Impact Leaders | Episode 6

The End of Greed

Author of the compelling book: The End of Greed -Scott Higgins explores the impact of generosity on an individual and an organization. Is generosity good for us, and good for business?

You know some people say you shouldn’t do things because they make you feel good. What if your good feelings are an indicator that you’re doing something right?

Scott Higgins

Show notes

Worldwide fund for nature

Princeton University study

Book: The End of Greed

Show Transcript

Leigh Hatcher:

Hello and welcome to impact leaders for a world without poverty, supporting and equipping business leaders to grow their business, give purpose to their people, and make a transformational impact on global poverty. I'm Leigh Hatcher. There is one simple gesture in the human condition that always has an impact for good way beyond that original act. It's generosity. Think of an instance where someone has demonstrated generosity to you at home, at work, financially, emotionally, even just a kind word. The impact is very often surprising and significant, but is it possible to be generous in a rampant selfie age? It's all about me. In an age of galloping consumerism and the frenzied acquisition of more and more stuff, Scott Higgins says yes and yes and even more than that, it's good for us, even good for business and he has lots of stories to prove it powerfully. Scott has had a long career in ministry strategy and advocacy. He's currently a senior consultant at Transform Aid International and also the author of the compelling book, The End of Greed. Scott, welcome. It's great to meet you.

Scott Higgins:

Thanks, it's good to be here.

Leigh Hatcher:

So Gordon Gecko in the movie Wall Street wasn't right when he said greed is good?

Scott Higgins:

No, I don't think that he was, it's kind of been a mantra of our society. People usually don't put it so starkly as that, but thinking that we live in a world which we almost define ourselves by our ability to accumulate more things to have ever bigger and better experiences. I think that while we wouldn't say greed is good, we all think having as much as we can and as many experiences we can is good.

Leigh Hatcher:

And make us happy. Is that what it's all about?

Scott Higgins:

Well, that's what I think we think it's about! But you know, I think that the research is in and shows that having more stuff actually doesn't make us more happy. And there's a pretty simple reason for that. You know, once you hit a level where your basic needs are met, we find it, your happiness levels don't go up based upon what you have. They go up after that based upon what you have in relation to others. So, let me just unpack that a little bit. Yeah, you're pretty miserable if you can't get enough food. If you can't have shelter, if you can't have clothing if you can't participate in your community. And so, you know, the standards will be different for every different community. Community participation is really about our sense of belonging, but once you can do all that, and what the studies find is that what matters to me is not really how much more I have as how much I have in my perception in relation to others. So, you know, none of us want to fall behind. So yeah, I remember when the big flat screen TVs came in and I've got a couple of them in my house now. But at first I felt really bad because I just had to big box, you know, and, I"d go home from my watching the footy at my friend's place and I'd think I'd love one of those, I need it. It turns from I'd love to I need.

Leigh Hatcher:

Yes.

Scott Higgins:

And you really do think you need it, because everybody's got one, an you must be going backwards. So, yeah, I think that's what happens to them. We get on this kind of this treadmill where, you know, we're now three times wealthier in real terms than our grandparents were.

Leigh Hatcher:

That's interesting.

Scott Higgins:

But we're not happy!

Leigh Hatcher:

How have you had eyes to see this?

Scott Higgins:

I think I'm one of those people who's, either fortunate enough for cursed enough to, you know, want to think deeply about my culture and how I engage with it. And so I've, I've always pondered big questions and for me I sort of asked, well, what's the driving force for our society and how is that force for good and how is that not so good in our lives? And I think consumerism is one of those things that's all around us so it's almost like we don't see it, but it's probably the dominant feature of, you know, western societies at the minute. And so I've had pause to ask, well, how does that shape who I am? How does that shape how I respond to other people? How does that shape the way I do the things I actually really care about?

Leigh Hatcher:

Has it had much of a practical impact on you in your life, Scott?

Scott Higgins:

Oh, huge impact. It's had big impact on my chosen vocation. I worked in a pastorate for many years. I've worked for an aid agency Transform Aid International for many years. My life became about how can I leave my world a better place rather than how can I make lots of money and you know, have the big car and a big house and all the overseas holidays.

Leigh Hatcher:

Mind you, this is at the heart of the climate change kind of arguments. So why should I do this? Because it's not going to change the world?

Scott Higgins:

I think in some ways we change the world in some ways obviously we can't. There are things that are systematic. So climate change, one of those big systems things that it doesn't matter how many climate friendly products I buy, if our governments around the world don't take action to systematize change, we won't get to the level we need. But what I do think makes a difference is when people start living it out in their own lives and taking personal action, that creates a commitment to that. And then governments have to listen to that because they've got people saying now I'm putting my money where my mouth is.

Leigh Hatcher:

Yeah it can catch.

Scott Higgins:

Yeah, it can. It does.

Leigh Hatcher:

When you talk about the possibilities of doing good, very inspiring, very true, but what are the implications of not doing that?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I think that's a really important question because we often think that it's a case of if I do nothing that's being neutral, but this is not something you can be neutral because how we consume directly affects people and the planet. I walked into a department store, one of the big chains a couple of years ago and it had a bunch of white t-shirts, you know, hundreds of the things racked, stacked up in a way that said nothing feels better than a $5 100% cotton t-shirt. I thought that's pretty good. Five bucks and when I picked it up and it did feel good, and I had a look at it, I saw that it was made in Bangladesh. I wrote to the department store chain, I won't name who they were but one of the big ones when I got home and I said, look, how do you do this for five bucks? This is going to be manufactured, brought here and sold at a profit for $5. And how were the workers in the supply chain treated if they paid fairly and they wrote back to me and said that's a commercial in confidence. So I went and did my research and I found out that the shirts were made in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh the garment industry is their biggest export industry and it's built on the back of this brutal exploitation of women. Garment workers make all these things, they get paid poverty level wages.

Leigh Hatcher:

Like how much?

Scott Higgins:

At the time I did the research, it was about a quarter of what the living wage was estimated be. So a living wage is what is estimated you require to basically leave to be able to pay your bills. So they're getting paid about a quarter of that and so it just left them completely unable to fund their families. Many would be working massive amounts of overtime so they wouldn't get to see their kids. The factory conditions were terrible. The young women were frequently abused by bosses. They were chained into the factory. So the terrible Rana Plaza collapse a few years ago and women died because they were trapped in these centres and couldn't get out. So I thought my $5 tee shirt didn't feel too good to them. And then I did a bit more research and I found out that the cotton, half of it came from Uzbekistan and up in Uzbekistan, they put the kids out into the fields in slavery for three months, every year. Terribly dangerous working conditions in order to get cheap cotton to the world. So those kids who are in effective slavery, a $5 tee shirt didn't feel too good to them. And the horror of it is, if we increase the price to say $5.50 people along the chain would be able to earn a decent living.

Leigh Hatcher:

Wow.

Scott Higgins:

It's just a minuscule amount. But you know, again, I hark back to this story. This is where if we take concerted action to make change, it can come. So in Uzbekistan there are no kids out in the cotton fields anymore.

Leigh Hatcher:

Really.

Scott Higgins:

Transform Aid International, we were part of a big global campaign, saying to the clothing manufacturers of the world until the Uzbekistan government can guarantee their cotton is not produced by child slavery we don't want you to buy it.

Leigh Hatcher:

Wow.

Scott Higgins:

It took about three or four years, but the government changed. There's no kids in the fields now and they use adults. Originally they just put adult slaves out there, but now the adults are getting paid. So change is happening. The same, in the Bangladeshi garment factories, wages are going up partly because of international pressure.

Leigh Hatcher:

So that's the impact on the people on the planet. What about the planet itself, Scott?

Scott Higgins:

You'd have to be kind of blind to the debates around today not to notice that we're in deep trouble. It's not just climate change. Climate change is the big headline item. That's just a nightmare. But you know, we've lost, the Worldwide Fund for Nature showed that we have lost 70% of wild population species in the last, I think it was 25 years. 70% of the wild animal populations has gone because we're occupying the habitats where we're imposing on them, oceans, fish and all kinds of things. So we are really over consuming the planets resources.

Leigh Hatcher:

And this was recent history.

Scott Higgins:

Yeah, yeah. This is just the last couple of decades. You know, everything's accelerating. So there are a number of boundary points, you know, environmental boundaries set. Humankind's consumption is pushing us across and the scary thing is, you know, the scientists, I'm not a scientist, but the scientist that I read is saying to us, once you cross these ecological boundaries, you no longer are likely to expect incremental changes. You'll get these kind of exponential changes in the global environment, unexpected changes, you know, things that we just weren't even aware going to happen. So we're seeing it already around the world. It's costing lives. It's costing people's productivity. to be honest I'm going to be all right in the west, I'm a rich westerner I'll be all right. You know, people then, but around the world who aren't so fortunate or live, even the wealthy who live in less hospitable climates are in deep trouble. So yeah, we've, we've got to change this.

Leigh Hatcher:

Okay, so we've covered the people on the planet, the planet. What about me? I want to ask you about the impact on me. If I learn this stuff and start changing myself and doing good for the people on the planet and the planet, how am I going to change?

Scott Higgins:

That's great question. I think the thing that I've found is it, you know, when you start to get involved in these things, it stops being a burden when you are aware that if you keep overusing the planet's resources, somebody is going to die at the end of that or animal species are just going to be eliminated. I care about that and so when I take action, personal action to combat that actually leaves me feeling good. I am hopefully contributing to change when I get out there and those rallies and you know, the postcard campaigns and all those different things and I see the change. It works. I feel good. Transform Aid International was involved in a campaign a few years ago to make cocoa and chocolate fair trade. It was strongest here in Australia. We had the most active campaign out there saying to Cadbury and Nestlé and all the others - we want you to use fair trade produced cocoa, because that would mean that the farmers that made it were getting a fair price instead of living in poverty. When we started that campaign people said, you idiots, you're nuts. No one's going to go for this. Few years later, 60,000 households in Ghana were switched over to the fair trade system by Cadbury, their supply chain. So those farmers went from living in poverty to now they're cocoa returning them a decent living. And we watched company after company after company after initially telling us you're nuts come over and say Nestlé Cadbury all the major Australian chocolate chains have switched their suppliers over and it makes me feel great.

Leigh Hatcher:

Why does it make you feel great? I want to get deeper into this that it makes me feel great is kind of bit of motherhood, but why does it make me feel great?

Scott Higgins:

It makes me feel great because I'm a father and I can see my kids and think, if that was my kid on some farm in west Africa or Bangladesh in a factory, I'd be heart broken and it just breaks my heart to think that people experience terrible conditions simply because I want cheaper goods.

Leigh Hatcher:

Or a $5 t-shirt.

Scott Higgins:

Yeah, and we can afford to do it. It's not difficult and the same with the planet, you know, because I've got kids, I want my grandkids to grow up on a planet where human beings can thrive, not where we struggle for survival. And we see change all the time. You know, poverty rates are plummeting around the planet. When we put our hearts and minds to it we can affect real change.

Leigh Hatcher:

And as I said in the intro, one act of generosity, which is often quite a simple act and a cheap act, can have an impact infinitely beyond and more powerful than that little decision.

Scott Higgins:

Yes, so you had a chocolate campaign. I basically said I'm not going to eat any chocolate for the next 12 months or 18 months, however long it is to get these companies come on board. And a whole lot of people did it. It wasn't a big sacrifice or maybe it was a big sacrifice! But in the scheme of things it wasn't a big sacrifice. I did go out and buy two giant family blocks of Cadbury chocolate because they were the first company that went fair trade, I put them in my freezer cause I like it cold and bit into the first one and cracked a tooth. So haha the price of justice! I think for us as human beings, we're better people when we start to care about others. You know, it actually comes back into everything. When I'm building my concern for people in Bangladesh and Africa and you know, throughout the world, Asia and means often I care more about people at home. It builds that sense of I'm a person who is connected to others.

Leigh Hatcher:

There's one particular study from Princeton University that's caught your attention. Talk us through that.

Scott Higgins:

I think it was in the mid seventies they did a test in Princeton where they got a bunch of theological college students at Princeton seminary to come onto the university campus and give a talk to their fellow students. And half of the group were told, look, you've got to give a talk on the parable, the Good Samaritan, which is, you know, the story of the man who stops and helps a guy who has fallen into troubles and the other half were told well you give a talk on theology, why it's good to study theology. So, you know, they went away and they prepared their talks and then they all had separate times that were meant to come and deliver their little speech and they'd show up to the office where they thought they were delivering it and they were told - oh no it's actually on the other side of the campus and half the students were told, it's on the other side of campus, but don't worry plenty of time for you to get there and they would give them directions. The other half were told you are going to have to make a move on like you're running late. So get a move on . They told them the directions and the people doing this study, they'd actually put an actor on the path to get there and this guy was lying on the ground moaning and you know, obviously distressed and they wanted to look at who stopped to help him.

Leigh Hatcher:

Yes.

Scott Higgins:

And the interesting thing was, it didn't make any difference if you had prepared to talk on the Good Samaritan or on the virtues of theology. What made a difference was how much time you thought you had. Those that had no time were far less likely to stop and help than those who had time. And I think that's a really important parable for us, isn't it? We live in an age where we just, I think it was Toffler said back in the 70s didn't we have all this free time, but you know, we, we don't, the nature of a consumer society is there is always more stuff to do then you can possibly fill a day with. And so I think we need to have that ability to stop and say, just going to slow down, take time to be with the people around me, to be with my family, be with my friends, to be with my community rather than just rushing here, there and everywhere, they have a greater experience or they have a greater dollar.

Leigh Hatcher:

So can I be free of consumerism, Scott?

Scott Higgins:

Oh, I don't think we can.

Leigh Hatcher:

That's interesting.

Scott Higgins:

And we're in a culture that lives and breathes and defines us. I think the best we can do is, you know, resist a little, make some positive steps. I don't think until our culture is free of it as individuals we will ever be totally free. I live in Newcastle, grew up in the south side of Sydney and moved back there with my family for a year in 2008 one of the things we noticed was it was a much more affluent area then the suburb we came from in Newcastle and all my kids' friends at school are all like every year they're going on overseas holidays, you know, their families have these massive homes and were always renovating and the kids go to birthday parties. The amount of money that was spent on presents was incredible. You know my kids would come home and say - Dad, why can't we do that stuff? And I felt awful because I wanted them to be able to do that stuff, but I didn't want to do that at the expense of cultivating a lifestyle that was positive for us, for people and the planet. So when we moved back to Newcastle one of the reasons we moved was we didn't want our kids with that sort of pressure on them. Now that's not to condemn the people in the area I moved to, you know, everybody kind of lives to the level of their affluence. So yes, I didn't learn as big as an income as most there so we moved down to a lower level, but somebody else who had a lower income than me would probably come into my street and say, you know, look at the level of affluence you're living in. It's just a matter, I think of trying to take those steps. You'll make a difference.

Leigh Hatcher:

That's a pretty big step. But more often than not, the kind of steps you're talking about are small steps.

Scott Higgins:

Absolutely. I think sometimes one of the things that happens is we can see what's wrong. We're killing the planet, people are being injured in making the go, right to the other end of the room. Whereas I think all I need to do is take a step in the right direction, put that in place and take another step bit by bit. I'll get to my destination, not in one almighty leap, but just by little changes.

Leigh Hatcher:

Our podcast audience is made up of many corporate and business leaders. Is it possible for them to foster generosity in business?

Scott Higgins:

Oh, I think absolutely it is. One of the unfortunate things is we've live in a society where we, you know for a long time we held it, the business sector, the civil society sector and government sectors were all seen as working together. We lost that for a while. I think we're standing to get it back a bit. I see a lot more corporate responsible responsibility happening now, but I think companies can just take simple steps like put in place if you've got the resources to do it a matching grant program for your charity so your employees can donate to a charity and you match that. I know some companies have days when they say, well, we'll give our people say a week, of leave during the year to use their skills in some community, There is a 101 things you can do. You could decide as a company to sponsor a project, a development project overseas or a project in your own community. There's lots of things you can do. One of the great things about that is if you come up with something really concrete, people really get interested in it. You know, they get buy in. People will be clamoring for you to, you know, keep on going.

Leigh Hatcher:

I'll feel good about that.

Scott Higgins:

Yeah. Yeah. I don't think we should be bothered about feeling good. You know some people say you shouldn't do things because they make you feel good. What if your good feelings are an indicator that you're doing something right. Well that's what your body's telling you, hopefully embodies conscience is calibrated correctly, but that's what those good feelings do.

Leigh Hatcher:

You've told me numbers of stories. Can you give me two instances? Just finally, were you've seen this generosity at work first in your life and second in your work in the humanitarian arena?

Scott Higgins:

Yep, there are lots of examples I could give but I'll pick two for you. I have Parkinson's disease. It's getting worse as the years go by and my wife and I, we needed to paint our house. The outside of it. Given my Parkinson's it would have end up an abstract work of art if I had attempted to do that and so, it was going to cost us a fortune to have painters come in and we didn't have it so one day a bunch of my friends showed up and said we are here to paint your house.

Leigh Hatcher:

Oh goodness.

Scott Higgins:

And you know, my brother and some of my friends just painted for us. Amazing Act of generosity. I found it very hard to take that. In fact, I have a friend who said to me when I first was diagnosed, he said to me, we were out fishing one day and he said, Scott, you know, you've been really good at giving people help all your life but I reckon you are going to be hopeless at receiving it. He was right. It was that classic white middle class male pride. I've learned to receive the generosity of others. There's a surgery I could have down the track, it's not covered by government benefits and will likely cost tens of thousands of dollars, which again I don't have and, I had a mate come around one day and he said look my wife and I have spoken about it and when the time comes for you to have that surgery, we're going to pay it. So it's just blow me away and it's the impact of that's just incredible in making me feel affirmed but also encouraging me to pay it forward type thing. They've been incredible examples for me. In terms of overseas in developing countries, one of the first times I ever went and visited projects by Transform Aid was to Cambodia and I met this group of people and they were all disabled, some where blind or some didn't have limbs, full limbs and things and they had been living in Phnom Penh and land in Phnom Penh become very valuable. And so the value went up and these people who are very poor sitting on the property. So developers went in and did corrupt deals with the government and they basically just kicked these people off their land. It's a huge issue in Cambodia land grabbing. And so I met this community of people and they were told they'd be compensated and they were compensated by being trucked out miles out, hours out from Phnom Penh, dumped on land. It was completely undeveloped. So here's your compensation, get them on your lives. And so, you know, a lot of the people then they started farming and rice farming. But the disabled members in the community couldn't do thatbe cause I couldn't get out into the fields. And so they were made to feel doubly bad about who they were because people now saw them as a burden. And we're out here trying to eek out an existence in a disastrous situation and you guys don't contribute anything and they felt awful about themselves. And so the partner that we've worked with had this process, they get people into groups called share groups. And so you get a bunch of disabled people, they tried to get disabled people together. And they just talk about their lives and how they feel about themselves. And then they sort think, so what can we do? And they came up with this great idea. They said, you know, we can't get out there and farm rice, but we could create a rice mill because there's no rice mills and rice bank in the harvest season there is plenty of rice but in a hungry season there's not much at all. So we could be the solution to that. So they started this rice mill, it was a great success. They now earn income from that. They are now respected members of their community and the members of their community, get to eat year round. But what I found really powerful was when they said, what's been the best thing for you out of this? None of them said having more money. None of them said having more food to eat. And they all said, we are now valued members of our community. I hear that time and time again across the developing world. And then people who then have had that experience. Then hang around in those groups, even though they have no longer need of them because they say we want to help others have the same as we did. Those groups. It was the people that achieved it, the support that, you know, people give back here, help fund these sorts of programs. It's amazing what can happen.

Leigh Hatcher:

What an inspirational story and you've fully inspired me, Scott Higgins and I'm sure so much of our audience to do good, to be generous and make a difference even if it takes just small steps.

Scott Higgins:

Absolutely. Small steps is the waiting game.

Leigh Hatcher:

It's great to meet you. Thank you so much for your time.

Scott Higgins:

Thanks Leigh. Pleasure to be here.

Leigh Hatcher:

If you'd like more information on generosity and truly making a difference, you can subscribe to receive useful articles and news from Transform Aid International. It's offered to any business leader who wants to grow their business, give purpose to their people, and make a transformational impact on global poverty. Head to our website, transformaid.org/subscribe.