Only The Resourceful Will Survive

Have faith in us: with a little support, some of the biggest climate change solutions will come from those who have the least.

Bullet holes in metal posts are still a visible reminder of the conflict that once took place in Beirut – a city that today embodies a deep love of life. I have also seen Bangladeshi families with nothing more than sheets of plastic to use for shelter, and have had the privilege of getting to know orphans in Eastern Europe who endured unbelievable adversity to become remarkable young adults. Similar stories of survival and perseverance are taking place in many other parts of the world, and have throughout history. Humans have always been survivors.

 

If we are indeed entering a period of climate change, those who are likely to be affected most are those who have the least, simply due to a lack of resources to adapt [1]. As a result, they will have to be the most resourceful in the face of this impending global crisis.

 

Enter Kutamani, a 501(c)3 charity that aims to reduce poverty by supporting entrepreneurship and education of low-income candidates across the globe. My younger sister and I co-founded Kutamani, which derives its name from the Swahili verb “to aspire”. The goal of the organization is to identify high-potential candidates worldwide and support their pursuits through a long-term relationship, and to connect candidates in a network that can provide advice and moral support. Already this long-term relationship strategy has yielded dividends: when one of our initially successful candidates later required additional support in the face of unforeseen circumstances, we were able to help, thereby ensuring that the initial resources and hard work were not lost [2].

 

Candidates working with Kutamani have already been affected by climate change in the form of severe droughts and rainfall. In terms of climate change, low-income entrepreneurs have the potential to identify some of the greatest solutions to surviving and addressing climate change, because, for their very survival they must. It is the mission of Kutamani to support as many of them as possible.

 

Threats & Opportunities:

  • Governments. As the impacts of climate change begin to have greater effects, governments may enact policies that may both help and hurt low-income entrepreneurs. While more government funds may become available for organizations like Kutamani, new government policies in the face of destabilizing factors such as climate change could also conceivably make operations more challenging for organizations like Kutamani.
  • Corporations. As corporations worldwide become increasingly aware of the impact of their operations, organizations such as Kutamani may be the beneficiaries of corporate social responsibility programs. Kutamani has already received equipment from companies that believe in its mission. However, at the same time, corporations are a well-known contributor to greenhouse emissions, and if left unchecked, this will only exacerbate the problems faced by the people Kutamani is trying to help.
  • Increasing awareness. Individuals worldwide are becoming increasingly aware of the need to innovate and to support organizations that are part of the solution to major issues such as global climate change. This changing global mentality will likely help in the form of changing consumer behavior (i.e. not supporting companies that do not have sustainable practices), as well as increased volunteering and donations by people who want to give back.
  • Other non-profits. As the impacts of climate change increase, more non-profit organizations may spring-up. This will help Kutamani as it will offer a greater support network with a wider range of expertise – something that has already benefitted the organization.

 

Performance & future considerations:

Founded in 2013 Kutamani has done well in light of the fact that 100% of donations go to its projects, and its directors are only working on the project in their spare time. The first project has grown from one woman’s idea to an operational business in which she manages three employees with minimal support needed from Kutamani, and is ready to give back to other candidates.

 

Looking to the future:

  • Catastrophic events. Kutamani should consider how candidates will be impacted by potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change. One way to address this would be to maintain resources to support candidates if such unforeseen events were to occur.
  • Geographic diversification. While the network effect of linking candidates may be most beneficial if candidates are geographically close, this could also put pressure on the organization if a climate-related event affected a large fraction of Kutamani’s candidates.
  • Geopolitics. Kutamani could further improve its effectiveness by staying abreast of the changing geopolitical landscape in light of climate change as well as other factors, in order to develop its strategy
  • Emerging Resources. Kutamani should increase awareness of emerging resources such as grants and fellowships, and benefitting from other organizations that are willing to offer assistance.
  • Increasing Awareness. Kutamani could also improve by spreading its message and raising funds.

To learn more, visit Kutamani.org. (784 words.)

Photo credit: Kutamani candidate. Children in Amboseli, Kenya who will benefit from the construction of a permanent school building; the project has already begun construction of school toilets for female students.

Sources:

[1] “See What Climate Change Means for the World’s Poor.” National Geographic. Web. 4 Nov. 2016. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/12/151201-datapoints-climate-change-poverty-agriculture/>

[2] Kutamani website, <kutamani.org>. 4 Nov. 2016.

Other Resources:

Bruton, Garry D., David J. Ketchen, and R. Duane Ireland. “Entrepreneurship as a Solution to Poverty.” Journal of Business Venturing 28.6 (2013): 683-89. Print.

Yunus, Muhammad, Bertrand Moingeon, and Laurence Lehmann-Ortega. “Building Social Business Models: Lessons from the Grameen Experience.” Long Range Planning 43.2-3 (2010): 308-25. Print.

Collier, Paul. The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.

Stiglitz, Joseph E. Making Globalization Work. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006. Print.

Steger, Manfred B. Globalization: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. Print.

Pallotta, Dan. “The way we think about charity is dead wrong.” TED.  March 2013. Lecture.

Collier, Paul. “The Bottom Billion.” TED.  May 2008. Lecture.

“Engineers Without Borders International.” Engineers Without Borders. Web. 4 Nov. 2016. <www.ewb-international.org>.

“The World Bank – Working for a World Free of Poverty.” World Bank Group. Web. 4 Nov. 2016. <www.worldbank.org>.

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6 thoughts on “Only The Resourceful Will Survive

  1. Mark, great post and a very impressive organization. It does seem very likely that as the frequency and severity of storms increase, the most vulnerable populations will be the world’s poorest. Have you considered making climate change response a strategic initiative for Kutamani? For example, selecting candidates for support that are likely to create a disaster response capability in their hometown (I.e. Medical training) or farmers who raise crop varieties that are resistant to drought or flooding.

  2. Kutamani sounds like a great initiative and I completely agree that often, in the race to find solutions, the world tends to unanimously look towards the Western governments or behemoth corporate organizations to provide the answers, overlooking the magnitude of everyday innovation originating from some of the most affected areas and communities of the world. It is great that Kutamani is planning to harness that potential to try and address the effects of climate change at a grassroots level and thereby uplifting and empowering these communities further. I just have a couple of high level thoughts.

    The foremost is on reverse innovation, which is a concept I have been intrigued by since I first read about it in an HBR article. Reverse innovation is basically the scaling of products and services developed in the emerging economies first and then reversing them for the industralised, developed world to generate monetary profit, which in turn then continues to fuel a positive cyclic influence on funding more innovation from the emerging markets. Reverse innovation allows for the unique economic, social and technological limitations of the underdeveloped world to be taken into consideration while innovating for products and services, which makes them more effective to serve in these contexts rather than something developed originally in the first world. Communities who are most vulnerable to climate change may potentially have the most innovative solutions for it, and while Kutamani is already doing a great job harnessing these, I wonder if you can go further and reverse innovate these solutions for other parts of the world, achieving scale, widespread adoption and even more global awareness.

    Also, I would stress further on the importance of partnerships. As governments and corporates begin to expand their sustainability strategy, they are looking for creative and strategic ways to reliably bring about tangible change on the ground and often are looking for a growing breed of NGO’s, charities and other non-profit organizations to partner with in order to implement their strategies at grassroots level. Increasing awareness on Kutamani and reaching out to organizations that are also targeting the same underprivileged communities that you operate in could definitely provide new avenues for financial support, collaboration and scale. I do understand the sensitivity around picking the right organizations that are aligned to your core values as a company, but I do believe this sweet spot exists and if executed well, it could be a game-changer in expanding Kutamani’s mission.

  3. Wonderful post and wonderful initiative Mark. Kudos on embarking on this journey. One high level thought I wondered about was whether you have thought of empowering the community leaders or adults in the towns/villages you work with to legislate with relevant national and global actors. My view on enacting impactful climate change initiatives is that there needs to be a strong voice or champion speaking for the “weaker voices.” I wonder if there is a way to start some proactive dialogue versus being reactive.

  4. Really interesting to read about the organization you started, Mark! I like how it touches on a key issue relating to climate change – those that are most affected by the effects of climate change are often those with the fewest resources, and they also play a big part in perpetuating it without necessarily knowing it. For example, in India, many poor communities still use modes of transport and cooking that contribute heavily to air pollution, but are unable to change their daily habits due to the modest income they live on and sometimes the lack of awareness/education on climate change issues. Due to their lack of proper living conditions, they are also the first to be negatively affected by air pollution, flooding, and other effects of climate change. While several NGOs in India aim to target poverty and education, it is important that they integrate climate change awareness into these goals. I love your idea of encouraging and funding entrepreneurs within these communities to innovate and create more sustainable solutions – with the right tools and resources, I think they will be the best equipped to make impactful changes on pollution levels.

  5. Awesome to read about Kutamani, Mark! I love the idea that entrepreneurs will have the solutions because they are problem solvers who will innovate to overcome the hardships they see as a result of climate change. I checked out kutamani.org to get an understanding of who the target entrepreneurs are and how they may be affected by climate change. I read about Rittah and wonder what the climate change impacts are in her local community in Nairobi and how salient are those impacts. I wonder how climate change is perceived by her and how she could make her textiles more sustainable to accommodate climate change. I liked that you discussed geographic diversification and geopolitics, but I wonder if it would stretch the organization too thin to not only have an understanding of the different ways that climate change affects different locations and different political climates, but to also provide resources to entrepreneurs across these spectra. Additionally, what kinds of resources would Kutamani provide for climate change solutions? Would it incentive entrepreneurs to focus on coming up with ventures that attack this problem?

    p.s. Let’s chat about low-income entrepreneurs at some point. I have a microfinance non-profit in Texas that focuses on the same target market!

  6. What an amazing initiative! I would really like to learn more about Kutamani. I also had a look at the website and Rittah’s story. Like Ritaroo, I’d be interested to learn about Rittah’s perception of climate change and how her community believe they can deal with this threat.
    Not sure if this is a comparable but here’s an NGO I’ve come across in India, would be great to know your thoughts. It’s an interesting story: an uneducated group of middle-aged Indian ladies under the poverty line are thinking green!

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