Interview with THE NEW RECRUITS Filmmaker Seth Kramer

June 14th, 2010

This morning, Inside Thirteen spoke with Seth Kramer, one of the producers and directors of the upcoming documentary, THE NEW RECRUITS.  The film takes a look at a group of business students with a radical plan: to put an end to global poverty by charging for goods and services.

THE NEW RECRUITS explores the social enterprise movement and raises a unique (and somewhat ironic) question: can capitalism, rather than charity, save the world?

Directed by Ironbound Films’ Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, and Jeremy Newberger, THE NEW RECRUITS premieres on THIRTEEN this Tuesday, June 15 at 10p.m.

Seth Kramer answered our questions via email.

Inside Thirteen: What inspired you to make The New Recruits?

Seth Kramer: When filming our 2008 Sundance and PBS documentary The Linguists, we—Ironbound Films’ Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, and Jeremy Newberger—visited some of the poorest people in the world, from remote tribal communities in Orissa State, India, to mountainside villages in Bolivia. The notion that someone could offer these folk critical goods and services, but make them pay for it, seemed radical to us. Exploring this approach we thought would make for a fascinating documentary.

IT: Was there anything that you were surprised to learn during the making of this film, either about the poor people featured or the way business is currently conducted in poorer countries?

SK: The most surprising thing we discovered is that when businesses sell to the poor, the biggest problem is not necessarily that the poor cannot afford the good or service. The problem is that the poor, like customers everywhere, become more demanding of the product. Their desires must constantly be addressed. When the good or service represents an aberration from their traditional lifestyle, than an even larger problem arises: that desire must be cultivated from scratch.

IT: How did the subjects in the film react to this project? Were they at all skeptical?

SK: We follow three apprentices at startup businesses that sell to the poor in Kenya, India, and Pakistan: Suraj Sudhakar, Heidi Krauel, and Joel Montgomery, respectively. All three were skeptical inasmuch as they are within the reality television demographic, so know that foibles, confrontation, and failure are pillars of the medium. We convinced them that documenting their struggle honestly and unflinchingly would not only make for a more informative film, but also a more effective recruiter for those interested in joining the fight.

IT: Is social entrepreneurship a viable alternative to charity? On what scale do you think it could affect global poverty?

SK: To quote Robert Katz, a social enterprise recruiter who appears in the film, “Aid and charity on its own will never solve the problems of poverty.” The millennia have proven this true. Aid and charity can never cease to exist, especially in the direst circumstances, but their limitations demand sustainable alternatives. Social entrepreneurship—employing business principles to solve social problems—is just beginning to see tangible results, but will take many years before its effects on global poverty are assessed as a whole. Its most significant accomplishment so far might be changing the way the world views the poor, and the poor view themselves.

Watch the official trailer here: