Saving the World
A lot of people want to save the world– especially those of us who have grown up without want and in a safe and loving environment. So many of us want to help, but what we’ve been learning and discussing in our Theory class through the last set of readings is that helping is complex. Any action one takes, or change one makes in the attempt to better the life of another, is going to have implications. There are always possibilities for unintended consequences.
There is also nuance. What works for one community might not work for another. Or, maybe it will work for a while, but the solution isn’t long-lasting.
When reviewing the work of seven authors, I’ve done my best to formulate and then figure out how to articulate my own thoughts on helping those in poverty. The authors we have discussed believe:
C.K. Prahlad: While the poor across the globe do not have much money, there are a lot of them. By creating a product they will need or want and selling to them at scale, there can be a mutually beneficial situation. The poor have more than they did before and the seller can build their own wealth.
Dean Spears: Econometric analysis has found that decision fatigue really is a thing–and for the poor, it’s further compounded. With less money at their disposal, every purchasing decision a person experiencing poverty has to make, the more stress and fatigue they experience. This means they are more likely to loose discipline to make good decisions faster than someone without the same financial burdon.
Roger Martin: Defining what “Social Entrepreneurship” means is important as the term gains traction. a Social entrepreneur is someone who builds a business that solves a market problem and sustains itself with earned revnue, but at the same time is making a positive impact on society.
Muhammad Yunus: Yunus pioneered the practice of “micro loans. He found that in very poor countries, people were unable to receive loans from a regular bank as they had no collateral to offer. He found, however, that by loaning small amounts of money to people and instilling a sense of responsibility in the entire broader community, 97% of the loans would be paid back.
Emily Pilloton: Proximity is key. One cannot know what is needed for a population without first becoming one with the population. Pilloton believes one must live the experience before they can improve it.
Victor Margolin: Big, messy, wicked problems are not always solvable. One solution may lead to other new and unexpected problems. It’s important to define what the problem is, and the dimension of the problem. This will inform the dimension of the needed solution.
Michael Hobbes: Solutions to big social problems don’t often scale. Every community is different and every problem is nuanced.
My personal opinion is explained through the story below.
This is me.
I’ve got a big heart but I’m pretty low key. I work a 9-5 job, and on the weekends I like to hang out with friends and mostly keep to myself.
I have a Friday night ritual of stopping by the gas station, buying one Lotto ticket, and then watching the local news until the numbers are announced and then heading to bed.
One night, I’m dosing of as I hear 5-3-5-6-1-1-2. Wait, WHAT!? I can’t believe it. Those are my numbers. those are all my numbers!! I feel like I’m on cloud 9.
I look for nonprofits to donate to, and choose several with missions that resonate with me. I feel good giving the money away, and even better thinking about the lives I’ve impacted. After several months I follow up with the nonprofit and ask how the community is doing where I made my gift. I’m so saddened to learn that the nonprofit has stopped serving the area! They said the area wasn’t improving, and rather than keep trying to make an impact, they wanted to cut their losses and find another area that might be easier to help.
I can’t believe it.
I wanted to help people. and my money has done nothing.
This time I decide to take matters into my own hands. I wonder if maybe those in poverty just don’t have the tools they need. Maybe they need a plan to follow to make improvements in their community. Bono has been getting a lot of press lately for bringing PlayPumps to African villages. Water is clean and much easier to access, and kids get to play on the PlayPump, and their energy produces the water. How cool is that? If Bono is in I’m in.
But then, after a couple of years, I stop getting update letters. Once again I stop hearing from the organization so I check in. It turns out that while this worked for a little while, it wasn’t a sustainable solution. The PlayPumps have been abandoned and the community is arguably worse off than before the PlayPump was installed! I just can’t believe it.
My last attempt is a rather new idea, and I think it will help empower the people receiving the money as opposed to dictate how the money should be used. I begin to make micro-loans. One in particular I make to Tom. He makes hats and he needs a sewing machine to be able to make more of them.
My investment goes ok, but the next year when I return Tom has only been able to make a few more hats that he did the previous year. He said he’s selling more but he doesn’t want to make so many that he can’t sell them.
I give up, go shopping, finally take that trip to Ibiza, and live a mostly unfulfilled life.
What I didn’t realize, was that Tom’s life DID change… slowly.
Slowly, over time, Tom was able to build his business, and eventually leave that legacy to his daughter. The change didn’t happen quickly. But over time, situations changed, the world became more global, Toms town grew, and my investment in Tom had set him up for slow growth and future success. Tom saw some of the gains, but his child saw even more. I wanted to make a big impact and change the world, but I wanted immediate gratification form that change, and that was pretty selfish. Change take time.