For-Profit Poverty Eradication

By Bobak Tavangar

“Wealth is praiseworthy in the highest degree, if it is acquired by an individual’s own efforts and the grace of God, in commerce, agriculture, art and industry, and if it be expended for philanthropic purposes. Above all, if a judicious and resourceful individual should initiate measures which would universally enrich the masses of the people, there could be no undertaking greater than this, and it would rank in the sight of God as the supreme achievement, for such a benefactor would supply the needs and insure the comfort and well-being of a great multitude.”

~Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, The Baha’i Faith

Stuck in poverty in Beijing. Photo: Bobak Tavangar

In light of a variety of factors–the undeniable truth of the above quotation, a new book I’m reading called The Blue Sweater, a global financial crisis whose most dire implications seem to somehow trickle down to our impoverished brothers and sisters around the world, and my own musings and observations here in Beijing–I have decided on what I need to dedicate myself towards: rewiring the global economy for inclusion and true prosperity. The means? For-profit models of investment. The end? The complete eradication of poverty world wide. I’m sick and tired of NGO’s being run by a few underpaid visionaries to benefit only a few of the billions who yearn for real economic equity. And as for governments: human beings want dignity, not hand-outs in the form of “aid”. I think it’s time the world made a real effort to make this ‘end’ a reality. This realization I’ve had has been a long time coming but trust me folks, it’s here to stay.

I want to create the next bubble. We just saw several pop (real estate, finance, the MBA degree etc.) but I don’t think a bubble is necessarily a bad thing if created in the right sectors. One example that quickly comes to mind is clean tech./alternative energy. Would it be so bad if we inflated this underdeveloped but arguably critical area of industry? Would it be so wrong to provide financial incentives, hundreds of billions of dollars in investment, and tens of thousands of jobs for the sake of reconstructing the foundation of the global economy? Such a ‘bubble’ would inflate supply of capital/labor and demand for the application of green technology while pushing down costs of production and attracting intelligent competition to the market. A regulated bubble could quickly gains its own momentum. I say yes, and I think we can do the same for poverty eradication.

It should start with the simple premise that all human beings are intricately connected and that not only do we harm ourselves when large portions of the population are stuck in poverty but we will exponential increase our potential as a world to learn, provide, create, thrive, and endure when all are extended the gift of opportunity. In short, I know that we (humanity) are capable of so much more but we aren’t giving ourselves the chance.

How should this be done: retool for-profit models of investment (VC/PE) for large scale involvement in the developing world (i.e. invest in sustainable solutions to chronic problems–education, energy, housing, access to clean water, basic health care, universal Internet connectivity and access to technology). At this point in time there is only one power in the world seeking out this opportunity: the government of the People’s Republic of China. In the West we choose to antagonize them for this but I maintain that it only lays bare our own insecurity at their effectiveness and our lack thereof (this topic deserves its own post…). There are several existing groups like Acumen Fund and Relief Development Consulting that have just begun to scratch the surface but I know it will take more than isolated and uncoordinated efforts by a few brilliant individuals. It will take government. If there is one thing that I’ve learned while here in China it’s the immense potential of government–to build, to improve, to adapt, to protect. To transform the lives of 1.4 billion people.

This post doesn’t have a happy ending but I’m thinking that’s a good thing. In the words of John Legend: “This ain’t a movie, no. No fairytale conclusion y’all–it gets more confusing everyday…” More thinking on this topic to come.

Bobak is a junior in the Elliott School of International Affairs, majoring in International Affairs with concentrations in International Economics and East Asia. In addition to being passionate about world unity and the Baha’i Faith, Bobak’s Persian heritage, American upbringing, and obsession with the People’s Republic of China lend him a unique perspective on what is unfolding around us. Duck and dumplings are currently on the menu as Bobak is in the midst of spending a full year in Beijing, China studying Mandarin and working for a Chinese environmental NGO.

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One Response to “For-Profit Poverty Eradication”

  1. dumpster says:

    Poverty is a serios problem. Thats why many people that lives at street, are searching for foof in containers and dumpster. But not only poor people do this. In Germany many activists do this for capitalism’s critic.

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