The New Recruits

The New Recruits

Sat, 07/16/2011 - 7:00pm

Pictured: Spokesmodel Shweta Rai at the 2009 LED Expo in New Delhi, India. Social enterprise D.light Design sells LED lights to the poor.

Credit: Ironbound Films, Inc.

A battalion of jet-setting business students has a radical plan to end global poverty: charge poor people for goods and services.

The New Recruits, airing Saturday, July 16 at 7 p.m. on WXXI World (cable 524/DT21.2), is a hilarious, evocative, edge-of-your-seat thrill ride along a road paved with good intentions. It is narrated by Rainn Wilson, Dwight Schrute on NBC’s The Office.

THE NEW RECRUITS unflinchingly examines the burgeoning trend of social entrepreneurship, touted as the new alternative to charity. “Social enterprises” attempt to solve poor people’s problems by providing critical goods and services, but charging for them in order to be sustainable. Proponents believe that the poor also benefit from being treated as customers, rather than recipients of handouts.

THE NEW RECRUITS follows three young, well-meaning business students learning to sell to the poor. In the prestigious Acumen Fund Fellows Program, Heidi Krauel, Joel Montgomery and Suraj Sudhakar spend one year working with startups, peddling drip irrigation in Pakistan, LED lights in India and toilet service in Kenya. The three face the seemingly impossible task of marketing to customers who earn less than four dollars a day.

“Capitalism has been getting a bad rap lately,” says Jeremy Newberger, who along with Seth Kramer and Daniel A. Miller of Ironbound Films produced and directed THE NEW RECRUITS. “From Gordon Gekko to Michael Moore, the system is portrayed as inherently corrupt and broken. Our film shows honest, generous people attempting to use its principles to uplift rather than exploit.

“The challenge, of course, is that poor people also have to ‘buy in’ to the idea,” continues Newberger. “Social entrepreneurship has not been a series of feel-good success stories, and we had no interest in representing it that way.” In their last film, THE LINGUISTS, Kramer, Miller and Newberger took a similarly unapologetic look at scientists who document dying languages in the name of diversity, but often fall prey to their own cultural insensitivity in the process.