Ryan Baebler

The Week Went Well

Talk about an exciting time to be involved with the BoP. Since the world’s wealthiest philanthropist Bill Gates gave his speech about “creative capitalism” in Davos last Thursday, the development world has been abuzz with its interpretations and implications. But Switzerland is not the only place where headway is being made.

A spin off panel discussion entitled “Creative Capitalism: Can It Meet the Needs of the World’s Poor?,” was held in Washington this past Wednesday, at the Hudson Institute. The panelists present included William Easterly, author of The White Man’s Burden: How the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done so Much Ill and So Little Good; Al Hammond, WRI’s Vice President for Innovation and Special Projects as well as one of our writers at NextBillion.net; and Eugene Steuerle of The Urban Institute. Abigail attended the discussion and according to her most recent blog posting,

All three speakers contributed something here. Easterly reinforced the idea that BoP market-based solutions must be driven by capitalistic mechanisms if they are truly going to scale and lift people out of poverty, permanently. Hammond illustrates cases where markets exist but are not operating under the competitive forces that make capitalism an effective and self-perpetuating driver of development. Steuerle’s comments opened the discussion more broadly to question how each sector can spend better and engage with each other, whether they be driven by capitalistic motivations or not.

Capitalism as a whole is a mechanism, a tool. While it is and has always been easy to point out examples of capitalism causing social imbalance, panels such as the one which took place at the Hudson Institute are generally optimistic that capitalism – employed with the correct series of caveats – has the potential to bring even the most disenfranchised out of poverty. As Abigail noted, “Gates did an admirable job of reminding everyone that ?the genius of capitalism lies in its ability to make self-interest serve the wider interest.?”

The following day, Roben Farzad discussed his motivations for writing the BusinessWeek cover story “Can Greed Save Africa” at Columbia University in New York. Farzad’s story, which appeared back in November, chronicles the experience of current foreign investment initiatives in Sub-Saharan Africa. These investments were not driven by philanthropic desires, but rather by self-interest and the realization by individual entrepreneurs that not only is there an abundance of resources to be utilized (which has historically been where the thought process has stopped), but that there is also a market to be tapped.

With BoP populations not only considered the source of resources but also as their primary consumers, it is in companies? own interests to make sure to not only make their products desirable and affordable to these people, but also to give them enough financial security to become consumers. Whether that happens to a large enough extent–soon enough–to give the BoP population the leverage necessary to keep investors from pulling out if something destabilizing were to happen is yet to be seen.
Upcoming events include the 2008 Tech Museum Awards, which recognize innovators and scientists who use technology to benefit humanity. They will be held on February 5th at the Marian Koshland Science Museum at the Corner of 6th and E Streets, NW in Washington, DC.

The Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institute will hold the inaugural meeting of its Global Young Professionals Program on February 27 at 6:30 pm.

Additionally, The Africa Entrepreneurship Program will be launched on February 28th at The Harvard Club of New York City. These events will all be discussed in greater detail next week.