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Getting at the Essence of The Survival Trap from a Stakeholder's Perspective

Themba, Mariam, Jaime, Lisa, Ijeoma, and Rob profiled at the beginning of this chapter illustrate the pervasiveness of The Survival Trap, which draws its power from its intangible impact on leaders operating in the developing world. No one is immune to the impacts of The Survival Trap. While the stakeholders introduced at the beginning of the chapter each come from different sectors, they are all facing the impacts of operating in The Survival Trap. In the following sections we look at specific characteristics influencing each of the five stakeholder groups introduced at the beginning of the chapter.

Mariam and Other Bottom of the Pyramid Citizens

The vast majority of citizens in the developing world are stuck in The Survival Trap on a daily basis. To fully understand their predicament, one has to have an authentic and strong sense of their daily experience:

  • Living hand-to-mouth with no savings or assets
  • Powerlessness to realize their ambitions and make their plans work
  • Lack of input in the policies and decisions that affect them the most
  • Struggling to survive today and simultaneously worrying about the future

Formidable Challenge for Themba and Other Entrepreneurs

Developing world entrepreneurs have a strong ability to overcome difficult conditions. Nonetheless, The Survival Trap is a formidable challenge even for these achievers. For instance, a relationship with government requires translating business needs into political lingo, something that is hard for entrepreneurs to grasp given their level of stress. For entrepreneurs, The Survival Trap robs them of their power to excel in the following ways:

  • Status quo merely maintained while great energy is expanded to survive in what seems like quicksand
  • Have trouble delegating right now
  • Meet closed doors everywhere to expand their businesses
  • Do not feel understood by other stakeholders, especially government

Jaime and Managers

Managers, especially international executives, come with talents and brains as well economic might. Yet, even for these stakeholders, The Survival Trap is a force to be reckoned with. Their experience is analogous with being stuck between the hammer and the anvil:

  • Sense of not being focused where they could have maximum impact
  • Growing pressure to meet the needs of an ever-expanding list of stakeholders
  • Frustrated at not being able to control or understand forces at play
  • Feel like an outsider that is not trusted by key stakeholders

Lisa and Industry or Cluster Leaders

Industry or cluster leaders have vast real-life experience and relationship networks. However, The Survival Trap compounded by globalization makes several fear for the future of their business in particular and their industries in general. Industry or cluster leaders have lost control of the key drivers in their fields:

  • Growing conflicts within the industry that fail to solve the real problem
  • Sense of loose financial control with dwindling profit margins
  • Customers, competitors, and suppliers that are outside one's circle of influence
  • Constant need to innovate without resources and knowledge to do so

Ijeoma and Government Leaders

Beyond the appearance and trappings of power, most government leaders feel immobilized by The Survival Trap. This vicious cycle curtails their power. In hindsight, leaders point to the Trap as a major limitation to their impact:

  • Lack of focus on the "real mission" dealing instead with problems without solutions
  • Inordinate amounts of energy and time dispensed to make things happen
  • Persistent feeling of being assailed with innumerable urgent and important issues
  • Experience being at the mercy of outside forces

Rob and the Development Community

Most development workers truly want to make a difference. The Survival Trap makes this righteous objective untenable by becoming frustrated by government. And government blames business for being overly demanding and greedy.

  • The BoP point fingers to the elite, who in turn blame the international community.
  • The international community decries the irresponsibility of local leaders.
  • Blame escalates, communication breaks down, and the status quo persists.
  • Everyone feels a certain level of powerlessness and frustration.

Everyone experiences their own version of The Survival Trap. As a business leader once said, "the truth is that we are stuck in a situation where the elite sees its asset base deplete while the rest of the population lives in utmost misery. The situation is getting worse for all of us."

His insight points to a good metaphor to illustrate The Survival Trap, that of the Greek's mythical Sisyphus who is compelled to roll a huge rock up a steep hill. But before he can reach the top of the hill, it always rolls back down, forcing him to begin again. The gods thought that there was no greater punishment than futile work that ultimately did not change the final result. Many stuck in The Survival Trap would agree.

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