Equality is not just a “women’s issue” but a global economic imperative. Closing the gender gap could add $12 trillion to global gross domestic product over the next decade. In developing countries, women’s entrepreneurship creates jobs, enhances overall economic growth, and is a path out of poverty for many women and their families. Women don’t need handouts; they need business and leadership training, role models, professional networks, and moral support from family. Women entrepreneurs also need a broader and more creative range of financing options to grow their business and realize its full potential.Read More
It takes a village whether you’re in Dhaka, Dakar, or Denver. This includes a public sector able to meet people's basic needs, responsible governance, resilient security, and a vibrant market with robust private enterprise growth and investment.
In frontier and developing markets ((think Rwanda, Myanmar, or the hardest to serve populations of India), technology is enabling new business creation, driving increased productivity in conventional sectors like agriculture and energy, and drawing deeper interest from investors, both those close to home and further afield.
Homegrown innovation that leverages technology, a deep understanding of local market needs, increased technical capacity, and a more active and diverse investor/funding community is driving market growth across frontier and developing markets — “leapfrogging” over developed ones in some sectors, including potential blockchain innovations.Read More
Development as an industry is pivoting — in the way a behemoth cruise ship pivots. It needs to pick up the pace to match the speed of modern, tech-enabled human society, to leverage the opportunities of a lately more engaged private sector, and to onboard a world of populist governments who are persuaded more readily by a security argument than an economic one.Read More
Alliances (read: geopolitical relationships) first wrangled, then sustained global economic progress and relative stability after two devastating World Wars. The end of the Cold War ushered in a brave new world of threats, notably from non-state actors (Al-Qaeda, ISIS), technology (cyber, biochemical), and climate change. To address these challenges, cooperation among allies with shared values and goals is no less critical.
For the past 80 years, global security and economic alliances such as NATO, the UN, and the EU enabled and facilitated cooperation among nations. These institutions have been responsible for both economic progress and the prevention of major armed conflict among nations. The working theory has been that the economic benefits of capitalism and the social value of upholding fundamental liberties and human rights would make it too costly for nations to go to war with one another.
Today, the value of these alliances is being challenged. Britain has pulled out of the EU despite the benefit to its economy. President Trump has questioned the value of NATO and long-term diplomatic alliances in favor of a transactional approach with both adversaries and friends. A mood of “go it alone” nationalism has emerged in Europe, and China has taken a more globally active role.
Security issues, while paramount—especially in the Middle East—are not the only concern. Pandemics, the refugee crisis and migration flows, environmental degradation, natural disasters, and mass scale global development initiatives all require cooperation and coordination to be effectively addressed. How will we meet these challenges as alliances fray and a more fractured world order emerges?
Suggested readings for our policy salon on Monday, June 5th:
- China and EU Strengthen Promise to Paris Deal with U.S. Poised to Step Away (June 2017)
China and the EU will forge an alliance to take a leading role in tackling climate change in response to Donald Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement.
- To Defeat ISIS, Cooperation is Key (April 2017)
Cooperation is the best hope for defeating ISIS, but countries need incentives to work together, share information, modify their laws, and protect communities that are vulnerable to radicalization.
- Russia and China’s Enduring Alliance (Feb 2017)
Sino-Russian ties have been improving more or less steadily since the waning years of the Cold War due to a shared political vision for world order.
- Merkel, After Discordant G-7 Meeting, Is Looking Past Trump (May 2017)
Angela Merkel has concluded that the U.S. is not the reliable partner her country and the Continent have automatically depended on in the past.
- In Praise of a Transatlantic Divorce (May 2017)
Trump’s trip wasn’t a “home run,” but it’s not bad for Europe to start taking more responsibility for itself.
Additional articles will be posted to our Facebook page.
Venue information is shared only with invited attendees. Click here to request an invitation, join our community, or update your profile.
China is poised to retake its historical position as ‘The Middle Kingdom’ — that is, a preeminent global economic and political leader. But unlike in China’s ancient heyday, it takes the stage among competing power players and within a global liberal order that is frequently at odds with its domestic modus operandi.
In recent years, China has become an active international player in global trade, developing country investment, and environmental standard-setting. Its push to assert global leadership has spurred the rest of the world to challenge the country’s dismal record on human rights and individual freedoms, limit its extensive environmental degradation, and contain its aggressive actions toward neighbors.
China’s history includes a long span as global leader, but in a time when it had few peers to challenge its dominance. Today, it is a key player in global security issues due to its influence on North Korea, territorial competition with its neighbors, and nuclear and cyberwarfare capabilities. There’s a critical need for a check on China’s power precisely at a time when the U.S. has signaled (though inconsistently) that it will play a less active global role going forward.
Though China is increasingly willing to contribute in a constructive way to the complex system of international norms — which implies more cooperation than clashes in the long run — the rest of the world must take steps to ensure it. We’ll discuss how great power politics is shifting and how the ripple effects will impact local economies and individual actors.
Suggested readings for our policy salon on Monday, May 1st:
- America and China’s strategic relationship (April 2017)
For seven decades, America has been the hegemon in East Asia, China’s historical backyard; but now China is indisputably back.
- Beijing is no champion of globalization (Jan. 2017)
China may well emerge as the savior of globalization at some point in the future when its deeds better match its words; global leadership must be earned on merit.
- China in the middle (Jan. 2015)
(NB: Useful primer that gives historical context for the modern geopolitical scenario.) China’s growth enables it to be truly, for the first time, a Eurasian power between East Asia and the West. A pan-peripheral grand strategy would suit it best.
- China steps up as U.S. steps back from global leadership (Jan. 2017)
China is increasingly accepting opportunities to lead on global issues; its domestic development and global ascendance require steady engagement and honest efforts abroad.
- Why China will be able to sell itself as the last liberal great power (Jan. 2017)
(NB: Watch out for the snark, but filled with great links to other resources.) In some respects, China has acted like a responsible stakeholder in the liberal international order, but China is pretty far away from being a free-trader.
Additional articles will be posted to our Facebook page.
Venue information is shared only with invited attendees. Click here to request an invitation, join our community, or update your profile.
Behind the headlines of squabbling policymakers and contentious CEOs are deeply interconnected yet disaggregated threats. Though the sources and targets of these threats may seem disparate, the impact is global and requires a unified response with cohesive solutions from all the players at the table.
At this month's policy salon, we'll examine the challenge posed by the interrelated issues of food, water, and energy insecurity, why this is not a “Third World” problem, and the cohesive response needed from government, industry, and civil society leaders.
Below are suggested readings (additional articles will be posted on our Facebook page):
Water-Energy-Food: Can Leaders at Davos Solve This Global Conundrum?
Huge demands for water present complicated challenges, and leaders need a systems approach to resolve these interconnected risks.
Four Takeaways From 'Recurring Storms: Food Insecurity, Political Instability and Conflict'
Examines the levers that push societies into crisis by highlighting trends in food insecurity and their connection to political instability.
Confronting Global Security in an Era of Water Instabilities
Political instability complicated by water insecurity compromises leaders’ ability to navigate global security challenges.
Sustainable Development and the Water–Energy–Food Nexus: A Perspective on Livelihoods
Proposes an integrated framework to help policymakers formulate sustainable development agendas.
Could the new protectionist trend spur local job creation, bolster national security, and protect our pocketbooks? Or are we walling off our wallets and more by limiting cross-border trade and movement?
At this month's policy salon, we'll discuss how proposed U.S. economic and foreign policies affect us where we'll feel it. Suggested readings are below:
Trade, At What Price? (Apr. 2016)
Trade has a positive impact on the American economy but not all benefit equally.
5 Ways President Trump Will Affect U.S. Workers (Dec. 2016)
How policies on tax cuts, healthcare, infrastructure and more will affect U.S. workers.
Immigrants’ Roles in Entrepreneurship (Oct. 2016)
Do immigrants take slices of a finite economic pie, or do they refill public coffers as baby boomers retire?
Additional articles will be posted on our Facebook page.
Necessary period of adjustment to globalization and balance-of-power shifts… or The End Of The World As We Know It (cue music)? The latter 20th century liberal world order that brought relative stability, enabled democracy’s spread, moved poor nations toward greater wealth, and precipitated technological progress has hit a rough patch. Is 2016 the year the bubble burst or are we at the cusp of an inevitable evolution to the next cycle?
At our next policy salon on Monday, Feb. 6th, we’ll discuss whether we are indeed in crisis, what actions leaders should take to ensure continued progress toward shared prosperity and rights, and civil society’s role in shaping Liberal World Order 2.0.
Below are suggested readings (additional articles will be posted on our Facebook page):
The Collapse of the Liberal World Order (June 2016)
The world is entering a period where once-robust democracies have grown fragile; now is the time to figure out where we went wrong.
World Order 2.0 (January 2017)
Today’s realities call for an updated international system based on “sovereign obligation,” the notion that states have not just rights but also obligations to others.
The Twilight of the Liberal World Order (January 2017)
The liberal world order that has held sway for the past seven decades is fragmenting under the pressure of economic stress, growing tribalism and nationalism, and a general loss of confidence in established institutions.
The Future of the Liberal World Order (June 2011)
World politics is experiencing not just a changing of the guard but also a transition in the ideas and principles that underlie the global order.
2017: Out with the old, in with the…? As we ponder how a new administration will shake things up at home, populist movements abroad promise substantial change. The Brexit vote, rejection of constitutional reform in Italy, rise of right-wing parties in Europe, and Sanders' and Trump's popularity are all indicators of a growing lack of faith in leaders, political systems, and government.
Public trust in the institutions that have guided both national and international systems since World War II has eroded, and globalization, technology, and geopolitical conflict continue to bring change faster than bureaucracies – and sometimes the public – can adapt. It’s timely to explore the role of these institutions, whether they still matter, and the impact of populations’ lack of faith in government.
We will discuss the current climate of public distrust and what institutions must do to perform effectively in a world that moves faster than the speed of bureaucracy at our next policy salon on Monday, Jan. 9th (connect with us here to receive an invitation).
Below are suggested readings (additional articles will be posted on our Facebook page):
1) No One to Trust: Anger That Connects Brexit, Trump, Le Pen (June 2011)
There is a growing lack of faith in the institutions that secured relative peace and prosperity for three generations of Europeans and Americans.
2) How Americans Lost Trust in Our Greatest Institutions (April 2012)
It's not just Washington. Across the country, citizens' faith in their city halls, newspapers, and churches is fading.
3) Lost Legitimacy (November 2013)
Growing dissatisfaction with political elites makes makes effective public and private leadership much more difficult. The result is a global crisis of legitimacy.
4) What Race Tells Us About Anti-Government Attitudes (April 2012)
Communities of color have been failed time and again by federal institutions, yet the same pillars of the American system are responsible for pushing through and upholding progressive advances – from integration in the military and beyond to voting rights equality.
The divide between rural and urban areas is starker than ever across social, political, and economic markers. This division influences everything from the pace of economic development in China to sectarian strife in the Middle East to political pivots in the U.S.
In the 2016 U.S. election, “red” and “blue” counties each deepened their political positions for Republican and Democratic candidates, respectively, often delineated by rural, exurban, and urban geographies. Around the world, urbanization continues apace as rural populations in developing countries migrate to cities in search of better economic opportunity.
How will these demographic shifts influence the political, economic, and security prospects of growing cities and shrinking rural communities? How do policy makers and business leaders reconcile the respective resources, needs, and constraints of serving these different populations?
- How the Election Revealed the Divide Between City and Country
The 2016 election exposed a chasm between urban and non-urban America that will likely widen under a Trump administration.
- Leaving the Land: China’s Great Uprooting – Moving 250 Million into Cities
This series looks at how China's government-driven effort to push the population to towns and cities is reshaping a nation that for millenniums has been defined by its rural life.
- Why the War for Syria’s Future Will Be Fought Over the Country’s New Urban Villages
Urban conflict in Syria is a byproduct of over ten years of rural village migrations – fueled by economic necessity and a persistent drought – into the outskirts of Syria’s ancient cities.
From China’s new Silk Road initiative that connects dozens of cities across three continents to urban behemoths like Lagos and Mumbai in the developing world, cities are more connected, concentrated, and influential than ever.
The city is one of mankind’s oldest and most abiding social structures. The great ones have been destroyed and rebuilt many times over, outlasting empires and nations. Megacities – cities with populations of 10 million or more – are expected to grow from 20 today to close to 40 by 2025. We’ll discuss the improved connectivity that accompanies this growth, the opportunities for innovation and inclusiveness, and the challenges in terms of resources, infrastructure, and security.
On Monday, November 7th, we welcome guest speaker Col. Patrick J. Mahaney to our November policy salon. Col. Mahaney will anchor the discussion with his expertise on megacities, the focus of his role as Senior Military Fellow of the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Group.
Below is suggested reading to bring you up-to-speed:
- Megacities, Not Nations, are the World’s Dominant, Enduring Social Structures
Today cities have become the world’s dominant demographic and economic clusters, though connectivity matters more than size.
- Safe in the City: Urban Spaces are the New Frontier for International Security
Major cities of the world will increasingly play a large role in the 21st century distribution of global power.
- How Cities Are Shaping International Relations
While countries negotiate international security deals, trade partnerships, and climate agreements, the power of cities to develop their own foreign policy is growing.
Additional articles will be posted on our Facebook page.
All roads may lead to Guangzhou someday thanks to China’s ambitious land and maritime Silk Road redux that reaches as far as London and Djibouti. China's vast and complex connector initiative could trigger major shifts in the global balance of power with ripples across trade, enterprise, development, environment, and human security. We'll cover the top line intersections at our flagship monthly roundtable discussion on Monday, October 3rd.
Below is suggested reading to bring you up-to-speed:
(1) Our Bulldozers, Our Rules
China’s biggest foreign-economic policy ‘One Belt, One Road’ – which refers to ancient maritime routes and the overland trails between China and Europe (see map) – could reshape a good part of the world economy.
(2) China's Huge 'One Belt, One Road' Initiative Is Sweeping Central Asia
Beijing’s ambitious foreign-economic development initiative is redirecting capital abroad to reduce excessive industrial capacity at home while increasing financial returns.
(3) China Has a Plan to Take Over Eurasia — and America Loves It
Beijing has pledged tens of billions of dollars in investments for new roads, pipelines, power stations, rail lines, and ports to create a network of trade routes that link China to South and Central Asia, and to Europe.
Summer has sailed on despite what the weatherman (and climate change) tell us. It's back to business! This year, the must-have color for autumn is: Equality.
(1) How Advancing Women’s Equality Can Add $12 Trillion to Global Growth
A new McKinsey Global Institute report finds that advancing women's equality could add $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025.
(2) Promoting Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment for Sustainable Development in Africa
Promoting gender equality is an essential component of a sustainable development strategy to reduce poverty and improve the standard of living.
(3) Free from the Taliban, How the Women of Afghanistan are Saving the Silk Weaving Tradition
42,500 women are involved in a project to provide a means of subsistence for their families and to lead the international market access for silk producers in the country.
From Brexiteer to Bregretter, what does the walk of shame look like when half the country is scuttling home, disheveled from a night of impetuous decision-making, wondering how they ended up in such a mess?
In honor of our own American Brexit of 1776, we’ll do a post-mortem at our next policy salon on last week’s historic U.K. referendum to leave the European Union. We’ll look at likely implications for the international order, the E.U., and the U.S.
Below are suggested readings to bring you up-to-speed:
(1) EU Referendum: What are the Pros and Cons of Brexit?
The final result went 52% to 48% in favor of Brexit - so what are the pros and cons of leaving the European Union?
(2) Please Leave: Why Brexit Would Benefit Europe
The EU is showing grave sclerosis, and voices are calling for its dissolution; the moment has thus come to prune the dead wood of the tree to save the trunk.
(3) Brexit 101: What Just Happened, and Why it's Important for Americans
It does sound hyperbolic, but there are actually a couple arguments for why a Brexit may hurt the rest of the globe.
(4) Brexit Is Good News for Russia but a Headache for NATO
Britain’s exit from the EU will undercut its role as America’s key ally in Europe, leaving the continent more divided and distracted — just the way Putin likes it.
This is a guest post by Jason Riffe, Founder and President of RiD+. He recently lived and worked across Haiti for 15 months implementing programs and advocating for economic, social, and cultural rights. Jason will be a guest presenter at our April 27th Workshop on Digital Inclusion in Fragile Communities from NYC to Cité Soleil.
There is a problem that exists across our developing world. The lack of access to relevant technologies restricts girls and women from professional development, a livable wage, and a strengthened community. An inclusive society and an inclusive world requires training and access to current technology in order for the developing world to improve. If we look at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, specifically the municipality of Cite Soleil we can see that the barriers women and girls face are one issues and access to technology generally is another.
When assessing the limits of digital inclusion for women and girls there are a number of variable issues to address first. Over the course of the 15 months that I lived and worked in this community, I realized digital inclusion is marginal if it exists at all. Firstly, Cite Soleil has sporadic access to electricity. Without this resource it is difficult to keep a technology center open for girls and women. Residents do steal electricity from neighboring areas, but the state power company does not provide resources here. Since the community is impoverished, the state argues that they do not have any tax revenue to pay for the resources. This inherently means that the wealthier areas of Port-au-Prince have 24hr power. Secondly, there are very few schooling centers and only one that has a technology hub comprised of five touchscreen pads. This is a primary school that serves approximately eighty students.
If we assume electricity is available, and technology is generally accessible, then the barriers women face are cultural. There is a cultural expectation that girls stay home and support the family by performing house duties to the detriment of their education. This expectation removes girls from secondary schooling around 12-14 years of age. This has traditionally been an expectation supported by the mothers as opposed to the men in the community.
Soleil is a slum of approximately 400,000 people with minimal access to state infrastructure. Social services are non-existent, the majority of the population is unemployed and suffers from extreme poverty. And yet in a community such as this, where families live next to open canals, where hogs feed off of the waste and refuse, girls and women are constantly searching for opportunities to better their livelihoods. They want a better life and they want to learn relevant skills. Working to include these women in the digital world will positively affect their livelihoods and improve the human condition.
The opportunity exists in communities such as this to integration technology centers focused on providing current relevant technology to underserved populations. Girls and women will be able to learn not just job readiness skills, but critical thinking and problem solving skills. Classes in coding and design can be taught in a technology lab on platforms and operating systems locally available via personal smartphones. And the extremely poor will gain access to a global network of communication as well as an expanding network of entrepreneurial opportunities. We know the problem; we have a solution. Now let’s work together to provide a life of dignity for all starting with the digital inclusion of women and girls in developing nations.
Impact of Domestic Politics on Foreign Policy
This month’s topic provoked a wide-ranging discussion on the influence of domestic politics on foreign policy decisions. In particular, the 2016 election has provoked healthy public debate across a range of issues. While foreign policy is primarily the domain of the President and the dedicated professionals who provide policy advice, it is also clear that “domestic politics — the lifeblood of the republic — is necessary and inevitable, if at times inconvenient” for furthering the national interest abroad.
Elections and Foreign Policy. Much election research shows that US voters generally care more about economic issues than foreign policy concerns, but this year may be different. The terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and the recent attacks in Europe have raised fears and again brought international terrorism to the forefront. In 2012, terrorism was one among a handful of priorities. Now, the overwhelming focus is on ISIS, which eludes a firm set of policy options, and on Syria, a complex situation that has proven immune to clearly defined and easily communicable policy responses. The way we confront challenges abroad will need to become more adept and creative. Whichever candidate the voters consider able to confront these challenges will likely have an edge in the general election.
US Power – Perceptions and Limitations. There is a difference between the general perception of what the US can accomplish and the actual limitations of US power. Consider the difference between the recent moves by the US and Russia in Syria. Putin finally took aggressive – though limited – action to prevent the Assad regime from falling. Some regard this action as “decisive,” yet Putin waited four years into the conflict to help his ally with direct military support. Obama responded with more special forces and military trainers, but remains unwilling to put to put US troops on the ground. This action may have been influenced by US public perception that we should be “doing more.” More likely it was influenced by classic balance-of-power and realism theory, which dictates that every foreign policy move is, at least in part, a reaction to the moves of another actor, assuming that both actors are rational. Yet, in many foreign policy situations, all bets are hedged: an actor cannot be absolutely certain that a move is in his or her interest because there are so many variables. Articulating the myriad of things that could go wrong – or that it’s hardly possible to guarantee a favorable outcome – requires a greater level of attention than the public is generally willing to exercise.
No Patience with Strategic Patience. While opinion is divided on the use of ground troops against ISIS, Americans tend to like and understand what they consider decisive action in foreign policy. This bias for action fits neatly with our can-do American ethos. It is easier for the President to articulate a war strategy than it is to explain a strategy based on patience, negotiation, and diplomacy. Obama’s approach of strategic patience is particularly difficult to rally the public around, since that strategy depends on the notion that the US is strong and secure enough to wait for facts on the ground to change or for other actors to come to decisions that work in our favor.
Where Public Opinion Holds Sway. While many foreign policy decisions are made independently by the President, there are instances in which domestic politics is crucial to the conduct of foreign policy. For example, President George W. Bush and his administration spent an enormous effort to garner public support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Helping with this effort was a network of think tanks and media outlets, which one can argue should have exercised more skepticism. Ultimately, this full-court press swayed US public opinion in favor of the war, when initially it had been against overthrowing Saddam Hussein.
Dickens to Davos: The Fourth Industrial Revolution – What It Means and How Business and Policy Leaders Can Respond
Thanks to all who participated in our March policy salon, where we tackled the issue that was top-of-mind for business and policy leaders at the World Economic Forum: The Fourth Industrial Revolution. These are our key distillations from the evening’s discussion.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by the integration of cyber-physical systems, the “fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres." This includes developments in artificial intelligence, robotics, Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles and weapons, and 3-D printing, and crosses sectors from nanotechnology and biotechnology to materials science and energy storage. Progress is happening at an exponential rather than linear pace, disrupting every industry and precipitating the transformation of entire systems of production, management, governance.
Is there really a Fourth Industrial Revolution? There is a perspective that the changes, no matter how fast or profound, are due to the evolution of the interconnectivity and network-building brought on by digitization. Thus, we are now reaping the benefits of the Third Industrial Revolution. The group discussed the need to be clear on terminology, especially definitions of technologies and processes, in order to understand which characteristics may be fundamentally different and what milestone might mark a fundamental shift to a new “revolution.”
Benefits will not necessarily “trickle down” to all. In every revolution, it is an unfortunate fact that jobs are lost and not all who are displaced will be able to make the shift to a new job that pays just as well or better. Retraining is a favorite refrain of business leaders who must make adjustments in order to stay competitive, and of politicians who must contend with angry, under- or unemployed constituents. Retraining is sometimes an option but can be difficult and highly variable, depending on the resources invested and participants’ potential for acquiring new skills. On the other hand, it is certainly true that technology has vastly improved the quality-of-life for billions of people around the world, increasing access to variety of goods and services and finding innovative ways to improve livelihoods, especially for rural populations and people with disabilities.
Concerns about increasing inequality. One concern about the impact of the revolution is the division of gains between capital and labor. Recent trends suggest that small elites – the innovators, investors, and shareholders – will reap many of the financial benefits. In a political environment in which the safety net that mitigated some of the negative impact of the Second Industrial Revolution continues to fray, our leaders will need to exert the political will to prevent predatory corporate behavior and to reduce the externalized costs that often fall on the taxpayer. Business leaders, for their part, should focus on how to make the pie bigger for everyone, rather than how to take a larger slice.
Power to the people. Technology has certainly provided the public with unprecedented access to information as well as a platform to make their voices heard. Digital platforms enable civic engagement to influence both the public and commercial spheres. For instance, consumers are able to post ratings for products and services publicly, which can prompt better service and a higher level of corporate responsibility. While the anonymity of social media tends to expose the worst of human behavior, collaborative platforms for social and commercial good (e.g., crowdsourcing, crowdfunding) have mobilized people to solve problems and exposed “the better angels of our nature.”
What can be done to mitigate negative effects? The group discussed the need to incentivize better behavior of corporations to ensure workers are not exploited and gains are spread more broadly and to raise productivity and employability of less-skilled workers. We need to have political will to address potentially egregious abuses from government (e.g., pervasive surveillance), to protect privacy, to guarantee network neutrality, to ensure data, security, and to regulate potentially destructive corporate behavior. We must also increase our digital inclusion efforts to ensure that all people have access to technology to avoid being left behind.
Attack of the killer robots. Technological breakthroughs have enabled the development of autonomous technologies, such as artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, and autonomous weapons, aka “killer robots.” While it is possible to build technologically sophisticated systems, there is still a human judgement – call it “instinct” or tacit knowledge, the result of many years of experience – that is required and, in some circumstances, superior, especially where things don’t go as planned. We must think about the human element in terms of how we integrate these new technologies with our lives, how they can be beneficial to the human condition while mitigating the risks, what kinds of new jobs and training are needed.
Thanks to all who attended our second member-facilitated First Mondays policy salon. Debi Spindelman asked us to think about how to engage business and policy leaders as we address the impact of stunting (a.k.a. chronic, early-life malnutrition).
Below, find our key distillations from the evening’s discussion and additional resources to explore the topic further. Mark your calendars for our next First Mondays salon on Monday, March 7th at 6:30 p.m., and look for an invitation to an upcoming special event.
Why the Richard Bransons, Ben Bernankes, and Bill Brattons of the world should care about stunting (a.k.a. chronic, early-life malnutrition)
Bransons, Bernankes, Brattons – you’re up! The nutrition folks have put together the right foods to reduce stunting. The humanitarian and development people have tried to get this food to where it’s needed. But these efforts are clearly not whole-problem solutions. We’re still living in a world that produces 159 million children so malnourished that their physical and cognitive development stops far short of their potential. This fact is a hit not only on our collective hearts, but on your respective sweet spots: the company bottom line, the country bottom line, and the CompStat report. As countries’ economies grow, leaders (like you) and operators (like us) across the business, policy, and security sectors can ensure that strategic investments are made not just in high-growth business sectors, but as well in poverty alleviation, nutrition security, maternal health, and early childhood development on the front-end and cognitive behavioral therapy and educational intervention for those affected by stunting on the back-end. These are long-term investments in the productivity of the global workforce and governance capacity in the most fragile corners of our world.
Stunting is a biomedical issue. It’s not only about quantity of food – the number of calories from fat, protein, and carbs, a.k.a. macronutrients; it’s also about quality of food – the vitamins and minerals, a.k.a. micronutrients, that make kale a better food choice than those fries you’re about to eat for lunch. Deprivation of micronutrients in the first 1000 days from conception (in utero) to 3 years of age impedes cognitive development, thereby influencing learning capabilities, IQ, judgement, and decision-making.
Reversible, or not reversible, that is the question. We queried whether cognitive impairment caused by stunting can be reversed to any degree across the lifespan of an individual. Most academics and practitioners have said, “No,” and put their efforts behind prevention. But Debi, who has spent substantial time in her career and throughout her life working with special-needs learners, contends that like other mild-to-moderate learning and behavior disorders, there may indeed be mitigation techniques for stunted individuals with a similar degree of cognitive impairment. These techniques could have a game-changing influence on economic productivity, law enforcement strategies, and public-private policy approaches in food-insecure areas with high stunting rates. Unlike the biomedically irreversible impairment caused by lead exposure, impairment from stunting may be partially reversible.
But, food is also a cultural issue. “Fixing” access to enough nutritious food is relatively straightforward, but changing how people engage with food is a stickier conundrum. Across South Asia and places with strong cultural gender biases combined with poverty, women, girls, and even expectant mothers (beginning the cycle of early-life malnutrition in utero) often eat last, after the most nutrient-rich foods have already been consumed. Further, nutrition is not simply sustenance; food also influences behavior and culture. Basic satiation leads to big changes in mood and behavior, as well as our ability to handle difficult decisions and learning processes. Thus there is a connection between nutrition, environmental health, and the social problems that often beset food-insecure communities, such as structural violence and higher enrollment in illegal activity. How do communities and countries change the path of food insecurity with behavior changes and cultural adjustments?
Nutrition is a money issue and money is a political issue. Poor communities are disproportionately affected and lack resources for remediation. Yet nutrition assistance is often a victim of partisanship in which social programs for the poor are framed as a moral hazard that incentivizes dependency. To pivot the conversation, we must recognize that poverty is not only a social issue; it is a primary driver of a biomedical problem that negatively affects children’s brains/cognitive development and their ability to be well-prepared, contributing adults of their communities, which, ironically, feeds the same vicious cycle.
Like the scourge of politics (#GetOutTheVote2016), cognitive impairment has broad implications for everyone. Whether cognitive impairment is due to stunting (caused by early malnutrition, neglect, or trauma), Zika-borne microcephaly, or lead poisoning, poor cognitive development is closely entwined with poverty and is a driver of reduced economic productivity. Conflict, disaster, and bleak livelihood options that stoke the fires of forced migration are tightly bound up with stunting rates (which are often double in conflict-impacted areas) and human capacity issues. Prevention efforts are great but attention needs to be paid to those living with this impairment to support them, their communities, and their countries
to fulfill their full participation in society.
For a deeper dive, Debi recommends:
- Global Nutrition Report (synopsis is great)
- Conflict and Food Insecurity: How Do We Break The Links?
- "I Don't Know What You've Done With My Husband, But He's A Changed Man" (Freakonmics podcast on behavioral therapy w/ Chris Blattman)
Please feel free to share any additional thoughts or feedback by emailing us:
ideas (at) franklinstreetppolicygrp (dot) nyc.
A huge thank you...
to everyone who joined us in person and in spirit at Franklin Street Policy Group’s launch party and shinnenkai! We’re jazzed to keep building this with all of you.
As we grow Franklin Street to expand our network of like-minded practitioners; find people and organizations that share common cause with our network of vanguard thinkers; and advance our program goals from talk to walk, we have three asks:
- Visit our website! Go to our “Connect with Us” page and request to join our community to receive invitations to our salons, scrums, and workshops; distillations from our experiences; and other updates.
- Tell your friends! Help us extend this vetted community of dedicated professionals by spreading the word to individuals and organizations you know who would be interested in participating in our programs, connecting us with great thinkers and doers we should include in the network, or introducing us to compelling potential speakers.
- Help us grow! We’ve launched our first ever fundraiser on Generosity.com. We’re kicking off a friends and family campaign with a challenge of $3500 in the next 35 days to jumpstart our 2016 goal to raise $35,000. We’re also seeking sponsorships, corporate partnerships, or philanthropic grants to help us cover our operating and program costs as we grow. We are grateful for any support that’s within your means and introductions to any organizations, institutions, corporations, and individuals that might be smart partners for us.
We had a fantastic turnout of more than 50 friends and supporters gather to celebrate a launch almost a year in the making and to kick off 2016 Japan-style with plenty of promises of collaborative work and rounds of drinks. We’re lucky to have so many smart, dynamic people in our lives and were ecstatic to finally have many of them together in one place, connecting across sectors.
The reason for our focus on “cross-sector” collaboration is that any real improvement or change – whether it’s urban renewal in East New York or post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan – only happens when all the players are at the table. You need the investment and energy of the business community to drive a thriving economy; the security sector to ensure a safe and stable operating environment; and the long-view, ecosystem expertise of the development community. And in New York, a global hub for all three of these sectors, there is no other forum that is accessible to collaboratively and creatively take on these issues, so we’re building it, together.
For those who couldn’t be with us in person to hear about what we’re building, you missed out on witnessing the two of us climb on chairs to speak to a room packed to almost Tokyo subway-car level and submitting your proposal for how to solve world peace (shout out to crowd favorite and crowned winner, Mellissa, for her solution: reparations from the British).
Our plans for 2016:
- Every other month, one of our members will lead our First Mondays policy salon to showcase their area of expertise and draw out cross-sector perspectives to their issue. Last December, Dana Watters led a discussion on post-war developments in the Balkans and how it is and isn't a comparable model for the Syria crisis. In February, Debi Spindelman will discuss the links between malnutrition, conflict, and economic development. We’ll also continue to share distillations like First Mondays: Final Thoughts from selected events.
- It was a major gamechanger for us when late last fall we received a community member scholarship from Civic Hall, a civic-tech coworking community in Manhattan’s Flatiron district focused on how technology can be used to further social and civic goals. In the spirit of our new homebase, we’ll hold a spring program around technology intersections.
- We have several projects and partnerships that are still baking, including one with a chief officer at a major American luxury retailer focused on sustainable business practices in frontier markets and a social impact partnership specifically focused on social enterprises with Serval Ventures.
And last but not least...
Along the way, we’ve had champions who went above and beyond to get us to this exciting next step and we couldn’t end this note without taking a moment to express our immense gratitude.
First, we are incredibly fortunate to have a core group of smart, gracious friends and loved ones who have consistently supported us intellectually, emotionally, and financially from the beginning.
Second, a huge thanks to Scott Smith, Director of Afghanistan and Central Asia programs at the US Institute of Peace and our former Columbia professor, who is an all around fun, smart, good guy who has been one of our most ardent cheerleaders and most willing guinea pig.
Finally, thank you to the entire Penn Social Impact House ecosystem, which supported Franklin Street with its summer social impact residency program last summer that resulted in a marvelously creative pivot that influenced how we planned our scrum workshops.
Thank you again for building Franklin Street Policy Group with us!
Miki & Carol
Thank you to everyone who attended Franklin Street’s first policy salon of 2016! We kicked off this year on a positive note and focused our discussion on Sub-Saharan Africa’s past successes and potential for 2016. We chose three particularly exciting opportunity areas: the solar power revolution, tech-enabled development, and the rise of sustainable tourism in the region.
Below are key distillations from the evening’s discussion. We’ve also tacked on a few extra reading recommendations for those interested in exploring these topics further.
Sub-Saharan Africa: Past Successes and Potential for 2016 with the Solar Energy Revolution, Tech-Enabled Development, and Sustainable Tourism
Tech is King, but is IT Enough?
Much of the innovation driving development these days is thanks to a synergistic alignment of new technology finally able to meet customer demand and not-so-new technology whose infrastructure was previously too expensive to expand to every market. Now, like mobile technology did for telecommunications and mobile payments, energy technology is helping an otherwise infrastructure-heavy sector leapfrog those costly hardware installations and micro-deliver alternative energy to individuals, households, and communities.
Yet with such tech-centered (and therefore energy-dependent) development, do these solutions truly extend all the way to that last mile and its bottom billion? What kind of scale can you really achieve with a few LED lights and some cell phone chargers? The answer is, a lot... but maybe it’s not enough.
You Say You Want a (Solar) Revolution
Energy needs are at the core of many challenges and their solutions in Sub-Saharan Africa, and solar energy is poised to help the region skip over fossil fuel-based development with its “quiet solar revolution.” Technological advances in solar power have made extending energy utility to the last mile not only financially feasible but potentially lucrative as social and conventional enterprises, development and commercial banks, and utilities eye the untapped market at the bottom of the pyramid. Private companies are competing to provide low-cost energy to potentially millions of people who currently make up the 70-80% of the world’s poorest who live without electrification or consistent access to electricity for basic necessities like lights and charging sources for cell phones and computers.
Long-Game or Short Gain?
Though the energy buzz in Sub-Saharan Africa is all about renewable and alternative energy, the truth is that most of the region (and the world) is still powered by fossil fuels. The struggle between the ability to develop right now versus long-term environmental concerns heated up our conversation. At the center of the debate is that money from extracted natural resources often does not translate into catalytic investment in local economies. Rather, it tends to favor moneyed investors and elites. Despite the overwhelmingly clear opportunity in the region (and the rest of the developing world), two obstacles that continue to stand in the way of sustainable development are corruption and security. These make sustainably taking advantage of the continent’s abundance of natural resources more precarious.
As long as the potential for substantial profits from oil exploration exceeds the potential from sustainable development, there will be continued threats to the environment and national parks, such as Congo’s Virunga, just as sustainable tourism is taking off as an industry. There is a US$1.1 billion potential for Virunga National Park to be used for hydropower, ecotourism, and sustainable agriculture. But to meet that potential, the country must settle the security, infrastructure, and governance hurdles that keep the park at its current valuation of about US$50 million annually. Most recently, grassroots activism compelled UK oil company SOCO to halt its oil exploration plans in Virunga and relinquish its exploration rights, though it is likely only a matter of time until another company takes its place.
We asked whether there is a way to work with oil companies to determine new technologies that would enable exploration and are less damaging to the environment – that is, the most efficient use of fossil fuel with the least detrimental environmental and social footprint – while collaborating on developing sustainable energy sources and development in the areas around extraction sites. Is there a way to change the calculus so that energy development is not a zero-sum game? It would be necessary for the government to support such a program, establish and enforce a regulatory system to prevent excesses, and create a profit incentive that is aligned with community needs.
It’s Not Always Sunny...
Again, corruption continues to be an obstacle to security, stability, and sustainable economic growth. Our members’ collective experience prompted a lengthy dive into the Rwanda-Singapore comparison that is frequently made. In Rwanda, for example, a zero-tolerance policy for corruption comes with the price of quasi-authoritarian governance “tendencies” that may lead to civil unrest in the future when a political transition is imminent. As the country continues to bill itself as the “Singapore of Africa,” some of the same criticisms that marred Singapore’s own development under authoritarian rule and continue to provoke civic debate among its citizenry also plague Africa’s darling of the development and foreign direct investment communities. Regardless, Rwanda has focused on investments in technology to move ahead of the curve and become one of the continent’s most business-friendly countries. It has an electronic business registration that enables businesses to set up within three days, and the country just announced it’s building the world’s first “drone port” for civilian and commercial use. This will enable the “Land of a Thousand Hills” to literally overcome obstacles in the road to its development. Given the 2015 coup and ongoing crisis in neighboring Burundi as well as the continued conflict in eastern Congo (in which Rwanda has been implicated), the group pondered whether even a commercial drone port might not pose risks for the Great Lakes region.
All in all, an excellent, thought provoking discussion with lots of successes to celebrate and still some challenges to overcome… leaving us plenty of fodder upcoming salons and scrums, where we hope you will join us.
For further reading ...
If you’re looking for a deeper dive on these issues, we recommend these three reports:
Brighter Africa: The Growth Potential of the Sub-Saharan Electricity Sector
Africa Progress Panel Report 2015
The Economic Value of Virunga National Park
Also, check out the award-winning documentary on Virunga, the true story of a group of people who risked their lives to build a better future in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Our discussion and final thoughts drew from the following readings:
Africa's quiet solar revolution
Leapfrogging infrastructure development in Africa?
Oil exploration threatens Africa's billion dollar World Heritage Site
Please feel free to share any additional thoughts or feedback by emailing us at ideas(at)franklinstreetpolicygrp(dot)nyc.