By Sir Harold Evans
Jan 21 What kind of people created the basics of
our modern world? Mass travel on jet planes, cell phones and MRI
scanners, video games and gene-based medicines and news 24/7 and
that laser at the supermarket checkout? Come to think of
shopping, how did we get the container ships that make it
possible for us to have almost anything from almost
anywhere? Orange juice from China, nuts from India, swordfish
from Japan, salmon from Alaska ...
When I investigated 200 years of innovation for my book They
Made America, I noted the roots of those innovators: We owe mass
travel to a beach taxi pilot building on the work of a couple of
bicycle mechanics, cell phones to a radio ham, MRI scanners to a
one-time tennis coach, video games to a carnival barker,
container shipping to a truck driver, 24/7 news to a billboard
salesman and the laser to a one-time radio repairman.
But amid that diversity there's a common factor. They are
all men. For most of those two centuries women had few chances
to innovate anything. The few in business were there only to
assist men, no different from women fetching the water in the
villages and townships of Africa and Asia and Latin America.
The striking thing today is that millions of women are
involved in innovation - an innovation of capitalism itself that
has singular benefits to women, and through them, society as a
whole. This innovation arises from corporations acknowledging
three things. One, that a troubled society is bad for business.
Two, governments and nonprofits alone can't eradicate
unemployment, illiteracy and disease. Three, ways can be found
to graft the disciplines of business onto programs of social
merit, especially by liberating the energies of half the
Everyone has heard of Muhammad Yunus, who was inspired to
start the Grameen Bank for the poor in 1976 after encountering
Sofiya Begum, a village woman in Bangladesh whose little
business making bamboo stools was held hostage by usurious
moneylenders. Yunus went on from making micro-loans to
collaborating with Franck Riboud, the imaginative CEO of Groupe
Danone, to make a low-cost yogurt fortified with protein, iron,
vitamins and other additives of huge benefit to growing
children. It's distributed by thousands of "Grameen ladies."
A lot has happened since then. Instead of moaning about
entitlement cultures and the inefficiencies of squabbling
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), great corporations like
Accenture, Adidas, Chrysler, Coca-Cola
, Goldman Sachs, Merck, Nike,
Procter & Gamble, the Gap and Wal-Mart
are endowing women with skills at all levels, and often a little
capital to start their own small businesses.
Yes, it's a smart public relations move by those companies,
but it's also a good example of the "shared values" advocated by
Michael Porter and Mark Kramer in last year's Harvard Business
Review cover story that won the 2011 McKinsey award as the most
influential of the year's articles. They argue that capitalism -
an unparalleled vehicle for meeting human needs - has wasted its
full potential by narrowly focusing on short-term profit without
much regard for the impact on a community: "The purpose of the
corporation must be redefined as creating shared value, not just
profit per se."
What this can mean in practice is manifest in vignettes
across the globe.
* It's Regina Gomes, a widowed grandmother in a sprawling
favela in Rio de Janeiro, finding "a reason to live" in a
mission to clean up the rat-infested garbage piled high and
blocks wide on her streets. Government help? Forget it. She did
it, and then Coca-Cola helped her expand that success. Through
its 5by20 program, designed to empower 5 million women
entrepreneurs by 2020, it linked her to two
cooperatives. Coletivo Artisans enrolled her in design
workshops, where she gained the skills to help local women turn
salvaged bottles and fabrics into saleable items. Those
materials come from a recycling cooperative, Coletivo Recycling,
organized by Coke. She started a shop next to it and is now part
of a flourishing trade in craftwork in Rio's slums that is being
greatly assisted by Brazil's artisans. Regina's business grows;
the community appreciates the jobs and clean streets. She's done
well enough to buy a home but is in the favela every day
because, she says, "This is where my soul lives."
* It's Kabeh Sumbo in Liberia learning record-keeping from
Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Women program, and her business, which
began with one gallon of palm oil, now employs 18 and ships oil
* It's Gabriel Jaramillo of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS,
Tuberculosis and Malaria, envying Coca-Cola's ability to get its
beverages to every remote region, and Coke deciding to lend its
supply chain expertise so that delivery times for life-saving
drugs in Tanzania have been cut from 30 days to five.
* It's Grace Wakado in Kampala, Uganda, working with Exxon
and Ashola, to provide solar lamps to 277 women working in
direct sales businesses that have brought light to 30,000 homes.
Momentum has come from the unique convening power of former
President Bill Clinton. His Clinton Global Initiative, begun in
2005, has been a galvanizing force, getting commitments from
companies and NGOs to turn ideas into action. Programs
empowering women figure prominently. Muhtar Kent, the chairman
and CEO of Coca-Cola, reckons that in just seven years gender
equality will increase productivity in emerging countries by 14
percent. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's ambassador for
women, Melanne Verveer, and Kim Azzarelli, president of the
Women in the World Foundation, are at the forefront of this new
form of capitalism. They stress the social effects: "Women are
more likely than men," they write, "to put their income into
their communities, driving illiteracy and mortality rates down
and GDP up."
There are bound to be mistakes as the movement develops,
and, for sure, a surfeit of the cynicism that benevolence
incites. But my guess is that as the successes of "shared value"
businesses multiply we'll wonder why we didn't do it before.