Economics of Mutuality Lab

What is mutuality in business?

The competitiveness of nations depends on the moral fibre of corporations. Key to that moral fibre is the concept of mutuality in business.

Colin Mayer CBE

Emeritus Professor

Our research approach

Productive relationships are fundamental to business.

Relationships within a corporation, their suppliers, consumers and society, through corporations' influence on markets, labour, health, and the environment - whilst these relationships may be productive, they can also be asymmetrical or even exploitative.

We ask how business relationships should recognise, sustain and grow the benefits to each party. We define mutuality as the creation of shared and lasting positive benefits across stakeholders through an organisation's activities. Our hypothesis, under-explored, is that companies that operate with mutuality at their core will be stronger and more sustainable.

Our research recently helped Oxford Saïd win Business School of the Year in the 2017 Times Higher Education Awards, where the School's work on responsible business impressed the judges, who '... applauded our "formidable record" of research... [into] how corporations can work in ways that benefit themselves and wider society.'

The Economics of Mutuality Lab is based on parallel work streams, which take a multi-dimensional, multi-disciplinary approach to understanding mutuality. 

  • The mutuality principle

Through qualitative approaches, this workstream explores how mutuality is enacted within Mars, Inc, how it is communicated, and how their employees' understanding of the principle has evolved over time. Core concepts include psychological ownership and organisational citizenship behaviours

  • Management practices

Through case- and field-based research this workstream extracts learnings from both a top-down and a bottom-up approach. The ‘top-down’ work deepens our understanding of mutuality in a management context by examining adjacent theories, including shared value and stakeholder theory, allowing us to understand what makes mutuality distinctive.

From the ‘bottom-up’, this workstream also explores mutuality-driven business pilots and seeks to understand mutual practices. Of particular interest is ecosystem orchestration, by which shared ‘pain points’ are identified across different forms of capital and addressed through integrated business models.

  • Methods

Highly interdisciplinary in its approach, this workstream brings together our researchers with experts from the University of Oxford’s Centre for the Study of African Economies, Department of Economics.

We are using a randomised control trial (RCT)  – a method pioneered in the testing of new medicines – to establish causality and to understand the impact of a new type of micro-finance, designed with mutual cost and benefit sharing in mind. The trial, using Mars’ Maua route-to-market programme, was rolled out in October 2017.

For this research, scholars have worked together with a micro-finance organisation and a local research firm, offering bicycles to micro-entrepreneurs in Kenya. 

  • Metrics

We have integrated financial and non-financial capital accounting to create a prototype for a novel multi-capital, single bottom-line accounting approach. 

Working with CFO's in large multinational companies, this prototype is now being developed into a new and powerful way to understand the performance of companies, used by both directors and shareholders to prove the case for more mutual management practices through improved performance on the bottom line.

  • Ownership 

What enables or constrains companies’ abilities to enact principles like mutuality?

We are exploring the influence of different firm types and ownership structures, including family-owned businesses, company trusts and foundations and publicly held firms. Also of interest is the influential role of institutional investors and their impact on the ability of firms to enact mutuality. 

Panel on stage discussing the power of finance to achieve purpose in business at the 2019 Responsible Business Forum

Deliberating how responsible business is put into practice

The adoption and impact of mutuality metrics

A collaborative project with the Economics of Mutuality Foundation exploring mutuality as a new principle for organising business. 

Mutuality - a principle that emphasises the fair distribution of the burdens and benefits of a firm’s activities - is seen as a promising new organising value with the potential to strengthen relationships and to improve sustainability.

Our research explores the concept of mutuality in business and develops a business management theory for The Economics of Mutuality, teaching curricula, new management practices and business case studies.

Since 2016, we have organised the Economics of Mutuality Forum, previously known as the Responsible Business Forum, which brings together C-suite executives, leading academics, foundation leaders, NGOs, investors, government officials, and MBA students to share and explore innovative ways to transform business performance and practice for the common good.

The Oxford Economics of Mutuality Virtual Forum

The 6th Annual Oxford Economics of Mutuality Forum will be held virtually November 30-December 2, 2021.

The Oxford Economics of Mutuality Forum will include speakers such as Paul Polman, IMAGINE and former CEO of Unilever; George Serafeim, Harvard's Impact-Weighted Accounts Project; Marc Benioff, Founder & CEO of Salesforce; Hiro Mizuno, Director of Principles for Responsible Investment Association; Sandra Lawson, Head of Stakeholder Capitalism for BlackRock, and more. 

Meet the team

Economics of Mutuality Foundation team members are partnered with Oxford researchers to shape and test the Economics of Mutuality initiative

The Oxford team

Colin Mayer CBE, Emeritus Professor and Principal Investigator

The Economics of Mutuality Foundation team

Bruno Roche, EoM Founder & Executive Director; Former Mars Chief Economist

Jay Jakub, Advocacy & External Relations

Nadia Terfous, Managing Director

Nick Gulliver, Knowledge & Communications Fellow