Steve Jobs, Apple and the developing world

manoj-bhusall.By Manoj Bhusal

With his amazing products and innovation, Steve did touch, and to some extent, transformed our lives, but despite possesing $8.3 billion of personal wealth and leading a company that worth $39.3 billion, he failed to deeply touch and transform the lives of the most needy and vulnerable people on this planet.

Steve Jobs always became big news, mainly in the Western, but also in the developing world, when he was alive and also when he passed away. Millions paid tribute and lamented his death throughout the world. People extensively used social networking sites and other online forums to express their admiration to Jobs, to Apple, and to thier sleeky,amazing products. Influential global magazines such as Time and The Economist dedicated their issues writing about Steve, his exemplary leadership,extraordinary success at Silicon Valley, and then about his fight against pancreatic cancer, suffering and death.

Today Apple stands as the world’s most valuable company which sufficiently demonstrates Steve Jobs’ brilliant vision and extraordinary leadership, and the fact that Apple products are so admirable,addictive and are loved by millions across the globe confirms his creative ingenuity,passion and tireless longing for perfection.

I never bought an Apple iPod or a Mac, but when I got my first iPhone, it felt like owning a magic wand. That tiny little thing could do so many things. That was like a noiseless minicomputer which you could use for making phone calls to sending emails to reading books for your university exams. The whole understanding of a mobile phone changed from that point onwards. It was unbelievable.

However, despite these amazing products and soaring success, Apple remained a close company and didn’t show any interest in the developing world, home to 5.5 of the planet’s 6.7 billion people. Apple products are so expensive that recently a Chinese student decided to sell his kidney so that he could afford an iPad 2.

See Also: Making the Most of Mobile Phones

In order to maximize profit, Apple moved its production units to developing countries, and today many of Apple’s products are assembled in China. Retailing has been the norm of the company and, recent media reports claim, working conditions at Apple’s suppliers in China are simply appalling. A worker was reported to committing suicide after a 34 hour shift at a firm that produced parts for iPhone and iPad. In the past, Apple was also accused of using child labor in one of its production houses, which Apple ultimately accepted, and of importing raw materials from war trodden areas of the developing world.

Steve Jobs & Bill Gates
Steve Jobs & Bill Gates

We do love magical Apple products, but it is worth knowing, these unbelievably sleekly products and Steve Jobs’ as well as Apple’s success come under a heavy price,often paid by petty workers in the developing world. Importing raw materials as well as using cheap labour from the developing world, Apple and Steve Jobs solidified their success in the Silican Valley. However, when it was time to return the favor, they miserably failed.

Recent reports confirm that Apple has more cash than the US treasury, but, reportedly, when Bill Gates,another Silicon Valley legend, approached Mr Jobs to pursuade him to join the Giving Plege Campaign, a chairty campaign of US billionaires that takes away half of their wealth to charities, Mr Jobs declinded the offer. After he came back to Apple in 1997, Steve Jobs, suspended all charity programs and donations.

We at Global South Development Magazine would have loved to publish a special report about Mr Jobs and how his charity helped get education to children and how many lives were saved from malaria and HIV/AIDS, but when we searched for Apple’s social initiatives, all we found was a donation made in California to a campaign that advocated same sex marriages.

With his amazing products and innovation, Steve did touch, and to some extent, transformed our lives, but despite possesing $8.3 billion of personal wealth and leading a company that worth $39.3 billion, he failed to deeply touch and transform the lives of the most needy and vulnerable people on this planet.

Apple has been lauded for being innovative, authentic and for not copying anything from others. However,I would say, they should have copied at least some traits of social/global responsibility exhibited by Microsoft. Through Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Microsoft has channeled billions of dollars to fight global poverty, to promote equal access to health and education in the developing world, and to protect the environment. After stepping down as the CEO in 2000 to give more time for his philanthropic work, Bill Gates, in 2006 announced that his fulltime work will be at Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Many people have said that Steve Jobs is going to be placed right after Thomas Edison and Walt Disney in the shelves of history. It is difficult to predict, who will get what position in the long run, but to me Mr. Gates will always come ahead of Mr. Jobs. It is Mr.Gates who actually ‘thought differently’ and touched the hearts and minds of millions in a deeper, subtle way.

And yes, the Forbes list still shows Apple as the most valuable company on the planet; whereas, Microsoft stands at number six. But to me, once again, unless Apple recognizes its social responsibility, Microsoft stands at number one!

(Published as an editorial piece in Global South Development Magazine’s October 2011 edition)