Business

The good and bad news about global poverty in 2020

There is both good news and bad news about poverty this year. We can rejoice that the biggest lift out of poverty in the history of mankind has happened in our generation. Since 1990, more than a billion people have risen out of extreme poverty.

We can celebrate that a large number of these are located in China and India. They’ve risen not through aid but trade, not by handouts or charity. Growing small- and medium-size businesses have been key factors of this good news.

The bad news is that, due to the coronavirus restrictions and lockdown measures, we risk a major global setback. The United Nations, the World Food Program, the International Labor Organization, the International Food Policy Research Institute, Business Sweden, and others are painting horrifying scenarios on a macro-scale: Around 50 million children could fall into extreme poverty. Hundreds of millions of jobs may be lost. About 260 million face starvation, and three dozen countries risk famine.

Workers affected by the lockdown measures number about 2.7 billion. Most vulnerable are people in the informal sector, and in India alone 400 million workers now face greater impoverishment. And 50-70 percent of the population in 20 countries in Africa will run out of money and food after a 14-day quarantine.

When sales in clothes retailers like H&M went down around the globe, two million workers in the garment industry in Bangladesh lost their jobs. Their fate is similar to a message I received from a friend in Myanmar: “What this (lockdown) has meant for poor people, who are part of the informal economy, is no work, no money and therefore no food. There is no government social security net and certainly no savings.”

It may be, as the Stanford professor and Nobel Prize winner Michael Levitt recently stated: “When we come to look back on this, the damage done by lockdown will exceed any saving of lives by a huge factor.”[1]

Bishop Borromeo’s holistic worldview

But in the face of these grim predictions, there is more good news! People and nations have fought pandemics before, risen out of abysmal poverty and conquered dreadful diseases. So, what can we learn?

In 1575, plague descended on Milan. The city’s bishop, Saint Charles Borromeo, hastened both to action and to prayer. Indeed, he exemplified the maxim beloved of Dorothy Day and others, to “work as though everything depended on ourselves, and pray as though everything depended on God.” [2]

Bishop Borromeo had a holistic worldview, working with God and people to meet physical, social, economic, and spiritual needs. He persuaded rich people to help the poor. He created and staffed hospitals and quarantine houses. He instituted social distancing policies and had a particular love and care for orphaned infants. He moved church outdoors, to mitigate risk of spreading the disease. But he also created jobs and supported a large number of laid-off workers.

Borromeo realized that the plague didn’t cause just one problem, and thus there was not just one solution. He raised funds and tackled immediate needs like hunger and healing. He also sought dignifying and long-term solution by creating jobs. While acknowledging and dealing with physical health issues – and identifying socio-economic needs – he also addressed the spiritual welfare of the people. We must learn from his holistic views and multi-dimensional solution.

Borromeo realized that the plague didn’t cause just one problem, and thus there was not just one solution.

He understood that jobs are not just a matter of income or survival; work is an issue of human dignity. What is the best way to help a poor child? Give the parents a job! Charity has a place, and relief efforts are needed. But, for a long-term solution, we need a paradigm shift in thinking and praxis, from handouts to job creation, from mainly non-profit responses to for profit solutions.

There is a need to embrace work as good, and we must acknowledge that business is a vocation (from vocare – calling), and that everyone has one. Business has a higher purpose beyond mere sustenance or just financial returns.

Entrepreneurs, managers and all who work in business, should be encouraged to recognize their work as a true vocation and to respond to God’s call in the spirit of true disciples. In doing so, they engage in the noble task of serving their brothers and sisters and of building up the Kingdom of God. [3]

Jobs provide for spiritual, economic, social, and environmental transformation.

Jobs provide for spiritual, economic, social, and environmental transformation.

Learning from the past and quadrupling the bottom line

Like Borromeo, we seek holistic transformation of people and societies. That includes seeking a positive impact on multiple bottom lines for multiple stakeholders as we do business.

As the Business as Mission Manifesto (2004) states: “We recognize that there is a need for job creation and for multiplication of businesses all over the world, aiming at the quadruple bottom line: spiritual, economic, social and environmental transformation.” [4]

Worldview matters and ideas have consequences. We have too many examples of devastating ideology driven policies with limited regards for consequences. One can compare the health and wealth of people and nations with the same culture and languages like South and North Korea, and West and East Germany. We can witness how a potentially rich country like Zimbabwe has gone from being a bread basket to a basket case in southern Africa. The oil rich Venezuela is another tragic example of how disregard for basic wealth creation principles has destroyed a country.

The disastrous and murderous socialist policies of Mao came to an end in the late 1970’s when Deng Xiaoping opened up for business and led the country to a path out of poverty towards prosperity. He defended his non-communist but pragmatic approach by saying: it doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white as long as it catches mice.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have Israel. It is an example of a small nation with limited natural resources and with hostile neighbors, which in our lifetime has been transformed to a prosperous world-leading innovator.[5] Another example is Singapore which was poor and became independent as recently as 1965. But they learned from Israel. Today it is another world-leading country; well-functioning, green, safe, clean, and prosperous.

Consequently, we need to be mindful of the consequences of the coronavirus and global lockdown measures. But we should also learn from the past, from successes and failures, from Borromeo to Singapore and its prime leader for decades – Lee Kuan Yew[6]. We need to affirm the intrinsic value of work and business and its power to restore and create health and wealth. We need ora et labora, to pray and work.

As stated in the Wealth Creation Manifesto[7] from 2017: 

Wealth sharing should be encouraged, but there is no wealth to be shared unless it has been created. The purpose of wealth creation through business goes beyond giving generously. Business has a special capacity to create financial wealth but also has the potential to create different kinds of wealth for many stakeholders, including social, intellectual, physical and spiritual wealth. Wealth creation, through business, has proven power to lift people and nations out of poverty. Wealth creation must always be pursued with justice and a concern for the poor.

The need for God-honoring and people-serving businesses will increase during and after the pandemic.

We know that businesses can be strong transformational agents for the common good. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world,” Pope Francis says. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.” [8]

The need for God-honoring and people-serving businesses will increase during and after the pandemic.[9] Thus, we must continue to affirm, equip, and deploy men and women, young and old, on all continents, to grow, shape and reshape businesses with God and for the common good. We also need to build an ecosystem of leaders from business, government, and civil society, so different kinds of wealth can be created and health restored.

And we must include the church. To that end, let me conclude with the appeal from the Wealth Creation Manifesto: “We call the church to embrace wealth creation as central to our mission of holistic transformation of peoples and societies.”

[1] The Worldwide Lockdown May Be the Greatest Mistake in History, by Dennis Prager. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2020/05/05/the_worldwide_lockdown_may_be_the_greatest_mistake_in_history_143119.html

[2] Catholicism in the Time of Coronavirus, by Stephen Bullivant Word on Fire, 2020

[3] Vocation of the Business Leader, published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

[4] https://bamglobal.org/lop-manifesto/

[5] Recommended reading: “Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle,” by Dan Senor & Saul Singer

[6] Recommended reading: “From Third World to First: The Singapore Story – 1965-2000,” by Lee Kuan Yew

[7] Three years ago, we concluded a global consultation on The Role of Wealth Creation for Holistic Transformation, of people and societies. Our findings were summarized in the Wealth Creation Manifesto, now available in more than a dozen languages. matstunehag.com/wealth-creation/

[8] Laudato Si’, 129

[9] See also The Coronavirus Pandemic and BAM: Seven Things We Can Do

Find this story and more like it at www.MatsTunehag.com.

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