Meditations on Capitalism, Poverty and Global Markets

In the past few weeks of reading about the codification of social entrepreneurship as a practice, we’ve considered the benefits and challenges of structuring an organization in that way. And we’ve contrasted the social entrepreneur’s approach with other models, such as large NGOs, small non-profits, public-private partnerships or for-profit businesses that target people in poverty (or euphemistically, ‘the bottom of the pyramid’).

 

As anyone who has been in class with me the last few weeks knows, I form decisive opinions easily. And while these opinions are both heartfelt and subject to change from day to day, the speed at which we arrive at opinions has me questioning the value of these snap judgements.

 

It felt easy to criticize firms strategizing about ways to take one more dollar, taka or naira from the poorest people on Earth by selling them products of dubious value. It felt easy to reject the hubris of saviors from wealthy countries flooding into poorer communities with their fancy degrees, rich donors and profoundly unsophisticated understanding of the problems they were trying to solve. It felt easy to identify the short-comings of social business models that maintain the agency of the entrepreneur and disregard the agency of the marginalized people their companies are meant to benefit.

 

But are those productive outcomes?

 

There’s something satisfying about arriving at a judgment. This thing is right, that thing is wrong, case closed. Having an opinion usually feels pretty empowering. An opinion can’t really be wrong, and having one grants you entry into the discussion. But, what do we bypass when we leap to judgment rather than sit with the ideas for longer periods of time? 

 

These readings are meant to give us grounding and context for the design work we do. They aren’t defining a problem space and giving us marching orders for us to take our six weeks of design training and go solve global poverty and inequality. Solving these problems is definitely beyond the scope of our class. In fact, even formulating a definite answer about best practices or frameworks would be going too far given a fairly cursory literature review.

 

What exists between an answer and an opinion? It’s understanding. This week instead of creating an artifact that had definitive content, answers, recommendations and opinions, I wanted to create space for reflection that might lead to understanding. For existing in the liminal space of knowing that you don’t know. For giving up the unearned confidence that having an opinion bestows and instead hold on to not knowing, wondering, and pondering.

 

Opinions form quickly. 

 

Understanding takes time.

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