Sunday, November 4, 2007

Week 11/2 Net IMpact and Economic Development

Over the weekend I attended NET IMPACT’s national conference at Vanderbilt in TN. NET IMPACT is a graduate sustainable business organization that is working to change the future of business through sustainability. While I did manage to find the time to read the homework, I feel like as this conference was all about economic development it would be more beneficial to share with you all what I learned. As for commenting, I will raise several questions on economic development discussed at the conference that you will be able to answer using the tools given to us in the reading!

In terms of sustainability, you have two basic forms of economic development: economics for the rich and economics for the poor. With this divide comes the question; is sustainability a right or a privilege? If it is a right how can we make it cheaper? The problems with sustainability being a right include quality of life. Being more sustainable often equates to having a better quality of life. People, especially Americans, work tirelessly to achieve the American Dream—something that will supposedly improve your quality of life so does this mean that the same degree of sustainability should be available for the wealthy and poor?

Here is a case we discussed. Let’s say you have a wealthy person who buys a solar panel. The solar panel breaks in a couple of years, but still manages to squeeze some juice out. What are the ethical implications of selling this broken unit to a poor community (particularly in a third world country)? Would this situation be considered an act of good-will or one that is unethical? The conclusion I have made is that it was an act of good-will although the unit is almost broken. Here is why: Firstly there is knowledge associated with owning a unit such as this. The economically disadvantaged often do not have the resources to acquire something as technologically advanced and expensive as a solar panel. If something like this is given to the poor they would firstly be given knowledge that something such as solar power exists. Secondly, they would feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction for possessing such a “powerful” asset. Finally, there is always the potential for resale after the person wants to “upgrade” to a better solar panel using the savings made from not having to pay for electricity.

Here is another thought to play around with…Is a socially responsible, for-profit organization an oxymoron? This was an issue addressed many times- I feel unnecessarily, at the conference. To me, for profit just indicates that all extra profits made by the company go into retained earnings or are given as dividends. Because something is for profit has no link to being socially irresponsible. What do you think?

One final topic I would like to discuss is Micro financing. While this concept was thrown around a great deal at our conference, the most interesting thing to me was an organization called KIVA. Check it out! You lend money to startup businesses and it helps them to enhance the economic development of their community. It is just a loan too! Bill Clinton has done a great deal with this organization and if you check it out, you will probably find it pretty interesting. Any thoughts on it? Personally, I think it is an absolutely fantastic program for several reasons. First of all, it is quick and easy, secondly it doesn’t take much money and finally you can see the progress the person you donated the money to made with what you leant. Seeing the results of what your money does is fantastic because you actually feel like you made a difference. To me, it’s a no-brainer!

Please, tell me what you think- I’ve been surrounded by these questions all weekend and although they are not about the readings we did, I know we can apply them to my line of questioning.


GusGus said...

Hmm, I don't see why issues of development always have to be portrayed as black and white. Economics for the poor and economics for the rich seem to be limiting a lot of things. With development, some are going to benefit more than others, that's just how it works (unless you're in a communist country, however, true equality is dubious there as well). Anyways, that's not to say that development shouldn't be grounded on some basic, just principles. There needs to be a balance between the free market and sustainability. For instance, the issue of the socially responsible for-profit is perfectly reasonable. People want to make money, and if they can find a way of doing that without causing harm, then that's great! Sustainability also implies that a system does not need constant interference in order to keep it viable. People are always going to be motivated by profit, that's not going to change anytime soon- what we need to do is make sure sustainability is a profitable enterprise.

GoForTheTop said...

i would agree with gusgus. Sustainability does not have to be a political issue ( which it turns into when we bring economic status into the picture). If sustainability simply means that we acknowledge that we are borrowing this earth from our children then why is it not a right but more an obligation we all have. True, more sustainable products and practices can get costly, but isn't it really more about getting back to basics?
Sustainable practices are best when they are a simplification of the process used to create a good or provide a service. If we simplify our needs we need less.

As for the re-use of the solar panel. The question is not whether something that still works should be re-used, it is whether poor people deserve lower quality. That is why the answer is complicated. American idealism of pulling yourself up by the bootstrap makes us think that poor people deserve less or lower quality because it is their fault that they are in the position they are in. We can see that injustice, prejudice, racism has reinforced these ideas and ingrained them into every aspect of society. SO, to answer the question: Yes reuse the solar panel to anyone who wants it, no do not think that it was an act of charity-- especially if tech support, training, and ongoing support for further actions toward energy efficiency are not continued over the long term and shared justly among the interested community members.