Jonathan Lewis and Topher have done it again: another great Opportunity Collaboration uniting social entrepreneurs around the globe for a week of networking, Big Thoughts, and, oh yes, Tequila. Can’t forget the blue agave extract. No key notes, no power points, just a lot of good conversation with the people launching or running or funding some of the most promising social enterprises in the world. I go there to see with whom FINCA should be partnering in education, health, water & sanitation, green energy, or agriculture. Or sometimes I’m just offering advice to the up and coming SEs on how to avoid the myriad mistakes — and occasional right moves — I made on my own journey.
I caught up with Boris Bulayev whose SE Educate! has grown from its dorm room days in Amhearst into a thriving organization that empowers Uganda’s youth to actively solve public problems. Educate!’s flagship program is a two-year high school curriculum that is currently being taught to 1,000 students in 24 schools. Boris has big plans to scale it next year. I met for the first time Silviano Valdez who, while still in university, launched Vuwa Enterprise which is selling rainwater catchment systems in Kenya that provide families with clean drinking water for just a few hundred dollars. I talked with Prakash Tyagi, a medical doctor from India who’s clinic is the only medical facility for a 100,000 people in a drought-prone state of India where the people eke out a living with animal husbandry and millet cultivation. I learned about breakthroughs in more efficient stoves, including a solar-powered one being produced by a company called One Earth in China. The overall impression is that the problems of design, affordable pricing and distribution are being solved, one by one. Some of the best young minds in engineering, economics, and finance are working hard to improve the everyday lives of poor people the world over. FINCA can help by financing both sides of the distribution.
Life is slower in Mexico, but I finally realized its nothing to do with the culture, but rather to appreciate a country as beautiful as Mexico, perforce, you need to slow down.
Hasta la vista, baby!
While I was in the waiting room of my son’s dentist, waiting for all four of his wisdom teeth to be yanked, I read a beyond-grim article in Rolling Stone on how Australia is becoming the first casualty of Global Warming. The article pictured a baked kangaroo who had been caught in a fire storm caused by the drought affecting a large part of the country, even as other parts of it are being drenched by flooding rains. Most depressing to me and anyone who has ever known the rapture of floating over one of the Pacific’s technicolor coral reefs was the news that these will all be gone — bleached to death — by 2050.
The article concluded with a quote from some scientist who said that Australia was basically supplying the climatogological rope to hang itself with by selling zillions of tons of dirty burning coal to China, which that country will use to stoke its furnaces and send zillions of tons of carbon dioxide and methane into the air which is THE main cause of Global Warming — which some say, if eliminated, would eliminate the problem.
And we won’t stop burning dirty coal…..why? Oh, well, you see, China and India won’t do that until their economies catch up to the U.S. And the U.S. won’t do it because that would kill jobs. And better to kill every living thing on earth in the long run than lose a few jobs in the short term. Makes sense, right?
Yeah, I know, I can talk, at least I have a job.
With the failure of the latest environmental summit down in South Africa, and the semi flop of the latest Eurozone talks, it becomes more and more apparent that the fate of the planet hinges on whether the nations of the world can sacrifice their short term interest in favor of the greater good of survival.
So far, the answer is a resounding NO!!!!!!!!!
Pictured here is a Harry Ferguson tractor, made in Detroit in 1950. It still runs. Okay, so the brakes don’t work, which my brother-in-law discovered when he fired it up and ended up crashing into and over turning his pick up. But what a beast! And still going strong 62 years later.
Hmmmmmm, sounds like………..
Had this tractor been made today, it would probably have a shelf life of about 5 years, thanks to Planned Obsolescence, which became all the rage shortly after this marvel of machinery was born in Detroit’s now quiet forge. What a brilliant innovation! Deliberately make junk that breaks and needs to be replaced a few years down the road, forcing your customers to fork over another big capital investment.
This idea worked fine until people began to think “Well, if I’m going to be forced to buy junk anyway, I may as well pay less for it.”
Hence the rise of China and the decline of Industrial America.
Okay, so it’s more complicated than that, but not much.
Meanwhile, as we look to the East — and the Middle East — it’s pretty much trouble as far as the eye can see. In Europe, it’s still who will blink first: Italian tax cheats or German and French bond holders. In South Yemen, a deal was struck which resulted in Saleh stepping down. But guess what? The Mob says “Not enough”. The Mob wants Saleh to be held accountable for his crimes and the murder of his countrymen. The Mob wants justice, in other words.
Take heed, Assad. Take heed, Egyptian military.
Meanwhile, our own Congress behaves as if it had all the time in the world to sort out our mess.
A female ruby throated hummingbird has become a regular visitor to the flower pot on my deck. She looks at me, annoyed (much like Lorraine when I disturb her in the middle of something) as if to say “What? You gotta problem?”, and then flits off. But I hadn’t realized they made a chirping sound.
I got another five star review on Amazon yesterday; the reviewer liked my description of some banking software as “buggier than nightfall over a Bangladeshi rice paddy”. The reference came from a trip I made to that country in the late 80s as a consultant to the UN Capital Development Fund to look at some agricultural credit schemes they had funded. I was in a guest house, and had boarded myself in for the night, when the air conditioning went off. Gradually, the temperature in the room rose: 90, 95, 100, 105… When it reached 120, I couldn’t take it any longer and flung open the unscreened windows.
To paraphrase D.H.Lawrence, describing what it was like to bed down with camel fleas each night in the Saudi desert: “And the mosquitoes rejoiced in the fresh meats served to them.”
Another week of high drama in our fair city with the Republican debate and Obama’s delivery of his job creation package. I enjoyed the debate; the candidates actually went at each other instead of taking the tiresome route of Obama bashing. I liked Huntsman the best, as the only one who seemed to understand that America lives in a new world dominated by the rising giants of China, Brazil and India and it would be competitive suicide to drop biology from our high school curriculae and replace it with Bible studies as Bachmann and Perry will do if elected. Rush Limbaugh cast a big, fat shadow over the debate and those two were careful not to say anything that might upset him and provide fodder for his talk show the following day. Obama’s stimulus, even in the unlikely event it passes, is not going to create enough jobs in time to save him. His fate is in the hands of larger global economic forces at this point.
This post begins a series chronicling my trip to Zambia, accompanied by my brother, Ben, who served as my camera man and raconteur. In this episode, I buy a dress for my granddaughter, Lucy, from a FINCA Zambia client to celebrate her first birthday. The dress is from China. I try, unsuccessfully, to persuade our client, Mavis, to source her inventory instead from the US to help our struggling economy.
Had a fabulous soiree for my book launch last night, hosted by my lifelong friend Dave Weisman and his beautiful wife, Jacqui, at their gorgeous digs on Leroy Street in northwest Washington, D.C. Friends from every segment of my life were in attendance, giving it the feel of wedding reception.
This capped a grueling week long jirga with my FINCA management team where we thrashed out some “allignment issues”, e.g., a pretty major investment in IT in the run up to a major expansion. People in Ops are worried that it may take a while for the snake to digest the frog; the IT team just wants to get on with it. I find these kinds of decisions to be the most difficult to mediate for a non-technical manager like myself. I have to go more on instinct than my limited analytical abilities.
To mitigate the stress, Yuriy, my Regional Director for Latin America, shared with us an anecdote from a woman he knew who had traveled to China in search of a cure for her depression. Like all of Yuriy’s stories, it stretches credulity but he tells it so well he makes you want to be gullible.
It seems the woman, upon arriving in China, was taken by mule to a remote, mountainous province, a journey that took several days. Immediately upon her arrival, she was told she would have to perform a number of demeaning, menial tasks, and that — very important — she would have to maintain a permanent smile on her face, or be relegated to even more arduous, demeaning labors.
Her first assignment was to draw water from the river, which was at the bottom of a deep ravine, which could only be accessed via a steep, narrow, winding, rocky trail. While she smiled bravely during the beginning of the descent, she soon grew cranky and tired, and the corners of her mouth settled into an embittered grimace.
Unbeknownst to the woman, her “hosts” were observing her through powerful binoculars throughout her descent. When she returned, she was scolded severely by her hosts, and told she would spend the next two days cleaning latrines. As unpleasant as these duties were, she did manage to smile throughout, and after a week her depression was cured, never to return.
According to Yuriy there is a scientific explanation for this: smiling introduces bio feedback to the pleasure center of the brain, releasing the endorphins which counteract the depression.
Try it! What have you got to lose?