Hand out vs. hand up

I just read about the Telus union complaining vigorously about some of the basic customer service functions that the company wants to do in the Philippines. The union would gladly advocate giving more money to the Philippines in the form of foreign aid. Heck, they’d even pass the plate and get their members to kick in a few bucks. But, how about real jobs and real economic opportunity (i.e. have the Philippines join the global economy and provide some back office services for Canadian companies)? Not on your life.

Of course, there are parallels within Canada as well (although obviously not on the same scale). Ontarioites (ians?) don’t have much of a problem with serving up Equalization as their ‘contribution’ to this ‘great country’. But, if an auto plant ever decided to set up here – you’d get an earful to the tune of “how dare they?”. We got a bit of a taste of this when RIM decided to set up its next major facility in Halifax with 1,200 jobs. While somewhat restrained, there were a number of stories and op-eds criticizing Halifax ‘stealing’ Ontario jobs.

The truth is that government aid (define it how you will) rarely translates into long term, viable economic benefits. The aid, more often than not, is targeted at ‘expenses’ (basic necessities of life in the third world and health care in New Brunswick) and not at investments (like creating the environment for industrial development).

I mentioned it before, I think, but almost a decade ago I was approached by an eccentric, gold ring wearing World Bank guy about the possibility of replicating the New Brunswick call centre industry in the French language countries of North Africa. This guy thought the World Bank would support efforts to grow a call centre industry in that part of the world and he thought that when the lights turned off in Moncton, they could have been turned on in Tunisia or Algeria. It wasn’t a bad idea but there was no place for me to take this. There certainly wasn’t an appetite in Freddy Beach to consider such a notion.

I don’t know why I am even blabbing on about this except to say that most of my thinking around global investment flows and create environment where specific industries can foster does apply beyond the borders of New Brunswick and Canada. In some naive way, I think that countries should stake out their position in the global economy and work to build the economic foundation on which social and community development can be fostered. And this definitely includes foreign direct investment as well as the other components of a well-formed economic development programme.

French language call centres in Africa? Why not?