Where angels fear to tread

A group of Rice University MBA students is spending spring break in Rwanda, hoping to use their skills to come up with a distribution system for a trio of products developed through the university’s global health initiative: a low-cost neonatal incubator, a diagnostic lab-in-a-backpack and a plastic dosing device for liquid medicines.

“All of these products are terrific designs, but you cannot solve pervasive health problems with one or two of these,” [the supervising professor] said. “You need them by the hundreds and thousands, and you need to overcome the problem of distribution, which has stymied Western governments and aid organizations for decades.”

[CLIP]

“Neither governments nor aid organizations have been effective at getting products to the people who really need them,” [the professor] said. “But that’s what business does best. Products get delivered and customers get served when there is a profit motive.”

The Nonprofiteer doesn’t wish to be cynical, and she really doesn’t want to devalue the obvious effort Rice University has put into making its students aware of the outside world.  But the notion that a group of MBA students can solve problems that have “stymied . . . governments and aid organizations for decades,” just because they’re interested in making money and those earlier groups were not, makes her want to hurl.

This is arrant nonsense, market-worshiping of the most thoughtless type.  It is NOT true that the profit motive is best at assuring distribution of necessities to poor people; the profit motive, and the free-market capitalism in which it’s embedded, are best at assuring distribution of items to people who can pay for them.

We in the nonprofit/NGO sector are happy to welcome any allies to our fight, but please don’t insult our intelligence, experience and expertise by suggesting that the obstacles we face will melt away magically with the application of a little well-placed self-interest.

If the days of Gordon Gekko and “Greed is good” aren’t over yet, with the world financial system circling the drain in a crisis created by people who believed the profit motive could solve all problems, the Nonprofiteer wonders what will be necessary to drive a stake through its heart.

Or, more succinctly: puh-LEASE.

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3 Responses to “Where angels fear to tread”

  1. Tidy Sum Says:

    Whoo wee, sister.

    Go an and gore that sacred cow!

    I guess you are one of the 3 NPO/philanthro-bloggers in the world that doesn’t worship at the altar of the market.

    You will be shamed and force to wear a scarlet letter if word gets out.

    I will keep your secret. (Nobody will find out anyway, because hype tends to drown out discussion).

  2. Alanna Says:

    “It is NOT true that the profit motive is best at assuring distribution of necessities to poor people; the profit motive, and the free-market capitalism in which it’s embedded, are best at assuring distribution of items to people who can pay for them.”

    Well said.

  3. Mark T. Market Says:

    I think Gekko might have been too simplistic about greed, but he did draw the line at profit–which is more than I can say for the bankers, traders, and Wall Street hotshots who contributed to the financial crisis.

    Gekko would have sneered at people like Madoff who got rich at the expense of even their own shareholders.

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