Monday, December 20, 2010

Growing Rich on Misery

By G. Dunkel
Published Dec 18, 2010 10:27 AM

It read like the start of a request to give generously. “Earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, floods in Pakistan, a drought in China, storms in Australia, a volcano in Iceland ... an ever increasing stream of natural disasters leaving millions of people dead, sick, starving or homeless and billions of dollars in lost global economic activity.”

But the Dec. 4 conference at the Wharton School of Business, entitled “From Haiti to Pakistan: A Year of Disasters,” was not about how to help people throughout the world suffering from the effects of these natural disasters. Its focus was on entrepreneurship, the art of quickly and innovatively responding to rapidly changing events to guarantee maximum profits.

The press release for the conference in Wharton’s student newspaper emphasized exploring and examining “the challenges and opportunities of disaster response.” When a business executive or business student hears the word “opportunities,” they immediately complete the phrase with “for profit.”

Wharton held its conference with big shots from government and strategic consultancies like Deloitte and McKinsey & Company. They wanted to make sure they didn’t create more problems than profits by operating without any regard for the feelings and needs of people.

But there is another approach to disasters, called solidarity. After the earthquake in Haiti, unions and churches, community groups and charities of all kinds opened up their hearts, efforts and pocketbooks to relieve the obvious distresses of the Haitian people.

More than half the people in the United States contributed to the Haitian relief effort. Similar outpourings of solidarity occurred throughout the world. Cuba, a small socialist country lying about 75 miles across the Windward Passage from Haiti, reinforced its medical teams already working there.

The U.S. military’s occupation of Haiti and other maneuvers of the U.S. government mangled the expression of this solidarity. But no one can deny it existed, was powerful and helped the Haitian people far more than the actions of a few entrepreneurs who “saw opportunities.”
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