If there’s anything I’d like to fix in this world today, it would be the obsolete cynicism and fatalism. People seem to believe that the gloomy picture the mainstream media are painting is actually an accurate depiction of our modern day world. I’d like to argue here that it isn’t. The main argument of this post: the world is not getting worse and worse; it’s getting ever better. And I’m going to try and prove it to you. Technology, development aid, and changes in the way we do business are on the move, making the world a better place with their combined forces. All you need to do is join the current movement.
When I was at university, I used to work part time for an NGO called “Save The Children”. I loved it. I was a young buck, wide-eyed and idealistic, and felt wonderful knowing that wintery days spent freezing my nads off in the streets of whatever city in The Netherlands, latching on to passers-by and converting some of them to donors was for a wonderful cause: a better life for innocent children. Sunny days were wonderful for flirting with pretty girls, as well. All while making the world a better place.
But I quit. Partly because the cynicism of the passers-by had gotten to me after a few years – it had become too hard to fight, somehow. I got my degree, and started off my career, searching and ultimately finding a way that my talents and skills could be used in the best way. Funny I should end up as a marketing copywriter, you might say; well, there’s a reason why I’ve been writing so much about responsible entrepreneurship and socially responsible marketing, you know. I have come to realise that it’s not just volunteer work and not-for-profit organisations that have to or that are going to make the change: thank god, it’s modern for-profit business as well. I’m still that idealistic young man. And now, I have every reason to be optimistic as well.
Technological advancement is rampant, in our day and age. I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of stone age technology your iPad Air is going to look like to your grandchildren’s children. What is all of this technology good for? A hell of a lot, apparently.
Below you will find the megatrends that show how the world is getting better, not worse. Of course there are big, scary wars being waged as we speak, possibly exacerbating the very same terrorist threat they were meant to stop. And of course there’s the ebola scare. In both cases, the world is shoving the fact in our faces that We Are One World: what happens here affects what happens there, and vice versa and so on and so forth. Nicolas Bordas recently argued that we, the people, ask politicians to finally recognize this fact, and act upon it. I concur. But there’s more we can do. Read on.
1. How technology is making the world a better place, and why you don’t see it
If you ever have the chance, and haven’t read it yet, be sure to check out Diamandis and Kotler’s “Abundance”. It’s a fantastic read, and a real pick-me-up. It talks about four global megatrends that are making the future better right now, hidden in plain sight before our very eyes. And it takes the time to explain how your brain is naturally structured to notice negative news first, and focus on it over more positive news. It also elaborates on how it’s in the best interest of news media to vy for and cater to our communal negatively oriented attention filters.
The four megatrends that the book “Abundance” talks about are the following:
1. The digitalisation of a great many vital areas of technology, leading to exponential development in healthcare, energy, communication & subsequently education. This leads to all of the following:
2. DIY-entrepreneurs who produce wonderful innovations based on this ever more affordable technology and computation capacity (i.e. Moore’s Law).
3. The rise of so-called ‘Techno-philanthropists’ such as Bill & Melinda Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, or companies that invest in (semi) philanthropic projects such as Google’sLoon Project.
4. The rise of the ‘Bottom Billion’ or the billions of people in poor countries who are going to come ‘online’ over the next decade or so, and what they will bring to the table.
The basic point that the book makes is that technology has been making life better since it was ever invented – let’s say, with the wheel – and that it has done so, not only for a few at the top, but progressively for all of us. Evidence is cited from a study that looked at UN historic files, as presented in the famed TED-talk by Swedish professor of developmental studies, Hans Rosling. Countries all over the world are having more to spend, the people in them are living longer lives, and fertility rates and child mortality rates are steadily declining. Globally, we are living in the safest time ever to be a human being. It’s really not all bad. And it’s going to get even better, if we all put our minds to it.
2. The effectivity of developmental aid
Many people doubt the efficacy of developmental aid. And it’s fairly hard to get a good, global view to assess how effective development aid has really been over the past decades in eradicating poverty. Luckily, the world leaders – presidents of all UN members, IMF, World Bank, NGOs and corporate business are making a commitment to improving the world in the form of the so-called Millennium Development Goals. And what’s more; they’re very serious about measuring the results.
Millennium Development Goals
In September 2000, at the United Nations Millennium Summit, world leaders agreed to eight specific and measurable development goals—now called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—to be achieved by 2015. The first seven goals focus on eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; and ensuring environmental sustainability. The eighth goal calls for the creation of a global partnership for development, with targets for aid, trade, and debt relief.
Where do we stand?
The Global Monitoring Report(GMR) is an annual report that aims to assess how the world is doing in implementing the policies and actions needed to achieve the MDGs. It is produced jointly by the World Bank and the IMF, in collaboration with their international partners.
The report card for 2013: looking good in terms of progress
The 2013 Global Monitoring Report, the tenth in the annual series, confirms that the important goal of cutting extreme income poverty in half by 2015 was met ahead of time in 2010. The goal of halving the proportion of people without access to clean water, and of achieving a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020, were also achieved ahead of time in 2010. The goal of eliminating gender disparity in primary education was accomplished in 2010. There has been global progress on eliminating gender disparity both in primary and secondary education. Similarly, clear progress has been made toward the goal of achieving universal primary education.
However, overall global progress on health-related targets has been less than stellar, with many countries likely to miss the MDGs on child and maternal mortality, and on access to sanitation. A lot of work still needs to be done in countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, but when it comes to the much needed political stability and reform, some of these countries have already made a lot of progress.
Businesses taking responsibility
There’s more good news. After a global cut in development expenses as a result of the financial crisis, in 2013 we saw a rise of 6.1%, resulting in a record amount of $ 134.8 bn being spent by governments world wide. Now, as I’ve read in various sources; nations provide around 80% of official development aid, and NGOs worldwide provide about 20%. That means that an estimated $ 33.7 bn was spent in 2013 by NGO’s – a large part of which again came from governments and multilateral sources such as IMF, World Bank, the EU and UN, and so on. And a large part from donors, like you or I. Please, keep donating!
But apparently; governments, governmental organisations and NGO’s isn’t even where the really big money is, when it comes to development aid. As always, the big money, is in business.
Responsible Business Manifesto
At the UN general assembly held in New York, september this year, Global Partners got together with world leaders to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals and the Post-2015 Agenda, as the Millennium Development Goals need to be finally evaluated in that year. For this side event, global business partners wrote and signed a business manifesto, wherein they stress the responsibility for businesses worldwide to contribute to the eradication of poverty and sustainable entrepreneurship. As they, apparently, always have:
Business and investors are already the biggest engine of poverty reduction and economic growth in the developing world. On average, business provides 60% of GDP, 80% of capital flows and 90% of jobs in developing countries. It is the major source of the US $1 trillion a year needed to finance development.
I had no idea, did you? Now compare that number to the above mentioned $ 134.8 bn being spent by governments, and you’ll see how important business is, and will be, to eradicate poverty and make the world a healthier, better place with more equal opportunity for all.
The power of responsible entrepreneurship and Development aid: strengths combined
In large, global partnership ways and in small, local ways businesses, governments and NGOs are teaming up to use their respective resources (capital, political influence and expertise & cultural knowledge, respectively) to create a better life for millions of people worldwide. Dutch development aid organisation Cordaid for example, is teaming up with social-enterprise.nl to build a circle of social entrepreneurs who can benefit from each other’s and Cordaid’s expertise to create powerful business models for sustainable, socially responsible businesses. Cordaid is also one of the NGO’s who understand how important entrepreneurship and trade is to developing communities, seeking ways to stimulate both in a sustainable way in impoverished or disaster-stricken areas across the globe.
3. Changes in global business & entrepreneurship
And so we come to the last huge trend we have been seeing surging over the last few years. In a recent post here, I already described how G-Star RAW is doing it’s part by creating an environmentally friendly product which, as its principal component needs waste plastic to be removed from the oceans. All the while showing that you can be environmentally responsible from marketing all the way down to product design, and still make a buck. And this product line from G-Star is only one of a broad range of products and initiatives from global businesses like Coca-Cola, Heineken, Google, Apple (with its soon to be completed new all-environmentally-sustainable campus), H&M, and so on and so forth. Businesses worldwide are seeking and seeing opportunities to woo current, generation Y consumers to buy their products because they are ethically OK, and increasing their markets by drawing people from poorer regions into the global economic system. ‘Hello, bottom billion’, says Nokia, for instance. And it’s great that they are.
Conclusion: Be an informed optimist, and add to the flow
As you can see, the digitalisation of various vital technologies, a global partnership of governments, NGOs and corporate business, and a team-up of socially engaged consumers and responsible entrepreneurs are steadily improving the world around us. What you can do to help? Go with the flow that’s already in progress.
End the cynicism. Share this article with your friends; read “Abundance” and filter the news that reaches you through your understanding of the reason behind the domination of screaming news headlines of ever impending global disaster. Give to development aid organisations, and ask them for proof of efficacy of their programs. Start or support a responsible business venture.
And finally, consume responsibly. If you think your democratic vote every other couple of years is powerful, think again. You’re voting every day with the money that you spend, and where you spend it. Now go on, be helpful and happy.