Centre for Character and Values

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The Centre for Character and Values is an extension of the Legatum Institute’s broader mission to foster human flourishing.

Today, every terrorist attack, clash over migrants, or political scandal prompts us to denounce some values as wrong, while also exposing our inability to say which values are right. What do we, as a society, stand for? It is increasingly difficult to champion our Judaeo-Christian legacy in today’s heavily secularised West, while ‘Enlightenment values’ sound too abstract. People agitate about ‘inappropriate’ speech and behaviour, yet are hesitant to speak in terms of right and wrong. Still less are they willing to embrace the concept of ‘virtuous action’, which according to Aristotle was a pre-condition for true happiness.

We at the Centre believe that this ‘values vacuum’ is dangerous. It risks being filled by the infiltrators of extremist views or, alternatively, an agenda rooted in selfishness and self-obsession.

The Centre's work tests the hypothesis that even in a pluralist society certain values—such as altruism—are universally recognised as contributing to prosperity. We do not proselytise or take a party line, but look at the evidence that proves certain values drive good social outcomes. We do this by evaluating the impact of various projects in the areas of the family, youth development and the workplace.

The Centre serves as a catalyst for ‘virtuous action’— not only evaluating, but also designing, programmes that support the most vulnerable people among us. We deploy experts in social science to advise, and promote these programmes to government, charities, the private sector and the public at large.

Initially, the Centre will create initiatives in the United Kingdom; in the long run we hope to expand into other countries.

Founding Director: Cristina Odone

Advisory Committee: Nick Chance, Lord Griffiths, Tim Montgomerie, Dr Karen Bohlin, Alan Bell

1. Research into Family Stability

We learn our sense of right and wrong, and first engage with others, in the family. A stable family should provide young people with the qualities—self-confidence, generosity, respect for others—that enable them to flourish. 

The nurturing role of the family is now acknowledged across the political spectrum; it is no longer unfashionable, as it was until recently, to champion ‘family values’. 

Moreover, there is an overwhelming body of social scientific data demonstrating that a child’s family is the key determinant in his or her chances of success in life. To give one example, a strong and supportive family influences how many words he or she learns, and therefore the educational performance that is so crucial to prosperity in a knowledge-based economy. 

Likewise, the impact of troubled families creates problems that affect us all, and that have been given a new edge by digital technology. Depression, addiction, self-harm, crime and especially the influence of gangs—all these phenomena seem increasingly intractable in our interlinked and unstable societies. Successive British governments have attempted to strengthen family bonds with a host of ‘interventions’, some more successful than others.

The Centre will go right to the heart of the matter by focusing its initial research on parenting and marriage. 

Parenting: We will undertake an exploratory research project into British parenting classes that are already widely recognised as successful. Our academic adviser in this project is Professor John Loughlin, currently Research Fellow at Blackfriars, Oxford, former Director of the Von Hügel Institute at Cambridge University and a Professor Emeritus at Cardiff University. Using observation and unstructured interviews with practitioners and clients, we will examine the impact the initiatives have on parents and children.  

Marriage: We will undertake an exploratory research project focusing on the initiatives that best encourage and support stable marriages. The methodology will be similar that described above. Working with Professor Loughlin, we will examine the impact that marriage advisory projects have on couples, including the incidence of separation, divorce, alcohol, drug abuse and domestic violence among spouses who have attended the courses. Again, these outcomes will be compared with a control group of couples who have not attended courses.   

2. Business Ethics

The workplace should hone qualities, such as honesty, self-confidence, grit, respect for others and a sense of responsibility, that enable employees to prosper. Business should be a community that embraces a moral standard, a set of values which are accepted as a benchmark for all who work within the company and which guide and influence behaviour.

Yet one in five employees claims to have witnessed ‘unethical behaviour’ at work. More than half say they are dissatisfied with the way complaints are handled within their work place. News stories, which concentrate on executive pay, fraud, price-fixing, continue to give business (especially big business) a bad name.

Most companies now have an explicitly values-led mission statement. But can one instill values in the work place, and if so, how? Younger (16-34) employees demand more of their organisations in terms of business conduct—but what is it they seek?

Our Business Ethics programme will address these questions in a series of roundtable discussions with leading figures in business, the law, and academia.

Research: Business Ethics—A paper by Angela Hobbs, May 2016

How can businesses and banks regain public trust? What practical measures would improve their ethical standing?  Approaches to such questions often diverge at the outset, some parties appealing to the language of obligations and rights—which acts are permissible, which impermissible, which required—and others to the language of consequences, such as which act(s) will lead to the greatest good for the greatest number.  But perhaps what is needed is to locate both discourses within a larger framework of an ethics and politics of flourishing: how might businesses best contribute to the flourishing life of the individual and community, the life which allows people most fully to actualize their best potential? These issues were discussed during a working dinner at the Legatum Institute’s Centre for Character and Values on May 9th 2016, jointly organised with Clifford Chance LLP, and attended by senior people from the law, business, Church and academia. [Download full paper]

Research: Instilling Business Ethics—A paper by Lord Griffiths, May 2016

I am a great admirer of Alasdair MacIntyre. He is one of the world’s greatest living philosophers, invariably provocative and controversial but never without interest or depth of thought. A few years ago he gave a lecture with the arresting title “The Irrelevance of Business Ethics”. He set out to argue that the financial crisis of 2008 was not the result of a lapse in ethics by bankers but that the very nature of dealing in financial markets was to offload risk on to a counterpart or client with no ethical consideration whatever, “the better the trader the more morally despicable”. The result is that trying to teach ethics to traders was like reading Aristotle to a dog. [Download full paper]

3. The ‘Serve First’ Initiative

Serve First is a programme we shall be running in collaboration with the Rt Hon Frank Field MP, one of Britain’s most influential social reformers.  

Serve First will place graduates in paid employment for one year, in private companies and charities affecting social impact. The project will select a group of high-achieving graduates from around the country and enlist them in a six-week residential course. The course will teach graduates the principles of ‘servant leadership’, defined as a means of exercising authority that prioritises the needs of others. The Centre sees servant leadership as an expression of the ‘virtuous action’ that Aristotle argued was crucial to the attainment of happiness.

Serve First will begin with a pilot project in the UK, in collaboration with employers willing to take part in the initiative.

Serve First’s expert leadership trainers will follow up with the graduates, providing support and motivation but also assessing their experience and performance. Our aim is to construct a model that can be introduced to different parts of the United Kingdom and, eventually, rolled out internationally.

In the News

  • Christina Odone contributes to the Spectator podcast [Listen]
  • On Boxing Day we need to hear the ring of church bells not cash tills, Daily Telegraph [View]

  • Cryogenic freezing verges on blasphemy, but I can't help being inspired by the hope it gives sufferers, Daily Telegraph [View]
  • Cristina Odone responds to the Catholic Church's ban on the scattering of ashes, Sky News [Watch]
  • I'd rather people scatter their loved one's ashes than worship their phones, Cristina Odone, Daily Telegraph, [View
  • The UK Prosperity Index has some harsh lessons for Westminster, Cristina Odone, 13 October 2016, Reaction [View]
  • Science vs the Arts in Education, Cristina Odone, 17 July 2016, Sunday Morning Live, BBC 1 [Watch at 00:24:25]
  • Theresa May and Compassionate Conservatism, Cristina Odone, 14 July 2016, Jeremy Vine Show, BBC 2 [Listen at 01:19:55]
  • Why Motherhood is the Best Possible Training for Being a Spy, Cristina Odone, 27 May 2016, Daily Telegraph [View]
  • Deirdre McCloskey's 'Bourgeois Values', Cristina Odone, 22 May 2016, BBC Broadcasting House [Listen 00:48:20]
  • Selfish, Shallow Britain Doesn't Have the Time for Our Old and Frail, Cristina Odone, Daily Telegraph [View]
  • You Can't Just Prosper by Getting Richer, Cristina Odone, The Times, 30 April 2016 [View
  • The Pope Has Not Gone Far Enough to Welcome Me Back, Cristina Odone, The Times, 12 April 2016 [View
  • Granny Annexe Tax Strikes at the Heart of Family Values, Cristina Odone, The Times, 4 April 2016 [View]
  • My Battle With Myself Over Three-parent Babies, Cristina Odone, The Daily Telegraph, 4 February 2016 [View]
  • Society Needs to Find Shared Values Again, Cristina Odone, The Guardian, 22 January 2016 [View]
  • I Want My Daughter to Know that She Can Never 'Have It All’, Cristina Odone, Daily Telegraph, 31 May 2016 [View]