Ethics and the City: Regional programs for success

Ethical systems design is rooted in a systems-approach. We at Ethical Systems generally look at these at 3 levels: 1) personal ethics; 2) organizational ethics; and 3) the national culture and legal/regulatory environment. It is the interplay between these levels that creates a self-sustaining ethical culture.

Within the context of the third level, there is an emerging trend, where ethics and culture are being used to promote regional economic development. Ethics is taking center stage in two cities- Boston and Omaha- and galvanizing people to come together to engage in discussion and identify solutions.

In Omaha, Nebraska the Business Ethics Alliance (BEA) has launched their City Lab, the first initiative of its kind to tap businesses across an entire city as a potential testing environment to further business ethics and impart best practices for strengthening organizational culture. As Beverley Kracher, BEA’s Executive Director describes, “We have a chance to make capitalism work better…This really could be the place.” Stay tuned for more details on a collaboration between Ethical Systems and BEA in building this City Lab. 

In Boston, Massachusetts, a new plan convened and coordinated by the Susilo Institute for Ethics in the Global Economy of Boston University has been launched with the objective of fostering an open dialogue leading to deeper understanding, social engagement and knowledge sharing. The Institute collaborates with the Boston Regional Business Ethics Network (BRBEN), a community of area academics and practitioners who share an interest in ethics, with a focus on business.

City-level ethics initiatives are not limited to targeting businesses. An initiative called City Ethics focuses on resources to help strengthen ethics in local government in every state. Given the interplay between businesses and government, particularly relating to corruption, it is important to emphasize the benefits of developing a culture where pay-to-play is rooted out and local business is conducted above reproach. City Ethics was launched in 2000, after the founders felt “there was a real need to provide assistance to cities and counties that are trying to address ethical issues…We wanted to create a free flow of information that would be the catalyst for the creation and improvement of local government ethics programs.”

Cities are, given population shifts, increasingly where Americans want to live. Today they are also places to watch as laboratories for new ideas and initiatives relating to business and culture.


If you know of other city-level ethics organizations to watch, please send us an email so we can highlight this important emerging development.