Our Man in Davos: Can private enterprise solve poverty?

Paul Fletcher is impressed by Sarkozy - and says Davos's days as a European white man's club are over.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I took part in the ‘Business Solutions to Rural Poverty’ session yesterday. This saw the CEOs of over a dozen businesses huddled in a classroom style workshop debating how private enterprise can solve public poverty. A comment cited from American writer E. B. White hit home: 'I have one share in corporate Earth, and I am nervous about the management'.

Why is it, I mused to myself, that climate change is global, non-proliferation is global, but as soon as we tread onto the territory of rural poverty the issue becomes a purely national one, seen as a single country problem? Actually, there are cross-border lessons to learn with broad applicability. Whether it's Prof C.K. Prahalad (whose iconic 'The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid', forever transformed the perception from poor as victims, to poor as consumers), or the groundbreaking work of Prof Muhammad Yunus on microfinancing for far flung villagers in Bangladesh; the traditional prism between the cash poor and business has been turned on its head. Business - and indeed private equity - does have a powerful role to play, if we can just get our act together and target our efforts. The tremendous energy and ambition in the emerging markets presents a humbling opportunity for enterprise, capital and society to support economic growth and see standards of living rise with GDP. How responsibly and creatively we engage to do good while doing well will determine our legacy as business leaders.

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Sarkozy is an interesting fellow. He didn't bring Carla but he did bring a French military general who marched across the stage with the sole purpose of delivering his speech to the podium. You know you've arrived when a man with medals carries your paperwork.

While Obama was delivering his State of the Union in America, Sarkozy, presidential to the last, addressed an almost domestic European audience who rose to their feet rapturously when he, like the US President 4,000 miles away, banker-bashed with the best of them. He was smart, charismatic and yes, short.

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Also attended ‘Investing in Africa'; a private session addressing the outlook in the BRIC countries and beyond. No surprises that Africa continues to be the hot growth story.

When you consider the tremendous wealth of natural resources, its sustained population growth (950m people today, expected to hit 2bn, or 12% of the people on the planet by 2050), and the incredible needs for infrastructure, telephony, supply chain, financial services, retail - the intrinsic strengths of Africa as a market are clear. What's already striking at this year's Davos is how many Africans, Chinese and Indian dignitaries are present. It is, indeed as Accenture puts it, a multi-polar world and Davos's days of being a European white man's club are over.

Finished the day at KPMG’s drinks party: another grip-and-grin. Then a dinner on ‘imagination’, leaving me to mull over, sadly, the fact that we are at our most creative between the ages of 3 and 5 years old.

 

Paul Fletcher is Senior Partner at Actis, the world's largest private equity firm specialising in emerging markets, leading the firm from its London headquarters. He'll be blogging exclusively for MT from Davos all this week.


In today's bulletin:

'Stop feeling sorry for yourselves', Darling tells bankers
Debenhams gets new chairman as Lovering departs for M&B clear-up
Profits soar at bullish Amazon - as iPad lurks
Our Man in Davos: Can private enterprise solve poverty?
Psychology at Work: Climate, Copenhagen and Custard Pots

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