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Innovation can beat poverty

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Global business needs to reconsider its ‚profits above all else‚ motive to innovate bold new solutions in the fight against poverty ‚ and in doing so, can turn poverty alleviation into a thriving business opportunity. The innovate Against Poverty round table addressed the role innovation can play in overcoming poverty. Read more ‚Ķ

Global business needs to reconsider its ‚profits above all else‚ motive to innovate bold new solutions in the fight against poverty ‚ and in doing so, can turn poverty alleviation into a thriving business opportunity.

That’s the view that the Attach√© for Science & Technology, Embassy of France, Prof Samuel Elmaleh, debated with some of South Africa’s top business leaders and innovation experts at a round table event last week.

The innovate Against Poverty round table addressed the role innovation can play in overcoming poverty, at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Johannesburg’s Newtown precinct on 23 May. Hosted by innovationTOWN, the event was attended by leading editors, business leaders, international organizations, analysts, economists and members of the media.

Prof Elmaleh, an expert on innovative partnerships, says that making money and helping the world are not necessarily incompatible. Using innovative social business models, social entrepreneurship ‚ a blend of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism ‚ could help in building a better society, transforming an outdated capitalist business model into a fairer one.

‚Modern businesspeople are increasingly looking for how you harness the vitality and promise of capitalism in a way that is fairer to everyone,‚ said Elmaleh. ‚Can business and innovation play a key role in innovating poverty solutions, while still making money? I believe so.‚

Lauri Elliott, the CEO of enterprise development company Shujaa Holdings and sponsor of this event, says there is ‚an immensely compelling business opportunity in our poorest communities.‚ She says that by working together with communities to introduce sustainable upliftment programmes, South African companies can ease poverty and create jobs ‚ while boosting their BEE scorecards and their bottom lines at the same time.

‚If South Africa’s big companies approach the country’s poorest communities with their interests at heart, it can also lead to significant growth and profits for them. These characteristics of a market economy can facilitate dramatic change in communities,‚ said Elliott.

Shujaa Holdings is one of a new breed of for-profit companies that specialises in developing profitable, wealth-creating social enterprises in communities, using a methodology known as Sustainable Economic and Environmental Development (SEED).

Enterprise development is a poverty-beating approach soundly endorsed by journalist and author Thomas Friedman: ‚Africa needs many things, but most of all it needs capitalists who can start and run legal companies. More Bill Gateses, fewer foundations. People grow out of poverty when they create small businesses that employ their neighbours. Nothing else lasts,‚ he wrote in the New York Times last month.

Among the eight Millennium Development Goals proclaimed by all 191 member-states of the United Nations, poverty and hunger, stand first. Yet relatively few organisations have turned their attention to the role of business in addressing the problems highlighted by the Millennium Development Goals.

It is estimated that more than 4 billion people ‚ more than 60% of the world’s population ‚ live on less than $1 500 per year. One person dies every 3.6 seconds from malnutrition and related causes, but, poverty is still considered a matter of government and NGOs, leaving the private sector, perhaps the most robust institution of society, largely disengaged and uninterested in the matter of development and poverty alleviation.

‚There are many companies around the globe that are finding development to be good business,‚ said Elmaleh. ‚The reality of the 21st century is that it is demanding new ways for the billions of the world’s affluent inhabitants to live in mutual benefit with their poorer contemporaries and the eco-system of the planet. That is true innovation.‚

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