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#3: Quaker Influence on Business and Nonprofit Organizations

Recorder: Carl Stieren

Ottawa, Sunday, May 25, 1997

Quaker Café

At Café Vittoria on Bank Street near the Ottawa Friends Meeting House, ten people pushed four little tables together and squeezed in. Later, our orders of café latte, Italian toast, rice rolls with potato and cheese, arrived. Patty, Andrea, Carl, Colin, and Clive were joined 15 minutes later by Heather, Margaret, Peter, John, and Karim.

The topic was David K. Hurst’s Internet newsgroup post about Quaker influence on business.

Andrea I hope everyone read the email I sent you by David K. Hurst. David told me earlier that he wasn’t a Quaker, but he went to a Quaker school. I’ve had a number of messages back and forth with him. His book in which he holds up Quaker practices as examples to businesss is called Crisis and Renewal: Meeting the Challenge of Organizational Change (Toronto and New York: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1997) and should be in the University of Ottawa or Carleton University library.
Patty (This is a practical topic.) For example, I try to use a Quaker process in other areas. When I ran a community meeting on the Canadian Constitution in the Glebe (our neighbourhood), I had everyone sit in a circle, and people weren’t used to that.
Carl You mean they’re used to a speaker’s table, and a microphone on the floor, with power flowing downward from the person chairing the meeting?
Patty Yup.
Andrea Nola Landucci, a Canadian Friend from Victoria, British Columbia, ran a workshop at Friends General Conference Gathering in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1996 that dealt with Quaker methods in other organizations.
Colin When I taught at Coady Institute in Nova Scotia, I used some Quaker methods in the classroom for five years. We were running into cultural conflicts, especially between (people of vastly different cultures), and so we used silence to open the meeting, and people really responded to that.
Andrea What were you teaching?
Colin Research methods, but it was really international development (at Coady Institute). We agreed that we would never start the class without five minutes of silence, and there were people in the class with religious backgrounds from animist to Muslim.
  I think the culture is ready for it. There’s a pattern here. Ten years ago in the classroom, it would not have worked.
Andrea I think there are many students who either themselves or their parents practice meditation - I know it’s not the same, but it provides an introduction to the use of silence.
Colin If you use it in a purely instrumental sense, you lose something. You can’t just say: now let’s have a period of silence.
John In the UK, where I come from, in a recent issue of The Friend, there was an article on Friends who are involved in the political process. In the Tinkham Town Council, the new mayor is the daughter of a Friend, and since mayors in Britain have the power to appoint a chaplain, she has appointed three Quakers as her chaplain. Since Quakers did away with the priesthood by turning the laity into priests, appointing three was a way of illustrating that equality.
Andrea In B.C., Nola was involved with Native Peoples’ land claims, and she was involved with integrating communities into the land claims process. In these negotiations, you have the Federal Government, the Provincial Government of British Columbia, the Native Peoples’ organizations, and business groups, but then there’s the community at large. Nola’s community group was having trouble getting agreement. Then she began to use Quaker processes of silence and consensus, and it started to work. She is a skilled facilitator by profession, but she also used these Quaker methods.
Carl I’d like to report a case I was involved in, in which Quaker methods did not work when transplanted to the secular society. It was Grindstone Island Co-op. For John and others who don’t know about Grindstone Island, it was a twelve-acre wooded island in Big Rideau Lake, about 100 km southwest of Ottawa, which was used as an adult education centre for 27 years. It was begun as a peace education centre by Canadian Friends Service Committee in 1963, and in the mid-70s was taken over by an independent co-op. The co-op was formed to keep the island going as an education center for peace, justice and development groups.
  Now there was some positive Quaker influence which did work: The Island was a free and open place where everyone could speak their mind, and every Sunday morning we had Meeting for Worship for anyone who wanted to go down at Moot Point. But the Co-op decided not to take votes, but to decide everything by consensus.
  The result was sometimes three-day board meetings after someone on the Board would dig his or her heels in and not move on an important issue. In the end, the Co-op was dissolved, and the island sold to a private owner. The now-disparate groups of gays, feminists, peace activists, environmentalists, international development and development education workers, could not recreate the common bond that once held them together. The strains among staff, board, co-op membership and participants became irresolvable.
Patty I think if consensus is seen as a "last tradeoff", you won’t succeed, but if you start and say "here’s the common ground and let’s build on it" rather than looking at what we fall back to as our last line of defence, it can work. The other Quaker procedure that’s important is "laying something over", the idea is that if you come to an issue like that, not being afraid to lay it over People don’t want to leave something, however, they want to grab hold of it and fix it right away.
Colin Also, you don’t become obstructionist for the purpose of making your position immovable.
Heather There has to be a commitment to the process, and it not everyone shares that commitment, you don’t get agreement.
Patty Because the whole process is often competitively driven. There’s an awful lot of talk about cooperation and teamwork, but these are often buzzwords.
Heather I used the same process with the nuclear fuel waste hearing process, where you had environmental activists who were there to raise awareness (in their supporters terms), or to raise a ruckus (in their opponents’ terms), and you had the nuclear industry whose roots were not egalitarian, and it was a difficult process. Originally there was Atomic Energy of Canada, Limited, on the podium talking down to the public. I suggested everybody get into a circle, and instead of asking questions from the standing position, they had to ask questions from a sitting position.
Colin You can play games with that sort of setup, too.
Heather Yes, but this was all new to them, and they accepted it, and it improved the process.
Colin You don’t achieve consensus on something that is inherently opposed or polarized.
Heather The goal was not to resolve the issue, but to obtain information, and it was conducive to an atmosphere of listening.
Clive How did it work at the next level?
Heather I wasn’t involved in that one, it was just the Environmental Assessment Review Board. But at the higher level, to date, there has only been one nonconsensus report.
John Two more pieces of news:
  1. Friends seem to be unaware of the cooperative movement one continuity people might do is to find out more about the Coady Institute in Nova Scotia.
  2. In the UK, there’s a Real World Coalition, which links international development, economic violence, and rights of minorities. The real world book, The Politics of the Real World by Michael Jacobs. The Real World Coalition has circular meetings, consisting only of cooperative meetings, but broken into groups of three or four people. The publisher is Earthscan Publishers.
Carl Envisioning a world without nuclear weapons, a conference in 1985 or so in western Massachusetts, used such meeting methods.
Colin Greg McLeod in Nova Scotia, the Centre for Ethics of the University College of Cape Breton, deals with self-contained cooperative economies, ecologically, and regionally. He and Rankin McSweeny bought and old military radar base in Sydney, Nova Scotia and are doing a good educational enterprise out of it.
Andrea There are two questions every organization has to answer:
  1)What their policy is
  2) What their ethics are. In business organizations; how do you make others careful to respect that process?
  In the 18th century, Quakers were barred from going to universities, so they were obliged to go into the trades, and they went into the mercantile industry. They became owners of Quaker businesses which were subject to the moral authority of the meeting. They had peer pressure to maintain ethical practices; and people liked Quaker businesses because they knew they had ethical practices.
  I was talking to someone about Quaker methods to an organization’s workers and they could not be pushed because it was too threatening to that organization. On the other hand, some Quaker methods have now become a major part of business. There’s one initiative using these methods, and it’s headed up by a retired Major General from the Department of National Defence. He is supposed to be a good facilitator. To (Destate Toshiba?) had people focus on ethics and group decision making. A new ethical standard wont’ be accepted as long as it threatens most of the hierarchy. The work of Stephen Covey bears this out.
Clive One book that deals with some of these issues, The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck, makes $300 million a year.
Karim With companies, a real barrier is receptiveness to ethics. You have to convince people to be ethical.
Carl What about the book by those two Harvard Law School negotiators? The book was Getting to Yes, by Roger Fisher and William Ury. It was extremely popular even in business organizations a few years ago.
Patty They use Getting to Yes here in the House of Commons.
Colin When you talk about corporations and ethics its easy to assume that we are god and they are bad. My experience has been that at the CEO level, a significant number are asking the right questions, and the recognition of limits of (non-renewable) resources and environmental awareness is great. Ten years ago it was the bottom line and nothing else; now people are questioning that. The New Economics Foundation. Simon Zadek and some of this has deep Quaker roots.
  Going from Andrea’s report, on the Prairies, you had greater environmental awareness and you had growth of co-ops and the grain pools, but now this is changing (with the grain pool co-ops becoming share capital organizations carried on the stock markets). When you’re living in an empire, it’s difficult to discern the empire you’re working in.
Clive Quaker process is (more than) how you decide things.
  Canada has just brought four aging, British nuclear of submarines any one of which could fund a national day care program. and if we’re not careful, people are going to have a good Quaker process about buying a number of nuclear submarines. But the question of buying nuclear submarines should not even be on the table in the first place.
John It was the co-operative movement that brought in the ethical investment process, and the New Economic Foundation is part of the Real World Coalition. The third pint I want to make is the common bond; as in Quakerism, it is our belief in that of God in everyone, and that is our immutable and unshakable principle. In the co-operative movement, people talk about the common bond, In my opinion it boils down to money being used at interest.
Clive: I don’t see money as a big problem. It’s useful, it’s buying us this coffee, for example (holds up his cup of caffe latte).
John The current world economic structure is built to facilitate the interests of money, just as highways are built to facilitate the interests of cars, above those of pedestrians or even bicycles.

The Economics of the Madhouse, by Chris Harman, publisher Bookmarks, London, shows this well. Also, Quakers in Commerce, 1940, published by Sampson and Lowe, by John Lambden or John Embden, pointed this out.

  I was astounded to find that there were two ways Quaker corporations went, when being good in business led to generation of profits. First, was the Rowntrees, Cadburys and Frys, who sought to put the money back into society by philanthropy. The other route by a large number of Harfordshire Quakers, was that they started founding banks. Barclay’s Bank and Lloyds Bank were Quaker-founded banks. Yet we know that Barclays was one of the largest investors in Apartheid South Africa. I came to a meeting at your Meetinghouse last year in which you used 1) silence, 2) spaces between each speaker, but you also spoke in turn, which led to everyone participating. If you use that, you get participation of persons who may be very intelligent but haven’t got the oomph to get in there with their comments.
Colin What creates money?
Clive It grows on trees.
Colin That’s what I thought.
  The usual response is that it’s the Bank of Canada, but in reality it’s the banks themselves.

Clive: I think usury is a bad term to use. It’s specific to lending. I used to work for Irving Greenberg, a very wealthy man and the son of a wealthy man, and I said, "Why are you a New Democrat (a Canadian social democrat)?" He said "I have to make the system work, otherwise I’d go bankrupt; I’d like to change the system, however, and that’s what I’m working toward. The trouble with out meeting is that we have too few businessmen; we have too many social workers.

Patty Why don’t we try the speaking-in-turn method now? It helps people like me who are always jumping in. Bea, you start it.
Bea What Colin said is why I went into sociology. I’m reading a book, Your Money or Your Life, which is about living very frugally. The idea is to get financially independent and get out of the work world and start doing volunteer work.
Peter I pass.
Margaret I find the discussion very interesting but I’m not sure what we’re trying to get to. The Quaker process could be quite useful, but it’s difficult to work for consensus where the people are all in competition in the marketplace.
Andrea I’m thinking about this. I’m involved as a volunteer with the board of a small credit union; what I’m thinking of is how do we leave space for people? What is different about the Quaker process other than silence - speech - silence -speech?
  I think this could be useful in such processes that are not forced processes.
Carl In Ottawa, the Song Circle, founded by Caroline Parry, an active member of Ottawa Meeting, begins with the host singing a folk song, and then the turn passes anti-clockwise. Each person can sing a song, request a song, or pass. People are encouraged not to pass, but to ask someone else to sing a song, or to ask "Does anybody know ... ". The purpose of this is to ensure that everyone participates and to discourage the emergence of "superstars" in what is a universal community gathering.
  I heard one member of the song circle (not Caroline) lament that a child of eight years or so said "I can’t sing." His response was, "A child that age shouldn’t even have the concept that he or she might not be able to sing!"
Heather Process comes out of a feeling of response for each and every person. It’s something that we can carry into the process even if we can’t always do it in the process.
Karim It’s a problem we all face. We have the ideal in one hand and the real in the other. and it’s difficult to link the two. How can we bridge the gap between the practical and the ideal? One was is consensus; but there maybe other ways, we may need someone with strength and confidence and vision. It’ nice to go in a circle, but it’s also nice to get some feedback.
Sybil It’s a matter to time. If consensus is going to work, there has to be time for things to work, ideas to be heard and heard again. This process of time is a very Western concept. Here’s a sum of money and this project to be done; I see it even in our Quaker meetings for business. Fiends, we have a long agenda and a limited amount of time.
Patty This process of stopping after each person is important, even for a person like myself, who has a hard time keeping from jumping in. People who are waiting to jump in are not listening , but thinking about what they’re going to say. It also give the scribe a chance to catch up. And the process of silence even helps completeness of the minutes. There’s also the idea of rephrasing each idea of the previous speaker, and Carl’s no-star-system. In the Party Leaders’ Debate in the Canadian election (which takes place June 2),: Alexa McDonough, the leader of the New Democratic Party, was less likely to interrupt and the other leaders (all men) jumped in and left her behind. [ Liberal: Jean Chretien; Progressive Conservative Jean Charest; Reform: Preston Manning ]
Carl What date for the next meeting? Is June 25 OK?
Everyone Fine, as long as it’s the last one this summer.
Andrea Let’s make the topic: Swarthmore Lecture of Britain Yearly Meeting. It was on Economics and the Society of Friends.
Everyone Approved.


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