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Re-Branding Capitalism

Emily Cunningham is one of OneSeed’s amazing summer interns.  This is her first guest blog.

Emily is a sophomore studying economics at Harvard University. She is interested in microfinance and social enterprise, and is currently in the process of starting a fair trade jewelry network in Gujarat, India. In her spare time, she enjoys playing guitar and saxophone, surfing, Frisbee, and being outdoors.

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Summer means reading for pleasure, an all too elusive experience during the past semester. A few friends and I had decided to work on an organic farm for the first month after we emerged from the dark ages of final exam week. I’m not quite sure we fit the “wandering backpacker” motif with our rolling luggage and our affinity for food containing preservatives, yet here I was, kicking back on the hammock for some long awaited alone time with a book that contained no theoretical equations. We quickly befriended some of the other farm workers who certainly did fit the mold- the brand of hipster environmentalists who chastised us for wearing carcinogenic bug spray whilst smoking hand-rolled American Spirit cigarettes. One of them turned to me and asked what I was reading.

It was Not on our Watch: Ending Genocide in Darfur and Beyond. I explained that I had been active in the anti-genocide campaign throughout high school, and I had been meaning to read it for a while now.

“How do you end genocide?” He asked with equal measures of skepticism and curiosity.

I gave my well rehearsed elevator speech about divestment, international sanctions and diplomatic pressure, civilian protection and eliminating the root causes of violence and discontent, namely poverty and inequality. Eliminating poverty and inequality was my chief interest and focus now.

“How do you end poverty in a world controlled by capitalist interests?”

This question caught me more off guard. Studying development economics in the heart of Boston, surrounded by a budding social enterprise scene, I hadn’t really viewed capitalism and poverty alleviation as opponents. Quite the contrary. But this conversation got me thinking. Capitalism and globalization are neither inherently good or evil; they are just tools that have the potential to effect tremendous change in the status quo for the world’s poor.

This is just one of the reasons that I am excited to be working for OneSeed this summer. Fusing business with social impact, their model gives consumers an option to buy and experience the products they would normally purchase but offers the opportunity to do so responsibly, ensuring the well-being of others rather than the exploitation of others.

The most important lesson my backpacking friend imparted to me was that the social enterprise bubbles need to reach beyond Whole Foods faring cosmopolitans and the fair trade coffee they purchase. For too long, people have watched capitalism take. Now, social entrepreneurs must convince the skeptics that the market has the power to give back. We must all consider the impact of our money, voting for change tangibly with our dollars and making sure that some measure of responsibility and social concern comes from every transaction we make, from the mundane to adventure tourism in Nepal. This is the paradigm shift that needs to occur if we are to transition from an exploitative global economy to a caring one. If we can achieve this, we can look forward to a world where all trade is fair trade and all enterprise is socially conscious.