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Abstract

This article seeks to provoke broader public discussion about ways in which human and ecologic dignity, prosperity, and the civic ideal can be advanced through a revitalized and principled ownership agenda that features greater levels of corporate accountability and civic virtue. It draws from portions of what then was called an “Occasional Paper,” part of a series emanating from the early days of the University of Massachusetts Boston’s McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies. Written in 1994, it introduces a new paradigm for corporate governance called the “corporate covenant,” which casts ownership within the framework of citizenship. These “owner citizens” are in a position to influence corporate decision making and reduce public cynicism regarding corporate behavior. The article provides a brief overview of the history of the corporation and U.S. corporate governance (including corporate philanthropy), which illustrates some of the precedents for balancing claims to private and public prosperity. It touches on recent theological, corporate governance, and management literature in examining these ideas. It summarizes the views expressed in structured interviews conducted with fourteen individuals with considerable expertise in relevant areas (including shareholder activism, theology, state and local pension and endowment fund management, corporate operations, financial investing, and the practice of law). It concludes by highlighting some of the implications of the corporate covenant paradigm for shareholders, boards of directors, and management; business education; and public administration and social policy. It does this by identifying three problem areas warranting the attention of the covenantal promise: (1) education; (2) emerging democracies; and (3) the city.

 

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