Saturday, September 26, 2009

Rule #52 Lives in Washington, DC

Stay alert! There are teachers everywhere!
You'd think that, having written Rules of Thumb, I'd know about my own rules, wouldn't you? Except that, as one of the Rules says, "Knowin' it ain't the same as doin' it." (A rule taught me by Larry Smith, who was gracious enough to host me at his lovely Capitol Hill home.)
But the rule that I end the book with is, perhaps, the rule that deserves constant reminders: there are teachers everywhere, if you keep your eyes and ears open, pay attention, and ask questions.
For example, I spent a very interesting hour with Beth Rhyne of the Center for Financial inclusion, a department of ACCION. In addition to briefing me on the work of the Center, which focuses on moving micro-finance into the mainstream and help it reach more people with opportunity and protect more people from bad financial practices, Beth gave me a heads up on ain interesting piece of financial/political news: a number of Latin American governments are buying micro-finance operations to make sure that micro-finance serves their political interests. Check out what has happened with Prodem as an example. To be accurate, Beth wasn't commenting on these purchases--she was just reporting that people with an interest in micro-finance need to look outside of the ordinary boundaries of micro-finance to see how it has become a part of the global political competition for the minds and hearts of people all over the world.
Another teacher: Connie Evans of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity. Connie is fresh to Washington, having moved from Chicago. Earlier in her career Connie started the first micro-enterprise project for women in the US: the Women's Self-Improvement Project. In her new job Connie is determined to bring micro-enterprise to the US, where, she says, there are 10-18 million potential micro-enterprise entrepreneurs. Another interesting point raised by Connie: each micro-enterprise creates 2 to 3 new jobs--but the Labor Department doesn't count jobs created by micro-enterprise!
And then there's Neil Shah. As a 21-year old at Georgetown, Neil is operating Compass Partners, a brilliant, fascinating dynamic training program to teach fellow students how to be social entrepreneurs. Compass Partners operates a consulting firm and 9 student-run enterprises, all of which are social businesses, serving a social purpose and generating operating revenues! There are 163 Georgetown students in the program and each student goes through 5 levels as they learn more, contribute more, and undertake more in the field of social entrepreneurship. It's a fascinating program and Neil is a remarkable young social entrepreneur whose vision is both far-reaching and highly disciplined.
From there I went to a day-long conference sponsored by the University of Maryland. Seth Goldman kicked it off with the story behind Honest Tea--and left the audience with an old Chinese proverb: "Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt the people doing it."
And when you get to hear a Nobel prize winning scientist discuss climate change, well, that's a real teacher! Thomas Schelling gave a key note address in which he said that climate change is real and the science is well-accepted. The question is what to do and who will do it. The heart of the matter, said Schelling, is for rich countries to help developing countries transition to renewable energy sources. It's wrong to insist that developing countries slow down their energy use--they need to use energy to develop, which is how they'll be able to survive climate change! Schelling cited the Marshall Plan as one of the last times in modern history where major powers found a way to cooperate to help countries rebuild. But at a time when China is building 1 coal plant per week--1 coal plant per week!--the challenge is for rich nations to come together and cooperate in putting up money to help developing countries; for developing countries to figure out how they would divide the money; and perhaps an intermediary to negotiate between the two, so the transfer of wealth doesn't resemble extortion or black mail.
The last word goes to Paul Light, who spoke about his research on social entrepreneurship. He ended his talk by saying, regardless of your definition of social entrepreneurship or the sector in which you work, "We are all public servants now."

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb