March 10

James Militzer / Scott Anderson / Kyle Poplin

Social Business Roundup: A Defiant Asset Manager, Salty Doorknobs and Who Has it Worse?

Progress for Gender Diversity – Significant or Symbolic?

Women hold less than 6 percent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies, and boards at Fortune 500 companies are almost 80 percent male. If those statistics alarm you, this week brought seemingly promising news. UBS Group announced a new $110 million venture capital fund that will invest in health, education and environment companies led or co-managed by women. And State Street Global Advisors, the world’s third-largest asset manager and a $2.5 trillion investor, announced it would vote against the boards of companies that fail to make an effort to boost their female membership. Adding symbolism to the gesture, State Street installed a bronze statue of a girl staring down Wall Street’s iconic charging bull.

The firm’s efforts got loads of good press, but also some pushback: Apparently, State Street doesn’t exactly practice what it preaches. Its 11-member board includes just three women, and just 23 percent of its executive vice-presidents and 28 percent of senior vice-presidents are female. Confronted with these numbers, the company’s PR director called them “better than zero,” and it’s true that they’re slightly higher than average. It’s also true that “somewhat better than terrible” isn’t going to cut it anymore, for State Street or the rest of the business world.


Dhaka or the Mississippi Delta?

In his book “The Great Escape,” Princeton economist Angus Deaton detailed how some societies have avoided poverty over the centuries. He received the Nobel Prize in 2015 for research into how the consumption of goods and services plays into human welfare, and has influenced economic policy around the world. While inequality among nations is decreasing, in an interview with The Atlantic’s Anne Lowry, Deaton ponders whether inequality within nations has equalized in many respects.

“… If you had to choose between living in a poor village in India and living in the Mississippi Delta or in a suburb of Milwaukee in a trailer park, I’m not sure who would have the better life. That’s the point I’ve been pushing.”


Rub some salt on it? Yes, please.

Salt is bad for you when you eat too much of it. But the more the merrier, it seems, when it comes to global health. We explain:

Drug-resistant infections kill more than 700,000 people a year. They can be largely stopped with frequent hand washing, but that’s a tough ask globally. Another way to kill the bugs, a recent study shows, is by coating the objects most likely to carry them, like doorknobs, with salt. Inexpensive, plentiful salt. Who knew?

And the news gets better. Another study shows that if you coat a surgical mask with sodium chloride – salt – it destroys viruses carried by the wearer and makes the masks reusable. Untreated masks simply trap viruses and are good for only one use.

Chalk one (or two, actually) up for simplicity.


How much IMF help can West Africa stand?

So, the salty snippet above proves that global health, at its core, is pretty simple, right? Wrong.

The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) website leads with, “When a country’s economy suffers a severe economic crisis, IMF support for reforms can preserve or increase public health spending.”

But Alexander E. Kentikelenis and Thomas Stubbs, writing for The Conversation about the IMF’s “neocolonial” presence in 13 West African countries, say the exact opposite. “In exchange for loans,” the authors say, “the IMF requires governments to adopt policies that prioritise short-term economic objectives” and these “policy reforms are actually hampering the development of West Africa’s health systems.” Along the way, they say, “hundreds of millions of lives have been affected.”


Old Habits Die Hard as India Can’t Quit Cash

Discouraging news for cashless advocates in India: The Times of India reports that many Indians are slipping back to their cash habits, citing drops in digital payment volumes, slowing mobile wallet growth – and numerous anecdotes from merchants. One key reason: The government-imposed cash crisis has eased. As one shopkeeper put it, “What is the use when the cash crunch has gone?” Other reasons cited by analysts include merchants’ resistance to payment card transaction fees, and the “less than seamless” experience of paying digitally. Time will tell if this is a speed bump or something more ominous for Cashless India.


A closer look at the ‘energy poor’

We take for granted that off-grid energy improves the lives of the “energy poor.” But does it really? And if so, how?

Kat Harrison, previously of SolarAid, who now heads up impact assessment on Acumen’s energy investments, provides some answers in a series launched this week: Acumen Energy Impact Series. The first piece looks at three years of data from more than 1,000 low-income Kenyan households to see how solar energy impacts poverty. The series also looks at indoor air pollution and health, education and “whether an energy ladder really exists.”


Photo credit: VeryBusyPeople, via Flickr.



Energy, Environment, Health Care, Investing
Base of the Pyramid, business development, digital finance, digital payments, financial inclusion, infectious diseases