Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The far-reaching consequences of a policy

Policymakers need to be big-picture and long-term thinkers (photo credit: S. Christopher)

What few understand is that policy has far-reaching consequences that near-sighted politicians and lobbyists rarely look to understand properly. In the absence of solid leadership, these shortsighted politicans are able to sell their story to the public making the situation very dangerous. A perfect example is the US' ridiculous Iraq war or even their shortsighted attack on Afghanistan. In neither case did the policymakers really think about the lack of training they had, how long they could commit or anything else. Now the US finds itself in the middle of a major quandary that is also killing millions of innocent people on both sides. The shortsightedness of the policymakers is costing the world in the long run.

Everyday, millions of these policies are thoughtlessly being implemented. I saw two pieces in yesterday's newspapers that brought this back to mind; one in the US (that will have global impact), and the other in Egypt.

The first was featured on 60 Minutes, and showed how the clauses in the economic stimulus money, especially the "Buy American" model, is affecting Americans. For example, any organization getting the stimulus money must use American steel for any work they do. Seems simple right?? Not exactly. Watch or read this piece to understand why every policy has two sides.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Then this morning I saw this piece in the NY Times about the new "ban pigs" clause that Egypt has come up with, post swine-flu. You wouldn't believe what the effects of that are.

The bottomline is this: Every story has atleast two sides. If it doesn't, then you are being lied to. Be cognizant of both, then make the best decision you can. But also think about how to mitigate the effects of the other side(s).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Posts will be slow this week

I am traveling this week. So my posts will be intermittent, if at all. I am happy to say that you, my faithful reader, are finally getting a break! :-)

Until next time!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Links I liked

1. Anita and the secret lives of her bees

2. A straw house passes major earthquake tests.

3. The future of water technology is in the nano!

4. The story of two innovative women and their way out of poverty.

5. B-school graduates are finally learning to do something with their degrees.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

TED in 40 languages

Got this in my mailbox this morning from Chris Anderson, the Curator of TED:

Dear Global TED Community,

Our mission is "ideas worth spreading". But 4.5 billion people don't speak English very well. That's why we consider today's announcement the biggest event at TED since we started putting our talks online.

The TED Open Translation Project will enable thousands of volunteer translators to use subtitles to make TED available to their own communities. To do this the right way has taken a year of preparation. But now we're ready, and I couldn't be prouder of what our amazing web team has delivered here.

The announcement just went up. Or explore for yourself here.

Soon anyone anywhere will be able to understand talks in their own language from the world's wisest teachers. We hope you love this as much as we do.

Thank you for being part of TED.

Chris Anderson
TED Curator

P.S. Even if you don't speak another language, try clicking "interactive transcript" on any talk page (red link top-right). Click on a word. And watch what happens...

I just realized how poor my Italian was when I watched Richard St John's TEDtalk with the English muted and Italian subtitles. I think its a great way to learn languages! :-)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Emergency Sex and other Desperate Measures

Don't worry...its not what I've been through, but that's the name of the book I'm reading at the moment. Its a bit of international development sensationalism, as you can guess from the title. Three idealistic western do-gooders who want to "save the world" chronicle their tales of professional and personal trials while serving in some of the most dangerous places on earth as UN staff.

I think the book goes a little overboard with its sensationalism; still it does a very good job of showcasing what working with the UN (or other international development agencies) is like, what the lives of the staff and peacekeepers really is like, and puts to rest any romantic notions people may have about war, the UN, or outstanding US foreign policy.

The character I liked the most is Dr Andrew Thomson, a physician from New Zealand, who seems to get more into the cultural landscape than the other two characters. Here's a snippet of his thoughts as he is forced to exit Haiti after a poorly orchestrated "savior" operation by the US:

Over and over I replay in my head the implications of what we've just done. We told the Haitians that we couldn't physically stop their government from torturing and killing, but that if they told us in detail who was doing it and how, we'd bear witness and seek justice. Eventually the world would eb outraged enough to send soldiers and reinstall democracy...

They believed us, risked their lives to turn up at our offices all over the country, in full view of their attackers, to tell their stories. They exposed tehmselves, crawled in and spilled their guts, sometimes literally. They trusted me... Now that they are atheir most vulnerable, we're abandoning them, frozen in teh ehadlights, roadkill for the macoutes' machine. And we're flying out, clutching our precious blue UN passports and bags full of Haitian art.

We just showed Haitians that our lives are more valuable than theirs...

The most basic primciple they teach you at medical school, years before you even get to touch your first patient, is "First, do no harm." But harm is exactly what we've done, identifying the next victims for the asassins running Haiti..."

Definitely worth a read. If not anything else, you'll learn a lot!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Gateway to Hollywood

Ashok Amritraj on "Gateway to Hollywood" (photo source: http://pixtelevision.com/pix_gateway/images/gateway_home_top.jpg)

Somehow, I came across and got hooked onto this Indian reality show about filmmakers. Its called "Gateway to Hollywood," and it is a bit like "The Apprentice" for young, amateur filmmakers. The show brings together 18 talented filmmakers from across India and over the course of 16 weeks of challenges, picks the best to direct a film in Hollywood...a dream for any filmmaker!

The show is run by former Indian tennis-pro, now turned Hollywood film producer, Ashok Amritraj, who is eager to give young, talented filmmakers the chance he never had. While the show is poorly produced, the quality of the filmmakers, their tasks, and output were really solid. So good infact that I sat up for two nights in a row and watched the episodes back-to-back.

I love the idea of ex-pats returning to their countries to help their own develop. I honestly think that the health of a developing country's economy depends on the health of their ex-pat community. Look at India, China, Korea, and Mexico. There are many more examples where these come from; but an ex-pat's strong cultural ties, tenacity, intelligence, lessons learned along the way, coupled with the west's business practices of efficiency and ethics, makes him/her a force to contend with.

Unfortunately, Gateway episodes are archived on the horrible rediff ishare platform (as opposed to the infinitely smoother and more reliable hulu, youtube, or vimeo sites), so I've had numerous problems with viewing them. Still I would encourage a view.

I was blown away and heartily encouraged by the latent talent in India; I'm sure every other developing country has this level of talent just hanging out waiting to be discovered!

Here's a part of the first episode:

Friday, May 8, 2009

Links I liked

1. Via BusinessPundit, an innovative business card.

2. Why poor countries continue to be enthralled with capitalism... interesting analysis!

3. You'd be surprised to know where most of the S&M wear originates from. Now this is absolutely fascinating!!

4. A look behind the success of Zappos' management.

5. How to grow a business: wisdom on scaling up.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Garden Tutors, poop for food, cruelty and poverty

I wanted to put these in "Links I liked" but had a short commentary to add with each one. So I made a separate post of them all.

1. PSFK put up this great post about Garden Tutors. It got me thinking about what if we gave more educated farming tutorials to farmers in India and other parts of the world, to both start kitchen gardens of their own (so that they have something to eat during the year that is nutritious), as well as to teach them better farming techniques to survive the drought and pests. "Agricultural Tutors" of sorts.

I just loved this Garden Tutors program and how people are signing up madly. I'm a bit of an amateur gardener and I think working with the earth really makes you want to protect and take care of it better.

2. This post from Wronging Rights, downright cracked me up. When nuts rule the world, this is the kind of nonsense we can expect.

3. I found this post from the PSD Blog about the differences in the way women and men are approached in terms of entrepreneurship to be fascinating. My own personal view from my fieldwork has been that women face a myriad of pushback in terms of entrepreneurship, particularly if they are poor. Firstly their lifestyles are such that they have very little time to build a business --- between motherhood, housechores (which take a LOT of time), their job, and taking care of their demanding families (husbands and in-laws)--- the playing field is not even. Women who often speak of starting a business get shot down quickly by their families, by their communities and of course by banking institutions (though micro-credit is changing this a little bit).

4. Alanna Shaikh in Blood and Milk, muses about whether poverty causes cruelty or inequality?? I had to really pause and think about this. I have to disagree with both of these. I know plenty of people who have been extremely poor, harboring the several injustices and inequalities that are unpardonable, and I've never seen them be cruel. Cruelty comes from a lack of morals, and human weakness or greed. Cruelty happens irrespective of socio-economic circumstances, religions, castes or cultures. And in this case, i had to ask for a definition of cruelty. It seemed so unfair to label someone as "cruel" who had unknowingly given his child up as a servant (and she had ended up as a prostitute instead). This is one of those hard questions to answer.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Children of Huang Shi

I'm on a bit of a movie binge now. I've been working my (out-of-shape) butt off (in the office unfortunately, not in the gym) the past several weeks and needed a brain breather. Bring on the movies!

Last night I watched "The Children of Huang Shi" (preview here and below). Its based on the true story of George A Hogg, an Oxford educated journalist who was in China during the 1930's to capture the atrocities the Japanese Imperial Army against the Chinese people. Ultimately, he takes 60 Chinese orphans under his wing and walks 700 miles across some of China's harshest terrain to save the kids from the Japanese, before finally succumbing to Tetanus.

BEAUTIFULLY filmed, with a stellar cast (Chow Yun-Fat, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Radha Mitchell, and Michelle Yeoh), and a Chinese-British crew, the film tells the story against a beautiful backdrop in a sensitive way. I quite enjoyed it and it was a great history lesson!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sarah Jones' brilliant TED Talks

Sarah Jones' absolutely brilliant TED talk is up where she plays a United Nations worth of women :-). At TED she introduced eight of her characters. Prepare to laugh, be awed, and impressed.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Free online University for Disadvantaged Groups of People

Self-made millionaire, Shai Reshef (left) is starting an online university that offers free tuition for disadvantaged groups of people called University of People.

I've posted before on the goodness of open source education. It seems like you don't have to pay the exhorbitant fees to get an education from world class institutions like MIT, Stanford, and even the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). Many universities are taking to posting their best classes online for everyone's benefit.

So in the midst of this economic crisis, I liked that Shia Reshef started a free university online called the University for People. Here's the beginning of the article:

Shai Reshef, a self-made millionaire, has a lot of experience starting businesses. In 1989, he helped to transform a small Israeli test-prep company, Kidum Group, with only $100,000 in yearly revenue into the largest for-profit educational services company in Israel. Reaching nearly $25 million in revenue, the company was snapped up by the larger test prep giant Kaplan in 2005. Reshef is also credited with starting the first online university in Europe in 2001. The venture, based in the Netherlands, wasn't very successful but was acquired by Sylvan Learning Systems, now Laureate Education.

Reshef has now turned his sights to starting the first tuition-free online university for disadvantages students. The new school has opened its doors, figuratively speaking, and is open for enrollment beginning this week. Reshef, the founder and president of The University of the People (UoP), visited Inc.com's Nicole Marie Richardson in New York City to discuss his new venture and its intriguing tuition-free business model.

Read more here.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Links I liked

1. An amazingly nimble 83 y/o grandma. Prepare to be awed. :-)

2. via Owen Abroad, TheBraveNewTraveller outlines six people you will meet at an expat bar. I usually avoid expat bars. My point of going into the field is to listen to and hang out with the locals, and the people outlined here are exactly why I avoid expat bars.

3. Chris Blattman and Alanna Shaikh's combined "How to get a job in international development." I would add one more...just show up. I've done that before; they were surprised, but willing and I started a(n unpaid) job...that has ultimately led to me writing to you here! :-)

4. I've been wondering for sometime why even in wealthier parts of the developing world, the sewage treatment is beyond bad. This article will explain why!! On one hand, it could lead to more innovation; on the other, with no enforcement, its leading to mega mega problems.
Governance at its worst.

5. Finally someone is saying it...MBA = Most Bloody Awful. I am SO happy that someone is finally calling it what it really is, a degree for some of the most overrated people in the world.

6. 500 Million Indians are flipping each other off, in what will easily be the world's largest election. Why?? You'll laugh....

7. Via Boing Boing, http://doihavepigflu.com/