The opposite of poverty is justice

When talking about sustainability, we’re talking about nore than just local economy and a low environmental impact. We’re also talking about equality. In both you local community and on a global scale.

I’ve been focusing a lot on the local aspect of sustainable entrepreneurship, purpose-driven entrepreneurship etc… I strongly believe being happy with yourself and your work is elementary for having a positive impact for the world. The question I haven’t raised yet is: “What do you want to have an impact on?”.

A sustainable economy and society (because those two are closely related) is, in my opinion, based upon two key pillars: creating a string and versatile local economy and closing the inequality gap both on a local and a global level.

Aiming for equality goes far beyond the mere ethical argument of poverty. In their study The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett  found out that a big part of our societal issues are directly related to inequality. Not only on global scale, but even in your own city. For a summary of the study, I recommend a TED-talk by Richard wilkinson (embedded below).

The cold war is over

When talking about sustainability, a lot of people instantly think about communism, Stalin or the Cold War. For these people I’ve got good news: the cold war is over. Instead of taking sides in a big good versus evil discussion, I think it’s time to define the flaws in whatever socio-economic system you’ve chosen, and try to fix them. There’s more than pure communism or pure capitalism (every Europe country has its own version of a free-market economy mixed with socialist influences), and one-size-fits-all solutions don’t exist.

Besides accepting it’s possible to live in different socio-economic systems happily, we should also recognize and embrace the fact that these systems should be able to evolve. Sometimes we’ll need a government-steered economy, other times, it’s time to go out and explore. The only thing that can facilitate these changing systems is a well-structured democracy.

The opposite of poverty is justice

Which brings us back to the problem of inequality. Inequality is often approached as a problem of wealth. I don’t believe this is the case. In defining the opposite of poverty, I agree strongly with Bryan Stevenson’s definition:

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth. … In too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice” – Bryan Stevenson

Keeping the Root Cause Analysis in mind, we should try to look beyond the lack of wealth in poor regions. This is a result of a more profound, structural problem. The root cause of this problem I believe is justice and security. Where security is a local issue, best addressed by governments, justice is something we help in creating (or destroying).

Justice is about paying people fair wages for the work they do, it’s about treating people like you would like to be treated, about giving kids the opportunity to go to school by saying no to child labor. It’s about investing in fairtrade products, giving farmers the opportunity to feed their family before selling the harvest.

As for local economies, fair is about paying a correct price. If the beans of your local farmer are more expensive than those from Kenia, ask yourself what conditions both farmers have to work in. If beans that are being flown over from the other side of the earth cost less than those grown next to your door, somewhere in the line, someone is highly underpaid. Paying a fair price will help both our local and global community in creating security and ending poverty.

Sustainable entrepreneurs should be aware that everything they do has an impact on several people in the process. Make that impact a positive one.


About leyssensjan

Jan Leyssens is a designer and entrepreneur who strongly believes you can’t turn sustainability into a positive story if your main focus is on negative impact. When designing, he is always looking for the overlap between activism and entrepreneurship, technology and community. His main expertise lies in strategic business model development, Circular Economy, the makermovement, and social innovation. With a background in Industrial Design, Jan quickly shifted his focus towards business design and using the design process in strategic management. Jan is the father of two kids and founder & CEO of Regenerative Design, co-founder of Full Circle, ImpactBoost, and the Circular Design map, podcaster, storyteller, and changemaker.

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