Workforce | Skills

Mazzucato: building purposeful collaboration with purpose driven organisations

Tackling wicked societal problems requires state, business and finance to collaborate, take risks and listen to social movements, international economist, Mariana Mazzucato has told a CEDA audience.

Speaking in Melbourne, Ms Mazzucato who is the Chair in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at the University College London discussed driving value through collaboration and stakeholder engagement. 

“Will the financialised business sector, the financialised financial sector and a depressed public sector get us to shape ourselves in such a way that we really can build a purposeful collaboration with purpose driven organisations?  I think not,” she said. 

“We need the state, we need business, we need the financial sector, we need to be listening to the social movements in civil society, and only then can we really be proud of ourselves that at least we tried…as a humanity to tackle those very difficult problems which we should be tackling together,” she said. 

“Start with the Sustainable Development Goals. Turn them into missions at the city level, at the regional level, at the national level, and of course at the international level – things like getting the plastic out of the ocean – and really drive through. 

“Think about how to use the fall gamma of government instruments to crowd in that experimentation and exploration.

“(Get) real stakeholder engagement to frame these missions in interesting ways – in academia, getting the poets, the humanities, the social sciences, not just the STEM subjects – (and) really to then design it in interesting ways that require cross sector or cross actor and cross disciplinary investments…using the tools to again crowd in this multiple bottom up experimentation.

“Top down stuff doesn't work – the Soviet system did not work for innovation – but you still need a direction.  Fully bottom up doesn’t work.”

Speaking on the state, Ms Mazzucato said civil servants have been trained in problematic ways.  

“Civil servants are not told to be hungry and foolish…which is normal right, trial and error, and error, and error - that's how you learn,” she said.

“It doesn't necessarily incentivise thinking big as you do when you go get an MBA, strategic management decision sciences, organisational behaviour, all this really cool stuff.”  

Ms Mazzucato said we need to reframe how we discuss challenges, including in language choice.

“This is people like us who think we're smart: we need to de-risk and facilitate and enable.  Facilitate - if you're in a marriage and one is facilitating the other it ain't going to end well, it's going to be probably a little - well at least it will be boring,” she said. 

“We hear this kind of stuff all the time, especially in The Economist: yeah invest in some skills, infrastructure, education, horizontal conditions, and then get the hell out of the way for the really cool things to happen in industry…this constant portrayal of the cool industrialists or entrepreneurs on one side and the boring Kafkian bureaucrats.

“The portfolio, the different types of investments you need to make, are going to be risky.

“You're going to have to take on difficulties, that's why I don't like the word ‘facilitation’.  You should really think with all these different actors including civil society ‘what are the difficulties ahead and how can we share those responsibilities, get the right collaborations?’."

“The stories we're telling are very much part of the problem and they also justify the way that we think about the rewards or taxation.  

“We need ambitious public policies that are not just throwing money around kind of randomly – a bit for SMEs, a bit of infrastructure there, a bit of science policy there – and then think miracles are going to happen.  

“But really learn from those ambitious policies that in the past actually got business to see new opportunities and to increase that investment.  

“This is really important, today where profits are at record levels worldwide: the profit share is very high, labour share is very low, but investment is low.”