Buy Goods, Feel Good

It’s easy to bemoan the capitalistic bend of the holidays: before the Thanksgiving turkey has settled in their bellies, many Americans are already stamping their feet in lines outside of Walmart and Target, ready to trample over their fellow man for a discounted plasma screen.

But there is a brand of capitalism designed to satiate the better angels of our nature: social entrepreneurship.

For an example of this, take Macy’s “Shop For A Better World” site, which is about as direct a mission statement — and a plea — as one can hope to find.

Fairwinds Trading, a social enterprise that funds artisans in developing countries, partners with Macy's to supply consumers with "gifts that give hope."

Fairwinds Trading, a social enterprise that funds artisans in developing countries, partners with Macy’s to supply consumers with “gifts that give hope.”

Browsing the site, you’ll find “Heart of Haiti All-Horn Salad Servers” (for $42), or “Rwanda 10th Anniversary” woven baskets ($50-$60).  This may seem pricey, even for “culturally expressive” gifts, but consider that the artisans (that is, the Rwandans and Haitians making these salad servers and baskets) receive half of the wholesale price and suddenly, that price doesn’t seem so outlandish. In fact, spending that extra $20-$30 could leave you feeling pretty darn good.

And here you have the draw of social entrepreneurship. Because if you or your loved ones are going to be serving salad anyway, why not make sure you’re making the world a better place doing it?

The appeal of social entrepreneurship is that it blends traditional capitalism with solutions to societal problems big and small, like providing water to drought-stricken areas of the world or funding SMEs in Haiti. Through social entrepreneurship, start-ups blend business with creativity and create “shared value” — that is, not just economic value, but value to society.

But as widespread as the practice has become, social entrepreneurship lacks a clear definition. Wikipedia (which itself could be considered a social enterprise) defines it as “the attempt to draw upon business techniques to find solutions to social problems.” So, Kiva, which provides micro-loans to small business owners in developing nations, is a social enterprise, as is Fair Winds Trading, the company that supplies Macy’s with its Rwandan woven baskets, and (according to, Susan B. Anthony is a prime example of a social entrepreneur.

Wait, huh?

If that last example caused you to furrow your brow, you’re not alone. And that may be one of the problems confronting social entrepreneurship: if you can’t really define it, how do you know a good (or poor) example of it? How do you know if it’s working?

One way to look at it is that the consumer isn’t just purchasing a solution, but a story. For example, when you provide a $25 micro-loan with Kiva, not only do you get to personally select your borrower (each borrower is screened by Kiva and has a biography on their site), you get regular updates on how their business is going. It’s not just the appeal of lending money to a needy or deserving, but anonymous, business owner that draws people to Kiva, it’s that you get to ensure Judith from Kenya’s success by helping her buy cereals to sell at the market.

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But not only can a good story convince a consumer to open up her wallet, in the case of Sejin Kaleb Oh, founder of Gravity LA, having what he calls a “higher purpose” can keep a business owner motivated.

Gravity LA is a pretty traditional clothing retailer, selling a handful of tees, pullovers, and tanks that are “reputable” and “sweat-shop free,” according to their site.

But click on their “about us” section of their page and you’ll find the following:

“GRAVITY LA was founded on December 21, 2013 to raise money to support those that are willing to leave their comfortable homes and venture out into the unknown and dangerous to bring hope, life, and love to those that are desperately in need of it.”

How do they do this?

According to Oh, they take a percentage of whatever profit they make and donate it to charity.

That’s pretty much it.

And as close as his charitable donations are to his heart, Oh doesn’t set a percentage, so he doesn’t advertise one, and even he says the purpose of the shop isn’t exclusively to raise funds for charity. But what these donations do give him is a cause to answer to when the going gets tough — as it often does for entrepreneurs.

“It’s the story of why I exist, or it’s the story of why Gravity LA exists,” said Oh.

“If you’re just out there for money,” Oh said, “you’re in the wrong business. Because you don’t really see any return on it for years. It’s really that purpose that keeps you going. And really, I don’t know how companies do exist without a story like that or without kind of purpose driving them. I think it’s vital for the life of any business.”

Gentrification in Downtown Los Angeles

Tucked away in the quiet Arts District of downtown Los Angeles (DTLA) stands the aged brick alleyway of Daily Dose Café, which once served as the primary railroad passage to deliver goods in the city; however, it now operates as a local gathering place for the growing community of entrepreneurs, artists and young professionals settling in the area. A cluster of photographers stand at the entrance of the pathway setting up their camera equipment and preparing for a photo shoot, where a group of twenty-something year olds chat and sip their iced coffees at a nearby table. The image of downtown Los Angeles has radically changed within the last few decades. The Daily Dose Café and Arts District are prime examples of the changing socio-economic and physical landscapes that DTLA has undergone in recent years.

Timeworn structures ranging from the historic  on Broadway to the old, abandoned warehouses and factories that are scattered throughout the downtown area, especially in the Arts District, are being revitalized and transformed into lofts, hybrid industrial (HI) living and work spaces, restaurants, and bars to appease its latest residents. The redevelopment projects and revitalization efforts to repurpose these existing structures and urban neighborhoods would be considered one of the primordial stages of a process known as gentrification.

The newly renovated Clifton’s Cafeteria which reopened in September 2015 as a bar and restaurant.

Certainly there are both positive and negative sentiments that could be shared regarding the issue of gentrification depending on whom you ask. Dana Cuff, a professor of architecture and urban design at the University of California at Los Angeles, has stated that there are two problems that arise when gentrification occurs. The first problem that Cuff highlights would be housing affordability, and the second would be compromising the overall character of an existing neighborhood as a consequence of the method. Cuff has noted that individuals who own property in a neighborhood that is undergoing gentrification will always perceive the process positively, but those whom are renting or looking for new housing will experience the negative effects of the process. The practice of gentrification challenges the concept of social justice within a city amongst its residents. Gentrification leaves the lower-income residents in the city with no other option than to relocate, as they are now unable to afford the higher living costs of the area. As a result, this in turn causes individuals and families to either become homeless or are forced to transfer to higher crime rate neighborhoods that may leave them more susceptible to gang and street violence.

A few positive features often upheld regarding the justification of gentrification are that it can boost a city’s economic standing as well as establish a platform for the city to ultimately flourish. Gentrification generates jobs and property-tax revenue for a city. Cities and public figures are attracted to the concept of gentrification because it can guarantee monetary advances for the city. Loretta Lee, a professor of Human Geography at King’s College, disclosed the appeal of financial gains that gentrification presents for a city. Lee stated that gentrification aids in a city’s effort to garner tourist dollars, new residents and investors in the universal scale of capitalism and competition amongst cities. It has also been noted that gentrification reduces crime rates within cities as greater numbers of law enforcement are usually recruited to generate a sense of safety for its newest residents.

Both the positive and negative effects of gentrification could be experienced extensively within the City of Angels; the redevelopment process has even extended beyond the constraints of the central downtown area. Gentrification is occurring throughout the entire perimeters of Los Angeles County. It can be observed to the north of downtown around Echo Park and Silverlake, to the east around the Boyle Heights area and to the south and west near USC and Koreatown. There have been numerous articles published in recent years that investigate the latest desire that many young Americans possess to move to the golden coast. The New York Times recently published an article stating that many east coast natives are choosing to relocate to Los Angeles for the opportunities that are arising in the business, technology and creative industries. The influx of new residents wanting to settle in Los Angeles can be perceived positively as it will enhance the city’s economic standing, but it begs the question as to where the new occupants will reside. Therefore, there have been public hearings held at the Los Angeles City Hall recently regarding the proposal of investors and developers to begin improvement projects to the area east of downtown in hopes of transforming nonoperational factories and warehouses into hybrid industrial living and work spaces.

According to the demographics provided by the 2013 Downtown of Los Angeles Demographic study, which was published by the Downtown Center BID and the United States Census Bureau’s demographics for Los Angeles County, there are approximately 52,400 individuals that reside in downtown. Of these residents, the average household income figure is $98,700. The 2013 average household income amount is a huge increase when comparing it to the city’s 2007 average household income figure, which was around $54,000 (“Big Numbers and Big Money in Downtown Survey”). These statistics would indicate that neighborhoods in downtown have become primarily middle and upper class individuals and families. Higher housing costs would clearly create a large disparity between the type of individuals that would be residing downtown, and it would force those whom do not make enough income to move out of the area.

Gentrification is a part of our country’s past, present and will undoubtedly continue to be present in its future, and traces of gentrification can be identified in any major city within the United States. While some entities, such as civic leaders, encourage redevelopment efforts and gentrification as a measure to improve a city’s value, there remains a faction of others, such as low-income renters, whom oppose the process. Therefore, as citizens, we must truly evaluate at what cost we are paying for this change and to determine if it is really worth it both socially and economically?




What do the Paris terrorist attacks mean for French business sectors?

13_Flight_0The French stock exchange opened for business again Monday after ISIS militants killed at least 129 people in the streets of Paris. The attack was one of the worst human disasters in Europe since the end of World War II. While France recovers from the tragedy, many financial analysts expect the financial markets to take a small tumble.

This is not the first time a country dealt with a small financial crisis in the wake of violent attacks. According to USA TODAY writer Ryan Biek, Tunisia lost $515 million in the tourism industry. In 2004 and 2005, the BBC reported markets in Spain fell 2 percent and markets in the U.K. fell 1.5 percent after bombings occurred in both countries. However, the tourism industry in France represents about 7 percent of the GDP, which means this could be the section of the economy hurt the most by the actions of the terrorists.

However, the stock markets actually rose only a couple of days after the attacks, which suggests the potential for a smaller impact on the economy. Although the country seems to be recovering without too many issues, France might be facing some short-term changes in different business sectors, including tourism and defense.

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In 2013, France had about 83 million foreign tourists, making it the global leader in the tourism sector. Since tourism remains a large part of the European economy as a whole, some countries might experience a ripple effect in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. NBC News says many travelers will steer clear of neighboring countries like Belgium, where some of the terrorists are allegedly hiding. The drop in visitors mainly comes from a psychological response to the attacks: People are afraid to travel through Europe, even if the fear might be temporary.

Airlines might also struggle in the next few months even as the holiday season continues. On Tuesday, flight officials announced two Air France flights heading from the United States to Paris were diverted due to bomb threats.

In contrast, defense spending might see a boost in investment. French president Francois Hollande declared war on the ISIS militants and commissioned airstrikes on major terrorists sites in Syria. He even proposed new laws to the French parliament, including 5,000 additional paramilitary troops and no reductions in defense spending through 2019. In addition, the prolonged state of emergency prompted French police to conduct raids throughout the country.

This week, defense stocks increased, with Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman moving up 4 percent, 3.5 percent, and 4.4 percent respectively. Recent threats from ISIS against the United States have also forced congressional leaders to revisit the idea of increasing federal defense spending. According to the Baltimore Business Journal, the U.S. defense budget for the fiscal year 2015 reached a low point of $562.5 billion, in comparison to the 2011 budget which was $678.1 billion. It is unclear how sharp of an increase there will be in defense spending in the United States and Europe, but the upcoming meeting between President Hollande and President Obama may shed some new light on the direction the world is heading.

Is “ECFA” a good idea?

On June 26th, 2010 in Chongqing, China, a crucial trade agreement called “ECFA” was signed between the People’s Republic of China (Mainland China) and the Republic of China (Taiwan). The general public in both countries believed that this agreement carried historical significance, being that the Chinese Civil War in 1949 had strained their relationship.

“ECFA” stands for “Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement”. According to the agreement, 539 categories of Taiwanese exports to China and 267 categories of Chinese exports to Taiwan will receive tax cuts in the following year. The agreement is expected to increase Taiwan’s GDP by 1.72%, which is more than 7 billion U.S dollars, in addition to creating more than 263,000 jobs.

Another important aspect of “ECFA” is the “Three No” negotiation principle that the Taiwanese government has brought into the trade agreement. The agreements outlined in the “Three No” negotiation are as follows: saying no to downgrading Taiwan’s sovereignty, importing China’s agriculture products, and China’s labor workers. The Taiwanese government looks forward to achieving economic development between Mainland China and Taiwan under one condition- Taiwan’s benefit must be protected.

The “ECFA” trade agreement has been a controversial issue since it was introduced to the public. President Ying-Jeou Ma, current President of the Republic of China, and his administration believe that signing “ECFA” with Mainland China will provide advantages and affect Taiwan’s market in a positive way. Compared to other Asian countries, Taiwan will gain its advantages and priority to enter China’s market. Due to the tax cut on Taiwan’s exports to China, more companies in the United States and Europe tend to utilize Taiwan as its entry point to China’s market, thus helping Taiwan transform economically.

Four years have passed since the enactment of the trade agreement. Although the initial results showed that the total value of Taiwan’s exports to China increased 35%, many still cast doubts on whether “ECFA” has brought more benefits than harm to Taiwan’s market and economy. Looking at the data provided in the initial report, Taiwan’s exports to Mainland China have continued to lose their market share even when those exports received tax cuts benefits; on the other hand, Mainland China’s exports to Taiwan have increased their market share from 24% to 30%. According to the spokesperson, Ying-Chen Wang, “For the past few years, Mainland China has vastly developed its iron and steel industry and sold its products to Taiwan in a very low price.” In the years 2011 and 2012, Mainland China and Korea sold a particular stainless product that is used to produce elevators, windows, and electronics for a price that is lower than 30% of the market price.

From a BBC news article, several Taiwanese with various occupations were interviewed and gave their opinions on the trade agreement “ECFA”. Some favored the agreement and look forward to connecting with the global economy. “It’s good for Taiwan to sign trade deals with other countries because that’s the trend nowadays – economic integration, and Taiwan needs to be integrated with the global economy”, said Yao-Ting Lin, a building manager. Others cast their doubts on the actual execution of the agreement, and are concerned about intense competitions within local markets. “Chinese flowers might come here too. They say now they will keep out agricultural products, but I don’t think they will do that forever”, said Su-Chung Liu, the owner of a flower shop.

Every coin has two sides, and so does “ECFA”. Whether “ECFA” has proven itself to boost or decrease Taiwan’s competitiveness, as it relates to global economy the outcome is still a tossup. However, what can be said for sure is that “ECFA” has served as the first step in economic cooperation between Mainland China and Taiwan.

Homeless in Hawaii

Contrary to popular belief, Hawaii isn’t the perfect paradise that many people imagine it to be. In fact, it is more of a Land of Struggle to many Hawaiians living in the island. Hawaii has one of the worst rates of homelessness in the country. According to the governor’s spokesperson Cindy McMillan, there is currently roughly 7,000 homeless people in the state of Hawaii. While the number presented is not as large as the homeless population of bigger cities like Los Angeles, which has a whopping 100,000 homeless people in the city, we have to take into account that Hawaii’s population is only about 1.36 million (according to the US Census Bureau), as compared to 10.02 million in the city of Los Angeles alone. At 465 people per 100,000 citizens, Hawaii has the highest rate of homelessness per capita of any of the 50 states.


To add salt to the wound, Scott Morishige, The Governor’s Coordinator on Homelessness mentioned that as homelessness increased by 23 percent between 2014 and 2015, the number of unsheltered families almost doubled. The increase was driven by years of rising costs in the island. Moreover, there were low wages and limited land for the island which prompt homeless Hawaiians to spend their night on beaches and local streets as there was no place called home that they can go back to. The government dealt with this problem by doing what they do best – chasing the homeless away.

Hawaiian civic leaders felt that the problem with visible homelessness could lead to the financial downfall of the island state because the Hawaiian economy relies so heavily on tourism. They claimed that visitors will be turned off from seeing homeless people sleeping in parks and the beach which will then decrease the rate of tourism of the island. Honolulu officials report that they do a major cleaning session regularly by disposing off unclaimed property left in the parks and beaches of Hawaii, in order to maintain Hawaii’s public image of being a paradise. Officials regularly ticket the homeless with fines, and new public park hours have been implemented. On December 2nd, 2014, Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed a bill that bans people from sitting or lying down on public spaces between the hours of 5am and 11pm. Those who do so can be fined up to $1,000 and jailed for up to 30 days.


The Hawaii government has also allowed the spending of $1.3 million to expand services to homeless individuals and families. Apart from helping the homeless build new shelters, the money also would go to the state’s Housing First program.
The Housing First program is a nationally recognized best practice that is proven to be the most effective and efficient approach to getting chronically homeless people off of the streets. The program helps houses chronically homeless in permanent supportive housing which takes them off of the streets by providing them with a stable and safe home. The program has been proven as a success on many different cities in the country such as Portland and Los Angeles.