7 min read
Nov 2021

Jurie Jean van de Vyver: Reflecting on EoM From MBA to Present Day


Published November 2021

Jurie Jean van de Vyver is a Consultant at Visual Meaning. He received an MBA from Oxford University’s Saïd Business School in 2019. While studying, he participated in an Oxford Union style debate with fellow MBA students at the fourth annual Oxford Economics of Mutuality Forum.

As we draw closer to the start of the sixth annual Forum, we have asked Jurie Jean to share his personal reflections on the Economics of Mutuality — from his MBA to the present day.

Working With Meaning

I arrived in Oxford from South Africa, where the broad societal focus is (understandably) on inequality, unemployment, corruption, public sector service delivery, infrastructure, and other challenges of a nation grappling with development. During our year-long MBA programme, my world expanded dramatically: there were urgent matters playing out on a global scale. It was the first time I’d really grasped the unfolding climate crisis, the catastrophic biodiversity loss, and the possibility of asking questions such as “what is the right level of profit”?

At the 2019 Oxford Economics of Mutuality Forum during a debate that captured many of our classroom discussions, we argued that investors should be concerned with so much more than financial returns. Once again, I found myself trying to convey that you cannot compare the economy and the environment as if they are interchangeable. Choosing unmitigated economic growth over environmental sustainability is as absurdly short-sighted as choosing to play Monopoly while your house burns down around you.

It dawned on me, as the course went on, that we were working not with how things are (an objective assessment of events) but in what those things mean to people (how we weave those events into our life narratives). Said differently, the obstacle to achieving net zero carbon emissions is not a technical one (the Energy Transition Commission’s report outlines routes to full decarbonisation by 2050) and it is not a financial one (Bruno Roche and Jay Jacob make a compelling argument that we have an abundance of financial capital). Our primary obstacle is human – whether we want to change, and thus mobilise towards a different future.

A clear image took hold: picture observable reality (global heating, species extinction, inequality etc.) as an object in the middle, and a range of actors around it. What we’re interested in are the threads of meaning between that reality and each actor. If you’re a politician, these realities are issues you take a stand on (or not) to get re-elected. If you’re a business owner, they are sources of new legislation and compliance headaches. If you’re a parent, they are threats to your children’s future. Meaning emerges in the subjective space between people’s unique experience of reality and their individual authoring of their existence.

What, then, can we do in this world swimming in meaning? I work with a team whose current hypothesis is that we need to help people see their individual experience in the context of broader reality. We need to allow them to grasp why the event means what it does to them, and the range of possible other meanings that exist. By simultaneously acknowledging the legitimacy of their perspective, and revealing their location (and incentives) in a larger system, it might be possible for individuals to conclude – for themselves – why change is necessary despite the discomfort it will cause them.

It is for this reason that we created a map of the economy, with all human enterprise nestled in the providing care of a planetary ecosystem. Is it possible to form new coalitions and unite around the systems we share and depend upon, once we can clearly see them?

It is our hope that we can make the changes we need by using better models of reality to inform our decision-making. But those models must connect to the experience of individuals in a way that acknowledges their perspective without antagonising them. We’re all in this together – whether on red African soil or green pastured meadows. We have to work with meaning.

We hope that you will be able to join us for this year’s Forum taking place between 30th November and 2nd December 2021. The theme is ‘Putting Purpose into Practice for This Decisive Decade’. Sessions will once again leverage the Forum’s unique blend of academic research, concrete business application, and MBA insight.

We are delighted to announce an outstanding line-up of speakers including the former CEO of Unilever Paul Polman, the former CEO of Burberry Angela Ahrendts, the CEO of Salesforce Marc Benioff, and the Managing Director of External Affairs at BlackRock Sandra Lawson.

The event will be fully online and free to access. Click the button to find out more and register.


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