There was recently a court case in Virginia where a Guatemalan maid stole three rings from the home she was cleaning. She was 19 years old, and was pregnant with her second child. The jury took pity and, though they found her guilty, they collected the money amongst them to pay her fine which amounted to $60.
The woman whose rings were stolen was understandably furious. She had brought the maid into her home, trusted her, and was repaid with the theft of her valuable property. The fact that the jury took pity and paid her fine, made it appear that they sided with the maid and felt the crime should not be punished.
This is a dilemma where it’s easy to empathize with either party. But the issue goes deeper.
In North America, and the developed world, most of us live in an environment of wealth that exceeds the imagination of 95% of the world’s population. We take many basic things for granted – we have food, jobs, an education, paved streets with traffic lights, a government that works, people who respect the law, and so on. It is generally understood that the framework of our lives is expected to function in a certain way and it does. When this framework breaks down we expect a quick return to normalcy - for example, with a power outage, we may complain but we expect that the lights will soon come back on, and they do.
People who live in developing countries have limited access to education, jobs are scarce, as is a consistent supply of good quality food. Infrastructure is limited, and what we take for granted is often little more than a mirage for most. The glimpse of the bright rings within reach is a temptation that is difficult to resist, if only to grasp the dream and hold onto it for a short while, knowing that it will not end well.
For many the lure of a better life is worth the long and dangerous trek from a limited rural existence, it’s their only way out. While many immigrants and refugees are able to make the transition and build better lives for themselves and their progeny, others are trapped by the legacies they have carried with them. In the case of the Guatemalan maid, her plight got the better of her. The woman who was the victim of the theft judged her by her developed world framework – the girl broke the law, she should be punished.
But here is the rub. If we go back to the mid-1980s these so-called Third World economies, like Guatemala, were even worse off. The countries were mired in government debt. The businesses in these countries had little opportunity to obtain financing from skeptical First World banks. Capital was scarce making investment and growth difficult.
It was during this time that the World Bank persuaded the Capital Group to create an index that would measure the growth of these emerging economies – the MSCI Emerging Markets Index. This measure of growth attracted other participants into these markets, which then brought in external investment capital. Forty years later, these developing markets are home to dynamic companies that offer great growth potential for their investors.
These companies are either home grown success stories or subsidiaries of developed-world multi-nationals. They invest in the local communities, provide infrastructure, and opportunity for the local population.
It is still a long road for many of these countries to raise the bulk of their populations from poverty. But many countries like Brazil, China and India have made significant progress and have built strong companies and institutions. Education is key, because once the population is educated, they begin to have hope, and then they can see the way to progressing into higher paying jobs that will improve their lives, and those of their families. Countries that invest in the education of their people will move ahead faster. And so we see engineers leaving China and India for the developed world to seek a better life.
As growth in the developed world notches up by a half a percentage point, we who live there are encouraged. But growth in the developing countries is increasing at a considerably faster rate, building roads, cities and strong companies that are beginning to draw their citizens home to lead their countries into a very different world from the one we know now.
This is the growth opportunity of the future.
So while the dynamic at play with the theft of the rings was interesting. The impoverished girl seeking a better life, but limited by her past. The woman whose trust was betrayed, but was unable to see beyond the simple theft. And the empathy of the jury that sought not to punish, but to help this young girl who made a stupid mistake that could impede her future. This is a compelling story that holds a deeper metaphor for the changing world in which we live.
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