Heated discussion over Sustainable Development on the ISF

Despite the intensive schedule and overnight negotiations, participants still showed high spirits while engaging in the discussions on sustainable development, entrepreneurship and human capital on the third day of the WYA International Solidarity Forum. Among the discussions today, there was a key word that was mentioned repeatedly: “Investing.”

During a lecture given by Andreas Wildmer, research fellow and cofounder of SEVEN Fund, he reminded us that the first step to achieve sustainable development is to recognize the differences between empathy and sympathy. Acting upon sympathy is what we call humanitarian aid, a short-term solution that only induces the “Master-Servant complex” and can create relationships of co-dependency. Acting upon empathy, on the other hand, is the long-term answer to human dignity and economic development.

How do we pursue sustainable economic development? Andreas Wildmer proposed that societies should focus on creating more small and medium enterprises(SMEs) to generate economic growth by increasing investing and lending, which translates to more resources in education as well as free and competitive markets. He observed that 90% of companies in the U.S are SMEs, and they not only contribute to over 50% of GDP but also employ 2/3 of market labor forces. Studies also show that investing one dollar in SMEs would bring thirty-six dollars in return for local economies.

Andreas Widmer used a quote from PopeJohn Paul II to explain his approach to economics and poverty mitigation; “We must think of the poor not as a problem to be solved but as people with potential to be unleashed.” In order to unleash the potential of the poor, we must respect their dignity and bear in mind that the solution to poverty eradication and achieving sustainable economic development is partnership and investment in the person.

Later we heard from Dr. Henry Schallbenberg, a professor of Fordham University, who emphasized the importance of investing in people during the afternoon discussion. As an expert in economic development policy, he explained the economic theory of capital and development shifting from physical capital in the 1950s to human capital. The turning point was in the 1970s when people realized the importance of innovation for development and in the 1990s when we started to shed light on educational capital.

“Education has its externality,” pointed out by the professor. This means, for example, that if a mother has the resources and access to education, the whole family will benefit.  Hence, human capital is the key to sustainable development, that is to say, investing in the person.

Throughout the discussion today, we learned from the insights of the two speakers that an investment in the person can achieve and maximize human capital and generate innovation and sustainable economic growth. People are at the centre of sustainable development and the investment in people is the only authentic way to achieve poverty eradication and a higher standard of living.

WYA White Paper on sustainable development

Jonathan Yang is an intern for the WYA Headquarters