I had the privilege and honor to speak at Ivey Business School in London, Ontario, Canada in January 2014. I was invited to speak to three classes studying corporate social responsibility.
The talk was left relatively wide open, allowing me to explore how my experiences could benefit them as Canadian students. I decided to focus on corruption and the poverty cycle.
Though no country is free from corruption, most developed countries do a good job of keeping it out of daily life. Public services work, the police can’t be bribed, etc. That’s why I shared an example from my previous employer: Siemens. It was caught in an enormous bribery scandal, paying $1.6 billion in bribes between 2000 and 2006. The bribes were largely paid in developing countries, but the consequences were felt at home. Apart from most of the top management and middle management being replaced, the company itself was almost broken up into many pieces.
I set this example from a Western company, one with values the students could identify with, against the realities in the developing world where corruption is sadly a fact of life. Want to start a business? Get a passport? Move goods from one region to another? The most mundane of activities often requires a financial bribe or a “friend of a friend” to help you out. Perhaps the slide that got the biggest reaction among the students was the World Bank’s estimate that $1 trillion in bribes are paid annually.
We discussed where corruption comes from and how it is allowed to flourish. In the end, we talked about how the normal people in these countries end up having to pay more for everything due to the inefficiencies that corruption creates in the market. This led to a discussion of the poverty cycle.
The Poverty Cycle
The poverty cycle is terribly difficult to break out of. At this volunteering experience in Guatemala I saw a sign that said “Que Caro Es Ser Pobre” which translates to “How Expensive It Is To Be Poor.” This led to this series of articles. After sharing this simple example of how being poor is more expensive, the students contributed many other areas of life where this is true and discussed ways they as managers in a developing country could avoid corruption and help stop the poverty cycle.
We also discussed a case about Fair and Lovely, an Indian skin whitening cream found throughout Asia and Africa. It was a cross section between many of the topics we discussed, namely the profit motive, whether it’s right/ethical to market their products this way, whether a European company with European values should be exploiting the inherent discrimination in India or fighting it, etc. Below are two commercials
After this discussion I wrapped things up by explaining that the three pillars of corporate social responsibility (people, planet, and profit) are ripe with opportunities. In their lifetime everything will change and if they can think outside the box with a more holistic view of the world they will see those opportunities to do well for themselves while doing well for the greater good.
I got great feedback from the professors and the students. I hope I could give the students some food for thought, planting a seed that the world is more connected and interdependent than ever before. We talk so much about how education empowers those in developing countries to achieve a “better” life; I tried to use this forum to inspire and empower the students. I challenged them to use their education to be part of the solution.
After the final talk I stayed an hour longer and told all three classes where to meet me if they had questions that didn’t fit in the Q&A period during my presentation or if they wanted to ask more personal questions without the professors being around. Many came, especially those who have had experiences abroad. One guy visited the town of Copan Ruinas several times. It was nice to reminisce about that town where I had such an amazing volunteering experience.
I love speaking to students, pushing their comfort zones, and challenging them to see the big picture. The more conscious people there are out there, the better the world will be. I thank Ivey for inviting me to speak to its students!