Many Paths Leading to the "Base of the Pyramid"
Submitted by Jon on Tue, 07/08/2008 - 11:34
(on Flickr by Merkur*)NextBillion, which spends most of its time praising social entrepreneurship, comments on Michael Edwards' new book, Just Another Emperor, which attacks rampant "philanthrocapitalism" (market solutions to development problems);
"Despite its flaws, Just Another Emperor does a superb job of fulfilling Edward's main intent - deflating the hype around philanthrocapitalism without denying it its place as a tool for combating poverty. Edwards reminds us that the free market cannot solve all social ills and inequalities. While noting the benefits of approaches championed by social entrepreneurs and venture philanthropists, he suggests that these movements complement - rather than replace - non-market-based approaches to poverty and sustainability."
Edwards makes the strong argument that
"The philanthrocapitalists love handing out new prizes-for building private spaceships and electric cars, sequencing the human genome, and ending global warming-but not for the [Swan Lake Fire Department] Ladies Auxiliary or reviving New Orleans."
The NextBillion writers respond to his basic point - market solutions only address a limited scope of attractive projects:
For example, a market-oriented development model might address the issue of rural access to energy by promoting an enterprise that sells low cost solar panels. A more traditional civil society organization might work to build a grassroots network of groups that call governments out for favoring urban over rural populations in the distribution of public resources.
Naturally both Edwards' favored civil society, as well as social entrepreneurship, are both tethered to traditional development models through grants and policies, so neither is wholly ground-breaking.
Edwards notes that "There is no place for triumphalism in this conversation." - I think that can go deeper; there is no place for triumphalism in development approaches. In some cases, governments and educational ministries/departments will be the best able to address a problem, sometimes civil society, communities, and NGOs, and sometimes the marketplace itself. One of the long-standing problems I've had with traditional development models is the one-size-fits-all approach it is prone to. Combine that approach with lenders without accountability for bad loans, and you have a collection of projects; some good, some disastrous failures, but all being pursued in a one-minded way. Perhaps big infrastructure projects should sometimes be government-funded, but sometimes perhaps the private sector can also help (and provide long-term sustainability to boot!) Sometimes local NGOs are the only way to achieve long-term change from the bottom up. There's a place - a potentially large and powerful place - for the private sector to address, help, and still profit from the base of the pyramid. That doesn't mean that all development work should, or even can be private-sector led.
There's a lot to change globally to create a better world, and we should work on providing an inclusive model to work with and support anyone who thinks they can lend a hand instead of fighting turf wars for the dominance of any one approach.