Reflections are only that, reflections, nothing more nothing less. Often these reflections are related to books I read, but occasionally also other things. These are often written very late, very fast,  using notes from my mobile phone, so the grammar and spelling is horrible.

Op-ed China Daily: Two questions for those earning over 70 yuan a day

Below is my article from today's China Daily. It was inspired by all the "innovation" events that I have been attending lately and was triggered by the news from FAO the 19th of June that 2009 will be the first year in human history when more than one billion people will go hungry. An alternative heading could be "A billion reasons to innovate".

China Daily is allowing a lot of space to 21st Century thinking and todays reader could also read the following article from Noleen Heyzer called "Riding high on low-carbon economy"

Two questions for those earning over 70 yuan a day
By Dennis Pamlin (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-06-30 07:55

The UN's Food and Agricultural Organization issued a press release recently saying this year will be the first time when more than 1 billion people face undernourishment, that is, 1 billion people won't get enough to eat. We share the same vulnerable planet and, because of globalization, we are closer neighbors than ever before. Hence, we should not allow any neighbor to starve without doing everything we can to help.

Poverty is a complex issue, and the current situation can be explained by a number of factors, ranging from structural global issues such as unfair trade rules to capital flight from poor to rich countries because of non-transparent tax havens. There are no simple ways to address these challenges, but we must keep looking for solutions.

Over the past few weeks, I have attended a number of conferences on how innovative individuals and companies develop new products. After listening to participants, it has become obvious that almost the entire focus is on the small minority of rich people.

The innovations include things like tracking devices for pets, automatic watering gadgets for flowers and plants, games on mobile phones and dull nail polish. None of this is necessarily bad, but in times of such a huge crisis we should take a step backward and rethink our priorities.

We should ask ourselves how much time we spend on addressing the basic needs of those that need help the most compared with that spent on trying to give those who already lead a good life an even better life, or even create needs where there might be none.

The focus on people with more money is not surprising because all companies look for possible ways to increase their revenues and know the poor have weak purchasing power. But it is time we discussed how poverty can become a driver for innovation.

Alleviating poverty is not about charity, it is about justice and about the kind of people we want to look at when we see ourselves in the mirror. It is also about the kind of companies we have and what they do.

It is time to act and take some small steps to tap into the resources and creativity that exists in all companies. The CEOs of all companies with creative staff should gather their employees and ask two questions: "How can positive contributions be reported, and can the things we produce meet the needs of 9 billion people?"

Many companies are already helping the poor, some knowingly and others unwittingly. If we make the positive contributions of such companies well known, it will increase their prestige in society. On the other hand, it can raise questions over the companies that make a lot of money but do not contribute anything in the fight against poverty.

Companies could start formulating "planet and people positive target" plans. The existing system of companies reporting non-economic issues, for example, social and environmental issues, focus on how companies can reduce their negative impacts. This is of course important, but it is equally important that companies contribute positively and report these in a credible way.

If companies had to write in their quarterly and annual reports how they helped alleviate poverty it would help employees, clients and policymakers to better understand their contribution to society. Discussions on "the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid" have shown there are many opportunities out there.

As far as the second question is concerned, to eradicate poverty we have to think in the long term on how we can create a more resource-efficient society.

In just a few decades, there will be 9 billion people on the planet. If we are serious about alleviating poverty we have to accept the fact that much of what we are producing now can fulfill the need of only a small group of people. The simple reason is that our planet does not have enough resources to fulfill human need if everyone starts copying the wasteful lifestyle of the rich.

The Hummer car is probably one of the best examples of a wasteful lifestyle. Even if one out of every 10 or 20 people were to buy a Hummer car each it would cause an environmental catastrophe. We need to ask ourselves whether such products should be allowed to be used at all, and what kind of PR campaigns companies should be allowed to run to try to convince us to buy things that are quite unnecessary and use huge amounts of natural resources.

On the other hand, most smart IT solutions, which make use of laptops and mobile devices, are examples of products that could be used by 9 billion people. Solutions like e-education and teleworking should be supported increasingly because they can be used by everyone and help build 21st century's real infrastructure. This infrastructure is already in a position today to help the poor by creating channels like mobile micro-lending and those that give information on agricultural products' prices.

The government can help unleash a wave of poverty alleviation programs by supporting companies that want to use their innovation to help. It can, for example, ask for transparency when it comes to the positive impacts of companies. More involved companies will help address some of the more complex and structural issues, too, because those working to alleviate poverty would see the need for more fair trade rules, and pricing and other mechanisms.

We are the first generation in history to face mass poverty, hence this is a historical time for companies and politicians to take innovative steps, and those doing so will be remembered forever.

The author is adviser to various companies, governments and NGOs.