What is a Business Ethics lecturer doing writing a musical on Cuba?

As we build up to Fidel, our next Workin Process concert this November, its writer Dr Denise Baden is opening up about her experiences writing a brand new musical. You can find out more about Fidel right here

One question asked is: what is an Associate Professor in Business Ethics at Southampton Business School doing writing a musical about Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution?

This is a question understandably raised by my boss among others. I argue it is relevant to business because it builds on my research into Fidel’s leadership style, Cuban business models, and co-operatives. My research and the musical also tap into many current debates within the field of business ethics and sustainability.

Cuba is the only sustainable country (WWF, 2006) and no country has done more with less than Cuba, so there’s potentially a lot we could learn from them. But the demonization of Fidel Castro has meant that little accurate information gets through.

A question our head of department has tentatively raised is: is this political? Well yes it is. But if you ask “is it party political?”… you could look at it that way, but it’s not the way I have approached it. I don’t like the demonization of political positions and characters.

The fact is that there are really difficult trade-offs to be made between values of freedom and liberty which we all like, and equality. And generally the more freedom you have, the less equality you have, and vice versa. Policies that promote greater equality infringe upon personal freedoms. We may want both but one interferes with the other. Taking one position or other doesn’t make you necessarily a good or bad person. It may reflect personality, people with high anxiety might prefer the security provided by strong state provision, people who are entrepreneurial thrive on freedom and risk. It’s not a question of right or wrong, it’s a question of right or wrong for who, or one position may be right for one person at one stage of their life but not another.

All I want to do is tell people the tale about a country that made different decisions and different trade-offs. When I wrote an article about some of the unintended consequences of regulation, people assumed I was a right-wing Tory against regulation. Now I’m writing a musical about Fidel Castro, people assume I’m a communist trying to promote revolution. No to all of those. I just want us to be making decisions with clear eyes in possession of all the facts not distorted by one-sided propaganda. There is tons we can learn from and about Cuba – they’ve done so much with so little; their story is impossible but it’s true.

Fidel Castro in Havana, 1978. Photo: Marcelo Montecino, Flickr

The fact that an Associate Professor in Southampton Business School is writing a musical about the Cuban revolution just goes to show business schools are more interesting places than you might think. I met my partner online a few years back and when he read I worked in the Business School, he made all kinds of assumptions about me – that I’d be materialistic, amoral, shiny suits and so on.

I’ve devoted myself to trying to integrate ideas that business can be try to be part of the solutions to issues such as sustainability, well-being, poverty etc., not part of the problem into the curriculum. But when business is part of the problem, then we need to look at the facts with our eyes wide open and see what trade-offs we’re making. We need to not be fooled by sneaky ways of covering up what are essentially business interests.

The business school has been cautiously supportive of this project which proves they do have some soul! They support this because it’s been about engagement and education and about replacing ideology and misinformation with the full context of the story so you can see what happened and not just one perspective.

Of course, every writer has to adopt a perspective – and I have – but its informed by research and as accurate as I can make it. I admit the University did some subtle probing to check I wasn’t trying to provoke revolution across students UK-wide. They could see I wanted to use the story to expose all kinds of issues that are massively relevant today. Issues of social justice, colonialism, exploitation, international relations, playing one country off against another.

It’s also a story of egos – the ego of Fidel who would never back down against the egos of numerous US presidents. Two male egos shouting across an ocean at each other, neither wanting to back down, constant aggression.

Sound familiar?

Fidel runs for two performances only on Thursday 16th November 2017 at St Paul’s Church. You can get your tickets here.