Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dubai: A wealth of misplaced fortune

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.


  1. Hi my name is Lashae, and I am friends with Laurie Sacher. Anyways...
    I just had to comment. This post has struck a familiar cord within my own heart. DAILY I struggle with so many of the things that you mentioned in this post. Quite frankly I get angry with the ignorance in our world. I don't understand how people can spend millions, or billions or even 'just' thousands of dollars on things that are so completely selfish and unnecessary: Big houses, fancy cars, expensive hotel rooms etc. And yet there are literally thousands of people dying every single day because they don't even have clean water let alone food to eat. And yet I get frusterated when it takes too long for my glass to fill up with cold, clear water to go with my dinner. It's insanity that needs a solution...and I think you are on the right track. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and thanks for allowing me to share mine!
    May God Bless you GREATLY in the year 2010!

  2. Hi Lashae, thanks so much for the comment, and for sharing this burden. Like you said, it's so incredibly overwhelming even to process. My hope though is that awareness can be the first step (of many) towards restoration, and that conversations such as these will help catalyze the change that is needed...

    Keep up the amazing work with Laurie, and all the best in 2010!