Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
In his 2009 book, Be the Solution: How Entrepreneurs and Conscious Capitalists Can Solve All the World’s Problems, Michael Strong makes two points no human being should ignore.
The book offers compelling evidence. Two chapters are written by John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods Market and, with Strong, co-founder of C3, a nonprofit dedicated to “cultivating conscious capitalists.” Mackey’s energy and consciousness were instrumental in developing a little Texas health-foods store into an $8 billion Fortune 500 company in just a couple of decades.
Another chapter is contributed by Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel laureate economist who started the Grameen Bank when he loaned $27 to 42 poor Bangladeshis in 1976, effectively inventing microfinance. Based on the model he invented, it’s estimated that more than 110 million entrepreneurs build their bootstrap businesses with “microloans,” worldwide, each year.
A former educator, Strong uses his own experience of starting a charter school in New Mexico as a personal example. Rural New Mexico is not known for high-quality public education. The New Mexico district where I went until 8th grade only gets about 20 percent of its 11th-graders to “proficiency” in science, math and social studies. An administrator from the University of New Mexico told Strong students in his region were “not capable of passing AP (Advanced Placement) courses.”
The second year Strong’s Moreno Valley High School was open, it ranked in the top 150 schools in the nation for the number of its students enrolled in AP courses. In its third year it was 36th on that list, and its passing rate for standardized AP tests was double the national average.
Mackey, Yunus and Strong all tell the story of how human energy expands in an environment where people visualize successful outcomes, and engage personally in creating those outcomes:
Mackey and his colleagues – thousands of whom are also shareholders – created a dominant grocery chain based on the idea that people wanted healthy food and other conscientious products available in an excellent retail environment.
Yunus dramatically changed the lives of hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people, simply by trusting them to use his loans constructively and pay them back on time. At his own bank alone, he’s loaned about 8 million very poor people almost $9 billion. The default rate has been around 1 percent. As a comparison, the default rate for business loans guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration was 2.4 percent in 2004 and increased every year after until 2008, when it was about 12 percent. In February of 2010, the default rate on all office properties, retail properties, hotels and industrial properties in the United States was almost 4 percent. According to Moody’s Investor Service, the cumulative default rates for all rated companies between 1983 and 1998 – a relatively prosperous period - was 8.64 percent, and even the best “investment-grade” loans to corporations defaulted at a rate of 1.47 percent.
In other words, it might be safer to loan $20, each, to a million small-scale entrepreneurs living in poverty than it is to loan $20 million to a public company in a wealthy nation.
This essay is excerpted from Beautiful and Abundant: Building the World We Want, published by B&A Books in December, 2010. The book is available now on the Mother Earth News bookshelf.
 Whole Foods Market website. http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/company/history.php#1. Sourced April 3, 2010.
 Michael Strong. Be the Solution: How Entrepreneurs and Conscious Capitalists Can Solve All the World’s Problems. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, New Jersey, 2009. Page 364. ISBN 978-0-470-45003-1.
 Gadsden Independent School District NMHSSA Test Scores, 2008. http://www.trulia.com/school-district/NM-Dona_Ana_County/Gadsden_Independent_School_District/. Sourced April 1, 2010.
 Strong. Preface, p. xix.
 Grameen Bank website. http://www.grameen-info.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=16&Itemid=112. Sourced April 3, 2010.
 Jeffrey Gangemi. What the Nobel Means for Microcredit. BusinessWeek Magazine. October 13, 2006. http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/oct2006/sb20061016_705623.htm. Sourced April 3, 2010.
 Emily Maltby. Small Biz Loan Failure Rate Hits 12%. CNNMoney.com/Small Business. February 25, 2009. http://money.cnn.com/2009/02/25/smallbusiness/smallbiz_loan_defaults_soar.smb/. Sourced April 3, 2010.
 Dan Levy and David Henry. Commercial Mortgage Default Rate in U.S. More than Doubles. Bloomberg. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601206&sid=aExgk1dEfRrA. February 4, 2010. Sourced April 12, 2010.
 Sean C. Keenan, Igor Shtogrim and Jorge Sobehart. Historical Default Rates of Corporate Bond Issuers, 1920-1998. Moody’s Investors Service Global Credit Search. New York. January 1999.