Prof Opio, Vice chancellor KIM University, contributes a substantive chapter in a new book Ethical Innovation in Business and the Economy, edited by two distinguished scholars from the University Notre Dame, Professors Georges Enderle and Patrick E. Murphy. The book makes in-depth examination of innovation, and its involvement in the business and economic world. It is an invaluable reference tool for students, teachers, and researchers in business and economic ethics, as well as executives in business and other organizations who search for new and more responsible ways to address globalization, sustainability, and financialization.
Opio’s chapter, “‘System D’ – Creativity, Innovation, and Ethics in an African Context: Bridging the Gap Between the Informal and Formal Economies” has been acclaimed as the “books most ethically insightful chapter” (http://www.williamcfrederick.com/philosophers-innovating.html). The chapter describes, defends, and makes a moral case for the informal underground economies found in several African nations and across the globe (designated The Stealth of Nations). Christened “System D” (from the first letter of the French term, debrouillard, meaning smart, quick, resourceful), such informal economies serve the basic economic needs of many – sometimes the majority – of people who live at the “bottom of the pyramid” in underdeveloped nations, who are locked out of the formal, legal economy by poverty, unemployment, lack of formal education, bureaucratic regulatory requirements, high taxes, etc. For these socially and economically excluded groups, he argues, System D’s informal economy “is a matter of life or death and the only option at their disposal to . . . pay rent, put food on the table and send their children to school.” Unable to live within the “formal” economic system, they are forced to rely on System D’s “informal” non-discriminatory economy, with its occasional illegal and illicit activities.
The chapter demonstrates that System D is also home to “inventive, self-starting, entrepreneurial citizens who are doing business on their own, without registering or being regulated by the bureaucracy and, for the most part, without paying taxes . . . .” While acknowledging that System D involves “bending rules as well as performing illicit transactions ” and is not “morally flawless”, he proposes five ethical principles that justify the need for and presence of System D economies:
- Respect for human dignity: “. . . treating people not as mere means to an end [and] promoting the ‘welfare and integrity’ of clients . . . procuring the ‘good’ of all stakeholders. . . .”
- Respect for vulnerable people: “Responsible development of . . . the mass market at the bottom of the pyramid, needs to insure that vulnerable people are not exploited . . . .”
- Respect for justice and inclusiveness: “Justice implies that benefits and burdens are fairly distributed.” Regarding “the economically disenfranchised and the poor, . . . appropriate measures are required to ensure that their rights and dignity are upheld . . . .”
- Balanced harms and benefits: “‘the foreseeable harms [of ethical innovation] should not outweigh the anticipated benefits”
- Innovation as a shared responsibility: Since any innovation, whether technological or social, is not “value free,” the ethical responsibility for the innovation should be shared among both inventor and the affected community.
Opio admits that these principles “are definitely limited but so are “formal moral principles” which “do not . . . offer . . . meaningful solutions to the complex ethical challenges [in] the underdeveloped world.” His five principles do at least “help shed some light on the need to establish a more inclusive ethical discourse.” The chapter concludes that “System D is not just an important means to enact economic rights for all . . . [but for] exercising personal responsibility. . . .”