SFU Presents: Mariana Mazzucato

2021, Series Munro Lectures, Economy, Future of Work

This lecture is presented with support from the BMO Lecture Series and John M. Munro Lecture endowments.

Mariana Mazzucato is one of the most influential—and for some, the “scariest”—economists in the world.

In her latest book, Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism, Mazzucato argues that capitalism is stuck. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, it had no answers to a host of problems, including disease, inequality, the digital divide and, perhaps most concerningly, the environmental crisis. Mazzucato argues that governments and other public sector institutions must play a critical role—in partnership with the private sector and engaged citizens—in leading missions to tackle the grand challenges of our times.

A Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London (UCL) and a 2020 SFU honorary degree recipient, Mazzucato advises policymakers around the world on innovation-led, inclusive and sustainable growth. She and her team at UCL’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP) have been hired by the Government of British Columbia to advise on a long-term economic plan that will steer the province through the post-pandemic era.

Mazzucato will challenge us to reconceptualize value and think about how mission-oriented innovation could contribute to British Columbia’s unique economic context. The lecture will be followed by a conversation and audience Q&A moderated by Stephanie Bertels, Director of SFU Beedie’s Centre for Corporate Governance and Sustainability. 

This lecture is co-produced by SFU Public Square and the SFU Centre for Corporate Governance and Sustainability.

Wed, 20 Oct 2021

8:30 a.m. (Vancouver)
11:30 a.m. (Toronto)
4:30 p.m. (London)

Online Event

Closed captioning in English will be available at this event.

About the Munro Lecture

The Munro Lecture is named after Jock Munro, an economist who served, with distinction, as SFU’s Vice-President, Academic.


Mariana Mazzucato

Mariana Mazzucato (Ph.D.) is Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London (UCL), where she is Founding Director of the UCL Institute for Innovation & Public Purpose (IIP). She is winner of international prizes including the 2020 John von Neumann Award, the 2019 All European Academies Madame de Staël Prize for Cultural Values, and 2018 Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought. She was named as one of the '3 most important thinkers about innovation' by The New Republic, one of the 50 most creative people in business in 2020 by Fast Company, and one of the 50 most creative people in business by WIRED.

She is the author of three highly-acclaimed books: The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths (2013), The Value of Everything: making and taking in the global economy (2018) and the newly released, Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism (2021).

She advises policymakers around the world on innovation-led inclusive and sustainable growth. Her current roles include being Chair of the World Health Organization’s Economic Council on Health for All and a member of the South African President’s Economic Advisory Council, the Scottish Government’s Council of Economic Advisors, and the United Nations High-level Advisory Board (HLAB) on Economic and Social Affairs, among others.


Dr. Stephanie Bertels

Dr. Stephanie Bertels is the VanDusen Professor of Sustainability and the Director of the Centre for Corporate Governance and Sustainability at SFU's Beedie School of Business. Stephanie is also the founder of the Embedding Project, a public-benefit research collaborative that develops practical tools to help companies embed social and environmental factors across their operations and decision-making. She regularly advises global companies and their boards on issues related to strategy, governance, and environmental and social sustainability.

Event Summary

The economy got you down? Mariana Mazzucato is on a mission to change that.

By Mireta Strandberg-Salmon
SFU Resource and Environmental Management student and Embedding Project researcher

If we’ve learnt anything during the upheaval and disruption caused by the pandemic, it’s that things around here are changing. “Normal” is a relic of the past; the time for transformation is now.

The climate is changing at a frightful pace, with B.C. experiencing record-breaking temperatures, drought, and wildfires last summer and more unprecedented climate impacts looming on the horizon. Nature is changing, with biodiversity loss worldwide threatening the sixth mass extinction, and half of monitored wildlife species in Canada declining 83 per cent on average from 1970 to 2014. Society is changing, with equity, diversity and inclusion emerging as key priorities for institutions like Simon Fraser University as Indigenous and Black communities continue to call out the ugly truths of Canada’s history and the ongoing legacies of colonialism and institutional racism

The question is, how is the economy changing? Or better yet, how does the economy need to change to advance—rather than undermine—socio-ecological wellbeing?

You will probably agree that the “old economy,” the one that prioritized profit at the expense of ecosystems and people, is not working. In fact, the old economy is the problem—the root cause of the climate, biodiversity, and inequality crises facing us today. But what if someone told you that the economy can also be the solution to these crises? 

Well, that someone is Mariana Mazzucato and that solution is a mission economy.

Read More

On October 20, 2021, SFU’s Stephanie Bertels, VanDusen Professor of Sustainability and Director of the Centre for Corporate Governance and Sustainability at the Beedie School of Business, moderated a virtual conversation with Mariana Mazzucato on what is needed to create a new economy that puts people and the planet first. Mazzucato, Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value and Founding Director of the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose at University College London, advises policymakers worldwide on innovation-based inclusive and sustainable growth. Recently, B.C. joined Mazzucato’s mission when the Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation enlisted her as an advisor to inform B.C.’s post-pandemic economic recovery plans.

Mazzucato didn’t dwell long on the problem, preferring instead to dive into the solutions. Nonetheless, she laid the foundation for the discussion by illustrating key shortcomings of the current economic system. She highlighted three facts: 

  • 56 per cent of G20 countries’ pandemic recovery funds were given to fossil energy projects;
  • 80 per cent of the financial sector goes to financing itself and not the real economy; and
  • shareholder profits are at a record high while inequality and polarization soar.

The current shareholder primacy model leaves governments responding with market fixes and band-aid solutions while society lurches from crisis to crisis.

Instead, Mazzucato advocates for a purpose-led economic transition that builds resilience by investing in communities and putting stakeholders at the centre of decision-making. Because the economy is an outcome of society’s decisions, she calls for better societal decisions that set the economy in the direction of resilience, sustainability, and equity. Doing so requires us to adopt “missions” to address the grand challenges of our time. This is the mission economy.

You’re not alone if you’re wondering what Mazzucato’s mission economy would look like in practice, and how we can get there. During the event, the Zoom chat was alive with questions, critiques, and words of caution. Mazzucato provided some answers and participants weighed in with others.

First and foremost, governments have a crucial role to play in a mission economy. In shifting from a market-fixing to a market-shaping role, the “entrepreneurial state” can build the new economy with common good as the common goal. For Mazzucato, highlights of the entrepreneurial state in a mission economy include: 

  • big, bold policies and investments to address socio-ecological challenges—framed as missions;
  • mobilization of cross-sectoral collaboration and innovation to advance those missions;
  • public spending and procurement with sustainability conditionalities attached;
  • internal experimentation and capacity-building for government leaders; and
  • co-definition of value and co-creation of sustainability solutions with users.

Folks in the chat added other levers for advancing public purpose, including a global corporate profit cap; growth in the caring, sharing, and circular economies; and deconstruction of hierarchical power structures in governments and corporations that undermine collaborative pursuit of shared goals. 

To illustrate her vision, Mazzucato shared two prominent examples of entrepreneurial, mission-oriented policy in action.

First, over 70 years ago, NASA invoked a “no excess profits clause” to collaborate with the private sector to produce space technology needed to get to the moon in a generation. From this “moonshot mission,” we can glean the importance of public-private partnerships that centre purpose in driving experimentation, innovation, and inspiration towards a common goal.

Electric car maker Tesla also tapped into government incentives (over $5 billion USD) to fuel its growth—which could have generated significant public wealth if conditionalities had been attached to those incentives. The Tesla example demonstrates the value of government investment in innovation and R&D, but also the need for governments to intervene to prevent the capitalistic default of socialized risks and privatized rewards. 

The audience made clear that the notion of a purpose economy, of prioritizing people and planet, is not new to Indigenous peoples, however. Indigenous economies are rooted in reciprocity, relationality, and regeneration. As one audience participant pointed out in the chat, wealth comes not from money but from Indigenous peoples’ “connections to kin, land, culture, ways of knowing and being, all living things, spirit, ancestors, and so much more.” Therefore, transforming the economy requires not just redistributing profits but also redefining value and reinvesting in relationships, including with the Earth and her original stewards. 

Ultimately, the missions needed to accelerate the transition to a purpose-led economy must come from the ground up, not from NASA, Tesla, or a London-based economist—a point Mazzucato herself emphasized. As Naomi Klein has remarked, it won’t just get hotter, but meaner, if we treat climate change and other socio-ecological crises with technocratic and bureaucratic fixes. Instead, said one audience participant, “solutions have to deal with inherent power imbalances” embedded in the old economy that prevent socio-ecological wellbeing. In the B.C. context, Indigenous Nations are rights-holders with knowledge, worldviews, and relations to the Earth that must be central to the economic transition to advance reconciliation between people and the land. 

While a bold plan like Mazzucato’s to disrupt the status quo will inevitably generate controversy, participants’ engagement is proof that everyone sees a place for themselves in the purpose economy transition; it’s a mission we can all rally behind. As one participant highlighted, unlocking the imagination needed to design creative solutions for a future where people and the planet can thrive in harmony “requires true plurality of lived experience.” For a mission economy to put society first, everyone must be part of co-imagining, co-creating, and co-implementing it. SFU’s conversation with Mazzucato got us off to a strong start.



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