How Student Loans Affect an Entrepreneurs Long Term Goals

For the past 15-years the student loan market has grown significantly as more US citizens are going to college and using federal borrowed money to do so. The dramatic rise in student loan debt is very much correlated to the higher tuition fees charged by both public and private institutions. Many analysts who have been following the rise in loan debt have seen that much of it is due to the increase in costs of tuition.

Many student loan companies are creating the problem, as all of the cost is being handed down to the borrower. Tremendously lax lending practices by loan corporations at high rates have essentially upped student tuition, which in turn has increased student debt. The cycle of continuous lending despite the likelihood that many of the loans have a high probability of not being paid back has been trending this way for almost 30-years, and is eventually expected to come to a head.

Here is the real issue and the main cause of the problem. The federal government has the come to the conclusion that everyone is entitled to go to college, and is more than willing to provide money so that kids who want to go can. Admirable, but not realistic as many personal loans for people with bad credit cannot be paid back. Moreover, the country now has a shortage of folks in the trade business, as many of the people who would have went into a trade instead applied for a government loan to go to school.

Education is golden and individuals should always be trying to improve their overall knowledge, but the idea that everyone is entitled to go to college is irrational. Federal loans are given out with tremendous ease (just like the housing market did for years), without any due diligence as to whether or not the student will be able to find work when they graduate, what field they will be working in, and if they can actually pay back both the interest and the principal of the loan.

Many in the financial world emphatically believe that it is the student loan institutions that are causing much of the bubble. Some have suggested that there needs to be a change in regulation and bankruptcy rules. Higher learning institutions must also feel the fallout from a default on student loans. Such lax regulation has allowed potential borrowers to easily receive funds for a student loan, which in turn has prompted many colleges to simply charge more for tuition, as they know that students can afford it with government assistance. Effectively, higher learning institutions are taking advantage of the lax lending practices of the federal government, squeezing as many dollars as they can out of an extremely generous program.

Student loans are by far the riskiest type of loan since there is no collateral pledged. Greater standards need to be implemented with stricter guidelines for approving student loans. One way to look at it is that all education is not equal, in the sense that a computer science major from MIT has a better chance of landing a job and repaying a loan compared to an art major from a community college.

The government needs to do more due diligence and try to figure out the loan applicants likelihood of graduation, ability to get a job and possible income. Students looking to borrower should be investigated to get an ideal of their creditworthiness, much like a bank does for every other loan. Student loan requirements need to be more stringent, as the days of easy money need to come to an official end.

5th Corporate Responsibility Index

The Corporate Responsibility Index is a strategic management tool to enhance the capacity of businesses to develop, measure and communicate best practice in the field of corporate social responsibility. It does this through benchmarking corporate social responsibility strategy and the implementation process. St James Ethics Centre, working in partnership with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age and supported by Ernst & Young, launched the Corporate Responsibility Index in Australia in February 2004.

Dr Simon Longstaff, Executive Director, St James Centre states:

“Corporations only flourish in flourishing communities. Businesses no longer ask if they should be responsible; only about how best to be so. The Corporate Responsibility Index is not a tool of measurement for measurement’s sake. First and foremost, it is a management tool — a roadmap for building sustainable prosperity.”

To learn more about the Corporate Responsibility Index, how it works, the business benefits and the experiences of participating companies, a range of seminars are being held throughout July and August. In Sydney, the seminar will be held on 9 August. To find out more and RSVP call 9299 9566 or email julia.lipton@ethics.org.au

The results of the 2006 Index are located at www.corporate-responsibility.com.au

The Good and the Bad News for Charities

I came across the following appalling statistics in the recent McKinsey & Company report “Shaping the New Rules of Competition: UN Global Compact Participant Mirror” in July 2007:

  • In the Asia-Pacific region almost 1 child out of 5 between the ages of 5 and 14 is in the workforce. In the Sub-Saharan Africa that figure is closer to 3 out of 10.
  • The WHO estimates that at least 1.3 billion people worldwide lack access to basic healthcare, and that infectious diseases and complications of pregnancy cause at least 10 million deaths a year.

Child Labour & Health Statistics

I came across the following appalling statistics in the recent McKinsey & Company report “Shaping the New Rules of Competition: UN Global Compact Participant Mirror” in July 2007:

  • In the Asia-Pacific region almost 1 child out of 5 between the ages of 5 and 14 is in the workforce. In the Sub-Saharan Africa that figure is closer to 3 out of 10.
  • The WHO estimates that at least 1.3 billion people worldwide lack access to basic healthcare, and that infectious diseases and complications of pregnancy cause at least 10 million deaths a year.

The Rise of the Ethical Consumer

There is increasing evidence to indicate that the ethical consumer is on the rise. So what is an ethical consumer? The definition in Wikipedia is:

“An ethical consumer is one who practices ethical consumerism”, which is “buying things that are made ethically. Generally, this means without harm to or exploitation or of humans, animals or the natural environment.”

The recent survey of business executives across Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa the Middle East and Australasia reported that the ethical customer has emerged and expect this trend to grow (McKinsey & Company, Jul 2007). Further to this, consumers are “voting with their wallets”, such as purchasing organic products, even if they have to pay a higher price.

This is reinforced by a study of consumers in France, Germany, UK, US and Spain with about 1/3 of the 5,000 respondents highlighting that they would pay a 5-10% price premium for many ethical products. The UK is said to be leading the ethical consumerism market, with its consumers the most critical but also the most aware (Financial Times, 20 Feb 2007).

The President of Consumers International highlights that ethical trade products are growing exponentially each year, with the Fairtrade label alone retailing sales of over 2 billion Euro globally and an anticipated growth of 33% annually. UK consumers are the largest purchasers of fair-trade (ethical) products spending £25 billion on ethical goods and service in 2005.

In the US, Millennials (those born between 1999-2001) will reward a company based on its commitment to social issues with 69% considering a company’s social/environmental commitment when deciding where to shop, 89% likely or very likely to switch from one brand to another (price and quality being equal) if the 2nd brand is associated with a good cause and 66% considering a company’s social/environmental commitment when deciding whether to recommend its products and services (2006 Cone Millennial Case Study, Cone Inc & AMP Insights).

And this view is not just limited to the Millennials with a recent study showing that 1/3 of US consumers consider both social and business practices when deciding what to by and 85% saying the would switch to another company’s products or services if a problem with business practices was uncovered. Furthermore, 87% are likely to switch from one brand to another (price and quality being about equal) if the other brands is associated with a good cause, an increase of more than 31% from 1993 (Cone Inc. 2007).

This market segment is referred to as the “Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability” (LOHAS) in the Fast Company article, Business 3.0 (March 2007). These consumers are focused on sustainable living, social justice and alternative health care. They are said to represent 30% of the American market (63 million) and are a $227 billion market. They are not necessarily wealthier but they are willing to spend a 20% premium on clean, green products.

Bono’s (RED)™ Campaign

I recently read about Bono’s new (RED)™ campaign and thought it was worth noting and discussing on Soul Economy. The background is that Bono has teamed up with Bobby Shriver, Chairman of DATA (debt, AIDS, trade Africa) to create the (RED)™ concept and campaign. They have secured big business to participate in what they consider to be a new business model for corporate philanthropy. These well-known companies have created (RED)™ products, with a portion of profits from the sale of these products going to The Global Fund to help women and children affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa. These contributions will provide access to education, nutrition, counselling, medical services, plus the two pills a day they need to help them stay alive.

The companies involved and the products they offer are:

  • Gap offers a (RED) clothing line
  • American Express offers a credit card (UK only)
  • Converse has a special (RED) shoe
  • Motorola offers (RED) MOTORAZR and MOTOSLVR phones
  • Apple features a (RED) iPod Nano
  • Emporio Armani features fashion and accessories

And the list is growing with Hallmark recently joining the group above. Bono has reported he would like to grow this list of companies to 400.

The products were launched in the UK almost one year ago and made their debut in the USA on The Oprah Winfrey Show on 13 October. There are plans for further rollout into Japan, France and Canada this month. The campaign has been supported by high profile celebrities in the movies, music, TV and modelling. To name just some – Joss Stone, Steven Spielberg, Alicia Keys, Kate Moss, Chris Rock, Penelope Cruz, Kanye West, Gisele Bundchen, (RED) Ambassador Christy Turlington and our own home-grown Elle Macpherson.

Those Against It

There are those that argue the only “real” winners are the big brand companies who see (RED)™ as a way to improve their reputation by being seen to act in a socially responsible manner. Others are saying that it would be best to donate the money directly to the relevant charities and save on costs. In fact, one report estimates that the set-up costs alone were £50M (www.metro.co.uk) and (RED) Blog (www.joinred.blogspot.com) states that companies involved have multi year commitments to produce RED-branded products, invest in marketing to build demand for the products and to contribute up to 50% of the profits from these product lines. There is the question of whether the likes of Oprah and Bono really understand the plight of the African people when they get around in their own private jets? Even the (RED)™ launch on The Oprah Winfrey Show showed them driving to the stores to buy the products in a flashy car and spending up big! Is not spending some of the cause of poverty? While a % of this spending will contribute is there not a better way to support the people in Africa? On a final note, would the money invested in the (RED)™ campaign be better spent on investment in Africa in order to secure their development and growth and overcome poverty long-term? Overcoming poverty will ultimately, help to overcome the appalling AIDS situation.

Arguments For It

There are however, very valid arguments for the (RED)™ campaign which need to be raised. If successful, this campaign offers a continuous stream of income not just philanthropy from a limited number of wealthy that is not sustainable long-term. The potential is huge – giving individuals the choice to buy big brand products that “give back”. While corporations and individuals have donated to The Global Fund in the past, the Executive Director, Richard Feachem, highlighted that only “a very small proportion” of the fund prior to the (RED)™ campaign was derived from corporations or individuals (www.cbsnews.com) and depending on governments was not enough. Yet, since launching the (RED)™ products only a year ago (RED) Blog reports that $45 million has been generated representing a 9 fold increase over the previous total of just $5 million raised by the Global Fund from the private sector in its first 4 years, from 2002-2006. One could also argue that even if big business is trying to polish up its image with the (RED)™ campaign, is this not a good thing? If they are “giving back” in a responsible and ethical manner is this really cause for concern?

My View

First and foremost the statistics on the AIDS virus in Africa are frightening!

And it is reported to only cost 40 cents a day to keep an HIV-positive person alive! So the reality is that something needs to be done — and quickly — unless we wish to see the economic collapse of South Africa.

It is clear that Bono is seeking better and faster results. If the government option is moving too slowly and people are dying unnecessarily, then why not develop a campaign that can solve this problem? And if you have the power and networks, why not use these to achieve a positive change in the world?

I think that the campaign from a marketing point of view is a very clever one. Develop a cool and sexy range of products, backed by leading brands, which are purchased everyday and appeal to the growing ethical consumer market (see article the-rise-of-the-ethical-consumer). Add to this high profile celebrities to endorse the brand. Then select myspace.com, the popular social networking website, as the main media sponsor (you can check it out atwww.myspace.com/joinred). And finally, set up a blog where you can actually calculate what the outcome of your purchase buys, for example, one (RED) iPod Nano provides anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment for 1 month to a person living with HIV (to try this calculation visit www.joinred.com/you/calculator.asp)

To date, the Global Fund has received $45.5 million from the sale of (RED) products and $30.7 million has flowed directly to grants in Ghana, Rwanda and Swaziland. I think that this success has been the appeal and sexiness of the brands and products supported by the celebrities and the resultant WOM. By wearing and using these products you are making a statement about “who you are” and “what you stand for” which appeals to the growing ethical consumer market. I really question whether such success would have been achieved with a campaign of simply giving money. And the idea of a telethon with celebrities, which has been suggested, only provides a one-off contribution not the potential for an ongoing income stream like the (RED)™ campaign.

However, I do question the “real success” of the campaign to date. This is difficult to assess as we do not know the actual set-up costs and how they are progressing against set targets. While it is reported that participating companies have made multi year commitments to the (RED)™ campaign, their long-term success will depend on increasing the sales of these products (by the way, it would help if the Gap online store was working — currently being updated – so that consumers in Oz and other countries that do not have Gap stores in-country could purchase products!). It is interesting to note that American Express in the USA has yet to join the campaign even though the UK supports it.

One KEY point that I would have to raise is that the (RED)™ campaign does not report on how they are meeting their requirements in the production chain (only an odd mention on a couple of products). Are they using fairs trade items? Are they trying to use African products so that the there is a double benefit? Do the products help the African people to become self-sufficient and not just reliant on aid? These are key questions that need to be answered.

 

Frightening Statistics About America

In my recent readings I came across the following statistics about America which I find frightening when you consider that they are regarded as THE leading world power:

“Giving: How Each of us Can Change the World”
(Bill Clinton, 2007)

  • In 2004, the US Department of Agriculture said that almost 12% of American households – 13.5 million – were unsure of their ability to feed themselves at some during the year and about 1/3 of them said that at least one family member went hungry at least some of the time
  • Until 2007, minimum wages had not been raised in a decade
  • With 5% of the world’s population and 21% of its economic output, Americans account for 25% of emissions

“Ben & Jerry’s Double-Dip: How to Run a Values Led Business and Make Money, Too”
(Ben & Jerry, 1997)

  • 2/3 of boys who reach the age of 15 in Harlem can expect to die in young or mid-adulthood – that is before they reach the age of 65 – due the physical effects of living in a subhuman environment
  • The growing gap between rich and poor makes US society the most unequalled of any industrialized nation
  • In 1980, 29.3 million Americans were living below the poverty level; in 1993, the number was up to 39.3 million. In 1996, the richest 1% of Americans owned 39% of the nation’s wealth (with assets averaging $2.3 million) while the bottom 90% owned just 29%

Dirty Facts About Australians

In checking out the dates for Clean Up Australia this year, which by the way is 2 March, I came across these statistics:

  • Australians are among the highest producers of waste, per person, in the world.
  • An estimated 7 billion cigarette butts end up in Australian waterways, streets and parklands each year.
  • 80 million plastic bags are dumped in Australia each year – creating a serious threat to our precious marine life.
  • 37% of all items collected on Clean Up Australia Day 2004 were plastic – recycling one tonne of plastic saves enough energy to run a refrigerator for a month.
  • To date, Clean Up Australia Day participants have collected over 200,000 tonnes of rubbish – that’s 4.7 million household wheelie bins!

What a Fabulous Idea?

I picked up a postcard at the council recently that was promoting “Help Green Our Parks”. The Rozelle Bay Community Native Nursery, a volunteer community group reintroducing local plant species to the area, was seeking new volunteers.

In turning over the card there was the usual part about “made using 100% recycled paper” but then I continued to read on, to the amazing part of the text – that the card itself actually contains native Pink Tea Tree seeds! To grow these you soak the postcard until soft, place in potting mix and cover with a thin layer of soil, water well and keep moist. The seeds should then germinate in 1 to 2 weeks. What a fabulous idea! The card serves a dual purpose as both a promotional tool and a way to further the desired outcome.

I have to admit that I am certainly no green thumb, but am intrigued to plant this card and see what happens….

If you wish to find out more about the Rozelle Bay Community Native Nursery,click here.

Fair Trade Fortnight

By changing to fair trade today or getting involved in events, you can change the lives of farmers and producers across the developing world. So why not Taste It, Try It, Support It … Change It, Choose It…. this Fair Trade Fortnight.Through such simple actions you can demonstrate support for producers and can trigger a positive change in peoples’ lives in developing countries.

Further Information: http://www.fairtrade.com.au/ftf08/