Solving for Rural Poverty: Rural Village LLC/Ltd

Ajibola Lawal
Aug 15 · 7 min read

I already mentioned in this previous story how I like to think up ways to fix what I call complex compounding problems, in my spare time and so forth. I have done this for years. I think what’s only different now, is that I am not going let them roil around in my head for years anymore. Instead, I’ll just share. I am doing this in the hope that like a baton passed, it inspires someone else or collides with another idea in your head that brings us one step closer to a better world.

With that said, I’m fascinated by the idea of trying to solve for poverty. There’s a paper that I should be finishing, on using an AI enabled app to try to fix for this (Tope, if you are reading this, I know. I know).

But I digress.

On poverty alleviation, a few thoughts form my worldview:

  1. Developmental assistance/Non-profit work as a path to fixing for poverty is inefficient.
  2. As a corollary to nr. 1 above, I don’t believe in it. Never have. I have always been about fixing through commerce.
  3. Creating enabling environments that give people opportunities may offer a path to a solution

I read something this morning, that triggered a thought in my mind. The thought is pretty much a synthesis of many things I’ve been thinking about for a while now. I just started reading Clayton Christensen and Efosa Ojomo’s Prosperity Paradox because I felt it might offer some guidance. I was right. I am maybe 30% through and I agree with the central premise that a big way out of poverty for most, would be through market-creating opportunities. Even though I don’t think that 1,000 of such businesses are sufficient to replace a government and governance that isn’t designed to choke businesses. But that’s a whole other conversation for another day.

I was fascinated by the idea of what Clayton and Efosa describe as market-creating businesses having to vertically integrate their solutions. Something else that fascinated me was the story they told about toilet problem in India.

I’ll go into this rather briefly so you can have some perspective. India has a whole bunch of people, you know this. A whole bunch of these people live in rural areas. A whole bunch of all these people don’t have access to toilets. I’m sure you’re an imaginative person, so you can imagine how all of these people are handling their loo time.

Someone came up with the radical idea to fix this problem by building toilets (solving for access). The Indian Government went ahead and built over 10 million toilets between 2014 and 2015. That’s amazing actually! Problem solved, right?

Not.

Why?

Well, these toilets were built, but people weren’t using them. I honestly wouldn’t know, but I am guessing that breeze blowing your rump as you do your Nr. 2 is more compelling argument than a Government built toilet that

  1. Isn’t getting cleaned (Yeah no provisions were made for this)
  2. It’s difficult to get water to flush it (Yeah there’s bare water issues in rural areas). Oh god.

Anyway, what is of interest to us is what is being proposed to fix the problem. As I read, I already imagined that a big way to get the people to actually use the toilets would be to cause the toilets to be a source of income/positive incentive. People take care of things that either bring them money or make their lives easy. Instantly, my mind went to letting the toilets also work as biogas reactors. If the people in a community can associate having to poo with access to clean cooking, you have a home-run. But the solution being proposed by the Toilet Board Coalition was even more robust and it made my heart sing.

src: Toilet Board Coalition

Don’t you just love solutions to problems that are ecosystems themselves?! I know I do!

Now that I have brought you up to speed with where my mind is at, let us proceed even further.

We are still talking about poverty. We have covered the idea of integrated solutions and creating an ecosystem of solutions. My thinking is this: There are several dimensions to this poverty mess. There’s simply not having money. Then there’s not having access — Access to education, health care, jobs and so forth. A simple Gordian Knot way to fix for this, would be to simply point at a rural area on the map and put money in their hands, right? While that is crazy and unsustainable, it does nothing to solve the problem in the end, because we still have a problem of access.

But what if there was merit to it?

What if you could bind access to money and actual access into a neat bundle in a milieu that Rural people already understand (Togetherness?).

What I am saying is: I wonder if there isn’t a way to turn rural communities into companies.

This was the thought/idea on my mind, as I woke up this morning.

Think about it. Rural Village Ltd.

Already, rural areas are so isolated that if you printed money and gave it to them, it would be useless unless they moved to bigger towns. This is mostly because the things they truly need cannot be bought with money. But what if you could create local output? What if you could create communal, local output through this Company. So say the company owns a farm. This idea could work with anything, but take this idea ride with me a little.

So let’s imagine that Rural Village Ltd has a Cocoa farm, that is not owned by one person but the entire community. But get this, the Cocoa farm is not the only place that Rural Village Ltd owns or runs (within the community) stay with me here. The Cocoa Farm is simply the engine that funds Rural Village. When the cocoa farm exports its chocolate, the money goes to the Rural Village Ltd accounts with say Wells Fargo. And this is what funds everything else. Everything else like what?

  • All the villagers get a UBI — Everyone in the village gets a small equal payment at the end of every week
  • The company runs a basic education school that houses a co-working space in its library — The teachers are from the community and collect the same UBI as above.
  • The co-working space in a rural community obvious has to be energy positive (Thus, we’re talking solar panels and a battery of batteries). The purpose of the co-working space, is to invest in the future by connecting the young ones (and the older ones with interest) to the rest of the world and a wealth of life-building knowledge. This is a whole other program that isn’t the thrust of this story. The point is to provide a point of departure through which the rural village can diversify the future of its children.
  • They get (biogas) toilets — Some people’s job in the community is to clean and maintain the toilet. Same UBI.
  • There’s access to aquifer water — This is presupposing that the rural village has access to a water source like this. Of course, you have to make the pump for the borehole powered by Solar, for obvious reasons. The plumber who maintains the borehole also, you guessed it right, gets the same UBI.
  • Don’t forget that they now have access to cleaner cooking because of the biogas toilets. They person who handles the dispensing of the gas from the biogas reactor to the gas bottles of the residents, is also on the same UBI.
  • A local PHC (public health clinic) within the community to cover basic care, triage and stabilisation — This is probably where you might have a departure from the UBI norm. So the Doctors and Nurses would be treated like contractors and earn rates competitive for medical personnel.
  • And an health insurance card — for cases that go beyond the kern of the PHC.

A few other things:

  • Aside their day job with Rural Village Ltd, the residents can engage in other forms of commerce with the rest of their time (There has to be someone selling recharge cards and milk, right?). This means they can provide other services to members of the community and earn more money.
  • If you have several of these villages, then you are likely to have different villages having different outputs. Some villages making shoes. Others growing Cocoa. Others still growing maize, and so forth.
  • As a corollary to this, you could have different villages cross-pollinating and interacting with each other. One village could have a bigger clinic, and the other having the bank or big school. Sometimes these villages could even acquire each other. Or work together to acquire some form of infrastructure that could be of use to both communities but one community cannot afford alone.
  • You could make the growth of the infrastructure in each Village Ltd modular and based on the output of the Village. So say when the village starts, it has the toilets and access to water, and the school with its co-working space come later as the community makes more money.

And that’s pretty much it.

Does this sound like utopia? Yes. Does it sound feasible/workable? I think so. I will be honest, I have not done the math of how this would work. Before you try to discard this idea, remember that this is in some small extent, how Company Campuses and Factory Towns work.

What does this solution do?

  1. It stems the tide of Rural-Urban migration.
  2. It fixes for poverty, baseline access and job creation in one swoop.
  3. This solution can sustain itself.

Possible Counterarguments/Questions

  1. Current urban migration renders your source of human resource difficult to get
  2. How do you make sure that a rural community has the right number of eligible age people who will be ready to work?
  3. How do you fund it, initially?
  4. Would there be freedom of mobility? Can anybody come to this town and join and enjoy.
  5. This is starting to sound eerily like communism.

Am I missing any other counterarguments?

You will notice that I would usually provide a rejoinder that solves for the counterargument. However, I want to take a different approach. How do you think we can mitigate for the counterarguments that I have listed above, to make the idea work?

Cheers.

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