Alistair Ong Strives to Answer the Fundamental Economic Problem

By Sean Sullivan, Fordham student.
The most fundamental economic problem is that the finite amount of resources available on Earth is insufficient in satisfying all of humanity’s wants and needs. Since the Industrial Revolution, economies around the world have attempted to tackle this problem by producing as much as possible in order to quell humanity’s insatiable desires. The attempt to satisfy our needs via this strategy has led an immense amount of waste, and it also has not guaranteed happiness.
Alistair Ong, founder of GreenSoul Shoes, is taking a different approach to the fundamental economic problem. Recognizing that we do have a limited amount of resources, he has decided to analyze how we can use our finite resources in a way that increases utility without adding waste to the planet. He recently visited Professor Michael Pirson’s Sustainable Business class to share what he has learned in life about how to optimize finite resources.
One could argue that the most finite resource for human beings is time. No matter how much wealth or status someone has, they will eventually run out of time on this planet. Alistair used to work extremely long hours at a law firm, and it was then that he had a dream that helped him realize the importance of spending time correctly. In his dream, he was at an arcade and was constantly spending quarters on one of the games. Eventually he ran out of quarters and woke up from his dream in a cold sweat. That dream taught Alistair a lesson, and that lesson was that you should do things in life that will make you happy or your quarters will run out. Alistair’s dream about quarters led him to leave his steady job as a lawyer to take part in the more unpredictable field of entrepreneurship.Like many entrepreneurs, Alistair saw his first company fail. But also like many entrepreneurs, Alistair decided to focus on learning from his failure instead of letting the fear of failure keep him from starting another company. After starting a second company that was successful, Alistair realized that the hefty salary he was making was not making him happy.
Alistair’s second company was based in the Philippines, and while he was there on business he would stay with his cousin. His cousin lived a life of extravagance and took him to high end restaurants and clubs whenever he visited. However, Alistair had a desire to see other parts of the Philippines where less wealthy citizens dwelled. After a lot of asking, Alistair’s cousin finally took him to the more impoverished part of the Philippines. He watched kids playing soccer without shoes and saw how unsafe it was for them to be running around barefoot in such a dirty environment. After his experience, Alistair decided to buy a bunch of shoes and redistribute them, but that only left him happy for five minutes since he quickly ran out of shoes before every kid got a pair. That is when he had his epiphany.
Coinciding with the fundamental economics problem mentioned earlier, Alistair saw a scarcity of resources in the community that he had just visited. He looked at the resources that were currently accessible to the community and realized that the immense rubber waste that had piled up nearby could be used to make shoes. He then set up a supply chain that employed local citizens and used a one-for-one model to get shoes to children. His company, GreenSoul Shoes, has employed many villagers and is on a mission to shoe 1,000,000 kids in five years.
Alistair finished his talk by recapping what he gained during each step of his career path and he challenged us to go through the same rigorous process of constantly learning and evaluating. His main ask was that we consider the question “What can I do to focus my intelligence, persistence, and community to serve others?” Perhaps if we all take more time to focus on this question then we can realize how our finite resources can be utilized to live a life of purpose and contentment.
Check out his presentation here: