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Global activist discusses holistic approach to economics

Brahm, who lectured at Mills Apr. 2, has served as a mediator between the 14th Dalai Lama and Beijing. (Greta Lopez)
Brahm, who lectured at Mills Apr. 2, has served as a mediator between the 14th Dalai Lama and Beijing. (Greta Lopez)

People may not see a connection between compassion and economics, but Laurence Brahm is trying to change that. Brahm, who has served as a chief economist and governmental advisor to China, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Mongolia, says compassion is a necessary aspect of economics.

Brahm spoke in the Bender Room Thurs., Apr. 2, to share his experience as a political-economist and discuss sustainable economic models with the Mills College community.

Wah Cheng, a professor of history at Mills, asked Brahm to speak on campus after they met earlier this year.

“I think [Brahm’s] work, convictions and values are very much aligned with ours, you know, social justice, and a kind of economic development that is not invasive, not predatory, that is organic and community based,” Cheng said. “I think in so many respects he is very much Mills.”

During his talk, Brahm emphasized the importance of environmental sustainability and community mindedness in economics.

“It’s really about finding or creating ourselves a new financial architecture in community solutions,” Brahm said. “Talk about compassionate capital — you can have businesses, those businesses can be profitable, but they can be positive and transformative if the intention and management is thinking in that direction and if government policies allow it. ”

Additionally, Brahm introduced what he calls the economic theory of the interconnectivity of everything, which encourages a wholistic approach to economics.

“The solutions to the same problems are as relevant in Dhaka as they are in Dakar as they are in Detroit,” Brahm said, “because we are all facing the same problem. There is a global financial system that has disempowered people, and concentrated wealth at the very top. … The community has been disempowered.”

One of Brahm’s accomplishments is helping found the Himalayan Census, a non-governmental organization whose mission, according to their website, is to protect and endorse ethnic diversity and indigenous identity as well as prioritize environmental protection and community development.

Several years later, Brahm used similar principles and his experience from working with the Himalayan Census to help found the African Consensus Movement, a civil society network in Africa.

Brahm’s current dream is to change what he calls a ridiculous financial system, by encouraging interest in younger generations around the world, particularly in the United States.

“I just have such huge frustrations because coming back to this country of so many innovative, talented, creative, outgoing and wonderful people, and its being run by such a narrow group of narrowly thinking, myopic confrontational people,” Brahm said. “I really want to see that changed. If I can do something to spark the youth of this country to feel like they can take the power back, I would really like to do that.”

Following the event, Brahm met with students individually and signed copies of his book, ‘Fusion Economics: How Pragmaticism is Changing the World,’ which was published last year.

First-year Carolyn Dorwin was inspired by Brahm’s talk.

“I was amazed. I think I just feel a sense of hope, reenergized to work locally in the community knowing that there are people out there with different ideas that are working,” Dorwin said. “I really related to knowing one’s culture and knowing one’s identity in order to then spring up and enrich the community.”

Associated Students of Mills College Vice President Cheyanne Young said having an internationally experienced speaker was important for the Mills community. Young hopes to have more globally focused events on campus in order to combat what she calls “America blinders.”

“We need that global perspective here,” Young said. “I firmly believe in grassroots organizing and especially the empowerment of our students, giving them as many knowledge bases as possible to move into the world with so that they can affect the kind of change they want in a way that is sustainable.”

Brahm splits his time between Katmandu and Beijing, where he lives with his wife — a former protestor at Tiananmen Square, who now works with Nordic financial institutions on green finance. They have two sons, who Brahm brings along to travel with him when he can.

“Understanding the behavioral patterns of the financial world is very much what our family is about,” Brahm said.