For Richer or Poorer

Jeffrey Sachs

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending an address given by one of the great minds of our age, Professor Jeffrey Sachs, for Curtin University’s Sustainability Policy Institute (CUSP). Sachs is well known as an advisor to several Eastern European and developing economy governments, as well as being made the youngest tenured Professor at Harvard University at the age of 28. A truly remarkable mind, and hearing him speak about sustainability and the global economy was a truly humbling experience.

Fresh from a meeting with our own Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Professor Sachs took the opportunity to speak about the state of extreme poverty in our world and what is (and isn’t) being done to combat it. After some strong words about the dismal state of Australia’s international aid program, he spoke about the significant decrease in extreme poverty over the last decade and drew our attention to (as Pope Francis named it) the first world’s ‘Globalisation of Indifference’. Simply put, first world economies have the ability and desire to effect great socio-economic change for the developing world, but are unwilling to make these changes when it affects their day to day life. We are all guilty of it: “…hmm…$5 to World Vision? OR I could buy a coffee…“.

Jeffrey also attributes the stalling of falling poverty rates to some quite interesting historical occurrences. Studying economics at university showed me that fertility rates, education and technological innovation (including health and agriculture) were significant catalysts for developing economy growth, but Sachs pointed to other factors as having a much more significant role than we otherwise would’ve thought. With regards to the sluggish growth of Sub-Saharan African nations, he noted malaria, the colonial slave trade and lack of energy sources as underlying determinants.

The below lecture is worth watching, and it made me think about the ways in which we can affect change through our work (skip ahead to 3:18 to avoid the introductions). To eradicate this ‘Globalisation of Indifference‘ it is beneficial for organisations to align strategy with global CSR and sustainability standards. Only a handful of Australian companies are doing this, but the number is growing. Companies that are signatory to the UN Global Compact for example have gone a long way to reforming the way corporates approach these issues.

In my next post I will look at how one of these companies has developed leading standards in terms of employee engagement and how this focus on CSR has turned this ASX listed entity into an Australian economic and governance leader.