Since it opened in 2012, Ryozan Park has attracted a stream of attention from media, corporations, and government bodies eager to understand what makes us different: why has our community developed so well? Why do our members choose to stay connected even after our office or accommodation services are no longer required? I usually explain how we are a compact business run by a close-knit family that lives within the community. I tell how my mother-in-law cooked for the first residents at the sharehouse back in 2012 until they started to prepare food and eat together and that the community has been fortified by marriages and babies (17 at last count) resulting from matches in the sharehouse. But there is something else, something hard to put your finger on. I wonder if it’s something about the way we do business.
“...imagine our homes, families, neighbourhoods, communities, governments, nations and corporations where love is currency.”
I am not a royal watcher but I did have occasion to tune in to Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle earlier this year and saw Bishop Michael Curry stun the world with an impassioned speech about the transformative power of love. His unflinching message rode a wave of history from the scriptures, through slavery, civil rights to Twitter. One particular part struck a familiar chord with me. The reverend invited us to “imagine a world where love is the way,” to imagine our homes, families, neighbourhoods, communities, governments, nations and corporations where love is currency. Such an audacious notion drew audible gasps from the crowd in the room where I was viewing the proceedings but it was not the first time I’d heard it.
I first encountered the phrase “love ethic” in the work of social commentator and writer, bell hooks, a copy of whose treatise on love found its way into my hands when I was pregnant with our first child; a time when I found myself often considering definitions and manifestation of what we call love. Hooks designates love as a practice and one that should be the foundation of our communities, politics, economy and social justice systems. Outside of childhood church attendance, I had never encountered the idea of love in our institutions, much less in commerce. I showed the extracts on these ideas to Nori, and he voiced what I’d been thinking: “It sounds like what we’re doing, doesn’t it?”
The literature on love-based economies is sparse. Google searches throw up a variety of results, much of which is religious or new-age manifestos (I should stress here that the love ethic I am talking about is entirely secular, and not hippy-dippy-free-love or charity either.) What’s more, there seems to exist a number of overlapping terms such as ‘triple bottom line’ and ‘conscious capitalism’ that all share the same goal of building businesses to improve the quality of life of customers. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a familiar phrase these days that describes various types of self-regulation by companies, usually in areas concerning ethical production, environmental sustainability, and philanthropy. But Bishop Curry wasn’t just talking just about offsetting damage incurred in production, he was painting a picture of a world where love is the starting point of business, the middle and the end.
“as humans we all experience love or a lack thereof in our daily interactions”
These days, the word love, especially in regards to serious matters like business and institutions, is likely to elicit snorts of derision, but the truth is that as humans we all experience love or a lack thereof in our daily interactions and it affects our consumer habits, work practices and participation in community and family life. Isn’t it, then, rather odd that such a universally dynamic societal force is largely unacknowledged in business?
Research on the term led me to some academic papers on the subject of love as a fundamental element in government services, for example, nursing in Sweden and social work in Australia. I also found some companies whose mission statements are unabashedly framed by love, such as Canadian sustainable housing specialists, Future Proof who set out their vision of a profitable love-based economy with specific attention to sustainability, accountability and conservation, and Greg Hemmings, a “positive social impact filmmaker”, whose raison d’être is the promotion of the need for a love economy to replace our existing “greed economy”. In their business models, people, health, happiness and the environment come first.
“I think that our sincere intention to offer a place where people can live and work harmoniously is understood by those in the community”
So is Ryozan Park a love economy? Maybe. Perhaps accidentally. The company was certainly not created on the foundation of any lofty ideology; the goal was to make a community, the first project of its kind for our generations-old family real estate company. Community building, HR management, member crisis management – we were not set up for any of these, so each challenge has been met as it has presented itself. But a love-ethic seems to have been the instinctive MO of upper management (i.e. my parents-in-law). My education has been in watching how they treat each tenant, resident, and employee with care and respect, acknowledging the contribution of each in the fortification and growth of the community and how that, in turn, adds value to the business. It is a matter of course for us that we can not be happy when our customers or those in our employ are unhappy/ unwell/ struggling financially or emotionally and that we should try to help. That is not to say that we always can. Or that we always get it right. But I think that our sincere intention to offer a place where people can live and work harmoniously is understood by those in the community and that it has a ripple effect in the interactions between community members, and hopefully in members’ communications outside the community, too. There is no manifesto, no moral code or rule book and we can’t guarantee a perfect experience for everyone. But we can bring our humanity to the table. And I think that’s a good place to start.