martes, 25 de octubre de 2016

"Working" refugees

Three days ago we talked about the entrepreneurship story of the founder of Inditex, the matrix of Zara. We mentioned the shadows that this company had, but we didn’t get into any detail. BBC has done it for us. They broadcasted on Sunday a program about how Turkish factories employ Syrian refugee kids to make clothes. Zara was, together with other big chains like Marks & Spencer, one of the retails that would afterwards distribute those clothes.

Marks & Spencer labels shwon in the program
What BBC’s Panorama showed was the conditions in which refugees, both adults and children, are “employed” in some Turkish factories; they had access to contracts stablishing a payment of one euro per hour. Also, the working conditions, the safety measures and the number of daily hours were far from meeting any decent standard. At least not ours, maybe those standards are not far from Turkish ones, but that’s what happens when you pay a country to get all the refugees you don’t want, because Turkey is already safe, no Human Rights are violated there. Right, Europe?

Let’s get back to the topic. The big Europeans brands that are using these companies are suppliers have already said that they are investigating or that they didn’t know because it was a supplier of a supplier. Of course, they condemn child labor and the exploitation of refugees, some of them already explained that they are collaborating with NGOs to stop that… But these companies are getting millions every day, and in order to do that, being completely fair and caring is not always their most profitable way.

But hey! We are all furious now… go and check your closest Zara or Marks & Spencer shop… I bet it’s not empty. So, who’s the last responsible?

We have always heard that the problem of migration is in the origin, that we have to act there. And it’s true, the drama of these people is not because they want to arrive to Europe; it’s because they don’t want to leave their countries. But there is not much to do for regular citizens about it. Also not many chances for us to leave our jobs and studies to go to the Mediterranean and help. But we do have a power where we are. And it’s bigger than we think.

This case that BBC unveiled has had a big media effect, mainly because the firms involved are the ones we use every day and because we feel it close enough. But it’s just a tiny extra problem in the life of Syrian refugees. And for them it might not be even a problem, because in their conditions, finding a job like that, even if it’s completely unfair and unsafe, it’s the only option to keep surviving.

But this problem goes much further than Syrian refugees. They are usually the most dramatic and present cases, but there is much more out there about the migration topic, also if we don’t know about it. Therefore, our “Migration: From challenge to opportunity” will try to bring some light into one of the most complex of today’s challenges.

(Published in the Blog of Aspire. Manufactury of Change to promote the  Aspire Conference 2016)

sábado, 22 de octubre de 2016

Entrepreneurship out of Silicon Valley

Busdongo de Arbás is a small village in the northwest of Spain. Located 1300 meters over the level of the sea, winters are very hard for the 100 inhabitants of this place, most of them, retired railway men and coal miners who have seen better times in their industries. Most people in Busdongo have no idea about where Silicon Valley is, and many don’t even know what Google or Apple are. But they do know one of the most successful entrepreneurs ever, Amancio Ortega, born there 80 years ago.

He lived there until he was 14, when his father, a worker of the railway company, was sent to A Coruña, a big city by the Atlantic coast. Shortly afterwards, he began to work for a local shirtmaker. In 1972 he started a bathrobe business and three years later, together with his wife, he opened the first Zara shop. That shop would become the flagship of the biggest fashion group in the world, Inditex.

The business model of Zara and Inditex redefined the whole fashion system: they produce and sell fashionable products with moderate prices; they designed a computer system when not so many companies were even aware of the importance that it would have in the future; they don’t make any advertising outside of their shops, which are located in some of the most commercial corners and buildings of the world; they work with very tight inventories, what allows them to sell their fashion during the season, without needing to reduce their price to get rid of stock; they have a diversified group of shops, so they cover almost every spectrum of the fashion world… This multinational company owns nowadays more than 7000 shops in more than 90 countries in 5 continents. And thanks to it, Amancio Ortega is now sitting next to Bill Gates as the richest man on Earth.

Now, we don’t want to forget that there are shadows in that road to success, even though we can consider Inditex as a more or less fair player in the capitalism game. And no, we don’t always like that game. So, if we don’t like something, we have to change it, and no better way to do this than showing that there are alternatives.

Today, an entrepreneur in the field of fashion would need very likely more than just cheap trendy clothes; eco-friendly processes and completely fair labor conditions could be a nice option. Maybe not to become richer than Amancio Ortega, but to prove that entrepreneurship is another way of changing the rules, making your business your own particular Manufactury of Change.

Far from the glamour of North American garages and smartphones, this was an example of a real successful entrepreneurship story and, somehow, we could also see it as an aspiring one. There will be many of those, even more interesting, in our “Challenging paradigms through new business models” track.

(Published in the Blog of Aspire. Manufactury of Change to promote the Aspire Conference 2016)

miércoles, 19 de octubre de 2016

Who is free?

It was one of the images of the Olympic Games. Very likely one of the images of the year. A German beach-volley player wearing a bikini faces her Egyptian rival, who covers her body completely. An example of the cultural diversity of the Olympics. But it was also a polemic picture, rising a lot of questions:

Is one of the players freer than the other? Are they both victims of different kinds of sexism? Is it possible that they are both free? It would be easy to say that the German girl was free to play as comfortable as she wants while the Egyptian one was forced by her religion to cover her body and head. But is it that easy?

The rules about how to dress in female beach-volley are now a bit lighter, but until 2012 the sides of the down part of the bikinis couldn’t be larger than seven centimeters. Was that in order to make it more comfortable for competing? Was that a way of sexualizing the players? Would those dresses derivate attention from the performance of the players to their bodies?

In 2012 the rules admitted other uniforms (like the one of the Egyptian player) because “many countries have religious or cultural demands”, like Richard Baker, speaker of the International Beach-Volley Federation said. Not because women had the right to choose over their dresses, but because some religions or cultures wouldn’t allow their women to play dressed with just a bikini.

So, did both players choose their dresses freely? They both said so, but, were those “free” decisions really free or were they based on sexist subjacent ideas that see the female body as something to hide or to show but not as something to compete?

And maybe the biggest question of all: why are we debating about the way sportswomen dress but we don’t do the same with sportsmen?

We can clearly see the interplay of religion, culture or sexism in this debate. This case is just a very visual and recent example about it, but in Aspire we have prepared a Track inside our Conference 2016 that will tackle many other similar cases, with much more developed questions and answers and addressed by real experts in the topic.

(Published in the Blog of Aspire. Manufactury of Change to promote the Aspire Conference 2016)

sábado, 15 de octubre de 2016

Do we need to degrow?

There is no doubt that Pope Francis is being a revolution inside of the Catholic Church. His second encyclical, a particular kind of letter that catholic popes send out, had an environmental content that nobody was expecting from the highest hierarchy of such a traditionalist institution. Laudato si’ criticizes consumerism and irresponsible development, which lay behind climate change and environmental destruction. It also defends a more equalitarian share of wealth and the need of economic growth to be connected to social development.

This text has been even seen as a support by some defenders of Degrowth theories. This movement supports anti-consumerism and anti-capitalism, looking for a better balance between environment and human beings. This theory seeks to reduce production and consumption, which would mean a contraction of economies but, they defend, a more proportional share of wealth and a solution to environmental problems.

Would that work? Is it necessary such a “drastic” measure? Is environment more important than employment? Are we (and our governments, enterprises and societies) willing to sacrifice economic growth in order to stop the destruction of environment? Could we sacrifice our life standards, high-technology devices, comfortable homes and exquisite diet? Up to what point our life style would be affected? Is there any alternative to keep growing in a way that our planet would resist?

Some of these questions were also made around the transcendental 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. The COP 21 showed that countries are more concerned about climate change and environment protection than ever. But above that, they are still more concerned about employment and economic growth of their societies.

Degrowth, whether if Pope Francis likes it or not, doesn’t seem to be in any agenda right now. We might not need it and maybe there is a way to make development sustainable without affecting our economies. But we should find it soon. Otherwise, climate change might be not only an environmental catastrophe, but also a huge handicap for economy and employment. Or you think it’s easy for countries to develop when they are flooded or during a draught?

And that’s where our Aspire 2016 track “Limited resources – limiting resources” appears. With the objective of finding the right balance between our infinite needs and the limited resources available to satisfy them, this track will reunite experts and motivated people around a topic that is more urgent that it seems.

(Published in the Blog of Aspire. Manufactury of Change to promote the Aspire Conference 2016)

lunes, 3 de octubre de 2016

Navigating under the storm

The economic crisis was disappearing, employment figures were slowly growing, recession was already in the past and the rescues, little by little, seemed to work. The Euro and the EU looked saved. But just when we thought the storm was over, the hurricane struck.

The European Union, although built initially upon shared economic interests, has Equality, Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights as main values. Those basic principles are at stake now, pushing the EU towards the biggest challenge in its history.

Let’s start with the refugee crisis. Many people are turning their hopes to Europe, looking for that land of Freedom and Human Rights that we are supposed to be. But the lack of solidarity, both between European countries and with the asylum seekers, has shown exactly the opposite. And with some countries welcoming refugees while other were building new walls, the EU showed how unprepared she was to give an answer to this humanitarian problem. So far, the only solution offered was a deal with Turkey so the problem stays far from our borders, but without really caring about the Human Rights of those refugees.

This whole refugee crisis increased a process that had already started during the economic crisis: the appearing and growing of populist, nationalist and extremist parties all across Europe. Some ideas that we thought buried in the past returned, offering the same easy solutions to the complex problems that we are facing. Politics seem to be in the middle of a renewing process, with traditional parties losing their support to some new and interesting ideas, but also to some scaring ones.

Among the last one some might include those supporting the Brexit. The fact that a country wants to leave the Union meant that something was not being done properly. But the possibility that this country might not be the only one shows the dimension of the problem. So far the EU had only added countries, it had never lost one, but that changed now. How to face that new challenge remains still a mystery, but the consequences are still to come.

One of the main reasons for those who voted “Leave” was the threat of terrorism in Europe. France has been so far the most punished country by these despicable actions, but the whole Europe feels the risk. Terrorism is not only scary; it has also meant a cut in our freedom in order to maintain security. And with it, also racism and islamophobia have increased, showing precisely what shouldn’t be done.

Let’s add to this cocktail the hottest year since there are records due to the effects of climate change, some failed elections in countries like Austria or Spain, the loose  of rights in countries like Hungary or Poland, and the still very damaged economy (that might be facing now the menace of a new financial crisis).

We are in the middle of the perfect storm. And keeping the boat afloat won’t be easy. And if you expect now solutions to these problems, I’m afraid I have none. It’s not that easy. Answers will only be found through dialogue.

That’s exactly what we offer in our Aspire Conference 2016: dialogue about some of the most challenging topics of our days, such as gender equality, migration, new business models and environment. To learn more about the Conference, stay with us, because we pretend to discover how to navigate the crossroads of our days under this perfect storm.

(Published in the Blog of Aspire. Manufactury of Change to promote the Aspire Conference 2016)