Live Simply

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"Play outdoors. Love the earth. Live simply. Use only what you need."

That’s a line I read recently in an amazing article about a MLB player who spends his offseason living out of a van, leads a really cool life, and is most unconventional though having the resources to be rather flamboyant. I love the idea of living simply - making experience more priority than material. 

We collect so much throughout our life, and many times it just becomes excessive. I'm one of the worst perpetrators of them all, and I feel terribly guilty when I look at some of the things I have and do not need. We all sometimes could be guilty of collecting too much. It’s so easy in this environment we live in to fall into the trap of consuming more and more even when it’s not necessary, oftentimes because of a subconscious (or conscious) effort to portray ones success. So much money is wasted by people trying to play up to the ideals of others. Those who incorrectly believe that material possessions are a symbol of true wealth are on a never-ending quest for something bigger, better, and more expensive - but why?

Living in Spain, I noticed that people were content with much smaller cars, fewer clothes, quaint accommodation, and meager portions. After living there for a year out of a suitcase and a duffle, I knew I had too many possessions back home. My thinking was justified when looking back even further, where I lived out of a backpack for the good part of a year before going to Spain. I was happy with the things I had there, so it really made me question my excess back home. I had a conversation with a friend about this as we traveled together before I journeyed back to the United States, and we decided to make a pact to declutter our lives in at least one way, and that was to simplify our wardrobe. When I got home, I emptied a closet to make space for my 'now' everyday clothes. I also rid of at least a dozen pairs of shoes, though admittedly, I'm a bit over the top with shoes in the first place. In the end, it made for such a freeing experience that provided me a little more peace, and ambition to continue the process in other areas of my life. 

 
 

As I contemplated what made me most happy, I realized there were no material items on that list. I was happy spending time with people I love. For you, the reader, those people may be a partner, children, parents, family, best friends, teachers, or whoever, so find time to do things with them, talk to them, and be intimate with them. Also, find time to experience solitude, make time for yourself to meditate and think. Ponder important questions. Walk a little bit slower. Eat a little less rapidly. Drive with a sense of calm. Most of all, be present. My roommate in South Africa always preached to me about the latter, being present - though it can be hard to maintain this state of mind, it is amazing at how it simplifies your life. Living here and now, in the moment, keeps you aware of life, of what is going on around you and within you, and does wonders for your sanity.

So many articles have been written concerning the psychology research that shows experiences bring people more happiness than do possessions. Essentially, they seem to say that experiences provide happiness before, during, and after the ‘purchase’ or time, and that happiness last much longer. Think about the way you feel towards your phone, your shoes, or any item that you are around so often. There is a diminishing return on those items provision of happiness as they become customary to our daily routine. They deteriorate or become obsolete. It's the fleetingness of experiential purchases that endears us to them. Either they're not around long enough to become imperfect, or they are imperfect, but our memories and stories of them get sweet with time. Even a bad experience becomes a good story. 

Many people are indeed resetting their priorities to reflect the notion that valuing experiences over things makes for a more happy human. Rather than going out to buy the newest Louboutins, Macbook, or BMW, they resort to going somewhere beautiful with people they love to get that surge of happiness. Psychology studies show this to be true, and I would have a hard time arguing the case. 

A friend of a friend, a guy who seems to get this concept and lives out an incredible story, named Jed Jenkins, posed these questions - "Do your friends explode with life and give you life and you reflect it right back at them so that no one owns it and everyone owns it all at once? When you're in a crowd, are you aware of how you're coming across? Are you worried about that? Are you actually interested in the people you're talking to? Do you tell people they look lovely when they do?" He hints at being an authentic individual, focusing on the people around us instead of whimsical desires for flattery or recognition. In the end, my challenge is to simplify my life, elude the desire to overly consume, reduce unnecessary stressors, grow as a friend, love others, and be present. 

Inequality and Education - Rewriting No Child Left Behind

The importance of a strong education, a solid foundation of knowledge, cannot be overstated. In a speech to the Senate, U.S. Senator Michael F. Bennet went on to speak about the unequivacol responsibility we have as a nation, at every level of government, to acknowledge the freedom from ignorance. We must find ways to better educate our children - through cross-sectoral, bi-partisan efforts - or whatever method necessary to bridge the inequality gap and generate a more successful, more capable, more knowledgeable people. The U.S. Senate is looking at an opportunity to debate and reform our current outlook on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is long over due. 

In reference to the inequality gap, he proclaims, “… in a way that is profoundly at war with our founding ideals, poverty breeds deeper poverty; lack of educational achievement breeds deeper academic failure; and broken families are the surest predictor of more broken families in the next generation and the generation beyond that."

Senator Bennet approaches the subject from the perspective of a parent, in an attempt to hypothesize a real stake in the outcome of our nations children. He emphasizes how important it is for Washington not to micromanage schools and perpetuate a system that drives compliance rather than creativity, but rather support local initiatives that tackle issues in the context that works best for the community and their students. He emphasizes the importance of good teachers and better, the administrators that support them.

I love one of his conclusive statements, in which he says, “In the end, we have a duty as a Nation to ensure that education liberates our children, rather than reinforces the circumstances into which they were born.

He’s couldn’t be more right, and I surely hope that our leadership does the right thing in updating their outlook on education reform, moving to rework No Child Left Behind in a way that improves equity and accountability, provokes innovation, and ultimately allows for greater opportunities and freedom. 

Read the transcript of his speech here or watch the video below.

Global Learning XPRIZE: Bringing Basic Literacy to Children Globally

XPRIZE, a nonprofit that holds global competitions for people and organizations to build products that advance humankind, announced a new competition focused on basic education.

Similar to the Orteig Prize from the 1920s, offering $25,000 to the first aviator to reach Paris from New York on a non-stop flight, or vice-versa, the XPRIZE takes on a similar belief in competition to fuel advancements in technologies. Creating a competition around an issue drives public interest and investments in new technology.

Their initial competition was an air race of sorts, the Ansari XPRIZE, which was intended for research and development in technology for space exploration. The prize was for the first non-government organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft multiple times within a certain period of time. It was awarded in 2004, and we can see many ventures into space exploration from private entities today as a result of that competition. 

At the Social Good Summit, Peter Diamandis announced their newest competition to empower children to take control of their own learning. The $15 million Global Learning XPRIZE is a competition that challenges teams from around the world to develop open source scalable software solution that will enable children in developing countries to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic. There are an estimated 250 million children worldwide who lack basic literacy, which inhibits their ability to lift themselves from poverty. 

Many kids simply don't have access to schools or teachers. The traditional model of education simply isn't making the impact we need, so XPRIZE created this competition to develop a new way of learning so that education is accessible in the far corners of the earth, for every child. 

XPRIZE is holding a crowdfunding campaign to raise $500,000 by November 6, 2014. The funds that are raised will be used to test the software developments in more areas to have better quality feedback, to create an powerful collaborative environment so teams are successful as possible, to building and growing a global community, and finally towards building and supporting a bedrock of open-education technology. 

Diamandis nailed it before walking off the stage today, saying, "The technology exist. The drive and passion exist. Let's just go make it happen!" 


Note from Station Road in Athenry

I have spent a good amount of time traveling around various parts of the world. I love the lessons each place has to offer, but one of my very favorite things to see in each and every place I go are the friends and family of travelers either saying goodbye or welcome home. It's a very small part of each journey, whether I'm in an airport, train station or bus terminal, but it's something I love to sit and watch. 

This small instance, often overlooked, is one that I consciously look out for. The human element in seeing people so vulnerable is endearing. No matter the circumstances, every person coming or going has a unique story, so I may never really know the power of the tears, of the embraces, and if they are joyful or sorrowful. 

I remember the faces, the cries, whether it's a mother hugging a child one last time before boarding a bus, a friend embracing another one last time before parting ways at an airport, grandparents bending down to welcome their grandchildren in open arms, or a small family standing outside the window of a train car waving goodbye to a mother or father until the train finally departs.

Each story is beautiful in it's own right, and it's my constant reminder that each of us is human, that each of us love, and that doesn't vary much place to place. It's one more reminder that people are not so different from me. It's one more reminder to challenge stereotypes and combat bigotry. It's also my reminder of what's waiting for me at the end of the end of my own journey, and to cherish that moment entirely. 

In a few hours I'll leave this place behind, bringing many memories with me. But I'm very happy to say that I'm finally going home. 

These are the Questions

Questions on the human experience, on religion, purpose of humanity and the differences between other animals and ourselves, on friendships and paradigms, on arts and on cultures, to simple questions like 'what does your diet look like' or 'how do you exercise' have been asked. 

Escaping the rigor of everyday life, the typical schedule that each of us typically take on day in and day out takes a little time. But eventually we clear our heads, then we're able to embrace new experiences and begin to ponder important questions, the things we don't get to in our regular routine. Through the experience of breaking that routine and getting to experience it alongside another person that also embraces time for contemplation, I'm allowed the space to push my mind into new spaces and grow as a person. 

I think that's what's so great about getting out and seeing new things. We get lost, we see a new image or hear a new sound and it sparks our mind in a very particular way. We have to tussle with the unknown, with uncertainty, and it pushes our mind in new directions. We can drown in the overload of information that each of our senses brings in, or we learn to swim. Once we have a decent stroke, some of us never stop seeking out these experiences. I guess they say you catch the bug

I can understand that. My sense of adventure has never been so rampant. As I meet more and more people that come from different corners of the world and listen to their unique perspectives, I itch for more knowledge. Why subject myself to third party sources of knowledge when I know the story will be different on the ground? Every time I travel, I break barriers and ultimately put to rest stereotypes. Why live with a knowledge base built on other peoples perceptions when there is much more to each story, much more to experience oneself?

These are the questions we get to ponder - and for this time and experience in contemplation I am forever grateful.

Without Warning

I've spent half of the last three years away from home. When I say away from home, I mean outside of my home country. The last year alone was almost completely spent abroad due to being a student in Spain. There are definitely many good things that come from living abroad, and so many incredible and unique experiences are to be had. One thing I've come to notice though is that new friends don't replace old friends and the pull home still finds its way into my thoughts.

I love the adventure that is finding a new coffee spot in a foreign environment, but I sure miss those Sunday morning coffees with my roommate or mom while bundled up on our living room couches. I love visiting new places, museums, plazas, or parks with new people, but I miss visiting some regular old spots with the friends that I've been surrounded by for years - like those classic reunions in one of Northgate's watering holes on the eve of a Texas A&M football game. I love the dinners in new restaurants, where I get to experience new cuisines with new faces, but I still long for some of my grandmother's home-made meals where I'm surrounded by my family.

There really is a tug-of-war type relationship between every little intricacy that comes with living or traveling abroad and being home. It really comes down to the ability to balance these experiences and ones emotions. I know that I long after the alternative after having one in my grasp for a while - a longing for the open-road is ever-present all the while a longing for the comforts of home persist when away. It's something like a double-edged sword, though neither of these are bad in any way. Quite the contrary, really.

As I reach a point where I turn the page towards a new chapter in life, though refreshing, I still have some sense of anxiety as reality sets in and I come to understand that the life I have known for the previous year, the routine, the experiences, the friends, will soon become a distanced memory. It's all a part of growing older I suppose. It's not like I can't connect with those people in the future, but life surely will be different. The future is simply unknown, for all of us really, so we should simply cherish each moment for what it is, to the best of our ability, and remain steadfast in pursuing the best future possible.

In that time away though, I learned a few things about spending so much time distanced from 'home' if you will. I learned some things that nobody really warns you about, and I just wanted to share a few:

  • Going to a place outside of your country automatically makes you a walking-talking ambassador for your own. You will experience quite a few stereotypes being thrown at you, plus many blanketed statements, but you simply must embrace them. Roll with the punches. With that said, it is not right to back into a hole in muddled disbelief of your fellow countrymen when you know things are different to what some foreign individual's perception is of your home. Stand up and project the best image possible as an ambassador, but take the jabs with a grain of salt.
  • The small and seemingly insignificant moments will have a tremendous impact on you. The little things that people do for you to help enrich your experience will mean so much, and the feeling of inadequacy in showing gratitude for these types of moments makes your skin itch. Your hope then becomes that you will play a similar role in enhancing the experience of somebody else in a similar manner.
  • When you delve into a foreign environment, you become extremely vulnerable. That vulnerability sets you up to build new relationships quite easily, actually, but it also can lead to creating such a strong fondness for people that saying goodbye absolutely sucks. It can rip your heart to pieces. The tears burn your cheeks, and the pain that comes from uttering 'goodbye' feels physical because of the uncertainty in ones future.
  • Life goes on without you. You will miss significant moments - holidays, birthdays, graduations, and weddings. You will miss insignificant moments such as the casual happy hour or BBQ. While the experiences you are having while away are incredible, once-in-a-lifetime moments, the every-so-often picture of your best friends celebrating in your favorite bar back home or a reunion of sorts at a good friends wedding makes you hurt a little inside. You realize that everybody continues to thrive without you, and that's a good thing, but as happy as you should be, you still wish you would be in those pictures too.
  • Independence and responsibility are forced upon you - there is no escaping it. You no longer have mom and dad, brother, sister, roommate, cousin, or your best-friend's former ex-roommate's father there to pull you out of a bind, such as reclaiming your identity in a foreign language. The subtleties of adulthood fall upon you, and sometimes that just means you develop a new perspective on responsibility. In the end, you just grow-up, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Just plan on it.

European Commission 2030 Proposal – Target Stringency for EU ETS and ESD

On 22 January 2014 the European Commission proposed a new binding reduction target for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, calling for a 40% reduction from 1990 levels to be met through domestic measures aloneThe annual reduction in the cap would be increased from 1.74% now to 2.2% after 2020, and there is also a call for emissions outside of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to be cut by 30% below the 2005 level, which is to be shared across the Member States.

There are some critics to the European Commission’s proposals, though many do want to implement some of the proposals and believe that they are a step in the right direction in order to achieve long-term emissions reductions. Specifically, Carbon Market Watch claims that the 40% target proposed is not ambitious enough in order to meet targets of 80-95% reductions by 2050. They also point out that the use of international offsets needs to be reevaluated and EU-wide quality restrictions must be applied in order to protect European competitiveness.[iv] In their report they explain, “Despite the domestic nature of the EU’s 2030 GHG target, international offsets may be used by Member States that want to increase their own GHG targets beyond the EU-wide GHG targets. Between 2013 and 2020 more than two thirds of all issued offsets will come from large-scale business- as-usual energy projects that do not represent real emissions reductions because the projects would have gone ahead anyway. Instead of investing in clean energy projects in Europe, businesses are spending money on purchasing offsets from projects in developing countries that would have been built anyway. This is hardly a way to protect European competitiveness.”

On 21 March 2014, the European Council convened for their Spring Meeting and reviewed the Commission’s proposal to conclude that the new framework should be based on the following principles:

  • further improve coherence between greenhouse gas emissions reduction, energy efficiency and the use of renewables and deliver the objectives for 2030 in a cost-effective manner, with a reformed Emissions Trading System playing a central role in this regard;
  • develop a supportive EU framework for advancing renewable energies and ensure international competitiveness;
  • ensure security of energy supply for households and businesses at affordable and competitive prices;
  • provide flexibility for the Member States as to how they deliver their commitments in order to reflect national circumstances and respect their freedom to determine their energy mix.

As can be seen from the proposal in January, 20% reduction targets in 2020 would increase to 40% by 2030, and this is supposed to place the EU on track to meet the 80% reduction by 2050

The Council doesn’t specifically mention anything in regard to applying stringent targets for the EU ETS and ESD, but they do seem to comply with the ideas and proposals set forward by the Commission in stating that there should be further coherence between targets and ETS reform should play a central role in achieving their objectives. An agreement was made to make a final decision regarding the framework by October 2014 at the latest.

One of the major concerns for many is the ineffectiveness of carbon markets and the EU ETS due to the extreme surplus of emission allowances and international credits that has grown since 2009. At the start of Phase III of the EU ETS in 2013, the surplus stood at almost two billion allowances, and the European Commission’s anticipation is that although the surplus will discontinue to grow, there will not be much of a decline in allowances. Having so many allowances in the market risks damaging the orderly function of the carbon market, and furthermore presents ample risks for the ETS in it’s capability to meet demanding emission reduction targets in future phases..

Because of the over supply, current carbon prices are far from the prices ETS projections are based on. Therefore, the situation might be a call to transition focus on the Effort Sharing Decision (EDS) as well as the ETS. In the Energy Roadmap 2050 that was composed in 2011, it can be seen that they project the “contribution to the emission reductions [to be] driven by the ETS sectors which decrease emissions by 48% between 2005 and 2050; on the contrary the non-ETS sectors reduce by 21% compared to 2005.” Today we can see that the non-ETS sector target has been adjusted in January’s proposal, but clearly prevailing policy is not adequate and the proposals of late have been a testament to that.

Making a new legally binding reduction target that is to be met solely through domestic measures is telling, because there’s potential that the European Commission has learned from the past and understands the importance of making a compulsory, more aspiring objective outside of the ETS in order to hedge risk of it’s failure.** 


**The door is still open for international credits but subject to an international agreement and further tightening the caps.

Image source: Flickr with modification

CSR in SMEs - Intrinsically Driven?

In my other blog concerning social enterprise, I mention my belief that businesses are developed by their founders to initially fill a void and serve the people in one way or another. In the case of Apple, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniac wanted to bring the power of computers to the everyday person. In the case of Unilever, William Lever sold soap to save lives. In the case of Warby Parker, the four founders sought to create boutique-quality eyewear at a revolutionary price and ultimately strive to give everyone the right to see.

When companies are small, and as is the case for many SMEs in that they are often managed by their owners, the founder vision is typically at the heart of everyday decision making. SMEs typically have a more intimate connection with the community in which they operate because of the innate ties they have with their employees, partners, and suppliers who many times are based in the same community. This intimate connection fosters a more socially responsible enterprise in itself, without much conscious effort in doing so, simply due to the fact that so many personal connections are present and they are already so involved.

One question that was brought up in class was who should SMEs be responsible to?

Well like every functional business, SMEs are ultimately responsible to their stakeholders. The case could be made that SMEs have less impact than large companies, and while yes this is theoretically true, collectively SMEs have considerably more impact than bigger players. The case also could be made that SMEs would carry a heavier financial burden in practicing socially responsible measures, but time and time again SMEs have shown that socially responsible practice creates a considerable competitive advantage in todays marketplace. Well thought out measures and strong strategic implementation can carry heavy weight the success of an SME, as the key to success can arguably be sustainability.

So in trying to see what drives SMEs to take on more socially responsible practices, a number of things make the list: stipulations from larger corporations for their supply chain, customer and societal expectations, and then the aforementioned founder influence and competitive advantage derived from CSR all can be seen as drivers.

The impact SMEs might have may not be of gargantuan size as their larger counterparts, but they are indeed capable of doing some good. Just like any business, conscious efforts in achieving sustainable excellence pay for themselves in hedging risk and driving business opportunities. For these reasons alone, CSR should be at the helm of SME business operations. If not enough, the proximity of SMEs to many of their stakeholders should almost intrinsically drive their responsibility, and oftentimes does.

Night in the Sahara

Laying out under the night sky, few distractions beyond the sporadic murmur of foreign languages in the distance and a bit of Bob Marley playing softly by the two French guys laying behind me, on the outskirts of the Sahara desert. I'm in the middle of nowhere Morocco. After driving for an unknown but ridiculous amount of hours over two days, the group I was with got out of our van and finally mounted the backs of a few camels and rode two hours into the desert until arriving at a small camp at the foot of a few large sand dunes. It's been strange really, because after driving so many hours I've almost become numb to the sights around me. It does seem to become a little bit monotonous once you're on flat baron land after so much time. Riding camels out into the middle of the desert doesn't sound like the most fun really, especially when it's hot as hell and you're stopped at a hotel to wash up and use the bathroom. But now, now that I'm laying out here under the stars, the uncomfortable camel ride was completely worth it, and all the driving is slipping away. It's beautiful. 

It takes me back to the other opportunities I've had in which I was in completely desolate places, and the stars shine bright by the millions. It's amazing how much the full moon lights up the night sky, and now that my eyes are adjusted there's absolutely no need for a light. It's basically the sun - they just swapped places and this doesn’t make me red. I'm sleeping under the stars tonight, and I may regret it in the morning when sand, heat, and possibly scorpions envelope my body, but right now, it’s magical. 

Who knows how many chances I'll have to sleep in the Sahara, so I might as well make it memorable under the stars. I can't turn off my night light that is the moon, and the distant noises from presumably other camps will be the lullaby that puts me to sleep. 

Masalaama - tonight should be a good nights rest, insha’allah. 

Implications and Criticisms of ‘Greening’ Measures seen in CAP 2014-2020

Part of the EU Strategy looking to 2020 is intent on combatting climate and resource challenges that the EU will face, among otherthings. EU 2020 puts forward three mutually reinforcing priorities:

  • Smart growth: developing an economy based on knowledge and innovation.
  • Sustainable growth: promoting a more resource efficient, greener and more competitive economy.
  • Inclusive growth: fostering a high-employment economy delivering social and territorial cohesion.

Among many of the reforms that have been introduced in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a new emphasis will be placed in ‘greening’ the mechanisms within CAP beginning in 2014. The policy makers are trying to strengthen the environmental sustainability of agriculture and enhance the efforts of farmers in achieving said goal. In order to do so, one of the main reforms to the CAP looking to 2020 is the ‘greening’ of direct payments to farmers, among other instruments such as enhanced cross-compliance for climate change, a redesigned rural development policy, and an increase in the scope of the Farm Advisory System.

Michael Hamell, Head of Unit for Agriculture and Soil, European Commission Directorate General for Environment (source: Flickr)

Michael Hamell, Head of Unit for Agriculture and Soil, European Commission Directorate General for Environment (source: Flickr)

Under the new agreement, the EU’s 28 governments must make 30% of the direct payments contingent upon meeting certain environmental criteria, although member states have leeway to decide when to apply sanctions, a change from the Commission’s proposal that called for EU-wide performance standards. The environmental criteria include:

  • maintaining permanent grassland; and
  • crop diversification (a farmer must cultivate at least 2 crops when his arable land exceeds 10 hectares and at least 3 crops when his arable land exceeds 30 hectares. The main crop may cover at most 75% of arable land, and the two main crops at most 95% of the arable area);
  • maintaining an “ecological focus area” (EFA) of at least 5% of the arable area of the holding for farms with an area larger than 15 hectares (excluding permanent grassland) – i.e. field margins, hedges, trees, fallow land, landscape features, biotopes, buffer strips, afforested area. This figure will rise to 7% after a Commission report in 2017 and a legislative proposal.

The proposal aims to bring a basic level of environmental management to large swaths of farmland across Europe. Recently the EU Comissioner for Agriculture, Dacian Ciolos, said that he was happy with the adjustment of payments, in that, “The payments are now more closely linked with good agricultural practice and I expect that these measures will be improved upon even further in the future… Greening is not just about keeping consumers happy but also improving the competitiveness of farmers. For example, biodiversity helps reduce pest burdens on crops, which in turn will benefit farmers.”

But one must question the true effectiveness of such policy implementation. Policy agreements differ from initial proposals, and many critics say that broad exemptions were made along the way in policy literature that discount the effectiveness of the greening measures initially proposed by the commission. The softening of policy measures includes an exemption for farms under 15 hectares from new requirements to create EFAs, land that is to be set aside to promote biodiversity and help absorb farm runoff. Opponents say this rule would exempt one-third of all farmland and 89% of farmers from the rules. There is also an exemption for farms under 10 hectares from new crop diversification rules that are aimed at improving soil quality, which is roughly one-third of EU farms. At last, another exemption was put in place that exempts farmers from complying with some EU environmental and water pollution laws, which really was a blow to opponents as they failed to bring agriculture up to par with other industries. In the end, Trees Robijns, agricultural policy officer at BirdLife Europe, said, “This is a major blow to those who championed a more sustainable, forward-thinking policy – one which would deliver for people and the environment as well as protecting the long-term interests of farming.”

What’s interesting here is the battle between two committees within EU Parliament, the environmental and agricultural committees. In debating issues that were dear to both, the agriculture ministers seemed to get away with more policy reform in their favor, or rather lack of policy reform. Environmentalists feel that the policies have been ‘watered down’ extensively and do not effectively meet the standards necessary in combatting environmental degradation by the agricultural sector. Nonetheless, one must look at the aims of individual committees within Parliament and their interpretation of EU 2020 goals, on one hand making European agriculture as competitive as possible in a global market, and on the other the will to protect the environment and contest the potential harmful effects of climate change on agriculture. Only time will tell if the measures taken in the reform will make a significant difference in sustainable growth of Europe toward 2020.

License to Operate: Do Good by Doing Well

I believe that a company is founded in order to serve a cause, fix a need, and make a contribution all the while churning a profit. A company is created in order to improve the welfare of humanity, be it the owners and their families, employees, or society in a broad context. The end game of an enterprise isn’t necessarily only to make a profit, but profit does make all of the ends and aims possible. A profitable enterprise can be an engine for technological growth, innovation, social improvement, employment, and more. I like how Peter Drucker outlines this concept by saying, “Profit for a company is like oxygen for a person. If you don’t have enough of it, you’re out of the game. But if you think your life is about breathing, you’re really missing something.” Clearly, there’s much more to business than inflating the bottom line.

So where do social enterprises come into play? How can larger companies with a more ‘traditional’ business model learn from the new guys on the block that are out to solve society’s major problems through enterprise?

It all starts with a world-class product or service. The big international players have things like Coca-Cola, or extravagant shoes, or fancy watches, or luxury cars. The movers and shakers in the world of ‘social enterprise’ find significant areas of need and manufacture solutions. They are effectively creating a world-class product because it’s exactly what fixes somebody’s inconvenience/discomfort/pain. But a social mission alone will not do the trick, and a company of any size cannot simply rely on a few words written on their website. There is a necessity to generate a significant customer base in order to have significant impact, which means selling something good. It would be a mistake to look at a social mission as something that changes the way a business functions – but that mission does make a business all the more legitimate.

In classes on the subject we talk about the transition of large companies into more socially aware entities. Corporate Social Responsibility branches have been developed within companies, and some are even taking steps in integrating this social awareness across all functions of business. Maybe the social enterprises have helped to pave a way for business model adaptation, and large ‘traditional’ companies see merit in the notion that ‘you do good by doing well.’ In my opinion, companies are slowly moving full circle into what their founders had traditionally created them for – aiming to create jobs, develop employees, provide a return to shareholders, and better serve the communities and environment in which they function.

The landscape of earth is ever changing, and the landscape of business fluctuates too. With communication capabilities and technologies where they are today, the landscape of business is most definitely different than it was 20 years ago. We need the social innovators to continue to innovate; we need to continue to set high goals for companies to meet societal needs; and we must strive to close the gap between social enterprise and ‘traditional’ business so that one day the license to operate depends on more than just NI and ROI, but RTS (return to society) too.

Psychology of Food Insecurity and its Discontents

Farmer in Bihar, India 

Farmer in Bihar, India 

The global food crisis of 2008 gave food importers a significant scare, and very few felt the shock more keenly than the water-scarce, oil-rich countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council. As these states rely on many of countries for their food sources, a year like 2008 in which food prices spiked can be a cause for terror. Because of the scarcity of arable land and high water stress levels, their high dependence on imports (60-90%) makes them price takers in the market.

As a response to their vulnerability to food prices, Gulf countries took action in creating bodies to improve food security, and measures were implemented such as increased domestic production and storage as well as the controversial land leases abroad. But are land leases really the right option?

Another topic to keep in mind is the psychological implications food security can bring about, and the implications of such thought? In 2008 and 2011, some researchers found correlations between the food price spikes and the conflicts around the Middle East and North Africa. When food prices hit a certain level (and other grievance factors are commingled into the equation), people tend to turn to violence because their desperation hits a level at which they have nothing else to lose.

Clearly, easily accessible (or affordable) food is a worry for many people. It’s life or death. Food is a basic need for human beings, and linked to food is the need for land. Land provides the foundation for many things in life: as a place to build shelter, grow and harvest food, plus many other provisions and natural resources that propel being. Thus, seeing countries from the Gulf invest in arable land isn’t too confusing or hard to understand because land sustains life. It seems to be pretty logical (even though there are many proponents of this strategy because of the negative implications that can be linked to it). But what will this really do in securing food for them in case of a crisis? How effective will it be to own land in somebody else’s backyard?

Farmer in Bangladesh

Farmer in Bangladesh

In many cases of foreign land investment, the countries that are invested in are food-insecure themselves. It is not clear that the investor countries would be able to access the food that they theoretically own in a crisis, as it can be hard to believe a country starving for food would allow much of it to escape its borders, regardless of who owns it. A hungry individual (or group of people) probably isn’t going to let a necessity to life just walk away from their own backyard.

Another dimension worth noting is the power politics that could come into play when food insecurities arise, as this is another psychological implication to account for. When a basic human need becomes commoditized, the countries of the world will begin to flex their muscles and things will likely get really ugly. Just look at a case from the past: as access to affordable oil was potentially jeopardized by the politics between OPEC members (Kuwait and Iraq), the United States intervened in order to protect its interest (as well as the EU and Japan’s) in the commodity, and the result was the Persian Gulf War. This may not even be the best example, but I have a feeling it would pale in comparison to the political and social ramifications in the case of a food crisis – because we need food to live. Hunger leads to desperation, which can lead to violence, as mentioned before, as almost any means to survive seems justifiable while in such a state.

This creates an urgency to become more resilient and independent of international trade for food. The Gulf States seem to have this idea as well, because more investments in domestic production capabilities through technologies like hydroponics and desalinization can be seen in recent years.

Hopefully the scare of a food crisis will be subdued through intense preparation or adaptation. The most powerful weapon we know of is the human brain, as it tends to be the driver for much of the evil (as well as the good) seen in the world. Maintaining a healthy psychological state amongst the world’s inhabitants in regard to food safety is key to keeping peace and perpetuating human development.


References: 

Gulf States Strive for Sufficiency, Financial Times “The Future of the Food Industry,” Nov 2013

Photo Sources: Farmer Weeding Maiz Field in Bihar, India (Picture 1) Farmer in Bangladesh (Picture 2)