Changemaker Rorschach Test: Globalization

11/14/2017 08:30 pm ET

In Granada, Nicaragua, on the promenade called La Calzada, the advantages and disadvantages of globalization are on full dis­play. With the city’s colonial-era architecture still salvageable and undergoing restoration, Granada is actively cultivating tourism. Isolationism isn’t an option.

In 2014, as I strolled La Calzada, the sun’s glare stalked me, and the hot cement scorched through the bottoms of my canvas shoes. In search of shade, I stepped into Soy Nica (in Spanish, proudly, ‘I am Nicaraguan’). Tucked between shops selling rough-hewn woodcarvings, traditional shawls and cheap ceramics, Soy Nica is a bustling, high-end leather workshop.

Luxuriating in the faint breeze from the slow-turning ceiling fans, I took my leisurely time checking out the shoulder bags, clutches, belts, key fobs, briefcases, backpacks, handbags and purses strewn everywhere. The enticingly sexy colors were fire engine red, margarita green, dark brown, lemony yellow, orangey orange, pink, purple and turquoise. The lush, flirtatious smell of new leather wafted around me, arousing my consumerism.

“All of our Danish-designed products are made in our workshop with 100% Nicaraguan leather by local craftsmen,” proclaims the in-store advertising. Not a word about social responsibility, social purpose or fair trade.

Soy Nica’s imported Danish designs (it must be said) are competing with local craft traditions. The pricey designs are more Danish than indigenous.

Still, as I watched the leatherworkers stack more and more, and then more, merchan­dise on the over-flowing hooks and shelves, local commerce was conspicuously on display. As I stepped back into the sunlight, laden with purchases, I had done my part for the gentrification and global­ization affecting every aspect of life in Granada.

From skilled craftsperson to unskilled salesperson, with leather from every part of the cow, Soy Nica is creating jobs. Soy Nica epit­omizes the type of economic development and globalization a social entrepreneur might happily endorse.

Some Americans choose to define community differently than the way I, as a global citizen (in my mind), do. Their generous hearts relate more fiercely to the social problems they see directly in front of them. To them, hands-on volunteering at the local hospital feels more meaningful than raising money to build a clinic in a country that’s hard to find on a map. To them, working on a ballot initiative to fund a neighborhood park feels more achievable than working to save the Brazilian or Congolese rain forests. ‘Black Lives Matter’ feels more urgently relevant than ‘African Lives Matter’.

As global citizens, social entrepreneurs are public educators. It’s part of the gig. At parties and public events, at family gatherings and in friendly conversations, in the oddest moments, we’re called upon to justify why we do the work we do, not only as an act of compassion and justice, but in the larger context of global citizenship and the irresistible force of globalization.

When it comes to globalization, I remain a mélange of major and minor hypocrisies, of double standards and unanswered questions. For most social entrepreneurs – perhaps for you too – unraveling or cherry-picking the constituent parts of globalization is an impossi­ble and pointless task. Globalization and its kissing cousins – urban­ization, mechanization, automation, computerization, consumerism, colonialism, capitalism, religion, airplanes, seaports, television, the internet – are welded together.

For simple example: I gag at discovering a Hard Rock Café in downtown Lima, Peru, but drool at the prospect of a Peruvian dinner in San Francisco, California. The glory of globalization is that, in both cities, I get a choice of cuisines. In both cities, I also owe it to my economic justice agenda to wonder whether the cooks and servers earn a livable wage.

When we dine out, we like our food grown on local organic farms. Ideally, our well-spoken and stylish server will know the precise pedigree of every item on the menu.

However, when it comes to my cell phone, I have different expectations. No artisanal cell phones for me, thank you very much. We prefer our electronics assembled by robots operated by well-trained workers wherever they are in the world. Price and quality beat out ‘buy locally’. Ask any PlayStation owner. Ask any Walmart shopper.

Globalization is a social entrepreneurship Rorschach test. Love it or hate it, we have to deal with it.

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Jonathan C. Lewis, author of The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur (from which this commentary is adapted), is a life-long social justice activist and social entrepreneur. He is the Founder of MCE Social Capital, an innovative social venture that leverages private capital to finance tiny business loans to deeply impoverished people, mostly women, in 33 countries in the developing world. He is also Founder and President of the Opportunity Collaboration, an annual strategic business retreat for 450 senior level anti-poverty leaders from around the globe. In addition, Jonathan is the co-founder of Copia Global, an Amazon-like consumer catalog serving the base of the economic pyramid in Kenya. Jonathan is a Trustee of the Swift Foundation and serves as a General Partner of Dev Equity, a social impact investment fund in Central America. #UnFinSocEnt @SocentClinic (Photos by Pixabay)

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