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Emerging Market Risks and Rewards

By Cynthia Greenwood

Last night, Opportunity International Board Member Kadita “A.T.” Tshibaka spoke to a distinguished audience of almost 100 business leaders and students at an event hosted by the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management (watch the video here). Kadita offered up a few things he had learned during his life growing up in the Congo, his 30 years of international banking at Citibank, and his leadership at Opportunity. These included:

  • Crises will happen, and we must therefore prepare for them. The most important aspect of that preparation is a well-trained staff able to balance short- and long-term goals, able to balance personal interests and the common good, and driven by the highest ethical standards. Building human capacity in the developing world is thus essential.  
  • In emerging markets, a bottom-up approach is generally the most effective. We cannot only rely on national initiatives or macro-economic policies to foster the sort of growth and stability that these markets so desperately need. Even when it comes to international aid to these countries, there is a growing number of voices questioning the wisdom of the historical top-down approach that delivers massive amounts of direct aid to governments and to consultants and middlemen, instead of investing in small farmers, businesses and communities, enabling them to be self-sustaining.
  • We are all interconnected – our decisions and actions affect others around the world, the so-called contagion risk. We talk about developed economies and emerging economies as if they were separate and distinct, but we know better. From currencies to climate, we are connected to one another. As the saying goes, when the U.S. sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. While it’s easy to point to the additional risks this interconnectedness creates, it also offers tremendous opportunities. We can improve the lives of people around the world through the click of the mouse, through the everyday things we buy and sell (and don’t buy and don’t sell), through social advocacy and action, through advancing the rule of law, through expanding access to the financial system, through sharing new technologies, through furthering advances in agriculture and medicine. It’s worth the effort, and it’s worth the risk. More than that, we know it is the right thing to do.
  • And finally, you must be in it for the long haul if you hope to positively impact your business and your community in a sustainable way. Banks are justifiably looking for attractive margins but, when making the quick buck overrides the greater and better choice of building long-term, sustainable growth, markets and – more importantly – people, suffer the consequences. Quite often it’s the very people who least can afford it, those who have the smallest margin for error. That doesn’t mean we have to stop taking risks. We cannot grow without taking risks. However, we need a disciplined, calculated approach. A disciplined approach also means you don’t cut corners and you don’t cut and run when things go wrong. Taking the long view means sticking around through the tough times. The same is of course true for those of us working on issues of poverty, disease and injustice. It is difficult work, but we’re here to stay. We know the sobering realities, but the clients we serve fill us with hope. They show us what’s possible. We work hard to provide opportunities for the poor to achieve great change in their lives, and in the process discover that we, too, have been transformed.

Kadita concluded with these words: “Strangely enough, taking a long-term view of things is practiced by both pragmatists and optimists. I spent a good part of my career in risk management. Now I’m serving on the board of Opportunity International, an organization that envisions a world without poverty. I guess that means I’m a pragmatic optimist, or at least it means I’m a bit of both. I hope you are a bit of both as well.

 “It also means I dream of a world where each one of us will invest in making a difference in the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves. They are our brothers and sisters. And in their security and prosperity lies our own.”

 To hear Kadita’s full remarks, watch the video here.

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