What You Spend Is What You Get

I often ask people, “What’s the biggest problem in the world?” If you don’t know your personal answer to this question, please stop and take a moment to think about it. When you know what the biggest problem in the world is to you, keep reading.

Did you say “potato chips and soft drinks?” No one ever does. Some of the most common answers I hear are water, energy, poverty, intolerance, and war. But did you know that last year, PepsiCo spend over $50 billion in their business of distributing drinks and snacks across the globe? Compare that to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) budget last year of just $5 billion.

You may not think of your potato chip purchase as a driver of human behavior, but it is. PepsiCo has built factories all around the planet; hired some of the smartest engineers, scientists, financial minds, and management experts; created an IT infrastructure that spans the globe – all to support the purchase of potato chips by you and billions of other people. It’s because you spend money on snacks and drinks that drives PepsiCo to create this amazing infrastructure and to organize these incredible resources.

Are snacks and soft drinks ten times more important than global health? They why do we spend ten times as much through PepsiCo than we do through the WHO?

Whatever your biggest problem in the world is, here’s how NOT to solve it: try to convince people to spend their potato chip money on your world problem instead. Trying to change powerful forces like capitalism or culture is a recipe for wasting time and energy. If you want to solve a problem quickly and effectively, use existing forces to accomplish your goal.

That’s where most non-profits take a wrong turn. They reframe the question like this: “How do we arrange for money to be spent on problems we care about like World Health, rather than on problems we don’t care about like Potato Chips?”

It’s the “rather than” that’s the error in thinking. Instead we need to ask the question in forms like these:

  • “Can we get people to spend money on World Health every time they spend money on potato chips?”
  • “Can we get potato chip companies to spend money on World Health?”
  • “Can we create powerful financial incentives for investors that will motivate them or their companies to invest in World Health?”

Guess what: the answer to all these questions is, “Yes!”

There are many ways to leverage existing forces to solve world problems. My favorite is to teach companies that they can make bigger profits if they will partner with world-problem-solvers under a model I call Good Returns (see Scaling Social Ventures).

So I ask you again, “What’s the biggest problem in the world?” Each person has their own answer, so to make it easy to write about here let’s just call it Your Opportunity for now. Now I challenge you to think about Your Opportunity using our new approach: can you get people to spend money on Your Opportunity every time they spend money on coffee? Can you get a glass cleaner company to spend money on Your Opportunity? Can you create powerful financial incentives for investors in a fast food chain that will motivate them to invest in Your Opportunity?

The answer to all these questions is, “Yes.” Now, go do it. Don’t delay, Your Opportunity is here.

If you read my blog, please shop at Soap Hope where we carry everything good for body and home. Every dollar of profit is invested into programs that enable women to lift themselves from poverty.

If you appreciate my ideas, please write on your blog or Facebook right now about Soap Hope and help me solve the biggest problem in the world – poverty in women. You’ll be busy tomorrow, so write a post now!

The Deep Well

Regardless of any political party, sociological theory, or business organization telling you to the contrary: it is a fundamental part of our humanity to help those who are in great need. It is totally unacceptable to allow another human being to suffer in poverty without assistance.

I did not teach myself to read, did not haul my own drinking water across miles today, did not give myself a vaccine against polio. Because I’m smarter or work harder? Of course not – it was a gift of the circumstance of my birth, and yours.

A close up look at the lives of those in extreme poverty will show that the poor are creative, resourceful, and hard-working – contrary to common prejudices held by many in the developed world. Realize the amazing enormity of the gifts you were given in life, and give just a small share to those who haven’t been so lucky. Use your time, talent or money – all three if you can. Start right now, not tomorrow.

If you don’t know where to start, I invite you to go to any of the pages at the end of this post to learn about nonprofit microfinance, my preferred way of enabling those in very deep poverty to lift themselves up.

If you are in a deep well, no amount of creativity and hard work will get you out of that well. You will need someone outside the well to throw you a lifeline, or you will die in the well.

Those in the deep well of poverty cannot climb out without a ladder provided by someone else. Nonprofit microfinance is such a ladder. It’s not charity. The recipient does all the climbing themselves.

Pick whatever you see as the greatest need that another human being is facing, and begin to do something about it, today – don’t let this day go by without taking an action for another human being who needs you.

Please visit:

Grameen Foundation
Grameen America
Chiapas International
Esperanza International
The PLAN Fund

– Salah

How Good Is Magnified (or, thank you Herb Kelleher)

Today I was at a luncheon honoring Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines. He probably doesn’t realize it, but 27 years ago I got a letter from Mr. Kelleher that would change my life – and if I get it right, that will change the lives of millions of women in poverty around the world.

Although I was only 15 years old at the time, I had already decided that my career would be as a classical concert pianist. The proof came when the head of the piano department at the University of Texas at Austin extended an offer to accept me as a student in his college studio. We didn’t have the resources to pay for those lessons, and he offered to teach me without pay. The only problem: how would I get from my home in Dallas to my professor’s studio in Austin for my 3-hour lesson every two weeks?

Without telling me, my teacher wrote a letter to Herb Kelleher explaining the investment that he wanted to make in a promising young pianist and asked for his help. A few short weeks later, I received a surprise letter from Mr. Kelleher. It contained 12 round trip vouchers in it – enough for half a year of lessons – and a note wishing me good luck in my career.

Well I did have good luck – seven years later I was fortunate enough to travel the world playing concerts in America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. While on tour I was invited by the Ambassador of Kenya to a high-level dinner where I was seated by the country director of the World Bank in Kenya. He told me a story that has always haunted me: he explained that at least 50% and perhaps up to 90% of the aid being delivered to the people of Kenya was being lost to corruption. His story led me to a lifelong interest and study in creating effective solutions to end poverty.

What Herb Kelleher did for me is what an antipoverty group like Esperanza International does for its clients. It gives people an opportunity to break free of circumstantial limitations and create their own destinies. I have been to visit with these women, so I know from first hand experience that the poorest in our world have powerful internal resources: intelligence, drive, creativity. They need just a small amount of education, healthcare and capital to become self-sufficient and to break the cycle of poverty for their children and their communities. To become a concert pianist, you need the startup resources to get to your teacher. To have a microenterprise and escape poverty, you need the startup resources to learn your trade and start your business.

Now 27 years after receiving that letter, I spend all my efforts to scale enterprises that address global challenges, starting with poverty in women. My social venture Soap Hope sells natural products nationwide and then invests 100% of profits into antipoverty efforts for women. I’m on a nationwide recruiting effort to bring 1,000 more companies under this model, which I call Good Returns, to create a billion dollar capital pool for scaling sustainable social ventures.

The moral of this story is: don’t hesitate to help those around you. Do it in small ways and large, as often as possible. You don’t know how the seed you planted will grow. Herb Kelleher sent me 12 tickets to Austin; he didn’t know those 12 tickets would start a process that would lead me around the world and ignite a passion for making a global impact on poverty. So listen for those opportunities, and be a Herb Kelleher for someone in your world as often as you can.

And Mr. Kelleher, thank you for the tickets.

Salah Boukadoum
Co-Founder, Soap Hope

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