CAN THE GLOBAL HOUSING PROBLEM BE SOLVED?
What Does Work?
What do we see as the key elements for providing a practical solution? What are the constraints we must operate under to create feasible solutions? They are:
* The people, or country, that needs housing must provide it themselves
* They must use local resources:
If lots of outside resources are required, then the effort is unlikely to succeed.
* Some outside input, information, technology, materials, is essential, but it must be minimized.
* Education is one of the most powerful elements both locally and as an outside input.
* It must be sustainable: environmentally, socially (culturally, politically), and economically.
The challenge to Corning is: Can you participate in this large scale problem? Can you be relevant to the needs of 2 billion people in slums? Can you be relevant to the needs of 5 billion people with deficient housing? (84% of world population) Can you operate productively within the limitations of a community such as the one we showed in Nicaragua and many others like it around the world?
The technical challenge might be something like a new reality show: “Third World Survivor”. We would drop off some Corning scientists in a developing community, kind of like Robinson Crusoe on a desert island, and ask them how they could make a good life, for themselves and others, using only the resources of that community with little or nothing from the outside, maybe nothing more than an internet connection. Or like the mountaineer’s challenge. If you were dropped in the Sierras for some years and could only take what you could carry on your back, what would you take?
I want to pose another challenge to you. Earlier I pointed out the disastrous impact on our environment, including the air that we rich people breathe, if the rest of humanity follows our example. We could try to solve this by attempting to prevent these people from getting what we have. Or we could think, there isn’t much they can do, so we’ll just ignore them. In either case we are setting ourselves in opposition to 2-5 billion people 33-84% of the world’s population.
A conventional business approach to the world is to look for who has the money, find out what they want, and sell it to them. What happens if Corning were to look at things from a completely different perspective? What if you were to seriously look at the problems facing the whole of humanity, in this case around housing, and ask how you can address them? Then actually undertake to do something about it? To paraphrase John Kennedy, “Ask not what the world can do for you but what you can do for the world?”
It puts you in a remarkably different position. You become allied with 5, or rather 6, billion people. 2, 5, or 6 billion people constitute a powerful force. What happens when you view those people as a resource? What happens when you view them as allies?
Groundwork’s goal is to address the real needs of every human on the planet, starting with those who need it the most. There is a certain “do good” aspect to Groundwork’s work. However, we don’t believe that charity can do much to solve this problem and it is not what we advocate. What we notice is the tremendous capacity locked in the human and natural resources of the world’s poor communities.
What happens if Corning looks at the problem the way we did? I.e. How do we help people? How do we make a better world? Can Corning benefit from helping others, from helping poor people and poor countries to get good housing? Why would it be worth Corning’s while to consider this problem?
By becoming actively engaged in helping the world’s population, including its poor population, obtain good housing:
.You help create a more stable world. A world that is more stable politically and economically, both of which benefit business.
.You help make the world wealthier.
.You develop relationships in growing markets.
.Build a name
.Become known by local governments and businesses
.Become known by the people
.You develop new markets
.You are on the side of 2-5 billion people rather than being an obstacle or at best irrelevant.
In summary, the most feasible path to solving the housing problems of the majority of the world’s population is in seeking ways that people can provide it for themselves using the resources they have available locally. We need some external resources, but they must be very minimal. We must rely on their labor, their intelligence. Education and information will be a good and cheap input. We must rely on local materials. “Local” is defined by transportation and communication resources available to that community. It must be consonant with and/or grow out of local culture. Manufacturing must be done with methods that can be applied by these people with the resources they have at hand.
By taking on a new set of goals, Corning can radically reposition itself and reinvent itself. By taking on, paying attention to and being concerned with the needs of all people, their specific lives, culture and resources, we open up new paths to a healthy world, which includes one that is healthy economically and Corning opens up the option of being part of that healthy economy and world.
At this point in the outline for this talk I had written “Conclusion”. But I don’t have a conclusion. The conclusion is my question to you: What kind of solutions would you bring to the community, the people and the context I’ve described? What could Corning contribute to these people, to this problem, in this context?
|Brainstorming After the Talk. see next page.|