When you look at eradicating extreme poverty, there are many influences that combine to reduce issues such as preventable diseases, ie Malaria or Diarrhea, providing clean water, and caring for orphans, etc. But what is the hope for these issues to be completely eradicated in the future? According to Rob Salkowitz, it may very well be the new generation of entrepreneurs in this digital age.
Many think that hope might be found in global companies such as Apple or GE, maybe Bill Gates or George Soros will help cure the ills of poverty in our world? Young World Rising is a book that challenges those common beliefs and takes a different perspective. It makes the case for a less-expected direction forward: a world in which new growth and innovation comes from outside the established centers of the global economy and comes from the bottom up (p. 7).
The picture of the future painted in Young World Rising does not ignore the reality of billions of mouths to feed, but suggests the possibility that that billions of minds working together and billions of hands pulling in the same direction might be able to stay a step ahead of the challenges of scarcity and sustainability (p. 8).
How does this work? According to Salkowitz, there are (3) forces reshaping our world: (1) Youth (2) ICT (Information and Communication and Technology and (3) Entrepreneurship. (p. 8). To illustrate this, let me tell you a story. I’ll never forget when I stepped off the plane in rural Lalibela, Ethiopia. It’s a place surrounded by shepherds, farmers, and poverty. It’s also known as one of the amazing wonders of the world because it is home to many Monolithic churches that were carved out of rock over a thousand years ago, and not too much has changed since then. In this remote village I was taken by the local youth to an internet cafe. I could hardly believe such a thing could exist in the middle of nowhere but sure enough, inside a red, rusting tin building sat several computers with internet access. These young people were able to stay in touch with information and people from all over the world. This small building and business were owned by a 16 year old boy and his uncle. I still hear from many of those boys to this day.
That’s what has changed and continues to change. The bottom line is that the more than 3 billion of the world’s 6.7 billion population are under the age of 24 (p.20). They have all grown up in the digital age and all have access to a global economy and they are the ones capitalizing on this new age. All of them have access to information much of the older generation doesn’t know exists, they are socially connected around the world (via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) in ways unheard of up to this point, the capital to start businesses digitally such as webpages and business sites, are inexpensive – and they are innovative (p. 40).
Here’s the exciting part: research shows that this group of young entrepreneurs are incredibly socially conscious. They are working within their poor communities to create solutions that help to abolish their own poverty. Their war-cry is “doing well by doing good,” (p. 41). Foreign aid has been a dead end street for countries like Africa and that is not the full solution. Sustaining economic development by empowering local producers, local markets, and local entrepreneurs is what will transform communities (42.)
The other note of interest is that this demographic of young people in this knowledge based, digital economy is that their social responsibility leads them to work in direct partnership with NGO’s. Portugal’s Magellan Project is a great example that has provided over 500,000 computers to poor children in their country. This is good news for those of us that work directly with the poor in that capacity. Non-profit’s that foster economic development in terms of ICT capacity-building have a unique advantage in finding corporate funding partners, because their social objectives are directly aligned with the business imperatives of some of the best companies on earth (50.) Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential Program is another great example.
We must think differently about how we approach poverty. Many of the old systems have failed and continue to fail. Our good deeds are not helping if they are only a part of providing hand-outs (aid), and don’t lead to local economic transformation. Rob’s book is an encouraging indicator of what is to come. As we invest in youth, they will invest in themselves.