A little while ago I was introduced to TED talks – an organization that takes experts in a variety of different fields and asks them to distill the greatest nuggets of wisdom/insight/innovation that they’ve encountered in their work into the 20 minute ‘talk of their lives’. These talks are then made available for free to the world. Here’s an idea that is changing the world – nothing short of inspired.
I recently came across a talk by Jacqueline Novogratz, a lady who has since become one of my heroes. For around 20 years she’s been working in South Asia and Africa to eradicate poverty, and has some radical ideas on how to do it. There was so much to learn from what she’s said that I thought I’d share it here:
She begins and ends her talk by speaking about the interconnectedness of today’s world. Having already called 4 continents ‘home’ at different times, I am totally in synch with this. What is really exciting though is to see more and more people in North America begin to get this – from young people who’re willing to spend more to buy Fair Trade coffee so as to ensure that farmers in Colombia – who they’ll never meet – get paid sufficiently; to professionals who give generously for the relief of people in Indonesia who’ve been struck by a tsunami – again, people they’ll never meet; to families who commit – for years – to give monthly for the education and well-being of a child in Kenya who again, for the most part, they’ll never meet. To see this growing global awareness, this realization that we’re all in this together begin to gather momentum is exhilarating. What a great time to be living in!
Something else that stood out is her mention of how Good Will donations in North America destroyed the retailing industry in Rwanda – how well intentioned kindness can have consequences that are completely unforeseen. This reminds me of a story I heard while visiting with some friends in Chad about how a large UN presence in the capital – Ndjamena – was in the process of deeply affecting the local economy. Some UN personnel tried to buy some chicken, and thinking that the price they were being charged was far too low, offered to pay several times the asking price – just to be kind. Very soon this made meat unaffordable to local Chadians. Strategies can be a lot more effective when they are fully thought through – from every perspective – and learn from past mistakes.
Last, but not least, there was her main point – ‘the only way to end poverty is to build viable systems on the ground that build critical and affordable goods and services in ways that are financially sustainable and scalable’. Ms Novogratz founded the Acumen Fund just over 10 years ago, which invests in medium to very small scale enterprises, over long periods of time (a non-profit capital venture fund for the poor). The intention is to see local people who are more enterprising natural leaders come up with solutions that work in their own communities. Rather than just give via foreign Aid and charities, and rather than just invest financially into building factories (which hopefully don’t collapse) which would create low-level jobs, they seek out a middle-ground. They seek to use business to pull people out of poverty, but with patience and long investment time-frames in mind, what she calls Patient Capitalism. A method that allows people to make their own decisions, solve their own problems, and keep their dignity.
Lots of food for though, lots of ideas for chewing on. I really recommend checking out some of her other talks on www.ted.com/talks.
Dignity is more important to the human spirit than Wealth.