February 18, 2002
Ready for some good news?
For 20 some years, a bank in Bangladesh has been loaning money to mostly women to purchase a sewing machine, a water buffalo, a cell phone, etc.
These items are used to start a small business, thereby moving them up from abject poverty. A first-time coffee grower in Nepal, faced with an unknown blight on his crop, uses the internet to find the cause and a cure so all is not lost. 13 hours later, the solution comes from deep in the mountains of Latin America, in spite of the language difficulties. Good stories like this abound, even though they are hard to find in all the bad news today.
I recently attended a workshop at the University of North Carolina Business School, specifically the Center for Sustainable Enterprise. Large multinational corporations (Dow, Coke, DuPont, etc.), entrepreneurial firms, non-profit organizations, and consultants are conferencing to find ways to work with what is being called the triple bottom line.
Bottom line profits are usually measured in dollars. New on the table are two other bottom lines: natural capital - the health of the planet; and social capital - the stakeholders' well-being (including stockholders, employees, the community at large). Increasingly it is recognized that a company cannot sustain (continue in health indefinitely) itself if it does not consider this triple bottom line.
Another example. A new company on the horizon, Rolltronics, has developed a solar cell technology which will be moving into third world nations. Villages will be taught how to manufacture the solar cells.
Yes, this will provide heat and electricity, but what else will the villagers come up with themselves once they begin to see the potential? Again, people will be moving up from abject poverty.
What further sets this company apart from other companies is the 'for-benefit' attitude. 25% of the village 'plant' profits will be owned by the villagers, and another 25 percent will be set aside for non-profit organizations.
These small and large companies and organizations are in many cases focusing on the very poorest on the planet, called the Bottom of the Pyramid. With a base of four billion people, there is definitely a market to be developed. When these people have access to safe water, energy and information, globalization will truly be democratized. Don't say it can't be done and that there is no good news. It has already begun. Remember Margaret Mead who said "A small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world."
Starr Klube, Redmond