Saturday, August 25, 2007

Executives Sans Frontières

"More than a billion people live on less than a dollar a day, and most are likely never to have made a phone call or to have travelled beyond their place of birth" not to mention living in slums, the dispair of disease, or the lack of formal education in so many parts of the world. Simply put, there are way too many of our fellow human beings for whom there is little or no opportunity nor hope. It's hard to brag about the virtues of our present global economic economic system in the face of such sad realities, yet most of us go about our daily lives apparently as if we didn't care. Wealth is abundant in many regions in the 21st century. Business school classrooms spend little time on the perils of the really poor, and most businesses regard such unfortunates as "unattractive markets." CP Prahalad has tried to get our attention with his writing aboutThe Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, but we have short attention spans.

Now, Jonathan Ledgard, of The Economist, has written, in the most recent edition of Strategy+Business, a call for a business equivalent to the Nobel-winning Médecins Sans Frontières; literally: an Executives Sans Frontières. While not entirely a novel idea, it's still a great idea, and one that would be quite feasible for companies around the world to participate in.

Increasingly, it is neither defensible, nor desirable, to consign so many of our contemporaries to an existence that we, ourselves, would find intolerable, simply because we're either not sufficiently interested to help them, or else we simply can't think of a way. Legard's ESF is a great solution for addressing one of the most pressing problems of our species, and is not at all impossible. What it needs are champions in businesses to initiate the actions that can really help so many people.

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