Is the fight against global poverty making a much-needed paradigm shift from being aid-centric to trade-centric (i.e., business-centric)?
None other than the "front man" for global poverty - Bono, of U2 fame - seems to now be saying as much, as witnessed by his recent Op-Ed in the New York Times.
After completing his recent "listening" tour of Africa, Bono expressed his excitement about things as un-aid like as entrepreneurship, business partnerships, investment (the business kind) - and even seed capital. (Maybe his relatively unknown pastime as a venture capitalist in Elevation Partners is starting to reap some unintended dividends for the fight on global poverty!)
But as much as I admire Bono's efforts on behalf of the world's poorest people, it was not his excitement about business that actually captured my attention. Rather, it was the passion of the business people he met in Africa, many of whom were challenging Bono's (and by proxy, our own) aid-centric thinking about the problem.
And not just politely challenging it, but provocatively challenging it.
One of those business people is named Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-born, British-based telecom industry billionaire. In his conversation with Bono, Ibrahim in effect "lays down the gauntlet" to Western capitalism - almost daring Western business people and investors to enter the African marketplace. Bono quotes Ibrahim as saying, "Guys, you Americans are lazy investors. There's so much growth here, but you want to float in the shallow water of the Dow Jones or Nasdaq."
To be fair, some businesses and investors are already "floating" in the waters of Africa - literally and figuratively.
EarthWise Ventures is investing to re-establish economically viable ferry transportation on Lake Victoria. Starbucks is up to almost $15 million invested in microcredit loans to farmers, in partnership with social investment funds like Calvert Social Investment and Root Capital. The Initiative for Global Development (chaired by the CEO of REI) is matching CEO mentorships between developing and developed country business leaders.
These are just a handful of examples where businesspeople are choosing to integrate impact beyond the bottom line.
Can business change global poverty? Is venture capitalist Bono's excitement justified? Is business ready to responsibly participate in a transition from aid-centric to trade-centric?
The second blog post in this series will look at various approaches to how we all can begin to "think different" about our investing - whether it's $25 or $25 million - and how that decision making can help to change global poverty.
Jeff Keenan is an author, poverty alleviation activist, and global supply chain leader.
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