Microsoft Citizenship

In our meeting today* I found myself talking a bit about the market friendly cures to market failure — sometimes referred to as philanthrocapitalism — that seem to be emerging in and around Seattle. I’m most familiar with the Global Health NGOs, as described here by the UW geographer Matt Sparke, but Branden read a portion of this article on World Water Day; here’s an excerpt:

His belief that market-based solutions can slow that train are shared by others in the sector.

“Let’s not see them as poor people we’re trying to help, but see them as potential customers,” says Amelia Lyons, of Splash, a Seattle-based international water and hygiene organization, who attended Sealth’s World Water Week.

“Coca-Cola doesn’t say ‘These people are too poor to buy Coke.’ They see them as customers, and they go out to sell them Coke, and they buy Coke.”

It surprised me to hear that one of the most pressing humanitarian issues of our time might be solved through free markets and lessons learned from multinational corporations — it feels distant from the “clean water and sanitation is a basic human right” language that I’m used to hearing.

But then I thought back to all the Cokes I drank while on that water-reporting trip in eastern Africa — because it was the only drink available that I knew wouldn’t make me sick.

Couple this discussion with my recent — like five minutes ago — discovery of the Microsoft Citizenship program, and I am sent into this spring break with refreshed insight into the social aspects of some of our region’s major employers.

* We read Hardt’s intro to Radical Thought in Italy, but since we just discussed the Virno essay a few months ago, we substituted Deleuze’s “Postscript on the Societies of Control” and the Ranciere essay I recently posted. We’re looking forward to touching back down with the OSU students over the anarchism readings in two weeks, as well as the subsequent Ranciere smorgasbord.

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