Friday, May 9, 2008

Ownership in the 3rd World

Shortly after Presdient Miller came to talk with us, I had a chance to speak with some representatives of the World Bank. They came to Olin to hear about how we built our school from the ground up, because they were interested in doing the same thing in 3rd world countries. The World Bank initiatives in higher education were set up to establish tertiary education institutions all over the world in 3rd world and developing countries. Throughout this meeting, the one principal that stood out to me most was the concept of ownership that we had discussed many times before throughout vital ideation.

I also remember when we were talking to Presdient Miller how he commented on the great sense of ownership that one feels in the establishment of our school. When we have this sentiment in place, everyone feels like they are a part of the system and each in turn contribute a large amount of effort and energy back into the school. While this is partly due to the fact that we are new, small, and filled with a unique brand of people, the concept of involvement through ownership is still something relatively universal.

The parallel that I saw most between Olin and World Bank funded colleges elsewhere in the world is that if students can be involved in feeling like they can actively contribute to the foundation of the institution, then they can create a continual sense of ownership as it evolves.

The principals of ownership in the 3rd world also extend beyond universities. I think that one of the reasons that many NGOs and free-stuff campaigns in 3rd world nations don’t perform as well as they should is because of an inherent lack of accountability and ownership. For example, for a long time, major AIDS campaigns in Africa were devoted to delivering large amounts of free condoms to people. One problem was that since they were free, the condoms were valueless. If those condoms, however, have a small amount of value attached to them, then even though they are still near free, they still have some value associated with them. People buy those condoms with a little bit of their own money and suddenly own them. Giving away free things is not necessarily an effective way of engaging people.

This principal of ownership is another reason why I think that entrepreneurial ventures in the small scale are a great way to help promote growth in 3rd world countries. Business over there does not mean starting a multi-national food chain; rather it means starting a small corner-side shop, or providing a needed serves and capitalizing on it. This provides not only a stimulus to an impoverished economy, but also instills a sense of ownership in the many business owners of these many small businesses. Once they have a vested interest in something that they own and care about, they are far more likely to make a more dedicated and positive contribution towards their cause.

This is the message that the Babson Global Outreach through Entrepreneurship tries to convey with their trips to third world countries. Their mission is dedicated around instilling entrepreneurial spirit into places such as Uganda or Sri Lanka.

Whether it be a new college in Needham Massachusetts, USA, or a home-made jewelry stand in Mozambique, having ownership in a shared creation can be a powerful motivator to inspiring individuals and producing positive results.

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