(Based on a working paper prepared for the 78th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management on “Improving Lives” August 10-14, 2018, Chicago, Illinois, USA and subsequently published by the International Humanistic Management Association. This version is prepared for discussion with faculty, students, and other stakeholders at events hosted by the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business and the Human Sciences Research Council in Cape Town and Johannesburg, in November 2019.)

The proper purpose of any human institution is to improve the lives of the people who depend on it. If we support that proposition, then is there any place for a purely private-purpose corporation? The question becomes especially urgent as society faces a growing threat to human survival.

This paper posits that the private-purpose corporation, and the neoliberal ideology that affirms it, are major drivers of the social and environmental destruction we daily witness. If that is the case, then what might be essential features of business institutions that would better serve humanity? What might be the role of a Theory of Community. And what might that mean for the education of future business leaders?

This paper provides a broad framework for exploring those questions. It addresses foundational issues relating to human well-being, describes the growing momentum for moving societies toward an ecological civilization, and notes the Earth Charter as a valuable source of ethical principles. Finally, it identifies the outcomes the formal institutions of an ecological civilization must serve and concludes with five design principles that these institutions will need to honor to support lives of diversity, beauty, creativity, and meaning for all.

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