Whenever a narrative about development is written, the focus is usually on the rural poor. The narrator often selectively forgets that there are also the urban poor which live in the flavellas of Rio to the slums of Dharavi. Slums in global mega cities are sometimes the economic engine of those regions. The domestic staff, factory labor, and the minimum wage staff all live in urban shanty towns.
Social Enterprises (or SE) usually cater to the rural folks in selling artisan products or bringing skills training. The use of microfinance by SEs such as Grameen and BRAC in Bangladesh has helped many rural poor start their own businesses. Microfinance is not only for the rural poor but can also apply to the urban poor in providing them credit access to start their own businesses. For example, Singapore-based microfinance SE, Milaap, is helping the poor urban communities in southern India in their quest for a better life. Read more
There has been a huge bit of hype over corporate citizenship and its onus to protect the rights of workers in the past few years. Corporate Social Responsibility and its corresponding voluntary ISO 26000 standard, includes human rights as one of the metrics for good corporate citizenship. This vocalic buzz is indeed positive for workers’ rights in general as the spotlight and accountability increases in these cases.
But the reports from the media regarding the rights of workers are not really all positive. We have had the Foxconn episode, with poor worker conditions in the factories which manufacture Apple products such as the iconic iPhone. ‘Sweatshop’ labor has been the norm in the textile industry for some time, while the sports goods industry is not a stranger as well in this discourse on worker protection. From workshops in Pakistan to Bangladesh to factories on the Chinese East Coast to Indonesia, workers’ rights are flouted without any batting of an eye lid as many a documentary has demonstrated. Read more
In an age where 1.1 billion people do not have access to clean drinking water and sanitation services, water could be a big business opportunity which small countries with a technological edge can capitalize on. One good example is Singapore, which is well positioned to act as a hub for Blue Tech and serve the Bottom of the Pyramid Hybrid Value Chain. With the massive water technology R&D undertaken by the tertiary educational institutions and the commercial ecosystem in Singapore, this ‘Tiny Red Dot’ could be the next Israel as far as Blue Tech is concerned.
Hub for Blue Tech
By the year 2030, half the world will be living in urban spaces, where the mere provision of basic amenities will be a struggle. Mumbai is the financial capital of India, but it has half its populace living in shanty-towns like Dharavi, which is Asia’s biggest slum with a population of 7 million people . Similar stories can be shared all over urban Asia. In Manila alone, 37 percent of its present population of 14 million lives in shanty towns. By 2050, the slum population in Manila is expected to reach nine million. Read more
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the new business buzzword in corporate strategy with the advent of ISO 26000 – a voluntary standard concerning compliance to social norms and sustainable development. However, the current CSR paradigm is usually focused towards attaining compliance and branding, and not focused on creating ‘shared value’ with communities. There is a need for an evolution towards CSR 2.0 with an active approach towards creating shared value.
CSR initiatives such as the ISO 26000 and Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) are compelling companies to have regular sustainability reporting which covers social and environmental aspects. Many countries including India have regulations concerning the compulsory reporting of CSR and sustainability efforts. However, the current CSR paradigm is usually towards attaining compliance and not really to create shared value with communities. In addition, some companies treat CSR as only a means of branding with the ad-hoc social or green campaigns, or as a means of improving the potential market space for their products and services. It is common to see the CSR function under the corporate communications or marketing team, and not fully integrated into the company’s strategies and policies. Read more