I can’t stop thinking about the immigrants at the southern border of the United States. Images from the news haunt me. Stories of neglect and utter deference for people’s humanity disgust me. Feeling powerless to the enormity of the situation, from the violence prompting families to leave their homes in Central and South America, to the sheer lack of civility portrayed by the American people, I do what I know how to do best – I figure out ways to encourage economic support in the places where these people are fleeing.
I tweet and retweet news that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is turning to the private sector to help build sustainable markets in places like Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala (despite funding cuts on the public side). I share ideas with corporate executives who are considering new and innovative ways to source products or services from different parts of the world where labor is needed and costs are lower. I help create partnerships for companies that do, still, provide them with profit but also provide a sense of long-term investment for communities where poverty has taken such a strong hold that the only solution is to migrate and face our borders.
I imagine the families I’ve met, not just in South and Central America, but in East Africa, in SE Asia, in the Middle East, in the Pacific, and think creatively about how market-based solutions could provide some semblance of economic advancement such that not only is migration held at bay, but violence too.
I am an idealist, no doubt. I am someone who believes in the power of Purposeful Profits and the ways businesses can use their purchasing power for good (consumers, too, by the way!) I am also someone who reads between the lines when USAID releases their strategy calling for ‘self-reliance.’ This means that as the U.S. Government retreats from its position of aiding those communities that cannot support themselves, and focuses investments on humanitarian and emergency assistance, funding to match private sector investment that helps propel ‘self-reliance’ in places where USAID operates is of crucial importance. Matched funding from the private sector will allow a dollar spent by U.S. taxpayers buoying local communities in places in economic turmoil to be matched by a dollar (or more) of private sector market building, with the hope that these two dollars will provide a return of three, or four or five or ten dollars into the future.
I believe it’s possible. I am seeing it happening, and it means that if the private sector continues to come to USAID with a dollar in hand, USAID will match that dollar and help countries find the self-reliance that encourages fewer families to face the horrible decision of staying or leaving their homes.
If you are working in the private sector, or WITH the private sector in any way, consider how to pair your investment with that of the U.S. Government. It does not have to be through USAID. MCC, State, USDA and others are keen to work with the private sector to advance economic scenarios in developing economies. The results will benefit these communities in the end if we all work together towards this common goal.