I firmly believe that the universe gives you what you need if you can be awake enough to recognize it. On the first leg of the flight to Amsterdam, I was hyper-awake with trip adrenaline in abundance but after getting back on a full plane that felt like it had shrunk in size-I was not looking forward to the middle seat for 9 hours.
A small young woman was already seated near the window as Steve and I got situated. Being a compulsive knitter; especially when I’m a bit agitated, I got my project out and tried to calm down. She immediately took notice and we began to chat. Her name was Neema and she was heading back to her home in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania after her semiannual visit to her fiancé in Iowa. Her education was clear and her poise lovely as she spoke of her country. Her scientist father worked in academia and now heads up research to help African farmers yield better results on their crop production. She has traveled and lived other places in the world but has come back to Tanzania to help improve her country. She works for The Investment Climate Facility for Africa and we wasted no time in turning our conversation to her homeland of Tanzania. She was passionate as she told me of her work with the ICF and her efforts to improve Africa’s investment climate and make it a better place to do business. She expressed frustration at the corruption that creates barriers for legitimate business activity and the work that the ICF is doing to help improve the business climate. She sighed and said she would change three things if she was in power. “Africans do not understand the queue…they all just crowd and push and do not stand in lines. And the bathrooms…oooh…they think they are dirty places so no one will clean them” She smiled hugely at this and Im sure she saw the change in my expression as we both saw in our minds eye, what I would soon experience. “And, the corruption” her face went somber and serious “It is an uphill battle. I don’t know what is to be done” She explained that corruption is something that all Africans live with and expect and changing these attitudes and behaviors seems like impossibility. We talked of my interest in sustainability in the gemstone industry and also shared the excitement of the anticipation of the mine visits we had planned. We spoke about how opportunity can be created for mining communities and how small business owners like myself can make the entire supply chain much more transparent. We speculated and agreed that uninterrupted gemstone revenue has funded violence that comes from longstanding civil conflicts and that better transparency of this supply chain would help. I expressed my concern that this has been an unpopular topic with industry leaders but consumer pressure to expose the truth may lead to a better and more responsible way to source gems. If I can be a part of this in any small way I would do so. Vigorous but exhausting conversation, she said “I will send you an article on African gold mining” and with that put her blanket over her head and went to sleep.
I was now too mentally wired to even knit and was trapped between two sleeping people. Desperate for distraction, I pulled a magazine left behind by the last traveler out of the seat pocket. I randomly opened it and the first thing my eyes fell on was a book review of “The New Capitalist Manifesto” by Imair Haque. Described as a way to build a disruptively better business, I was intrigued. He describes ‘thin value’ profit business as one that leaves society worse or at least no better off versus ‘thick value’ business that intertwines profit with people, building solid social and economic foundations where all stakeholders can benefit. This better business model that will thrive in the 21st century, he has named “constructive capitalists” and that they will be defined by some or all of the following.
* Renew resources instead of exploiting them
* Be more responsive to supply and demand by allocating resources democratically
* Use “philosophies” that create value rather than “strategies” that extract value
* Creating new arenas of competition rather than dominating existing ones
* Seeking payoffs that are meaningful in human terms, not just financial ones
I was inspired, felt affirmed in the reasons I was taking this trip and finally fell asleep content to identify with his description of the ‘constructive capitalist’ and looking forward to living up to the title.