The Ecosystems of Poverty

When I first started working on classifying online ecosystems, I had no idea that my thinking there would influence my thoughts on the $300 House. But now it seems like the systems approach to understanding wicked problems is pretty much the only way to go.  None of this is new, of course, but I’m still impressed at the power of ecosystem thinking.

Here’s how Nobel prize laureate Gunnar Myrdal was thinking about the problems of race and poverty:

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The “vicious circle” has not yet made its way into our political thinking though, if we judge the policy makers of today’s Congress. Heck, they can’t even bring themselves to accept the effects of global warming – in no small part thanks to our lobbyist friends.

The idea of poverty as the outcome of a dysfunctional ecosystem is explained here as well:

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Note that this applies to poverty in the US as well, not just the emerging world.

So, part of tackling the issue of affordable housing for the poor is to try to understand the interconnected nature of these problems.  I tried to draw causal arrows between the various problems, but gave up. In essence, we have a problem of insecurity, in which all of these factors must be addressed simultaneously if we are to change the vicious cycle of poverty, disease, and suffering.  Here’s what I ended up with:

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The poor live in an insecure, unbalanced universe. 

I’m calling it the “ecosystems of poverty.”

Next we’ll look at the idea of integrated development (another old idea) which fell out of favor, but must be re-evaluated in today’s light if we are serious about poverty alleviation.

What’s Good about the USA

Despite all the whining about the decline of the USA, and charts showing the downsizing of the American dream, today’s a good day to reflect on why we still hold the promise of Abraham Lincoln’s words in 1862: “the last best hope of earth.”

A few thoughts:

1. The individual can still make a difference:  Check out Paul Farmer, Paul Polak, Michael Moore and, yes, Barack Obama. Give me an example of any other country in the world where someone like Obama could even remotely hope to be elected president.  See what I mean? Of course, the flip side of this is that you have corporate puppets like Sarah Palin and Rick Perry, but I’ll take the voice of the individual any day.  What’s the alternative? China.  Enough said.

2. The rich aren’t all money-grubbing pirates. More than any other country on earth, our rich turn to philanthropy to leave a legacy.  Check out the Gates Foundation or the Clinton Global Initiative.  Where else do we see this kind of private philanthropy at the individual level – from both rich and poor? Have you seen what happens in Bangladesh?  Note: I know, we do have folks like the Koch brothers who are busy strangling democracy while they protect their “freedom.”  What about India?  Nope.

3. The United States
is the world’s largest source of humanitarian aid.
Yes, despite all the whining, our government is still the largest donor by far. We can do better, but hey, you don’t see anyone else even close in real dollars. This type of comparison is a statistical game.

4. We’re far less sexist than Europe.  Seriously, that’s a fact.

5. Class and caste barriers are far lower here, and can be overcome.  See point # 1.

6. Customer Service.  If you think customer service is bad in the US, you should see the rest of the world. Speaking from plenty of experience, we are in another league.

7. Independent thinking.  Not so widely seen on Fox, but still here.  The sheep to thinker ratio is far healthier in the US. 

8. Tolerance.  We are a tolerant nation. It’s kind of funny when the most intolerant group we have is the atheists.

9. Melting Pot of People and Ideas. True in business, but also in social terms.  I’m still a fan of E pluribus unum.

Keep on keeping on, America. And may tomorrow always be better than yesterday.

Bin Laden lost.

The Middle Class: An Endangered Species?

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The story is captured in this snippet borrowed from a larger infographic from the New York Times. The middle class is under historic assault in the US, explains Robert Reich, and this bodes badly for democracy, not just here, but all over the world. 

Here’s the money quote:

Look back over the last hundred years and you’ll see the pattern. During
periods when the very rich took home a much smaller proportion of total
income — as in the Great Prosperity between 1947 and 1977 — the nation
as a whole grew faster and median wages surged. We created a virtuous
cycle in which an ever growing middle class had the ability to consume
more goods and services, which created more and better jobs, thereby
stoking demand. The rising tide did in fact lift all boats.


During periods when the very rich took home a larger proportion — as
between 1918 and 1933, and in the Great Regression from 1981 to the
present day — growth slowed, median wages stagnated and we suffered
giant downturns. It’s no mere coincidence that over the last century the
top earners’ share of the nation’s total income peaked in 1928 and 2007
— the two years just preceding the biggest downturns.

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We’re losing our competitiveness, as well as our ability to lead.

There’s a growing sense in the business community that we must find a way to work together again. To do this, we have to reject political terrorism – the political brinksmanship which prevents us from finding common ground or even beginning to look for honest solutions. Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, recently created a stir when he suggested that it was time to halt all political donations. Warren Buffett did the same with his no-nonsense plea to raise his taxes.

Welcome to the third world, America! Looks like we’re headed on the fast-track back to serfdom.  Brought to you in large part by the GOP and corporate Democrats.

The $300 House: Go, Go, Go!

The final Harvard Business Review post in the series, and hopefully the start of some real change at the bottom of the pyramid.

Our goal is to go social for social business. Can social co-creation help the poor?

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Keeping fingers crossed.  Thanks to Ingersoll-Rand for the sponsorship and to all the judges and advisers at 300House.com!  Thanks jovoto and COMMON. Thanks Shaun.

Thanks also to Scott Berinato at HBR and of course – VG, my partner in crime.

Quit Twitter & Improve your Marketing ROI

For the past two years I have been conducting some extensive testing with a number of my clients in various fields – software, consulting services, academics, non-profits, entertainment, and self improvement – and here’s what I came up with at the end of the study. I’m interested in one metric – conversion to sales.

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Conversion to Sales

Website: 29.5% of sales
Facebook: 4% of sales
Twitter: 1.5% of sales
Print: 2% of sales
Book: 9% of sales
E-book: 7% of sales
Email newsletter and blog combined: 42% of sales
Seminars: 5%

The old rules of online marketing beat social media by a mile, period.

See you later, FB and Twitter… 

Shameful: The Business Roundtable CEOs

Writes Floyd Norris in the New York Times:

The Business Roundtable, a group comprising 200 of the largest companies in the United States, is out with a “study” that claims to show that the United States levies excessively high tax rates on companies. It actually shows nothing of the kind.

This is the sort of thing that makes business look E-V-I-L.

What is the Business Roundtable?  Another version of the US Chamber of Commerce? And just who are the members of this august organization?

Surprise! They’re only the CEOs of the “most respected” companies in the US.

Have they no shame?  No sense of decency?

The CEOs should be embarrassed, but instead they keep playing this absurd, deceptive game. We have come to expect this sort of behavior from the oil and coal lobby, but not you. To Bank of America, General Electric, Xerox, Wal-Mart, UPS, Target, SAP, Pepsico, Microsoft, and Procter and Gamble: Grow up, ladies and gentlemen. You are hurting both democracy and capitalism. Not to mention your brand.

Good on you, Google and Apple, for not being part of this institutional lying machine.

Rethink: Where to Look for Growth in an Uncertain World

This chart by the folks at the Eurasia Group, got me thinking. Something just doesn’t make sense:

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Then it hit me.  This is a rather conventional way to screen for global opportunities.  If we looked at other screens like “innovation potential,” “middle class expansion rate,” “Gini coefficient shrinkage,” or “corruption index,”you’d see a very different picture.

A Third Career Path for the Corporate Social Strategist

Report: Career Path of the Corporate Social Strategist: Be Proactive or Become Social Media Help Desk

View more documents from Jeremiah Owyang.

I was recently going through this report by Altimeter’s Jeremiah Owyang
when a  “Deja-Vu all-over-again” wave came over me: this is exactly
what happened with corporate community managers – back in the heady days
of “community” (see JH3’s Net Gain). 

Except that there was a third career path: striking off on your own. 

That’s what I did with Double Loop Marketing. And it’s still the best professional decision I ever made.





How to WikiLeakproof your Company

[NOTE: This post was cross-posted on Alex Bogusky‘s FearLess Revolution; I’ll be posting some thoughts there as well from now on.]

Years ago, when I was a kid just out of college at my first job, I had an interesting chat with the legal counsel for the world’s largest engineering and construction company. We were talking about ethics and business. [All of this was before Enron and WorldCom, before Michael Moore’s Sicko or the BP oil spill.]

His advice?

As I recall, he called it the “New York Times Test” – which went something like this: if your actions or behavior show up on the front page of the New York Times, could you still face your family without embarrassment?

The point he was making was that it wasn’t about being legal or adhering to the law. Ethics was about doing the right thing above and beyond the law, because you’re going to judged by the standards set by your family, not the courts.

Today, we might just call this the WikiLeaks Test.

In other words, if you’re engaged in private activities which will cause you public grief – stop. Pretend all your actions are transparent – open to the public. For all you know, they already are!

The $300 House: Seth Godin on the Marketing Challenge

Seth Godin posts a very insightful blog entry on the HBR site. He’s talking about the challenges of marketing at the bottom of the pyramid:

When someone in poverty buys a device that improves productivity, the
device pays for itself (if it didn’t, they wouldn’t buy it.) So a drip
irrigation system, for example, may pay off by creating two or three
harvests a year instead of one.

Read all about it >>

The $300 House: Bob Freling on the Energy Challenge

The Solar Electric Light Fund‘s Bob Freling has posted an entry in Harvard Business Review about his Solar Integrated Development (SID) Maturity Model and how it fits into our concept of the $300 House.

Here’s Bob waxing eloquent:

Together with potable water, nutritious food, accessible health care,
educational opportunity, and economic empowerment, the $300 House
completes this virtuous ecosystem in which individual households and
their communities can march hand in hand towards a bright and
sustainable future.

Read the whole post The $300 House: The Energy Challenge >>

Minding the Gap: A Failure in Intuitive Intelligence?

The Gap screws up with their logo redesign. A giant failure of imagination in the boardroom.

But Umair Haque asks the right questions:

  • Do designers have a seat in the boardroom — or just in the basement? How often does your CEO ever talk to a designer?
  • Are designers empowered to overrule beancounters — or vice versa?
  • Is the input of designers considered to be peripheral to “real” business decisions — or does it play a vital role in shaping them? Is design treated as a function or a competence?
  • Are designers seen just as mechanics of mere stuff — or as vital contributors to the art of igniting new industries, markets, and catgeories, sparking more enduring demand, building trust, providing empathy, and seeding tomorrow’s big ideas?
  • How much weight does senior management give to right-brained ideas, like delight, amazement, intuition, and joy? Just a little, a lot — or, as for most companies, almost none?

Seriously.

We all need to wake up. The Chamber of Commerce approach to design isn’t going to work anymore.

9/11: Reject Hate

9/11 shows us just how divided our country still is. On the wrong side you have the threat of Koran burning from a lunatic preacher. On the right side you have President Obama making a plea for tolerance and true freedom.
For me the lesson of 9/11 is pretty simple: reject hate.
Here’s some stuff to think about:
Alex Bogusky: God issues recall
Michael Moore: If the ‘Mosque’ Isn’t Built, This Is No Longer America
Byron Katie: Inquiry – Terrorism and The Work
Tom Friedman: What If 9/11 Never Happened?
Adam Weinstein: America’s Jihad on America
Will Ferrell‘s Dubya impersonation
We still have a long way to go.

Russia burns; will the US be next?

The global-warming deniers are quiet as the world’s forests burn.

Across Russia, the political drama adds to the horror as this, the hottest summer on record, takes its toll on the poorest Russians as they lose property, homes, and even lives:

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For those of you who are ready to say this is “God’s punishment,” I can tell you we’re probably going to be next. Maybe not this summer, because we’re getting far more rain in the West than usual, but perhaps the next.  The reason I can say this with near certainty is that our forests are already dead or dying. So my guess is that all these dead trees are going to burn across North America pretty soon.  The map looks like this (it’s an overlay of the extent of the pine-beetle plague):

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None of this is normal.

NASA watches as the carbon footprint grows.

Our politicians do nothing. Our Republican Senators have been owned by Big-Oil and Big-Coal forever.  And the poor Christians haven’t yet figured out that they’re being taken for a ride.  For them, I say – check your Revelations 11:18 – at some point you have to say “enough!” Why do you support these people who are destroying God’s Creation?

Sen. Jim Inhofe, this is on your head. Your grandchildren won’t forgive you, even if they think you’re just swell right now. This is not “global warming deception” as you call it in your Luntzian language of deceit. It’s g-l-o-b-a-l w-a-r-m-i-n-g, period.

Have you no shame, Senator?

The $300 House-for-the-Poor

Ever since the Haiti earthquake, I’ve been thinking about why we don’t have a quick-build house made of sustainable materials at a price point that the poor can afford (with micro-credit if needed).

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The $300 House-for-the-Poor is an extension of the concept of “reverse innovation(inspired by my client and friend VG) in which innovations developed in poor countries are then brought back for use in developed countries and other parts of the world. Housing impacts health, energy, education, and security.

What if we could build sustainably designed houses for the world’s poor at an affordable cost? What if these same designs could provide relief to refugees and victims of natural disasters? The we I’m referring to is a collaborative of companies, governments, and NGOs.

This type of a structure will be engineered in the same way the TATA Nano was engineered – without the traditional assumptions.

Once built, the $300 house should be used across the globe – from Haiti, to Africa, India, and yes, even in this country, to help the homeless.

So what are we waiting for?  It’s time to get busy designing the $300 House!