Entrepreneurs can change the world

31st March 2021

“Workers around the world lost $3.7 trillion in the pandemic. Billionaires around the world gained $3.9 trillion in the pandemic.  It’s the biggest one-year transfer of wealth in history, yet somehow barely anyone is talking about it.”

That quote from Dan Price, an unconventional entrepreneur, and CEO of Gravity Payments, a credit-card payments processing company in Seattle, is attention-grabbing.

Price is an unusual businessman. He pays all his staff a minimum of $70 000 (R1 050 00) a year, pays himself the same, and ensures that no one in his company earns more than four times anyone else.

There have always been a few mavericks on the margins like Price, but now new voices are emerging from the mainstream of economics, advocating new rules for running the economy.

The Economist, hardly a radical mouthpiece, argued in an editorial for a wider, more efficient, better-funded social security net including wage top-ups for the low-paid and unemployment support, the latter providing a net that encourages taking risks to start new companies.

But there are even more radical proposals emerging from near the core of the economics profession.

While Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz has long argued for systemic changes to address income inequality, a new generation is emerging critical of the status quo. Thomas Piketty argues that radically different policies are required to reduce the growing income and wealth inequality because the current system is skewed to benefit capital over labour. Kate Raworth’s Doughnut model seeks to balance economies between twelve ”social foundations” and nine “ecological ceilings”.

While few of us will ever have the impact on global thinking of a Piketty, Raworth, or Stiglitz, there are things simple business owners can do to contribute to a more just world.

The disruptions of the pandemic have helped us realise that the way things are in the economy and business is simply the way we humans have made them, and there is no reason why they cannot change. Like Price, we can choose to be different, even if our contribution is small and local. Changing how we treat our staff is more impactful and long-lasting than giving to charity.

An inspiring example of social enterprise comes as a response to gross inequity. According to the World Health Organisation, the lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy, childbirth or postpartum/post-abortion is 1 in 4900 women in developed countries, but 1 in 22 in Nigeria. This is deeply shocking. Most of us will grumble about incompetent governments that allow this to happen.

But our AMI Entrepreneur of the Month for November 2020, Nigerian social entrepreneur Uche Kenneth Udekwe, acted. Udekwe lost his sister-in-law at childbirth four years ago due to complications of pregnancy and delivery. He says it was one of the saddest moments in his life. So he dedicated himself to reducing maternal and child deaths and founded Natal Care.

Natal Care uses mobile phones to deliver valuable healthcare information about the symptoms of prenatal conditions such as pre-eclampsia and spotting, using English, Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Pidgin, and French. They schedule medical checks, immunization reminders for breastfeeding mothers, and other post-natal care tips. So no mother, however disadvantaged, needs to be abandoned by healthcare professionals, provided she has access to a basic mobile phone.

Natal Cares also advocates for better access to healthcare at primary healthcare centres and provides a basic, inexpensive delivery kit containing essential supplies for delivery. Women can register and order their kit online or collect it from community medical centres.

We need entrepreneurs who do not accept the world as it is but take active steps to make it what it could be. The pandemic has helped us see that the rules can be changed. And we can help to change them.

Jonathan Cook is a counselling psychologist and chairman of the African Management Institute. He is also the host of AMI’s weekly Rise reflection series focused on supporting you in your business and your personal wellness.

This article was originally published on BusinessLive on 29 March 2021 and is republished with permission.

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