Globalization and the Unfinished Social Entrepreneur



Editor’s note: ImpactAlpha is pleased to publish an excerpt from Jonathan Lewis’s lively and thoughtful new book, “The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur” (Red Press). Lewis, a life-long social justice activist and accomplished social entrepreneur, is a founder of the nonprofit MCE Social Capital, which leverages private capital to finance tiny business loans, mostly to women, throughout the developing world. He is also the founder of Opportunity Collaboration, an annual retreat for anti-poverty leaders. As his friends well know, Jonathan is on a quest to find the world’s tastiest hot dog at the world’s wackiest hot dog stand.

ImpactAlpha readers can download the Globalization chapter free at the link below. For a 50% discount on the whole book, use the discount code ImpactAlphaSept at the Red Press.

Free Chapter – Globliization – ImpactAlpha.pdf

By Jonathan Lewis

As global citizens and as social entrepreneurs, we know that each time a human crosses a national border, it brightens our future in the same way that the stars brighten the darkest of night skies. The globalization of the world’s populations and the migration of people (not the numbing, impersonal statistics — but real living, walking, eating, laughing, singing, dreaming, loving people) are a social entrepreneur’s hope.

Immigrants are the living manifestation of our social entrepreneurial commitment to the unfettered flow of human capital and to the free exchange of ideas, traditions and knowledge. Newcomers, by definition, are cultural ambassadors — spreading new languages, new cuisines, new belief structures and new traditions from one community to another. The result is cultural diversity and (as a result) cultural strength and resilience. After all, let’s remember that once long ago, German immigrants ‘culturally imposed’ hot dogs on America, and we are the better for it.

Jonathan Lewis

It’s hardly a secret that some Americans are xenophobic. Even when I try my best to respectfully understand their frightened, shriveled, miserable viewpoint, I want to scream. Estranged from their ancestors’ story of immigration and assimilation, they choose to forget that we live in a country that was settled by genocide. For more recent examples, they also forget the moral mistakes of World War II, when the United States blocked Jewish immigration and put Japanese-American citizens in internment camps. They implicitly disavow the words emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Immigration is the human face of globalization. When an Indian software geek, a Mexican farmworker, a Filipino nurse or a single mom crosses an American border, our reservoir of human capital is replenished, refreshed and rejuvenated. As reported by The Economist in 2013, over 40 per cent of Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants or their kids.

Every cosmopolitan nation has immigrants. According to UN statistics, 244 million people worldwide live somewhere other than their country of birth, including almost 20 million refugees. Over 43 million immigrants reside in the United States, comprising approximately 14 per cent of the population. Of that 43 million, 11 million people are without legal status — stigmatized and politically sterilized. For them, life without citizenship is an apartheid lookalike.

US industrial policy profits from northbound labor to make our beds, mow our lawns, pick our fruit, slaughter our meat, tend our children and cook in our kitchens. Simultaneously, American trade policy pimps American exports. Free trade and open borders for goods and capital. Unfree trade and closed borders for human capital.

If you believe in the basic oneness of humankind, then the people who scapegoat immigrants or demonize refugees test us. It’s pretty damn obvious that a person who breaks the law to feed a hungry family, escape imminent personal danger or build a new life of opportunity is a fundamentally different kind of person than a criminal who violates the law with intent to hurt someone. Because we know this, we sign online petitions; vote against politicians spouting anti-immigrant bigotry; contribute humanitarian dollars to soothe our sadness over the latest refugee crisis; and support campaigns against human trafficking. It’s the kind and decent thing to do.

In the end, all societies and all cultural traditions — no matter how storied or sacred — are a polyglot of influences, mythologies, cognates, cross-breedings and historical accidents. “Societies without change aren’t authentic; they’re just dead,” concludes social philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah in “The Case for Contamination.” Betting on cultural purity never works out because cultural purity doesn’t really exist. It never did. And, it’s not the social entrepreneurial way.

For internationally-minded social entrepreneurs, the debate over outsourcing American jobs brings up one pivotal question: is a worker in our country of lesser, equal or greater human value than a worker elsewhere? Do you or I (as an American, a global citizen, and a human being) have a greater obligation to the unemployed in Detroit, Michigan versus the unemployed in Durban, South Africa?

Social entrepreneurs (and everyone else with a heartbeat and a conscience) are upset by globalization’s collateral damage. The problems caused by historic and current colonialism, imperialism, mercantilism and corporate greed are well-documented.

It’s wholly understandable that lots of people are pissed off by globalization. Caught in the riptides and undertows of globalization, there can be a panicky sense of drowning — both financially and culturally. Globalization is routinely, and wrongly, faulted for disappearing jobs (mainly caused by robotics, computerization or corporate consolidation) and wage stagnation (mainly caused by trickle-down economic policies that don’t trickle).

As a result, the reality (and fear) of domestic job loss energizes opposition to international trade agreements and imported goods. In noticeable contrast, shipyard workers who load and unload the merchandise we import and export; farmers and ranchers who sell food to the world; aircraft industry engineers and Big Pharma doctors and scientists are mysteriously disorganized and silent.

In the same way that assembly-line auto manufacturing disrupted bicycle makers; the printing press killed off jobs for scribes; and the steam engine reduced employment opportunities for horses — social entrepreneurs know that large-scale economic change creates winners and losers. Even if, in a utopian job market, every single worker worldwide had full-time employment with equal pay for equal productivity, a company that automated would eventually gain a competitive advantage. Sooner or later, workers somewhere would be laid off.

The ‘Buy American’ and ‘Made in America’ slogans are fundamentally and irrevocably at odds with our global citizenship — just another way to reinforce the us versus them paradigm. I don’t shop for (or against) internationally-sourced products any more than I shop for (or against) American-made products. I shop for the best products. I hope you do too.

In any case, protectionist economic policies backfire. The macro-economic consequence of less trade is slower international development, which creates even more economic pressures for people in other countries to migrate to more robust job markets. Real-life people get hurt on both sides of the tariff walls that we build.

For most people, and for all social entrepreneurs, empathy makes no distinction between a crying child in Mississippi and a crying child in Malawi. If that’s true for love of a child, why hide our compassion for a mother with children escaping starvation? For a hardscrabble farmer in a distant land? For a refugee escaping a war zone? Empathy makes global citizens of us all.

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