Re-entering the developed world has always been difficult for me. Overwhelmed and often convicted by the ostentatious and pretentious use of wealth and natural resources, I struggle (and fail miserably) to imagine how a country can justify, say, wasting 150 trillion kilocalories of food a year while 1/4 of the population in other countries face starvation. Or justify consuming 20,680,000 barrels of gasoline a day, while others are rationing power 3 days a week because of fuel shortages. Or spending an average of $64-$110 per capita daily on expenses while half the world's population lives on less than $2 a day.
As I prepared to battle these realities on my flight from Nairobi to San Francisco, I was confronted with a whole new enemy during my two 12 hour layovers in Dubai. As I explored the emirate, I couldn't help but tremble at the magnitude of the world's new tallest building, or the world's first indoor ski resort, or the world's second tallest hotel that also changes colors and is shaped like a sail boat. And as I thought about the World islands -- a collection of 300 man-made islands constructed to resemble today's world (video here) -- I couldn’t help but realize how divided today's world really is.
And unfortunately, as I've said before, the solution to eliminating this gap isn't easy. There are, however, some obvious interventions that would help to narrow it, one of which became painfully clear while I was exploring Dubai: Make smarter investments.
As simple as this sounds, the story of Dubai has proven that simple is far from common. As the government recently came to grips with the desert of debt it's in, the wisdom behind the investments this debt supports has been seriously questioned. Take the World islands, for example. Here is a project that cost an estimated $14b to make, in which the Guardian newspaper reported that the project is unlikely ever to be completed and the islands are slowly slipping back beneath the waves.
Now take that wasted $14b, and imagine what would happen if it was responsibly invested in businesses that are sustainably and profitably meeting the needs of marginalized customers in base of the pyramid communities. Imagine if it was invested in a vehicle such as Acumen's capital markets fund (mentioned here), which is built upon a history of profitable double bottom line investments through patient capital. Imagine the impact. Instead of 300 mounds of disappearing sand, millions of lives would be transformed, struggling economies would be revived, investors would receive financial returns, and the world would grow closer to resembling the harmonious place that the World islands is supposed to emulate.