While studying here I’ve joined a student committee on International Development Cooperation. I wrote this article for the magazine (see below). For those readers in Jyväskylä, Development Cooperation Week is held from March 6-10. (English Master’s program info here)
When talking about international development cooperation, we usually concentrate on helping developing countries get out of poverty, or in other words, grab hold of the development ladder.
There are a thousand ways to reduce poverty and millions of people out there with their own ideas on the best approach to help countries achieve this goal.
From an economic point of view, many economists believe that breaking down international trade barriers and donating more foreign aid is the key to reducing poverty. The World Trade Organization insists that free trade is a vital tool for assisting the developing world. Giving these countries fair access to the western markets and assisting them develop their own markets surely promotes economic growth for struggling economies.
From a business perspective, many marketers are now looking further than the usual rich markets and have begun targeting developing countries as possible consumers. Some have argued that multinational companies must shift their focus from high profit margins to high volume. Even with little money to spare, a market of four billion people should not be ignored, especially when these people have so many needs to be met. (blog about this here)
But is alleviating poverty the end goal? Is closing the gap between rich and the poor our main objective for international development cooperation? When you think of world peace, do you think of everyone living the same lifestyle as people in the developed countries?
The sad truth is that we can’t all live on this planet consuming the way the developed world does. There are numerous studies out there that tell us we’re already living beyond the world’s carrying capacity. We only have to look to the big emerging economies to see the truth in this statement. We applaud China and India for their amazing economic advances, but in looking at the environmental track record associated with this growth we start to understand that a billion more cars on the road is not such a good idea.
The goal is not to just help developing countries achieve the same lifestyle as developed. That’s a disaster in the making. And the answer is not so simple either. Our rich lifestyles are contagious. Once developing countries start having money, they’ll want to imitate western consumption patterns, and businesses will surely make that an easy process. Looking at this from another perspective, who is to say that people in developing countries who have suffered from poverty shouldn’t enjoy the same luxuries we have had for decades? Tapping the massive developing market is not the big challenge. Doing so in a way that does not lead to mass consumption of non-renewable products while still maintaining a high quality of life is the real challenge.
How do we do this?
This is one of the biggest challenges facing our generation today and most likely, no one has the perfect answer to this complex puzzle. However, I have some ideas on the matter.
For business and government leaders in the developing markets: Introduce goods and services that actually fill a need. People need transportation, but do they need private cars? Would an effective public transportation system based on renewable energy be a smarter choice?
For you, me and everyone in between: Start changing your own consumption patterns! Helping the world’s poor doesn’t always involve giving money. Being a good role model can go a long way.
Here’s the mag – can be found in library, Lozzi etc. – there are only a few articles in English but worth it – nice pictures of JYY’s initiative in India too.