by Sofia Jeremias | Assistant News Editor

How can businesses be used for good? This was the question that lay at the center of the “Global Panel on Social Justice: India, Africa and the U.S.” The event was sponsored by the Saint Mary’s College School of Economics and Business and the Fetzer Institute, whose mission is “to foster awareness of the power of love and forgiveness in the emerging global community.” Jyoti Bachani, a faculty member at Saint Mary’s College, gave the opening remarks. Bachani began with thanks to the various sponsors and speakers for the event as well as “the gathering of like minded people who care enough to be here on a Friday night.”

Following the opening remarks, Bachani introduced Michael Hadani, the faculty moderator for the evening who teaches strategy international business. Hadani in turn introduced the first speaker of the evening, Dan Viederman, CEO of Verite, a company that works against child labor, slavery, discrimination against women, unpaid work, and dangerous working conditions. Viederman’s first question to the audience was, “How much should it cost to get a job?” He went on to explain that many people pay thousands of dollars to intermediary companies who promise to get them jobs. These jobs ultimately end up paying less than minimum wage and have poor working conditions. Workers cannot quit these jobs because they are in “debt bondage.” Viederman said that debt bondage is a “problem that is widespread and systematic” but also through the work of nonprofits like Verite “the system is changing bit by bit.”

The next speaker on the program was Meera Shenoy, the founder of Youth for Jobs. The mission of the company is to “mainstream hiring the disabled.” Shenoy said that the “scale of the problem was about 60 million.”  Her organization has already “trained over 45,000 disabled youth.” However, Shenoy argued that the “biggest setback has been the mindset” of the rural and disabled youth she assists. 

Suzanne Ackerman-Berman was the third speaker of the evening. In 2007 Ackerman-Berman started a company to help small and disadvantaged entrepreneurs. Ackerman-Berman grew up in South Africa towards the end of the Apartheid. Witnessing her parents’ attempts to counteract the widespread discrimination of the country influenced the way she viewed business. Ackerman-Berman maintained that “if we don’t conduct (business) ethically we can’t be good business people.” She has grown her company to include 120 young entrepreneurs. The cornerstone of her company has been the belief that “mentorship is the greatest asset we can give as educated people.”

The fourth speaker of the panel was Dr. Victoria Kisyombe, who began an organization, Selfina, in 2002. The company arose after Dr. Kisyombe’s husband died and she was left with three children but no property, collateral, or credit history. All she was left with was a single cow named Sero. She managed to use Sero to maintain an income, realizing that the cow “was a productive asset,” but it made her start thinking about how other women in her position scraped by with even less. This inspired her to start Selfina, a company that loans and sells productive assets to women. These assets can be anything from a single sewing machine to a water pump. Dr. Kisyombe said that “for each job you create four or five others are also benefitted.” The impact of her company has gone out to 200,000 people. Dr. Kisyombe concluded that “one small thing could lead to a big change to an entire society.”

Carolyn Gable, the fourth speaker of the evening and founder and CEO of Expect a Miracle Foundation, focused on helping single mothers and their children. After high school Gable had little interest in attending college and so she graduated from beauty school. However, she quickly realized that the work did not interest her so she began waiting tables. As a single mother with two children she was struggling to make ends meet, so she started working at a Customer Service position at a freight company. Gable said that she “didn’t know anything about freight but I knew about people.” A few years later she worked her way up in the company and then started her own business. After her business became extremely successful she knew “there was a point at which I knew I had to give back.” Since starting her non-profit organization Gable has helped over 6,000 children. At the end of her speech Gable advised the audience to “dream it, do it, be it.”

The last speaker of evening, Prasad Kaipa, ranked number 21 in top 50 management thinkers in India. He spoke about an organization that worked through women’s cooperatives. 85,000 women are a part of the group that focuses on helping their self-esteem and confidence in order to better manage their lives. One aspect of the company helps provide healthcare for women and their families. Kaipa asserted that “for one rupee a year 20% of medical expenses are paid for” by the organization and “for five rupees a year 100% of medical expenses are paid for.” The organization works with very little in terms of capital but does a great amount of good work for the women and families of India. Kaipa concluded that he “believes we are breaking the shackles of poverty.”

The “Global Panel on Social Justice: India, Africa and the U.S.” drew to a close with a few brief remarks from Sharif Azami and a Q&A.

This article has 1 comment

  1. Sofia, I think Prasad was talking about Sri Lanka, not India. It was a fascinating presentation about cooperatives.

    Jim Morphy ’67

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