Human-to-human investment in host communities
In an age of gigantic international development agencies, and now even philanthrocapitalism, is it still relevant to talk about the merits of direct engagement in host communities and small, gentle actions?
Absolutely! Even large companies, like IBM, are realizing the value of human engagement. In a corporate version of “Peace Corps”, IBM has just selected 100 employees from 33 countries to participate in the company’s new Corporate Services Corps program. Selected employees will provide leadership and entrepreneurial training in emerging markets.
Benazir Bhutto, in her posthumously published memoirs, Reconciliation, talks about the value of economic and cultural exchange which is predicated on the belief – substantiated by evidence – that the more you know about others, the less likely you are to fear them. As Bhutto understood, anti-Western sentiment in the Muslim world is broad and deep, and may take generations to resolve. Yet she believed that support – of the right kind and in the right way – can generate a dramatic sea change in attitudes:
“In the past, Western assistance was funneled largely through governments. But contacts with Westerners on humanitarian missions substantially alter Muslim public attitudes. Direct engagement helps beneficiaries fully understand who the benefactors are.”
Bhutto doesn’t propose a program of writing cheques to have-not governments. Instead, she proposes specific and tangible people-to-people projects that will directly improve the quality of life of ordinary people, in the form of humanitarian aid from the West.
And, through this human engagement, we learn much about ourselves. It was former President of Iran, Mohammed Khatami, who recommended human dialogue as a way to see ourselves:
“One goal of dialogue among cultures and civilizations is to recognize and to understand not only cultures and civilizations of others, but those of “one’s own.” We could know ourselves by taking a step away from ourselves and embarking on a journey away from self and homeland and eventually attaining a more profound appreciation of our true identity. It is only through immersion into another existential dimension that we could attain mediated and acquired knowledge of ourselves in addition to the immediate and direct knowledge of ourselves that we commonly posses. Through seeing others we attain a hitherto impossible knowledge of ourselves.”
Even IBM sees the layering of value: “It’s a corporate version of the Peace Corps,” said Stanley S. Litow, vice-president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs, IBM. “What we as a company get is leaders with a broader range of skills that can function in a global context. What the individual participant gets is a unique set of leadership opportunities and development experiences. And what communities get are IBM’s best problem solving skills. It’s a triple benefit.”