Aug 26

by Miriam Garvi

I’ve never been one to care much about costs as long as I think they are called for, but tonight’s attempt at clothes shopping made me think about the value of things, what I am prepared to pay and to whom. It made me realize that many times when I look at something I’m telling myself: “This might be acceptable”. As in: the fabric is not paper thin, it is one of the few items in the store that is not synthetic, the design is more than two square pieces of cloth sown together and the seams have been finished off. Acceptable quality at a decent price - though a closer look indicates it was assembled hastily and without much care.

I had almost made up my mind to purchase one such very cheap item at Zara, when the label “made in Bangladesh” jumped at me. Bangladesh, the apparel industry, and factory tragedies… And then of course value and cost take on a whole different meaning. How would I value the work of the pairs of hands that made this shirt? If I knew something about who had made my clothes for me, how much would they then be worth? And what kind of quality would I expect in return? Indeed, if setting the price were entirely up to me, what would I be willing to pay for good fabric, for nice design and for good handiwork? And if I could find exactly what I wanted, what kind of clothes - whose clothes - would I really want to wear?

I ended up buying a whole different shirt, in a whole different store, at a whole different price, simply because it looked better. But I wish I could know something about the human effort that went into making me that new shirt, and how many pieces of clothing the person behind the sowing machine would need to work on every day in order to achieve the same standard of living as myself. I feel it would help me put things into perspective. And perhaps next time when I open my closet I would feel somewhat differently about the contents, because they would not just be clothes, but something someone helped make for my benefit. And that would imbue something as mundane as clothes shopping with a little bit of deeper meaning…

Oct 13

by Miriam Garvi

I’m not someone who follows people, who looks for teachers or masters to guide the way. Few are those who live up to what they preach and no single person has a complete perspective. But what I find particularly inspiring are tales of a new kind of heroism for our times, one that involves independent thinking, a good portion of courage and integrity, and the yearning to express in action the true meaning of over(ab)used labels such as sustainable, meaningful or responsible. It is people who choose to walk a narrower way, less traveled by, at the initial cost of ridicule (at best) and sometimes outright harassment, whose actions remind us that sometimes all it takes to crush the power of the myth that justifies something as necessary or inevitable is to show how an alternative way is indeed possible. Opening up the space of what we see, of what we believe can and should be. Pioneering actions outside of mainstream, for those of us who want it.
That’s how I conceive of freedom.

Apr 24

by Miriam Garvi

Sometimes I find myself amazed at the flexibility by which issues that seemed to be on no one’s agenda only five years ago now find their way into everyone’s rhetoric. Only recently, it was the rally for growth. Now a favorite epithet embraced across ideologies is that of sustainable, as the earth’s dwindling resources put the high-consumption lifestyle of the “developed world” into question.

Indeed, it would seem that anyone can do the talk. Some advocate for an era of the “WE economy”, of multiple voices emerging at the grassroots level and interconnecting by way of Twitter and other Internet-based social networking tools. More and more networks are professing to be addressing “world urgent issues” or “the global challenges of our planet”, suggesting that the pooling together of people in dialogues across the globe will unleash a creative force arising from turning the costs incurred by industrialization and modernization into opportunities.

And yet what astonishes me in these (business) models is the invariably short time span they encompass, as if we have but a few moments to spare on building sustainably for the future. Solutions for our world remain, for the most part, instant remedies that come to mind through the kind of superficial dialoguing that is enabled by networking. It is as if the very mindset that made us pursue a narrow-minded path of development in the first place, oblivious to the implications of a greater context, is now expected to generate solutions (called creative) to these problems. Are we left gawking at the emperor’s new clothes?

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History will tell us that it is easy to rally people with cries for freedom and revolution, picking to pieces the policies and institutions put in place by others who came before us. The real challenge, however, starts once we are the ones left to govern the land. We tend to forget that exercising the freedom we have been given entails a sense of responsibility that goes with knowing that somewhere down the line also we will be held accountable in the eyes of those who follow. Indeed, lest we forget, the eyes of history are already upon us, questioning our ambition.

Sustainable can be more than yet another umbrella concept allowing new interest groups to position themselves on the global arena where they may influence how problems are defined and label their solutions. Sustainability is not a commodity that can be produced through intellectual stimulation; it is the implication that comes from the diligent implementation of a long-standing vision that does justice both to man and nature. It can mean a return to the roots of what once was, finding one’s uniqueness in the interplay between man and nature where man is the caretaker and nature the provider.

Sustainable, pioneering commitment such as that which helped build our communities in the first place comes with a willingness to give up certain things in the present in order to sow the seeds that will allow the fruits of true transformation to be rooted in the future.

Is anyone willing to walk the talk?

Nov 17

by Esther Garvi

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Copyright Eden Foundation

If you can turn a barren field into a fruit-bearing Eden Garden, even when you reside next to the Sahara desert, you have invested in the future.

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Copyright Eden Foundation

Your family will rely on the trees and harvest fruits and leaves throughout the year, even in times of need.

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Copyright Eden Foundation

Your children will grow up healthy, enjoying a nutritious and varied diet.

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Copyright Eden Foundation

Your surplus of fruit will easily be sold at the market, giving you a source of income that you never thought possible before.

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Copyright Eden Foundation

The Eden Garden will provide activity for every member of the family; uniting brothers and sisters, husbands and wives.

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Copyright Eden Foundation

Your daughters will grow up to be self-confident young women, knowing that their Eden Garden provides them with endless means and opportunities.

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Copyright Eden Foundation

If you can turn your barren field into a fruit-bearing Eden Garden, your family will achieve self-sustainability and you will no longer be considered poor.

* * *

Eden Foundation was founded in 1985, based on the following vision:

There are more than 70,000 edible species in the world, of which merely 20 provide 90% of what we humans consume.

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Copyright Eden Foundation

Imagine what this untapped potential - the Lost Treasures of Eden - could do for the poorest of the poor!

Out of seven countries in West Africa, Niger was chosen as the starting place - where the challenge was the greatest.

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Copyright Eden Foundation

Today, a quarter of a century later, there are 2,700 registered Eden Gardens in the Tanout area in the northeastern part of the country.

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Copyright Eden Foundation

As the trees produce fruit, their guardians reach for a sustainable life, independent of outside aid.

That is vision pioneering.

Jul 10

by Miriam Garvi

In When progress equals devolution, I wrote about how easily wisdom is lost in our pursuit of knowledge, as we discard the natural in favor of the artificially modified that will allow for production and consumption en masse.

Lately, there seems to be a common understanding that in order for our post-industrial knowledge society to become environmentally, economically as well as morally sustainable, we need to see some kind of change occur. How deep this change should go, however, is not clear: whilst some are talking about replastering the capitalistic system to make it more palatable, other voices are calling for a more profound and complete transformation of our way of living.

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Through the eyes of a child, what beauty would we be able to see?

As we start out, life is rewarding in its simplicity and beautiful in all that it promises. But the precious innocence and playfulness of the young child is lost as we are socialized into the imperatives of modern society. So many of those treasures that are so easily discerned through the eyes of a child, become impossible to see once viewed through the lenses of what is socially correct and normatively acceptable.

People working with strategic change know that achieving transformation includes allowing the taken-for-granted to be shaken at its core. Yet unless there is truly a renewed mindset, any such «unfreezing» technique will only serve to build new walls on the same foundation. And, like the leaning tower of Pisa, it will matter little what we do above ground, if we do not concern ourselves with the fundamentals underground that will hold it all together.

More than change, vision pioneering is about reclaiming that childlike eagerness where life is yet an open book waiting to be filled and where what we make of our lives truly matters. And with the playful why we can rediscover the freedom that is ours to envision what is beautiful, useful, and helpful to mankind.

Let us be young again!

Jun 29

by Miriam Garvi

In this age of technological advancement, so much that was once unheard of has come within our reach. Old barriers are broken as we venture into space or create clones of the living. The enormity of resources that are poured into making scientific progress and creating markets for technology is a testament to how strongly the world holds on to its belief in the power of knowledge.

This last decade is favoring growth-oriented strategies that rely on innovation, entrepreneurship and venture capital to generate such growth that will be valued on financial markets. Little is said, however, about what kind of ideas are brought about and whether we believe that they are actually doing good, not just promoting a strategic agenda. The questions that we do not raise are fundamental in their simplicity: what is the purpose, and whom is it all for?

Our belief in knowledge springs from the assumption that any added building block brings the world enlightenment. In our efforts to exploit and manipulate nature so as to satisfy the growth agendas of our times, the natural is no longer good enough. Instead, we welcome industrially-processed substitutes that are labeled «improvements». And so we put ourselves at the mercy of streamlining profiteers, buying frozen chicken that has been «neutrally marinated» in water and food conservatives simply because someone just realized that the artificial replacing the genuine was a profitable strategy. Less of the genuine; more of the artificial, even as more people around us suffer from cancer and we see our nature going down the drain.

Implications of knowledge, but what of wisdom?

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The source of wisdom?

What good is technological advancement, unless it allows for meaningful progress and prosperity for mankind? Can we claim to be enlightened, if we consume what is at our disposal, with no concern for the legacy that we will be leaving behind?

Devolution tells us that everything started from a high and has been slowly deteriorating ever since. In this light, the need is imminent to move away from a foundation that is flawed, looking to discover a different source, one that will give rise to meaningful richness in all its diversity.

May 28

by Miriam Garvi

If one is to believe the media coverage lately, our world is being rocked at the core by a wave of threats ranging from natural catastrophes to terrorism, financial collapse, potential pandemics or the menace of climate change.

It seems that the comfortable life that we have been enjoying in the Western world is under serious threat.

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A new way of viewing the world, yet what is it bringing?

Various voices of authority have long been endorsing the path of economic short-sightedness by proclaiming the virtues of self-regulated financial markets. Since the credit crisis, however, few are those who are still singing their praise. Instead of self-regulation, many are now favoring its opposite: regulation on the supra-national level, encouraged by hedge-fund mogul George Soros and others. Global controlling mechanisms are extending into a wider range of arenas, as they are seen as necessary measures in order to fight climate change (in the form of carbon taxes) and terrorism.

Some would call this a shift of paradigms, as we are witnessing how one way of viewing the world, of defining its problems and solutions, is giving way to another more in tune with the current economic and political agendas.

It is too easy to call for voices of authority to give us the answers, colored by their own particular political or economic interests. Facing the fallacy of institutions and beliefs of yesterday, the opportunity is ours to step back as if nothing existed and consider a world that is worthwhile.

If we dare take that leap, then we just might see the birth of pioneering visions that will bear fruit for the benefit of both ourselves and of others.

There is hope to be found for the future.

Feb 9

by Miriam Garvi

Aid in the form of loans certainly came in fashion when Mohammad Yunus was laureated with the Nobel peace prize for promoting micro finance as an instrument for development. Such micro credits would propel households of meager means into business activities otherwise inaccessible. As for any micro-enterprise that showed particular promise, it could be muscled up with venture capital provided by international funds and corporations looking to position themselves on untapped markets.

The ideal win-win relationship between David and Goliath that would put poverty in a museum?

Making financial resources available to those willing to start up an enterprise has long been seen by the economic establishment as the way to growth and prosperity for a nation. Nothing radical then about extending credits to lower-income households in developing countries in order to encourage them to launch into business. Micro debts may sound rather insignificant on the aggregate level, but when a family of meager income finds itself unable to service its loan, the cost quickly becomes unbearable.

In West Africa, however, a phenomenon is on the rise that is challenging the relationship between seed money, growth and prosperity as we know it.

In one of the more remote regions bordering the Sahara desert that offers few natural resources, a new generation of rural teen-age girls are enjoying a purchasing power that is unknown to most urban families. As food prices around the world are on the rise, these girls are not only buying what they need for the family household, but also luxury items such as jewelery and fashionable clothes. Those who were once the most vulnerable of all have become a powerful clientele attracting a wider supply of goods than in the city markets. And in response to growing demand, shops are opening aimed particularly at this young and empowered rural generation.

The source of this new-found wealth? A number of perennial, fruit-bearing trees that can grow naturally in the harsh, sub-Saharan environment. By allowing various species to grow in their fields, these farming households are now the proprietors of production units which produce fruit throughout the year, fruit that is much-in-demand at marketplaces spread throughout the region.

The original investment? A handful of seeds distributed for free to motivated farmers by the Eden Foundation.

The cost of these production units? The labor of sowing seeds in one’s field, coupled with some initial weeding during the first years of a seedling’s life. The vitality of the seed will do the rest.

The return on investment? Self-sufficient households with a surplus to spend on the lifestyle of their choice. And the process is completed without indebtment to any creditor eager to channel the recipient only into the kind of entrepreneurship that will enable them to feed off their investment.

Talk about a sustainable economy that is bringing prosperity to those who were once the poorest of them all.

Sep 18

by Miriam Garvi

The other day, I had a refreshing meeting with a senior executive of an international supplier of patient handling solutions.

Our conversation was not about market positions or impressive margins. Instead, this senior executive talked about the difference it makes when handling equipment is designed so as not only to simplify the work process of the caretaker, but also to improve the quality of life of the patient.

It was an uplifting conversation with a man with a passion for helpfulness.

Philosophical musings

Roughly 50 years ago, Harvard professor Doriot was teaching his manufacturing philosophy to future American senior executives. «… if you have these qualities and the determination to do well… then you will have the privilege of the greatest profession I know: converting plain material into useful, beautiful, helpful products. This takes some of the greatest qualities man possesses, but it also pays high returns in creative satisfaction.»

The senior executive I met was no Doriot alumni. Yet he knew that manufacturing a product was not the real challenge - it was imitable enough by any competitor who would put its mind to it. But it was the thinking behind their product line that made them unique, that which would keep them pushing to fulfill useful, beautiful, helpful qualities.

Such uniqueness comes from the inside.

Jun 5

by Miriam Garvi

Of all the research interviews I have done, one particular conversation still stands out in my mind. A serial entrepreneur, founder of a VC company and keynote speaker at many a growth event described himself as an «enlightened despot» whose leadership style was based on a fondness for what he called «doers» - meaning people who would execute strategy. Needless to add that in his world there were clear boundaries between «thinkers» and «doers», between the elite who could read the strategic game and lay out the next move and those who were to implement decisions and report back on their effect.

In other words, any real thinking should only be done by those behind the scenes?

Tchang Kai Chek Monument in Taipei

As I was tracing the origins of the venture capital phenomenon, I became aware of how easily something is labeled «the solution», endorsed by those institutions which will give it credibility, and of the strong impact that such labeling will have on business and policies (see chapter 7 in my dissertation).

It is interesting to note how little attention is given to understanding a problem and the real causes of observed symptoms in favour of cure-all remedies. The promotion of microcredits, laureated with a Nobel peace price, illustrates this trend in a different setting.

Are cure-alls becoming the new religion? As long as someone is conveniently labeling the solution no one is asking us to think for ourselves. We are urged to buy into «inconvenient truths» and endorse whatever is promoted as the next panacea for growth, world poverty or for saving the planet.

But if we choose to put our faith in ideas and technologies that are placed on a pedestal, we will inevitably be deceived. Because real solutions demand that we go beyond the symptoms and ask ourselves why a particular choice is important and what goals are fulfilled in the process.

There is no easy way out for true progress.

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