Financially, I'll state the obvious: in the United States we're much more privileged than emerging economies. We can look at emerging economies and finances in two ways: how can we help them, and how can they help us?
First, how can we and how should we help them? Commonly, our financial relations with emerging markets are well-meaning efforts to combat poverty. We want to help, and we know that our excess money can in some way help those in need. How do we help, though? What do children in developing countries, for example, really need? One well-meaning, highly-critiqued project decided technology was the answer:
Another ... project that missed the point was the $100 laptop. Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the Media Laboratory at MIT, launched his project at the World Economic Forum in Davos. To the delegates in Davos, $100 probably sounded cheap; many were paying $1000 an hour to be there. But in Mali, where 90 percent of the population lives on $2 a day, this cheap laptop would cost people two or three months' earnings. (www.designobserver.com)
This struck me - 90 percent of their population lives on $2 a day, and I complain when I can't pay my $450/month rent with cash to spare. Maybe our efforts, if we are even making any, are missing the point. Other education-oriented non-profit organizations such as Room to Read (http://www.roomtoread.org/) can reach thousands more through less "technological" means and a lower cost. On the other hand, emerging economies will never compete with us if they cannot catch up in technology. In our self-absorbed culture, we don't even consider how many people could be taught to read at the cost of the new iPhone we buy for ourselves. Maybe we need to just be reminded of a little worldwide perspective. As designers, we have a large role in speaking to the general public. We can choose to make our community aware of the rest of the world, and we can choose to publicize ways to help.
The $100 laptops distributed through the famous education-promoting project in emerging economies.
Second, how can we learn financially from emerging markets? The Wall Street Journal argues that in our current economic hard times, we can look to emerging economies for wisdom. Struggling with too little money is the norm in emerging markets. Marketing and advertising approaches that have been proven to work in emerging markets can apply to our own country in hard economic times. For example, the Wall Street Journal cites focusing on current customers instead of trying to win new ones and focusing on consumers' core values have proven to be good marketing strategies in financial hard times. Overall, the article stresses, we can strive to be optimistic.
I'd also argue that we can learn from emerging economies financially, as I said earlier, by gaining some perspective. Our financial world is so utterly different than most of the world. If we honestly want to make a difference, we can; we just can't ignore the big picture.
Room to read: world change starts with educated children. (2009). < http://www.roomtoread.org/>
Roth, Martin. (2009, March 23). Surviving the downturn: lessons from emerging markets. The Wall Street Journal.
Thackara, John. "We are all emerging economies now." Observatory: Design observer. 06052008. Web. 21 Oct 2010.