· 2 min read · Features

Matthieu Ricard: Altruism a business necessity not luxury


Altruism is the key not just to world peace but also economic success, according to French writer and Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard

Speaking at the Unleash World Conference and Expo in Amsterdam, Ricard, who has been described as the ‘happiest man in the world’, said: "I worked for many years for a project on altruism, which might sound like a wider term like compassion, benevolence, or kindness. But in science they are trying to show that it’s not a naïve concept, or a utopia, it’s not just a luxury. It’s an absolute necessity; to reconcile and treat the challenges we are facing."

Ricard explained that far too often people are only told stories of unpleasant behaviour, meaning that they do not always realise their capacity for good. “Human beings are fundamentally good, and generally decent to each other. But our attention goes to the unpleasant and barbaric situations, and most of the time we don’t see that people behave decently with each other."

He said that there is no reason this cannot be applied to business. “We can all work together across the world to reduce poverty and inequality. With business it’s no different," he said.

"It’s well-known that companies where people enjoy working perform better. Why do people enjoy work? Trust, the quality of human relationships, and decisions based on consideration for others, rather than reckless competition. Competition is a useless endeavour because you spend a lot of time and energy competing, meaning no-one really wins.”

Ricard went on to discuss co-operatives, which he described as beneficial for all parties. “With co-operative banking, and co-operatives in general, everyone becomes invested in the success or failure of a company. And co-operation works because there’s something at stake. Businesses need that. When a business goes bust everyone loses out, but in a co-operative everyone can benefit,” he said.

These kinds of businesses tend to perform better because they have a purpose behind them, he added. “What’s interesting is if you look at the figures, the fastest growing part of the economy is co-operative banking, and other socially responsible businesses – they fare better at times of crisis because there’s more meaning to it, so people stick with them.

"Whereas when it’s pure profit people will leave, they won’t care, because why should they care? But if there is some reason behind what you do, you will be better.”

On the topic of climate change and climate change denial, Ricard said that the situation is not about blame but improving people’s knowledge. “There’s no way for ordinary people to distinguish between rubbish and science, and that is a huge problem," he said. "It comes down to a lack of education. I don’t blame people who don’t believe in climate change, they are not bad people. Hillary Clinton tried to blame them and it backfired because it is not kind.

“It’s only through education that we can change things. If you really understand that your children and grandchildren will be hurt by climate change you can do something. But you can’t do anything if you don’t know.”