Whenever I think really hard about what I really want to do it always comes back to Innovation for the Bottom of the Pyramid. Some of you may not be familiar with that term. I wasn’t until I started studying Corporate Social Responsibility and all that it entails. If we refer to the guru Wikipedia it can be defined as,
“In economics, the bottom of the pyramid is the largest, but poorest socio-economic group. In global terms, this is the 3 billion people who live on less than say$2.50 per day.”
The part that fascinates me though is that, “the phrase “bottom of the pyramid” is used in particular by people developing new models of doing business that deliberately target that demographic, often using new technology. This field is also often referred to as the "Base of the Pyramid" or just the "BoP".”
On our first trip to Kenya for Rally4Life we found ourselves with a spare morning in Nairobi, so being resourceful I turned to TripAdvisor for some inspiration and found that the #2 thing to do in Nairobi was to take a trip of Kibera, the world famous “slum”. So we signed up for the trip, met up with Freddy, our host and local resident of Kibera and set off into the unknown, nice and inconspicuous with a camera crew in tow.
It is the largest slum in Africa with many associated problems, with an estimated population density of 2000 residents per hectare. Much of the ground underfoot is made up of refuse and it is infamous for its flying toilets, which I am not going to explain, you can look it up. Overall, the initial intensity of it can be overwhelming. However for me what I got most from the experience was a sense of wonder, apparently shared by writers for the Economist, who in an article in 2012 suggested that Kibera "may be the most entrepreneurial place on the planet" and that "to equate slums with idleness and misery is to misunderstand them”
Kibera was vibrant. The population were just hustling to survive. There were market stalls with everything you can imagine for sale, beauty salons galore, people making jewellery and crafts, selling their music to us via iTunes. There was a converted bus loaded with computers that you could use for a small fee. People were dressed in suits and fancy shoes, city dressed is how I would describe it, with elaborate hair styles and elegant nails. Freddy was obviously doing good business with his ranking on Trip Advisor and we finished the tour enjoying a cold soda back at his small but immaculate home right in the middle of it all. He told us he could afford to move out now but this is his home and he likes it. You could certainly see the community aspect to life, although we weren’t so naive to imagine it is all roses as there are plenty of political tensions and it is certainly not safe to be wandering the alleys at night.
Ever since that experience and my studies of the BOP I have been intrigued by the thought of inventing something that would be life changing for the billions of people that live in poverty. I would love to go back and see if an idea came to me, or more likely, to find and develop and idea that a local already has but is unable to capitalize.
I have just read an really inspirational article by Danielle Strickland, author of A Beautiful Mess, that got me thinking. Danielle is launching a social justice strategy in her role as a Canadian Salvation Army officer, so she has thought some things through.
Mostly we do mercy well. Mercy, an act of kindness or compassion, makes us feel good. It is in us to give, sometimes it can push us past our comfort zone but often it is in our power to be merciful. I believe our Charity Rally4Life is based upon mercy. We are doing what we can to redistribute some of our wealth and resources, feeling compassion for those in need, and although it can be tiring and we have to make some sacrifice it is never unpleasant. In fact it is always rewarding.
Justice goes deeper. To bring justice Danielle suggests we have to look at our own habits, our economics and our policies. She likens life to a swimming pool, it is fun to splash about in the shallow end but once we go deeper it takes more risk, it is harder to keep afloat and we have to keep kicking. To bring about real change we have to keep kicking.
We know families in Africa have no access to safe drinking water, so we run marathons, have bake sales, give our money to build a well. But WHY do families not have safe water when we use about 250 litres per person a day in Canada with our luxury bathrooms, multiple appliances and general lack of awareness of global water issues.
By my calculations it would cost $56 billion to provide access to clean, safe water to each person on the planet. It might sound like a lot of money, actually it doesn’t even really sound like a lot of money these days and the United States annual military budget is ten times higher than that. However globally we have to have the political will to make it happen. We have certainly made progress, the MDG’s have shown us that as they have tracked numbers. But do we take shorter showers, spend less on frivolous things, do what we can to take care of our planet. Probably not.
I think it is probably mostly a case of out of sight out of mind. Many people also feel helpless, that as an individual they won’t make much of a difference. Think of it this way, if one person only helped one other person it still makes a difference to both people. So if we feel powerless and that justice and fairness is out of our control, just show a little mercy and things can change. And if your feelings go deeper than that and you feel angry about the injustice then start kicking.
December 12th will apparently go down in history as the day the global climate deal was made. Consensus between 200 countries has never been achieved before.
Here are the key elements:
To keep global temperatures "well below" 2.0C (3.6F) and "endeavour to limit" them even more, to 1.5C
To limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100
To review each country's contribution to cutting emissions every five years so they scale up to the challenge
For rich countries to help poorer nations by providing "climate finance" to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy.
Source BBC.com http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-35073297
Critics point out that only some elements are legally binding and there is little guidance on how stringent the caps on emissions need to be. However wealthy countries have pledged considerable amounts of money ($100 billion a year) to developing countries to assist them cut emissions and develop technologies to leapfrog to renewable energy sources as they develop.
It feels a bit like the reasoning behind the purpose of Rally4Life. People can criticise and say the problems are too big and you will never fix them, but if everyone pulls together to at least try it is better than doing nothing. That is our philosophy and I think the people that have benefitted from our efforts thanks to your support would agree.
As says Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo,"This deal alone won't dig us out the hole we're in, but it makes the sides less steep."
Have you ever really thought about how fortunate you probably are? Have you ever considered comparing your situation to that of a refugee? Probably not, I can’t say I have ever given it much thought, but after researching this article I found it to be an interesting exercise in humility and compassion which I would like to share.
You probably have some kind of roof over your head. Most people have a network of family and friends, some form of employment or profession and your life is probably relatively stable on a day to day basis. People just like you in Syria were in much the same situation just a few years ago. The GDP growth rate in Syria in 2008 was a healthy 5.67 with a net export of agricultural products and a growing tourism industry. People ran their own businesses, took vacations overseas, wore fashionable clothes and dined in chic restaurants. With a population of 22 million and a considerable middle class it was not that different to our home. My friends that have been there say it was a beautiful country. Then due to circumstances largely outside of their control, the lives of ordinary people were shattered when the bombs started falling, snipers appeared on rooftops as their children walked to school and the threat of chemical weapons was omnipresent. Up to a million have fled, they turned to friends and relatives in neighbouring countries,maybe they were able to rent a small apartment or relied on refugee camps and shelter from mosques. They abandoned decent jobs, their homes, health care, the dreams of academic excellence for their children, said goodbye to their neighbors, locked up their homes and ran for safety.
Here is some advice from Fara Schemi speaking to Der Spiegel, Jan 29th 2013. In the event that readers of her story at some point in their lives have to flee their homeland, she wants them to take to heart her list of what to pack. "Passports, gold, bank records and deeds of property, very important," she says. Almost more important are all the things that keep you warm. "Blankets, warm clothing, sturdy shoes," says the 54-year-old. It's best to wear a heavy coat, even in sweltering summer weather. Oh and don’t forget your photo albums” Fara used to be a dietician, specializing in treatment for cancer patients. Now she lives with her family in a mountainous Lebanese border town in office space offered to them by a mosque that drops below freezing during the cold weather.
What would you do? Where would you go? What would you leave behind? Spare a moment and try to imagine picking out a few favorite possessions, turning off the power and the water, locking the door in a futile gesture of security and walking away. Okanagan residents may have experienced a similar scenario if they have lived through an evacuation order for a forest fire. The difference is here we are battling nature, we are all pulling together on the same side and we have a safety net of insurance and social assistance if disaster falls.
GENEVA, June 20 2014 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency reported on World Refugee Day that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide has, for the first time in the post-World War II era, exceeded 50 million people. That is a significant number of human lives impacted in this way. Don’t let’s forget them and remember to cherish the blessings in our lives.
I was very fortunate recently to be able to attend a gala dinner for one of our Charity partners FeViva. It was a wonderful evening, full of inspiring stories from many people who have had the enlightening experience of traveling to Central America to get involved with FeViva projects. A team of West Kelowna fire fighters went to work alongside local firemen and bless them with gifts of precious equipment. Teams have gone to participate in local fundraising marathons. A local charity team member carried a severely disabled girl up a volcano in a specially designed chair. Anyone is welcome, as the most important task is just to hug the children in FeViva’s care.
The story that resonated with me the most was about doors! One gentleman had gone to Guatemala with high expectations. He was born in Mexico so was aware of what to expect, yet he has since grown up in Canada and is now a finishing carpenter. Due to his trade skills he was invited to help finish the construction of a family home; specifically to hang the doors. Easy he thought, that’s right up my street, I do this all the time and I will get this done in no time. He challenged himself to focus on the job, get it done as quickly as possible and move on to the next task because getting things done was important to this team! Two days and only 3 doors later he had to rethink his predictions. This was a developing country. Humidity, walls out of line, poor wood, lack of conformity in size, exhausting heat...the list went on and on.
This story made me think about the challenges of trying to help in a situation and culture that is unfamiliar to us. We bump into challenges. We may have the best of intentions yet find road blocks that are beyond our control. Things may get so frustrating that we feel like giving up. Yet the outcome of the story of our carpenter I think says it all. Despite the obstacles he still made a difference. He did get some doors installed, maybe not quite the way he wanted, but that family will never forget that he came to help, asking nothing in return. He learnt that even if things don’t go as you expect it can still be a worthwhile and rewarding experience. We learn to appreciate and embrace the differences in our cultures and come to understand that a hug and a helping hand can bridge the gap.