Organizational democracy key to being a business for world benefit
Freedom-centred workplaces impact human development and society

Traci Fenton, CEO and founder of WorldBlu, says she would like to see a heightened global awareness that organizational democracy is an effective way to achieve the goal of Business as an Agent of World Benefit (BAWB).

Fenton presented a workshop at the 2009 BAWB Global Forum, which brought 600 thought leaders and experts together to discuss the theme Manage by Designing in an Era of Massive Innovation. The next Global Forum is slated for 2011.

Fenton says she was excited to see several hundred people gathered to talk about how to design business in order to be an agent of world benefit.

“Those two things of recognizing the value of design thinking and recognizing that business can be an agent of world benefit were to me very thrilling, and very important,” she tells Axiom News.

“I was so excited to speak at this conference because I think this theme of design thinking and the fact that business can be an agent of world benefit in the way they frame it is really powerful and really significant and very visionary, and so I was honoured to be able to be a part of that conversation,” says Fenton.

Fenton says keynote speaker Bill McDonough had a great opening remark when he said, “I see design as the first signal of human intention.” If we look at how businesses are designed and how they operate the intention is often control to get a certain outcome, she says.

During her workshop entitled Designing Freedom: Using Design Thinking to Create Freedom-Centred Companies, Fenton shared how businesses can be designed based on principles of freedom and democracy rather than fear and control and still have the desired outcomes.

Fenton says she presented to a packed room and had many attendees talk with her afterwards about how they could move forward to design a company based on democratic principles.

WorldBlu, an Austin, Texas-based leadership and business design studio specializing in organizational democracy, is formally launching its campaign to build 20,000 democratic companies by 2020 at its next WorldBlu LIVE event in 2010. Fenton says this campaign will start getting the message of organizational democracy out in a more mainstream way.

There are two key ways organizational democracy links to business being an agent of world benefit, she says.

The first is human development. When an organization is designed to operate democratically the employees have the opportunity to develop as human beings, notes Fenton. Democratic workplaces require employees to be collaborative, to dialogue in a way that is constructive, to find common ground, to develop self-esteem, to develop self-confidence, and to develop a sense of self-discipline and self-government, she says.

“These are all things that contribute to human development and if businesses understood that the way they designed the business to operate either helps or hinders our development as human beings, I think they would be much more mindful about the way they design a business to operate,” says Fenton.

The second way organizational democracy contributes to being a business as an agent of world benefit is in the ripple effect that democratically run companies have on their communities.

Fenton points to the quantitative research from Gretchen Spreitzer, professor of management and organizations at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, that found the following four ways a democratic and participatory company impacts the community: fighting corruption, increasing economic prosperity in the community, increasing the level of civic engagement and increasing peace.

To learn more about WorldBlu, visit, and to learn more about the BAWB Global Forum click here.

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