Dina Sherif Co- Founder, Ahead of the Curve
There aren’t many constants in this world, but the one constant I have learned over the years is that nothing stays the same.
We are in a constant state of evolution, with wealth, technology and innovation often at the heart of that change. When I started college In 1995 email had barely been introduced, use of the Internet and Google was far from our known reality when writing a paper for a class. We used landlines because there were no cell phones. To reserve a plane ticket we had to physically go to a travel agent or an airline office.
Today, I can write this blog using my Ipad where I can conduct the research I need for this blog, while also using my email, booking my plane ticket using an Expedia app, and having a conversation with a consultant in the US using Viber. All of that and I didn’t have to go to a library, a computer lab, an Internet café, a travel agent, or use a landline. The world has changed and will keep doing so because wealth, innovation, technology and an entrepreneurial mindset can take our lives to places we never imagined; both good and bad.
Now I know that many will blame a lot of society’s modern day ills on the very companies who have created the immense wealth being used today. Many will say that capitalism is the source of some of our most daunting social problems like pollution, climate change, never ending consumerism, abuse of cheap labor, uneven distribution of wealth, etc. Businesses are often perceived as the very entities that make profit by creating more social problems. I get that. There is validity to that line of thought, but what I am here to tell you is that line of thought is reaching the end of its time.
In the long term, businesses do not profit from social problems.
In fact, ignoring these problems for the sake of short-term gain will lead to their eventual demise. The simple truth is that reducing environmental impact saves money in the long term. Treating workers well and following appropriate health and safety measures saves money and creates more productivity in the long term. Mind you, I am not here to tell you that capitalism is dead. It is still alive and kicking and we have yet to see a better way to create prosperity. What I am here to say is that capitalism is at the cusp of a revolution where business as usual with a focus on short-term bottom line returns just won’t cut it in today’s world; without an ability to be creating multi-dimensional layers of value, your business won’t be sustainable.
The trick in all of this is to move to a mindset of foresight. One of the founding team members at Ahead of the Curve always teases me about my obsession with the term foresight. Think about it though, without foresight, we would not have Google or smart phones or cutting edge technology to make use of something as natural as solar energy. Unfortunately, one can’t help but wonder how all of our technological advances and wealth creation, with companies like Walmart making over 450 billion USD in revenue in one year, (over 3 times the GDP of a country like Egypt) and Exxonmobil not too far behind, continues to be juxtaposed by extreme poverty and lack of access to basic goods and services.
The reality is we still live in a world where 2.6 billion people lack access to a basic latrine (WHO), where nearly 1 out of 8 people still suffer from chronic malnutrition, where something as fundamental as affordable housing is still a problem, where a decent education is often still a luxury and where access to basic health care is but a dream. While I can be as pessimistic as the next person about the state of the world and the interface between business and societal problems, in this case, I choose to take the side of my dear friend Christopher Schroeder by saying that we are living in some of the most remarkable days of our world’s history.
Because yet again, things are changing.
Today, we are witnessing an intersection between:
- societal problems
- and business
This is evolving into a new way of doing business and a new way of tackling social challenges that is unprecedented and that may finally give us a chance at cracking that social justice and social equity nut. Unfortunately, we simply do not have the resources required to deal with the problems we have at scale, either within the world of non-profits or in the world of the public sector. We need a new way of doing things and of progressing that takes that intersection.
Business serving the betterment of society needs to become mainstream and we are getting closer and closer to that point.
A year ago, Google launched the Google Loon Project. Which at the time seemed rather unimaginable, but Google is using its wealth, technology, innovation and foresight to make that project a reality. Taking Internet to un-served off the grid areas could allow for millions of children to be better educated. Now imagine the potential impact that could be derived from that.
The United States doesn’t have a shortage of parking lots, but it does have a shortage of affordable urban housing options. The School of Building Arts at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) pooled all of its resources together to come up with a way to use underutilized parking lots to build top of the line sustainable affordable housing options. Now imagine how making use of underutilized spaces could help solve the affordable housing problem across the world.
A little over 3 years ago two bright and successful corporate executives in Egypt walked out on their jobs at a multinational to start their own small business called KarmSolar. The whole objective of which is to provide solar energy solutions to off grid communities. Now imagine how off grid communities could develop with access to energy.
There are numerous examples like the ones sited above and more and more of our youth, specifically in the Middle East, that are starting businesses that merge wealth creation with social innovation. This metamorphosis that is taking place in the corporate sector, is a new dimension for capitalism that can truly transform lives and solve social problems at scale.
We need to find solutions to today’s problems now. To do that we need to be “ahead of the curve”, not just in how we think, but also in how we function and in how we choose to build our businesses. We are living in some of the world’s most remarkable days with incredible technology at our fingertips, but we are living in some of the world’s worst days with pressing problems that need to be solved at scale. Divorcing business from society is no longer a possibility and business has a lot to offer in reversing some of the very problems that they have often created.
So I leave you with one final question: Is it not time to start investing in the foresight required to fix pressing problems while simultaneously generating the wealth required to continue to sustain our livelihoods?
Like it or not, the world is changing in that direction anyway, so hop onto our bus – join us in building more sustainable societies.
Dina Sherif Co-Founder, Ahead of the Curve