight champions of world class liars. Their very names are synonymous with deception, lies, fabrications, flights of fancy and half truths. Notably absent from that list is ‘every school in the UK’. However, and it’s a big ‘however’, this is a catastrophic omission that everyone has been complicit in.

Okay, maybe not ‘every’ school but certainly it’s true that from time immemorial the education system has been comprehensively failing to prepare their young charges with the skills, tools and knowledge to make informed choices about their futures. The guy at my school threw a psychometric test in front of us, asked if we wanted to be lawyers and drifted off into an ante-room, the subject never to be discussed again. Corralled into university courses that serve only to line the universities’ pockets and boost the schools’ stats, there are generations of degree-qualified, directionless, unemployable young adults drifting from hairnet and name-tag to hairnet and name-tag in a series of jobs that on paper they should have left behind. Worthless degrees are almost a cottage industry in the UK and it’s been allowed to happen because of years of schools creating an atmosphere of rank terror that tells kids without a degree they may as well abandon all hope.

Of course degrees are wonderful and schools should rightly encourage ambition, but it’s surpassed that lofty goal and become a rote exercise in getting them out the door so they can pat themselves heartily on the backs and congratulate one another on a job well done. Three years after the fact when these poor, mis-sold kids emerge from Westminster University with a degree in David Beckham Studies and £50,000 of debt it doesn’t affect their stats so why should they give a shit right?

edducan uni

The crazy thing is I thought people would care about this, that they would share my outrage so I asked the schools, the parents, the LEAs, the MP, even the local paper to try and help me raise awareness, I assumed that this is an issue that they would want to solve. Turns out they really didn’t. The schools were defensive, the parents in denial, the LEAs resigned, the MP ineffectual and the local paper more interested in generating revenue than news. So now I resort to huffing and puffing on the internet like so many other frustrated keyboard warriors.

Seeing Both Sides of the Coin

Working in recruitment and as an academic advisor I see both sides, I hear employers lament the lack of quality and I see schools making great claims about how wonderfully they’re performing. Ofsted estimates about 70% of schools are failing to give the right quality and amount of help in careers advice, The Sutton Trust concurs, as does the DfE, the LEAs and employers. In fact the only people who disagree are the schools.

Microcosmically the area I live in, I’ve contacted, spoken to or met every secondary school in the Cheshire West and Chester and Cheshire East regions. Several times. With the exception of private clients and a few bold schools this has yielded almost no work. Because ‘they do all this already’. Not with outside providers you understand, heaven forefend they actually engage experts in the field, no, no – they simply draw on the wellspring of their already overstretched faculty, who by the very nature of their profession, are only qualified to tell students about accessing a career in teaching. My business partner, a qualified teacher, holds qualifications in teaching English as a second language, the fundamentals of college counselling and a PhD from Columbia University and me with 14 years of getting people jobs, writing CVs, interview coaching, developing professional comportment and networking skills should quite rightly defer to a 23 year-old graduate who’s somehow ambled arse backwards into the position of Head of Careers. As well they should, given their background in teaching Geography.

 

Wilful Blindness

Conversations I’ve had include gems like, ‘60% of our students go on to Russell Group universities.’ What about the 40% that don’t? I presume it must be even more exciting, so much so they couldn’t bring themselves to tell me. The Chair of Governors of a free school described our offering of careers and university advice as the ‘latest fad’. Yup, apparently preparing students for life after school is a passing whimsy. One school’s quick to assure me when I make contact they are on top of things because they have their DT teacher on the case. Phew. Without knowing what we can offer, the schools dismiss outside help without a second thought, such is either the level of arrogance or the wilful ignorance of how badly what they’re doing is regarded by anyone who actually knows what they should be doing. When we offered to host free seminars to let parents and students know they had options they would return to their blank-faced, unblinking menhir like ‘computer says no’ response. Unassailable, unreasonable and completely unwilling to loosen their stranglehold – the mentality seems to be one of:

‘I don’t care how badly we’re doing it, we mustn’t let anyone else try and do it better.’

We conducted a survey asking people their feelings on the provision available and what became clear was the amount of trust conferred to schools, trust that’s not been reinforced by facts or even anecdotal evidence just blind faith. We collectively have allowed them to enjoy this feted position as the guardians of our children’s futures and ceded responsibility but haven’t held them to account when it starts to unravel. They employ antiquated techniques, hangovers from a bygone era and hope that by giving kids access to a few links detailing what jobs exist they’re fulfilling their obligations. It’s beyond reckless, it’s borderline criminal.

sheffield

 

 

So what can be done? Lobby the schools, push them to explain how and why they feel a woodwork teacher is the best person to tell their children how to access a career in bio-engineering or arts administration or how to study overseas, or get grants and scholarships to work in molecular biology. Ask them what qualifies them to tell kids how to write a CV or how to interview.

Or how to get work experience and conduct informational interviews. Or network. Or how to construct an application for an apprenticeship or job or university personal statement. Ask them to prove that they’re one of the illustrious 30% of schools that are getting at least some of it right. If they can’t answer those questions then speak to your MP. Or read my book.

 

Edducan is a blogger helping parents and students alike get the best from education and carve the life they want.

Check out his website here:

https://edducan.blog/

How Do You Know if You’re An Artist?

How do you know if you’re an artist? Do you actually need advice or do you just want reaffirmation of what you already know?

This is a riveting collection of words from some of the worlds best artistic minds such as Marina Abramovic and Wim Wenders.

Battle of the Ages: Stuck in Reverse

Author: Revels

In Pakistan, one’s life revolves around what is socially acceptable or unacceptable. Growing up, a person is expected to agree to whatever he is being told, to comply with whatever decisions are made for him, to silently nod at what the ‘elders’ of the family think is right.

Before I start, I’d like to make clear that though the situation is improving somewhat, we still live in a way more primitive world than we should. The main problem we need to tackle is for our older generation to listen and understand the younger one.

This system has been in place for as long as anyone can remember and only a very small group of people have had the courage to speak out, despite some of them meeting horrific ends. Putting your foot down in the face of such opposition as your family is a very difficult thing to do in Pakistan where the majority of one’s social life consists of family, including cousins, aunts, uncles and the whole bunch.

People are somewhat used to living like this, but in this day and age, where one has access to what happens over the entire globe, our younger generations need their own space and demand the right to their own opinions. Where lots of families have been understanding and have recognized what is called for, most have been unyielding, with egos overcoming common sense. Children have resorted to sneaky ways to accomplish what they couldn’t have had they discussed it with their families.

Being an Islamic Republic, at least by name, Islamic values and morals are given their due importance. Nothing is forced, things like the hijab are not made compulsory as they are in some other Islamic states, but there are a couple of issues which, traditions combined with religious obligations, have become a social norm, and sadly, an issue of ‘honour’.

For instance, segregation is preferred. The strange thing about the way it is observed is that it builds to the frustration of the youth, questions like why can’t I talk to him? or what is so bad about hanging around with a girl? pop up in their minds as the segregation followed in Pakistan is not absolute separation. Girls and boys will share the same classrooms, the same buses, the same cafeterias, but they just will not talk to each other. This introduces a rather awkward situation because if people do eventually break that social taboo and talk to the other gender, the older generations immediately flash them the red light.

This, naturally, leads to an irritation invisible to the ‘elders’ who make all the ‘right’ decisions for the youth.

With the rising LGBT support around the world, Pakistan has seen its own LGBT cases number higher than ever before. The funny thing is, our elder generation will swear to this not being the case, as religiously and culturally it is not accepted.

But where there’s a will there’s a way, right? Men and women will marry whoever the family approves of, because marriage is another decision that only the ‘elders’ can make, though they try to make sure the people they are being betrothed to are like them. As a result, we have couples who live heterosexual lives in public but homosexual ones in reality, and this double minded society of people can only lead itself to disturbing consequences.

The question that we face is, though, will the obvious oblivion really solve what issues we have? Are we not living in a rather hypocritical little bubble? We’ve advanced from primitive thinking but we haven’t let go of our egotistical supposition that all is well as long as the elders are obeyed. Our elders try to implement religion to enforce what they believe is the definition of honour; they do not speak of what is religiously right or wrong, and do not listen when the youth tries to tell them about it. So do they really know what is best?

Our society, unfortunately, is still quite patriarchal, with men usually exploiting religion to their advantage, forgetting the whole package. Strangely, the same men who rule the household will turn into the very perverted souls that they try to keep their women ‘safe’ from when they walk out into the street. Is that really fair? A woman, no matter what she looks like, will be subjected to stares and cat calls. This isn’t even anything startling anymore because everyone is so accustomed to it.

Why be accustomed to something so gross?

Now the plot twist thickens, though. These same women will go home and still defend their sons and give them a preferential treatment! They will pray for their brothers, spoil them in the littlest ways and shower them with praise and love.

Yes, our world makes very little sense.

How do we get our elders to listen and sympathise? To think beyond what they feel is good and a happy solution to what is otherwise unacceptable to their, at times, absurd social standards? To be honest, I’m not so sure how myself, but to speak out in hopes of catching their attention might be one way. Philosophies ingrained over lifetimes are hard to shake, but bringing acceptability and acknowledgement is what is required at this moment. How long will it take? We have to try and find out.

Revels is a Pakistani student, blogger & contributing writer at The Conversation Room. 

You can visit her excellent blog here:

https://identity17.wordpress.com/