Friday, June 26, 2009

An entrepreneurial stimulus

Over recent months, I've been boring my economist husband with views on what governments ought to be doing in response to the financial crisis, beyond bank bailouts - i.e. extending bridging funds to small businesses and putting in place more effective safety nets for individuals and families in trouble. Well, today I found a great article on CNN about an Ethiopian woman who is working to support communities in New Jersey in exactly this way. Alfa Demmellash watched her mother struggle to thrive economically, first in Ethiopia and then in the US. This inspired her to develop ways to support underserved entrepreneurs - especially women - to develop their business management skills in order to increase their prosperity. She founded the non-profit Rising Tide Capital, with her now husband, which has so far provided training and other support to more than 250 small businesses. 70% of those helped are single mothers. The CNN article includes several quotes from business owners who have increased their profits significantly whilst working with Alfa and her colleagues, which is amazing in the current economic context. If initiatives like these were taken to scale, it might be possible to stimulate the economy from the bottom up - possibly more effective than hoping bank bailouts will somehow trickle down...

Monday, June 22, 2009

A river runs cleanly through it

I've been out of action for a while - my laptop expired! :-( But I got back online today, just in time to find this great story on NPR. It documents the progress made in cleaning up the Cuyahoga River in Ohio, USA, over the last 40 years. Amazingly, this river was so polluted in the 1960s and 70s it caught fire (more than once). Most fish couldn't survive in the water, and it would certainly have been foolish to swim in it. But media coverage led to environmental activism, which in turn spawned regulation and ultimately the birth of the Environmental Protection Agency - and the Cuyahoga got cleaned up. Now, people kayak up and down the river, which is filled with all kinds of fish. As the NPR article points out, the waters aren't pristine, but they are much healthier. It seems the public spotlight is quite an effective bleaching agent!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Environmental justice comes to those who wait

A very positive milestone has been reached in the name of environmental justice, as reported in Nigerian newspaper This Day. For more than a decade, the Ogoni tribe in the Niger Delta has struggled to protect their land and their people from the damage done by local oil exploration and extraction. In the 1980s and 1990s, local protesters - many of them targeting their ire at Shell as the major corporation operating in the region - had some success in attracting international attention, but were then suppressed by Colonel Sani Abacha's military regime. Ultimately, several protesters - including local leader Ken Saro-Wiwa - were tried and hanged, all as Shell turned a blind eye. Indeed, many have postulated that Shell gave a helping hand to the Nigerian authorities... We may never know the details. However, the families of the protesters have now secured something of a victory, following a 13-year attempt to take Shell to court under an ancient US federal law, now winning an out-of-court settlement of $15.5m. Saro-Wiwa's son and other plaintiffs will use some of the funds to establish a community trust for the Ogoni, which will support projects in areas such as education, agriculture and small enterprise development. It's not a huge amount of money, but it will help. Perhaps more important are the ramifications of this case across Nigeria and globally, as the concept of corporate social responsibility is reinforced and multinationals are shown not to be above the law. This is Saro-Wiwa's legacy.