I’ve taken to The Economist lately and its July 1 feature story is on Warren Buffett’s $37 billion gift to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Since Buffett broke the story as an exclusive to Fortune magazine on June 25, the media and philanthropy circles have understandably been providing extensive coverage and commentary for the past two weeks – all resounding praises. Buffett broke new ground by outsourcing his philanthropy, upwards of 85 percent of his wealth, to the only other man richer than he, Bill Gates. Touted as a “venture philanthropist,” Gates is expected to use his business smarts to back scheme, assess results and dump failure.
In a similar vein, the Wall Street Journal’s recent five-part series on poverty and The Economist’s “Inequality and the American Dream” issue (June 17) has gotten me thinking about Ten Thousand Villages’ stated goal of poverty elimination. Is it a possibility or a pipe dream?
I am not sufficiently idealistic to think that fair trade is the silver bullet that will eliminate poverty. On the other hand, I recognize that Ten Thousand Villages is a vital intravenous feed for artisans into the world’s largest, capitalistic system. Successful market access, managing business change and reinforcing customer loyalty is critical if Ten Thousand Villages is to maintain its fiscal year 06 growth rate of 25 percent. Like Buffett, we, at the helm of Ten Thousand Villages of Austin, have to, when the time comes, set our egos aside and strike a balance between staying true to our mission while navigating a capitalistic, retail climate.
Capitalism, at its best, is like democracy: An experiment in progress. Recognizing that the market system has generally not worked for the poor – it is often unforgiving and bias in favor of the “old boy’s club” – fair trade is a proven, albeit small scale, response to the system.