20 Lines on Patriotism

It started with a feeling of affectionate embarrassment for Bill Clinton. At a conference on social enterprise, the head of the B Corps network in Uruguay gave a presentation that included a video of Bill talking about B Corps back in 2012. He spoke haltingly and he looked sort of flushed, like he had just had a few drinks. I looked around the conference room full of lawyers and social entrepreneurs to make sure no one was laughing. The subtitles, in fact, did not pick up on Bill’s lack of eloquence. 

I sat back. Hearing English was soothing and, no matter how he stumbled, what he was saying was good - we need to clear our minds of the primacy of short-term profit. Corporations and shareholders need to be willing to think long term. His accent and his aim made me think fondly of the country where I was born. Straight-shooting, idealistic. Then the founder of the first Uruguayan B Corp took the stage and hit play on another YouTube video. It was about lawyers in the US banding together to create a legal framework for these Benefit Corporations. They wanted companies to be allowed to incorporate social and environmental benefit as fiduciary duties in their charters. 

As the music swelled and more states who had passed legislation were highlighted on a big US map, I found myself feeling a little emotional. When Jack Markell, the Governor of Delaware, spoke about his states’ duty to pave the way (over 50% of publicly-traded US companies are incorporated in Delaware), my heart beat faster. Then the kicker, the corkscrew opening that bottle of American idealism:

“I believe, ten years from now, we will look back on this time as the start of a revolution,” said Yvon Chouinard, the Founder of Patagonia. 

After this doozy, the clip gave the final tally of states that had approved legislation and cut to a scene of a small New England town square. That just about did it for me. When the video ended, I was about to excuse myself to the hallway so I could let tears stream down my cheeks in peace.

Facts: The B Corps movement is strong here. The Latin American countries that have been forced to host transplanted capitalism may understand, better than we Americans who have mostly reaped the benefits of that blind industry, why a triple bottom line is important. I almost cried watching YouTube videos about corporate law in the United States, so I think it may be time to start working my way home.