Monday, December 29, 2008

The other 86%

"May you live in interesting times." ~ Chinese proverb

Every week I am mystified by an IBM ad that consistently appears in Business Week. It's part of their "Stop Talking Start Doing" campaign and in large bold type it predicts, "86% of the world population will live in emerging markets by 2050." As a product developer, this is a fascinating statistic that will be critical to my future success. 

The majority of those who consume products I will create going forward will not be from my heritage, my culture, or raised in my country. Aside from the big four, known as the BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China), places such as Egypt, Mexico, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, and Turkey will becoming increasingly big players. And the companies that are succeeding and will continue to succeed are companies that most of us have never heard of: Concha y Toro, MISC, and Sasol.   

What is exciting for me is that these markets will demand a decent percentage of products that fall into the "extreme affordability" category, and this means that we may soon be coming into a time when social entrepreneurship will reign supreme over the activities of large multi-national corporations. If we pair that prediction with the closer relationship that has emerged between government and business, it becomes a perfect (good) storm for product developers like me who want to do well and do good at the same time. Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times Columnist, wrote his Christmas column about a recent book on this very subject. The book, Uncharitable, discusses the moral dilemma and possible solutions for nonprofits who find themselves in the midst of this struggle to bring in funds and do good in the world.  

What I think is a tremendous opportunity is the role that international nonprofits like UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, and Mercy Corps can play. They have been working for decades in emerging markets. They can and should be a tremendous resource to entrepreneurs and start-ups looking to expand their business into those markets. These social entrepreneurs will provide better services and goods for the people they work so hard to help, and they can generate additional income streams for their organizations through a consulting practice on emerging markets. 

I recently viewed Steve Jobs' 2005 commencement speech at Stanford. His message is that we can only connect the dots of our lives looking backward. In order to move forward, we have to trust our intuition, we have to have faith that we can build our own road, and we have to believe that the dots will connect eventually, somehow. I am beginning to finally see how the dots of my patchwork life and career will connect - through this field of social entrepreneurship that leverages all of my experiences, all of my education, and all of my contacts, passions, and beliefs. Indeed, we are in the midst of interesting times. 

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