business makes the world go ’round.

Recently, at a rally in Las Vegas, Romney was quoted as saying:

I was speaking with one of these business owners who owns a couple of restaurants in town. And he said You know I’d like to change the Constitution, I’m not sure I can do it,’ he said. ‘I’d like to have a provision in the Constitution that in addition to the age of the president and the citizenship of the president and the birthplace of the president being set by the Constitution, I’d like it also to say that the president has to spend at least three years working in business before he could become president of the United States.’

You see then he or she would understand that the policies they’re putting in place have to encourage small business, make it easier for business to grow.

I understand that his whole campaign is centered around the fact that because he has a business background he is not only qualified, but more qualified, to be President.  But, you would think the candidate of a party that idolizes an actor would have realized that this was not the smartest thing to say.

This was a silly comment for a number of reasons, the most obvious being that history has proven that a background in business, if anything, has a negative correlation with a successful presidency.  But also because this comment is based off of one person that believes business should be a prerequisite for Presidency.   And, sure, maybe that shows that some people would prefer to have a businessman as President.  They want someone in office who understands business because they want policies to be made in their favor.  Fine.  But, I’m sure a lot of professionals would say the same thing.  A farmer would most likely prefer someone with an agricultural background.  A lawyer, someone with a legal background.  A doctor, someone with a medical background.  If you’re homeless, it would be nice to have a President who has also been homeless at some point.  And as a social entrepreneur, I would really love a President who understands that you can make a profit and give back at the same time.  That there is a holistic way of looking at business that factors society and the environment into the equation.  Does that mean that all of these should be prerequisites in order to be President?  Of course not.  A constitutional amendment is just ludicrous.

The fact that one person thinks this way does not concern me.  It is naive.  But most of the country is naive when it comes to certain aspects of politics.  You can’t expect everyone to understand or even care about all aspects of government.  Most people care about the things that affect them directly.

But the fact that someone who could be our next President references this idea as one of the big reasons why he should be President does concern me.

I want a President who knows about more than business.  Because in order to be President, you have to know the law.  You have to know how government works.  You have to know economics.  And by economics I mean macroeconomics, not finance.  You have to know something about international relations and foreign policy.  Knowledge of international development would be helpful.  What about healthcare and education?  Advisors can fill in the knowledge gaps for all of these areas.  But most importantly you have to know your fellow men and women.  Not just a section of the population.  You have to be able to understand, connect with, and have empathy for every single American.  Advisors can’t help you with that.

Romney has shown time and time again that he can’t seem to connect with every single American.  He can connect with business men and women like the owner of two restaurants.  He can connect with the wealthy.  He can connect with those who make it their life goal to make as much money as possible.  But he can’t connect with the people who don’t care that much about wealth.  He can’t connect with people who aren’t cutthroat competitive, not to be confused with lazy.  He can’t connect with people who put other aspects of life ahead of making money.  The people who would rather eat dinner every single night with their family than slave away at the office.  The people who work three jobs, not because they are greedy but because they are doing everything they can so that their children can get a better education and have access to better opportunities.  The people who have no other choice because they are part of a system that is designed to keep them at the bottom.  Our President needs to be able to connect with the bottom 1% as much as the top 1%.

Romney truly believes that business and money make the world go round.  He can’t seem to wrap his mind around the fact that success isn’t always defined by the number in your back account.  And that is what scares me most about the possibility of Romney being our next President.

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nike: a csr cinderella story.

I had originally planned on writing about the inherent unethical nature of our modern day food system.  The New York Times recently released the top 6 essays on the ethics of eating meat.  As a vegetarian and former vegan I was intrigued.  And it gave me a lot to think about.

But, then, I saw Leon Kaye from Green Go Post‘s article on Nike.  After spending some time perusing their latest update on their sustainability and corporate responsibility efforts, I knew I had to write about them.

I like to refer to Nike as a “Cinderella Story”.

From the moment I started working on Give To Get Jobs, I became very involved in the corporate social responsibility community.  I hadn’t thought about Nike in a long time and I certainly did not buy their products.  I didn’t think very highly of Nike.  

When I thought of Nike I thought of two things:

1) sweatshops and child labor; and

2) the interview the then CEO had given with Michael Moore when he used the “it’s better than nothing” argument.

I was just starting to get involved in international human rights as a middle school kid in the 90s.  I remember the sweatshop issues that were brought to light around Nike.  That really was my first learning experience about the importance of fair trade.  And fair trade was something I bought into right away.  So, this event cemented my distaste for Nike for over the next decade.  

When I started becoming involved in the corporate social responsibility community about a year and a half ago, I started hearing about Nike again.  But this time, it wasn’t about sweatshops.  It was about the sustainability work they were doing.  I heard over and over again in #CSRChats that they were a leader in CSR.  Part of me just couldn’t wrap my mind around that.  As I dug deeper and started to learn more about the work they are doing, I realized just how incredible Nike had become.  They are doing some truly amazing and innovative work in sustainability.  And suddenly I became one of Nike’s biggest fans.

There are a number of reasons why I have fallen in love with Nike.  Their latest CSR report highlights a lot of these reasons.  But here’s a few that stand out:

Labor: They acknowledge the struggles they had in the 90s and are super transparent about where they have come and how far they still have to go.  They even include an interactive chart on where their factories fall as far as ratings are concerned.

They also recognize that they have control over a lot of the deficiencies in the supply chain system.  Overtime, for example, is a direct result of their production timelines and seasonal spikes.  They are looking into decreasing excessive overtime through making changes in their forecasting and other areas of their supply chain.

Product Design & Materials:  They start off by stating:

The “age of abundance” is over. Conspicuous consumption, wanton waste of natural resources, cheap energy – those days are long gone. In this new world, resources are scarce, and sustainability is a business imperative.

Nike is a leader among MNCs when it comes to sourcing and manufacturing sustainably.  Nike uses organic cotton, recycled polyester, environmentally preferred rubber, leather that is signed off on by the Leather Working Group, and synthetic leather whenever possible.  They are continually increasing the ratio of environmentally preferred materials to non environmentally preferred materials.

And look at this:

Manufacturing: Nike released a Manufacturing Map.  Nike’s supply chain is massive.  This map provides details about every single one of their factories.  It’s impressive.  Not too many MNCs are as transparent as Nike is when it comes to their supply chain.

Waste: Nike’s ultimate goal is to have a zero waste system.  They aim to only use resources that can be fully recyclable.  Most of their waste currently comes from packaging in shipping.  A runner up is the waste generated by footwear manufacturing.  To tackle this, one of the things Nike is doing is converting to 100% recycled shoeboxes.  They are open about the fact that they have a long way to go, but they are actively working towards zero waste.

Community: Nike gives a lot.  They are particularly passionate about Sport for Development programs.  Here’s some stats on the people they impact:

Public Policy: I don’t think I agree with them on much of their public policy involvement.  But I appreciate their transparency.

So, there you have it.  These are the reasons why I went from being a Nike hater to a Nike lover.  And I bet more people would love Nike if they only knew about all of the great work they are doing.

A bad reputation can stick with a brand for a long time.  Most of the people I have talked to about Nike immediately think of sweatshops as well.  They automatically assume that Nike is as unethical as ever.  But, Nike has truly turned themselves around.  More people need to know about the corporate responsibility and sustainability work they are doing.  Because when it comes to CSR, they are truly a Cinderella story. 

I wonder if we’ll be able to say the same thing about Apple in 10 years?

the translator: daoud hari’s memoir on darfur and the plight of refugees.

I just finished reading The Translator: A tribesman’s memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari.  Hari recounts his time traveling and working with journalists throughout Sudan and Chad as a translator.  Given the situation in Sudan and his line of work, part of the book takes place in refugee camps.

I have long been interested in the plight of refugees.   Refugee camps are necessary.  But some of these temporary camps end up being not so temporary.  One of the largest refugee camps, Dadaab in Kenya, turned 20 last year.  Some people have spent their whole loves living in a refugee camp.  And there is no indication that they will be moving any time soon.

Describing the camps on the Chad/Sudan border, Hari states: 

Canvas and plastic make very hot shelters in a desert, and these were what the world had sent-exactly the wrong thing and not nearly enough of it… With all the bright people in the world and so much wealth, could there not be humane shelters for such times if we are a family?  Let a peace prize be reserved for those who can someday do this moral favor for humanity. (74)

This is something I have thought about for a long time.  Makeshift homes in refugee camps around the world are made up of canvas and plastic tents.

.source: UNHCR.

.source: UNHCR.

And those tents are better than in some other areas of the world.

.source:UNHCR.

Providing emergency shelter for millions of people is no doubt a difficult task.  But, I have a feeling there has not been a whole lot of innovation regarding these housing structures in decades.  And I think there are still steps that can be made.

Take crowdsourcing.  The UNHCR recently granted engineers at Southern Methodist University a $250,000 grant to help UNHCR provide safer drinking water in current and future camps.  The same could be done for an architectural school.  Ask architecture students to come up with a very low cost durable structure that can help create a home worthy of living in for an indefinite amount of time.

For another possible solution, I look to fellow social entrepreneurs.  Social enterprises are working on solving some of the biggest international development issues facing the world today.  I know there has to be a model that can work for this as well.

And while you’re all at it, try and come up with a safe, durable, and affordable structure for Americans too.  Mobile homes just can’t stack up against tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.  As a result, the poor get hit the hardest by a natural disaster.  But I digress…

Another thing that Hari brought up, is something that I have discussed a little bit on the blog.  Again referring to conditions in the refugee camps, Hari states:

It might be possible for the wealthy nations or the U.N. to send fuel with the food, or to help the refugees build efficient stoves, but this was not being done. (90)

There’s a general theme here.  And you see this happen frequently in international development.  People want to help.  It’s one of the best attributes of mankind.  But, people have a tendency to assume what people need instead of asking them.  It really doesn’t take much effort to ask what people need.  And to respond accordingly.  It could save the world a lot of time and resources and help a lot more people in the process.

Finally, there was another way that Hari mentioned helping refugees.

It helps many people just to have someone listen and write their story down; if their suffering is noted somewhere, by someone, anyone, then they can more easily let loose of it because they know where it is. (80)

This is so spot on.  It helps to let go when you can mentally put your story someplace else.  It doesn’t have to live and circulate constantly in your head.   Those memories safely reside somewhere else.  And to this end, the opportunity to tell your story is essential.  Another opportunity for social enterprise perhaps?

There is no easy solution to the massive amount of refugees and internally displaced persons the are being  or have been forced from their homes.  But, I think we can continue to innovate to make life in a refugee camp a little more dignified.

In the meantime, I highly recommend you read The Translator.

what i’ve been reading.

Once again, the writing seems to slow but the reading never does.  Here are the articles from the past week that I have left open on my computer with the intention of musing on them at some point…

Wikileaks’ Death Knell for Invisible Children’s Kony 2012? via Justice in Conflict

Latest (Microcredit) Impact Research: Inching Towards Generalization via CGAP by David Roodman

Does Anyone at Apple Have a Soul via Foreign Policy

Another Bite of the Apple via Foreign Policy

Foxconn Bears the Brunt of Ivory Tower Assault on Capitalism via TechCrunch

Haitian Farmers Call on US to Stop Subsidizing Its Own via Global Post

Nebraska Votes To Restore Prenatal Medicaid for Illegal Immigrants via Global Post

These Inmates Pay Their Debt to Society By Caring for the Planet via CoExist by Fast Company

Yes, I Just Paid $1,600 for a Set of Encyclopedia Brittanica via Freakonomics

 

take a break.

When I was going through somewhat of a rough patch right at the end of college, my husband used to text me short inspirational quotes that he would make up on the fly daily.  (Yup, he’s pretty awesome).  I typed them up in a word document so I would always remember them.  I just rediscovered this word document the other day.  And this quote jumped out at me.  Such a wise man, that husband of mine.

We spend our lives searching for meaning.  Take a break.  Let it find you.

Dan McCoy

It’s such simple advice.  But it’s something we often forget.  Everyone wants to find meaning in their life.  Everyone wants to know where they fit in the grander scheme of things.  More often than not, we try to force it.  But that’s not the way life works.  Which brings me to another one of my favorite quotes, this one by someone a little bit more well known:

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

John Lennon

No matter how many plans you make. No matter how many lists you make.  Life will work itself out on its own.  And usually where you end up is someplace entirely different than you originally thought you would.

If you told me I would be a social entrepreneur even two years ago, I never would have believed you.  I didn’t set out on a path to launch a social enterprise.  But somehow that path found me.  And here I am coming up on our one year anniversary.

Who knows where I’ll end up next.  But instead of dwelling on it, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the ride.

sanitary pads in rural india, are they really changing lives for the better?

I read this article yesterday in Triple Pundit on How A Humble Sanitary Pad is Changing the Lives of Rural Women in India by Akhila Vijayaraghavan.  Basically, Jayaashree Industries in India has found a low cost way to make sanitary pads.  The machine they created can produce 12o pads made of waste wood an hour.  The social enterprise sells these machines to women entrepreneurs in India.

Jayaashree Industries claims to address three major issues with this initiative:

  • Millions of women around the world cannot afford sanitary napkins, mainly because they’re manufactured using expensive machinery and thus priced at a premium. Such women resort to an older and cheaper alternative – a piece of cloth or rag. This is an unhygienic alternative and can cause vaginal infections, skin irritations and embarrassing stains in public. But by reducing the unit price of a napkin, Muruganantham’s model enables women to switch over to napkins – dignity must never be unaffordable.
  • A light-weight and voluminous product like the sanitary napkin introduces high transportation cost. This model allows local production and thus solves the problem.
  • Muruganantham’s model addresses the issue of rampant unemployment amongst the poor in rural, urban and semi-urban areas of all developing nations.

Overall, Muruganantham’s model offers livelihood, hygiene, dignity and empowerment to women all over the world. And it does so using a sustainable business framework.

Yes, lack of access to feminine products in developing countries can be a problem as Jayaashree Industries points out.  Yes, this social enterprise does have the ability to create much needed jobs.  But, there is a development problem that this ignores and actually contributes to.  And that is trash.

The cost-benefit of providing sanitary pads to women in rural areas was first brought to my attention while I was in Nepal.  We were discussing how sometimes development programs are one step ahead and ignore what people truly need.  This is the case with sanitary pads.

In Nepal, many of the small communities outside of the city centers do not have a trash system.  It’s not like the United States where a garbage truck comes around once a week to pick up your trash and cart it off.  That doesn’t exist.  So, what happens to the sanitary pads?  They get discarded on the side of the road.  The women we lived with were very candid about this issue.  They were more than happy to share the fact that they simply toss them outside.

The lack of sanitary pads might be a personal hygiene issue.  But, having used sanitary pads littered around the community produces another, potentially bigger, hygiene issue.

Now, to be fair, I don’t know much about rural India.  I have never been to rural India myself.  But, I imagine it’s at least somewhat similar to Nepal.  And if that’s the case I doubt many of the communities they are selling this machine to have a trash system.

You can’t start selling sanitary pads if there isn’t an appropriate trash system in place to deal with the waste.  You need to focus on creating the trash system first.  It’s not nearly as glamorous of a cause, but it’s equally necessary.

skoll world forum: eve ensler and the transfer of money.

The Skoll World Forum.  I look forward to it every single year.  It is arguably the best and biggest conference on social enterprise.  It takes place in Oxford.  So, I have never had the privilege to attend in person.  Luckily, they live stream most of the events.  And the two day conference never fails to inspire.

Eve Ensler, the playwright behind The Vagina Monologues, spoke at the morning plenary session.  You can watch the video here.  The speech she gave about women and violence was a phenomenal speech. But a few things she said really resonated with me:

We want to own people or we want to save people with money. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be owned and I don’t want to be saved.

Enthusiasm isn’t the guide.  It’s got to be listening and serving other people.  The Congolese know exactly what they need.  They just don’t have the resources.  They don’t need people giving them directions.  They don’t need people giving them advice.  They don’t need people leading their way. What they need is the money and the wind at their backs…

Eve looks at money differently than most people.  She views it as energy.  An energy you send out into the world that gets transfered from person to person.  Transferring that energy is what matters.   Money shouldn’t be about control or power.  It is simply a resource and a means to an end.  It does not always have to have strings attached.

What she said is true.  People tend to use money to own other people or to save other people.  But when you do that you take away form a person’s individual agency.  You disempower them.  So, when you give money.  Just give it.  Make that transfer and then let it go.

Eve summed up what international development should be about far better than I ever could:

It’s about showing up when you’re needed and disappearing when you’re not.