Dec 16

by Miriam Garvi

Having spent the past two days submerged in thoughts about urban poverty, the growth of megacities and the persistence of slums, tomorrow’s lecture on pioneering leadership will be a welcome relief, providing anew the opportunity to consider the world as if it were a blank page waiting to be written.

In the discipline of entrepreneurship, we celebrate the virtue of spotting and exploiting business opportunities. Seldom considered, however, are the wider premises framing this picture. When the needs of the desperate sustain the growth of another, the temptation to create dependency rather than self-sufficiency or independence is too great for comfort. Too many people know that in many industries, market jargon eclipses the miserable reality of the ‘clients’, as they become part of a compelling story aimed at attracting capital and funding: aid organizations need pictures of starving and destitute children to sustain fund-raising; less cancer patients would mean the loss of a huge market for pharmaceutical companies. And, if we want to take the analogy even further, war or the prospect of war sustains the market for weapons and military technology, a main driver for technological innovation that has spilled over into many parts of civilian life, including our ability to communicate over the Internet.

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The world is full of ambiguities, more or less coated in opportunistic rhetoric, but placing high requirements on the existence of a moral compass that will steer efforts, energy and resources towards initiatives that do not sustain suffering and misery, nor create other unwanted side effects, but that seek to become redundant in the sense that the particular need disappears. This implies a dynamic perspective of constantly seeking new areas to improve that is challenging to implement in practice, and requires the support and encouragement of policy-makers, investors and the wider community. Cure or better yet prevention rather than lifelong treatment, helping people provide for themselves rather than falling victims to debt traps, making products that are better and last longer rather than encouraging people to consume and replace – all can imply the loss of opportunities from a marketing viewpoint, but gains from the perspective of human progress. In today’s world, companies and actors do still differ, though surviving without compromising one’s core values is a difficult thing to do. I hold in high esteem any drug development company, for instance, with enough moral integrity to invest massively in addressing the need for new treatment of a particular illness, while being able to consider the decline of patients in that market a success. This shows a company with higher goals and standards, unwilling to consider its own growth as detached from the wider societal framework in which it operates, and where it has the opportunity to do much-needed good. I do also realize, however, that unless society will reward this kind of behavior and enable such a company to access the support that it needs to do this well, then it will sooner or later succumb to the financial pressures of the stock market.

Be it in politics, finance, business or charity, we need more people to rise and show the way who are visionary in their thinking, and who will not shrink from addressing the combination of market and moral challenges that are inherent to any development worthy of its name. Pioneering is a spirit, free from the constraints of vested interests, where understanding, betterment and progress rather than control, self-preservation and replication constitute the focus. It is holding on to our purpose rather than what we have created, not forgetting that any product or service, however big or small, will always be used or consumed by someone – the people behind the market.

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!

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.

Feb 2

by Miriam Garvi

This week-end saw the completion of the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos. Since the forum launched its «Davos Question» last year, asking people to name one thing that would make the world a better place, future prospects have plunged into darkness. With jobs, homes, savings and pensions being threatened, who is thinking of making the world a better place?

The world’s elite of financiers, politicians and business people, anxious to restore confidence in a global financial and economic system, are calling for swift and decisive action. According to Tony Blair and others at the WEF, it seems that what we need is an enterprise system that is free but less greedy. So much for the professed virtue of selfishness.

Not so very long ago, a voice in the wilderness was calling for the kind of leadership that paired outlook and foresight with a concern for the well-being of coming generations. The voice was that of Georges Doriot, Harvard professor and father of venture capital; his vision that of an «Institute of Man»:

I have thought that we should have an Institute of Man.
This would be a group of outstanding individuals who could evaluate the progress which Man has made.
In light of this progress and the background of this progress this group could give some attention to the problems facing man today.
From these people the country and its leaders could seek advice.
But so far, no one has liked my idea and perhaps our leaders would not listen to such scholars even if the Institute existed.

Doriot’s idea was not about change, nor about remedying a system running wild. He was talking about the kind of constant visionary outlook that will view the world in terms of purposes, needs and implications, a goalistic dialogue not bound by any political or economic agenda.

Today, so many resources are poured into taming the monster we created. Let those with passion and integrity rise and show the good that can be done amidst the darkness.

Jul 3

by Miriam Garvi

More and more business concepts these days are focused on accelerating the pace so as to generate returns as swiftly as possible to keep the wheels spinning. As we become more and more skilled at streamlining production in view of controlling the outcome, natural diversity is lost to the benefit of a few «gorilla ideas» that turn all attention towards the harvest.

Before the rain

As nature changes with the season, we are reminded that there is still a time to sow, a time to grow, a time to reap. With the sowing of new seeds we may come to discover new potential. While things grow and mature we may take on and learn to address new challenges. And with the harvest comes the contentment of a job well done as we enjoy the fruits of what we have planted.

There is something both inspiring and comforting about the changing of seasons as we are awakened yet again to new life.

Jun 26

by Miriam Garvi

I am often fascinated by the artwork that comes alive on the celestial canvas where thunderstorms come and go, displaying their strength and power.

Thunderstorm

Large organizations and institutions pride themselves on size or resource abundance. But there is a strength that goes beyond numbers. When people and vision are interwoven into one organism with different members, an entity - as small and insignificant as it may seem - will come alive with the pulse and the heartbeat that provide a continuous source of strength as the world changes.

The ensuing satisfaction is a priceless sense of meaning.

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