Disrupting Top-Down Poverty Alleviation: Social Engineering to Design A Better World
This paper calls for societal disruption to mobilize the global poor from the bottom of the Pyramid. The main argument is that poverty alleviation cannot be left to elites, government or big business. Engineering self-help methodologies are shown to counter top-down, big, slow bureaucracy through activist students and faculty who become aligned with impoverished communities. New social inventions may be designed, radical economic development can be applied, and the world’s have-nots may become empowered to lift themselves out of the wretched lives of the Third World by engineering new community-building technologies from the bottom-up. I will briefly document how universities may partner with village elders, women, and youth in suffering communities in using grassroots tools to improve the quality of life for the Third World poor. The particular case at hand is that of the Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University, where we have worked for three decades now to mobilize students, alumni, and faculty in empowering the poor. We have engineered practical business models and concepts such as finance, planning and decision making, cross cultural management, conflict and negotiation, change management, leadership, and marketing to design projects. These are emerging, not from the UN or World Bank, the “Big Boys,” but from below. We will first highlight the socio-economic context in which we work. Then we will describe several university cases in which the author and his students designed classroom projects to fight poverty, implemented them in the Third World, and eventually spun them off as non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The paper concludes with suggestions for future collaboration between universities, rural villages and newly established NGOs.