"Visions of World Benefit & Global Responsibility: Perspectives of McGill Students

Friday, August 10, 2007

A Dream

Today, out of the 194 [recognized] countries in the world, only 31 are considered to be “advanced economies” according to the International Monetary Fund. Out of the almost 7 billion people in the world, 60% live in poverty. In the 50 “least developed” countries, more than 50% of the population lives on less than 1$ US a day. And the number of people in misery is growing.

As one part of the world is developing at a faster pace than every before, the “other half of the world” is facing continuous degradation, gnawing poverty and is falling further and further behind. Some say that this is simply the natural selection in action – survival of the fittest, – but what it actually shows is the incessant exploitation of the weaker countries by the developed world, further facilitated by globalization. The desperation of the poor is being translated into lower wages and dependency on the global companies who have little regard for the well-being, and least of all development of the hosting country. It seems like the North is content with letting the rest of the world remain where they are, growing and building up on the misery of millions, using them as disposable resources and throwing them out once their profitability goes down. Globalization is constantly being blamed for the deprivation of the poor, and not without a reason – it made it easier for companies to use the resources available in other countries, including the cheap labour in the Southern Hemisphere. However, it can also provide the solution for the eradication of poverty – much in the way it caused it.

I think that the most difficult thing to see in the world is the unnecessary waste of human life and potential that could instead be used to better the world as we know it. Every person can make a difference, and although I strongly believe that in today’s world anyone can do anything they want, if they want it enough, it is without a doubt extremely difficult to do with limited resources that so many possess. Those who do have the opportunities and the capabilities to realise their dreams often forget about those who do not, but what if they did remember? What if those who can would help those who cannot? What if…?

How beautiful would the world be? How much easier would life in general be for everyone? Perhaps, we could completely eradicate poverty, prevent diseases, cease pollution, solve world conflicts, increase the standard of living for everyone, work less, spend more time with family, laugh, enjoy life… Maybe we could even change the mentality of the humankind –instead of the fragmented and egotistical social groups make a more holistic society that works together for the common good. The truth is, just as the problems seem to be endless right now, the possibilities to end them are truly limitless.

One of the ways to improve the living conditions of the millions that suffer is to stimulate the local economy in order to strengthen the social system – entrepreneurship is a powerful tool that can help a developing nation achieve its potential. The people of a struggling country can take back the power and dignity through labour that not simply provides for the one day’s nourishment, but also helps develop a sustainable and productive community. In order to do that, the people need capital and knowledge – both hard to come by in their situations. In fact, most are so busy trying (and rarely succeeding) to provide for basic needs like shelter and food, that they cannot even fathom exerting any more effort in order to start a business or even invest in the betterment of their surroundings. And so, the main goal of any plan to help those who, at the present time, cannot help themselves, is to provide them with sufficient resources to be able to start up something that would allow them to live better and, in turn, to help others. I believe that getting different groups to work together for the common good can provide unlimited beneficial results that would exponentially grow over time. Somehow, in the wildly chaotic world that we have today, people who have opportunities have forgotten about the rest of the world – or, perhaps, they do not want to remember. The underdeveloped world becomes the dirty street no one wants to drive down, and when they do, they lock the door, roll up the windows and blast the music so the misery outside of the car does not find a way into the carefully organized and meticulously clean interior. Most would rather ignore than do something about the despair of the adults and children who seem to have completely lost control over their own lives, perpetuating the cycle of sorrow and agony. But I have faith in the humankind and the endless possibilities of the human mind. I believe everything can be mended, secured, and patched up. I believe we, together, can eradicate poverty and breed sustainability.

I strongly believe that incorporating the right resources could potentially solve all of the major problems we have today in the world. In the end, all of them are so interconnected – underdevelopment and poverty, hunger and disease, lack of education and standard of living – that solving one problem would provide at least a part of a solution for another.

Muhammad Yunnus and his organization Grameen Bank have been providing microcredits to poor and low-income people since1970’s. A microcredit is a small loan that can be repaid over a very long period of time to make the payment amounts very small and regular – easier to repay. These microcredits are not given simply as welfare – the basis for them is to encourage enterprise or simply improve the standard of living. Since its establishment, Grameen Bank has had an impressive record with almost 99% repayment rate and significant contribution to its founder’s country, Bangladesh. Grameen Bank is not the only one. The Dutch Microcredits for Mothers is an example of a NGO with specific vision: it focuses on providing microcredits to women in Asia, helping them start their own businesses and survive on their own. The Kenya Red Cross Society has been actively participating in training farmers in areas of severe droughts to be more productive in their use of the land in order to not only survive natural disasters, but also to sustain a level of acceptable living.

Even though the Grameen Bank and other NGOs that focus on microcredits are providing a remedy for the present problems, they receive criticism for the way they undertake their actions. Sudhirendar Sharma, a development analyst from Bangladesh, has been critical of the Grameen Bank’s program because it “perpetuates poverty” by luring its borrowers into a debt-trap. The former Prime Minister of Bangladesh also accused Grameen Bank of being corrupt. In truth, although the basic principles of the Grameen Bank model have the potential to be sustainable in the future, they are missing several crucial ideas that could ensure the program’s success.

It is not enough to merely provide funds to those in need – especially when the beneficiaries may lack the knowledge of how to efficiently use the money they are given. An alternative of angel investors – those who invest capital and knowledge in developing enterprises, but at the same time become active partners – is not always the best option because it takes away from personal responsibility of the people. One of the most important aspects of developing an economy has to be giving its people the confidence and the proud ownership of their own lives – instead of confining them to someone else’s knowledge and experience, we must set them free.

First off, the model of Grameen Bank can be a viable one – it is the other conditions around it that would make a difference between success and failure. The microcredits are to be granted on case-by-case basis, without unnecessary paperwork to fill out. After all, some of the people that need the investment cannot necessarily express in a particular form the objective of their “enterprise”. Most critics of the model insist that because the money for the investment is initially granted by charities, the entire program resembles welfare. This is where the first change comes in.

It is crucial to remember that the entire purpose of the advancement of developing countries is for the amelioration of the entire world, and not only local economies. While the first step is to focus on the countries and territories of particular desolation, it is but the first step in the greater mosaic of the world. And so, it is very important, from the very beginning, to involve all possible levels of community, economy, business and government.

A portion of the revenue for a corporation is simply interest incurred on idle money in banks and investment. To multi-million dollar companies, the interest revenue is not of the utmost importance, and is rather a convenience. But to those who borrow microcredits of 30$-300$, it is a virtually infinite amount of money. What if but a portion of that went to people who actually need the money?

The money that would come for the program would be only a portion of the interest incurred by the global corporations such as Exxon Mobil or General Motors for capital holding in any given bank. (It is very ironic that the banks who are often blamed for the corruption of the society’s moral fabric can also be the first ones to start providing solutions.) It is crucial to get the entire world community involved because the purpose is not merely to eradicate poverty, but to make sure it would not happen again to anyone. Cooperation is the key. It is true that the more money someone has, the more unwilling he or she is to part with it – and so it is important to get the governments and banks themselves to stand behind the decision to make the world a better place.

And so, first action would be to set up a revolving fund that would accumulate the small percentage of the interest incurred by the global corporations doing business in so many countries of the world – consider it a kind of “tax” for reaping the benefits of globalization. It must not have any political, economical or religious affiliations because it has to be open for any person in the world without discrimination or pressure.

One the fund is set up, probably the most ambitious step has to be undertaken. The world has to be united.

Do not misunderstand, dear reader, for the unification of the world as we know it is probably light years ahead – there are too many conflicts and unresolved misunderstandings, and after all – no one wants the nations to lose their unique appeal and attraction. However, it is very important for humanitarian organizations and all NGOs to start sharing all of their resources and knowledge. The truth of the matter is, as helpful as they are, the government and non-government organizations are often as fragmented as the countries they are trying to help, though not as aggressive. The information flow is never complete, and as such the efficiency is not at its potential. The second stage in the fight against disparity in the world is to unite the resources used by different organizations in order to be able to better distribute appropriate help. This “unification” or a sort would provide necessary training for the people who want to make a difference because limitless resources would be available at their fingertips. At the moment, it is painfully difficult to find organized resources about the developing countries – most sources are more focused at the economies that are actually succeeding, and there is little information about the plight of those who, at the moment, seem to be unable to make a difference in their own lives. The unity of organizations aimed at creating the world balance would make them more outreaching, more embracing and make the world interconnected with the people who see their purpose as creating a better world for future generations.

Thirdly, it will be up to the people to take social responsibility and share the knowledge of the world. Professionals in all areas – economics, medicine, education, technology – should be encouraged to take some time and share what they know with the developing world. That is not merely volunteer action, but instead a sharing learning opportunity that would prove to be fulfilling to everyone involved. For, as mentioned before, the capital itself is not always enough to stimulate the enterprise properly. The people should also be given an opportunity to learn how to do their business more efficiently. For example, if agriculture experts would take some time to help a village in drought-stricken region of Kenya, it would be possible to transform the lives of the people and give them tools to develop their own economy. If the way they have been doing farming is not sufficient for feeding their families and mere survival, perhaps adjusting what they do will reap better results. All of this is possible through cooperation – which is key in solving today’s problems.

Finally, it is important for the people who receive help to become socially conscious themselves. One must never forget the hardships and always be willing to continue the cycle of renewal. The microcredits, once repaid, should be re-invested in the community. The initial receivers of microcredits should be encouraged to empower other business in their local economy. After all, who else is better to show the better use of microcredits and other resources than those who were the original beneficiaries? And thus, the circle of help would be completed only to start over and over again.

As you see, the contribution of the North is minimal in the standards of our developed society, while it is the almost magical to the developing South. The money is not given to organizations to distribute the supplies they may deem necessary to the people they may or may not know much about, but instead given to the people themselves with the option of learning how to better use it. This program would give the personal power to the people, not to the governments or ruling classes, which is the central idea in developing local economies. Since the receivers of microcredits would be re-investing them in their localized economies, it would promote sustainability while developing areas of the globe that are currently considered to be draining. In the future, education would extend from the necessary training to the full-scope programs. It is true that a program such as this would be difficult to implement at the beginning, but once the system is set up, it would work on its own to better the world situation – much like ignoring the problems at the moment is perpetuating the tragedy.

The most difficult step is the first one, and so it is making the large corporations that are too busy trying to grow bigger and bigger stop for a moment and take a look around the world – look at the shocking poverty and continuous suffering of more than 3 billion people that are being exploited to make more profit. There are CEOs that are becoming more conscious about the world around them, but most of the other ones are too busy. Well, it is time to make them realize. It is time to teach them and everyone else who is content with switching the channel when upsetting news about the Third World come on. After all, “Third World” is such an artificial concept. There is only one, and we live in it.

And so, everything is possible – with the help of dedicated visionaries, the number of which is growing in the world. It is taking a while, for so many people are too busy with their own individual lives to look up and see the big picture. But, as sure as the sun comes up, change is on the horizon. It will come. For now, it is merely a question of how long it will take until we wake up and see the problems for what they really are – simply obstacles beyond which lies a brighter tomorrow, when no one suffers unnecessarily, and no one is left out of the society as an “externality”. The memory of the difficult times will remain, though, and for a good reason – to remind those who succeeded about those who did not, and to show that sometimes it is only a matter of an idea about changing the world that can transform a fragmented civilization into a paradise.

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