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During my recent stay in London I appeared on World Finance to highlight the importance of cultivating a strong culture of philanthropy in the UK, and worldwide. In this interview, I also explain how crucial financial services are to development, and poverty alleviation on a global scale.

I want to thank Kumutha for a fantastic interview!

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It’s been a banner week for FINCA! On Tuesday night we celebrated FINCA’s 30th Anniversary at Parliament; gathering together all who bring their skills, expertise, and enthusiasm in support of our organization’s groundbreaking initiatives. FINCA’s Executive Leadership Team with all our subsidiary CEOs were joined by an unprecedented gathering of 150 social enterprise supporters and thought leaders.

Richard Kennedy, the Managing Director of FINCA UK, opened the event by highlighting how FINCA has demonstrated the ability to engage the donor and private sectors to fuel our growth. He also mentioned the growing partnerships which FINCA is developing in the UK with corporations, foundations and social investors to promote our shared social and economic goals.

Laura Hemrika of Credit Suisse described their six year strategic relationship with FINCA which involved the development of ground-breaking local currency bond funds in excess of $60 million, grants for training and development of agricultural products, and opportunities for CS employees to work shoulder-to-shoulder with FINCA subsidiary employees on various products in the field.

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FMH board member Rachel Robbins talked about the role of the board in providing strategic guidance management in the development of future plans.

In my own remarks, I described the future strategy of FINCA, which involves the development of social enterprises in the non-financial sectors of healthcare, renewable energy, water and sanitation, education, and agriculture.

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The next morning, we held a roundtable discussion at The Ivy Club with senior journalists representing the BBC, the Guardian, Bloomberg, Channel 4, Arise TV, The Economist, New African, the Times, the Independent, Ten Alps, Responsible Investor, and Xinhua News Agency. In addition to these esteemed members of the press, we were honored to have with us Lord Collins of Highbury, Shadow DFID Spokesperson, Michael Mercieca of Young Enterprise, Carolyn Clarke of PwC,  Jonathan Tanner of Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative, Amanda Mann and Laura Hemrika of Credit Suisse, and Rachel Robbins.

The full video blog will be online next week.

Congratulations and thanks to everyone who has been a part of FINCA’s remarkable journey!

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Photographs taken by Garry Samuels of Get Shot Photography

Dec
17

My run of 12 five star and 2 four star reviews on Amazon US and UK was ended yesterday by a reviewer in the UK who gave me two stars and began his comments with “This is a worthy book” but followed up soon after with “I’ve read many, many business books and this was one of the worst I’ve read.” He goes on to say he found my anecdotes “dull and uninspiring” and my advice “mundane”.

Well, at least he said it was “one of the worst” and not “the worst.”

It took me back to when, fresh out of the Peace Corps, I audited a creative writing course at NYU, taught by L.J. Davis, a Brooklyn based novelist who had been compared by one critic to Mark Twain for his wild sense of humor. The class was comprised predominantly of professional trade journal writers who were frustrated novelists, whose manuscripts Davis would read aloud to the class and then invite the rest of the class’ praise or excoriation. It was several weeks before Davis got around to reading my manuscript, and I remember him saying “Aha” as I walked into the class. It was my first recognition by a professional writer and it helped sustain me through the next 30 years of disappointment until I finally got published.

Davis had his own disappointments. His first novel in 1971 had received good notices but achieved little commercial success. His next novel came out during our class, and got panned by the New York Times. I remember him walking into class the week after the review came out, looking like a condemned man facing the gallows. “She was just never going to like that kind of book,” he told us, lamenting the NYTs choice of reviewer.

L.J.’s career took a different turn after that, and he became a respected business journalist. I meant to get back in touch with him after my book came out, but in researching this blog I found his obituary: he was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment last April. He had the last laugh, though. His first novel was recently republished to rave reviews. Among his other claims to fame was the fact he once decked a drunken George W. Bush at a Washington party for hitting on his girlfriend.

I just wish I hadn’t waited so long to get back in touch.

Oh, Happy Day!

There is a fascinating game of 3-cornered chicken being played by the political classes of Europe, the UK and the US, which will probably end with all three of our economies going off the cliff, James Dean style at some point in early 2012.

Europe will be the first to go. It’s already driving a car with no brakes. Germany is the only country with a plausible credit rating, which it will lose if it comes to the rescue of Greece, Italy, Spain, Ireland and — eventually — France in a serious way. It won’t do that, and niether will it allow the European Central Bank (in name only) to put enough dough behind the Euro to prop it up over the longer haul. It pretends that if the GISI countries make enough sacrifices they can put things right, even as they know by so doing they will fall deeper into recession and drag Germany with them. As a result, you have a situation where only the “shorts” benefit: Every time the bonds of the GISIs exceed the “default threshold” (7%), the ECB does a timid intervention to push them down a bit, at which point the short selling goes on until they pop back up again. And again, and again….

Meanwhile, in the UK, Cameron and co. have realized that they went too far on deficit cutting, and unemployment is growing and will get worse once the Eurozone goes into deep recession. In the U.S., the Republicans desperately hope Obama will fall into this same deficit reduction trap and do all cost cutting and no further stimulus. They call Obama’s stimulus thus far a “failure”, ignoring the fact that, unlike in the UK and Europe, the economy is beginning to create jobs here and might actually avoid recession if we play our cards right.

To ensure that doesn’t happen, and confidence isn’t restored, the Republicans are torpedoeing the deficit talks as we speak, and praying for a second downgrade — for which they will blame Obama.

Is this a great country or what?

Apr
12

Washington sleeps under a carpet of pollen. It coats the windshields of our cars. It sticks to our clothes and to our animals. If we sleep with the windows open — to turn off the gas and electric bills for those brief days in the fall and spring when we don’t need either the heat or the AC — we awake to what Fitzgerald called “that foul dust that preys on the wake of men’s dreams” covering our sheets.

Spring has grown ever shorter these days, some say due to Global Warming, but this year it came and went not in the course of months, weeks, or even days, but hours. It was exactly two hours long. Sunday the temperature was in the 50s, and yesterday it was in the 80s. Spring happened sometime between midnight and 3 a.m., when it was replaced by summer. The weather is said to be confusing the hell out of the plants and animals, who don’t know when to bloom or mate.

Meanwhile, down in Cote Ivoire, Gbagbo has finally surrendered. Three tyrants down, four more to go. In Yemen, the rebels are saying Saleh is going to face prosecution for killing his protesters.

You have to wonder: don’t these guys see it coming? They must have a lot of dough socked away in the UK or Geneva or Dubai — why don’t they just book while the booking is good? Do they really want to end up like Sadaam, swinging at the end of a rope, Texas style?

They say he was so heavy, or the drop was so far, that his head came off.

Ouch.

I met with the McGraw-Hill London marketing team responsible for sending The Social Entrepreneur’s Handbook rocketing to the top of the bestseller lists in the UK, Europe and beyond. They are an impressive bunch. They showed me around their studio, where we will be trying to set up interviews with the media. I could already imagine myself sitting across from Sir Allen Sugar, parrying hardball questions about FINCA, microfinance, and, of course, my personal life which is always of unfailing interest to the tabloid empire.

Sugar, for those unfamiliar, is the UK equivalent of our own Donaldo Trump. He grew up in a poor section of London, and, starting with an initial equity of 100 pounds, built an empire of business and real estate just south of a billion pounds. He hosts a clone of The Apprentice, with the same format of humiliating young Trump/Sugar wannabe entrepreneurs.

Unlike Trump, who is the king of swaggering, bombastic bragadaccio and outlandish hair, Sugar is the Master of the Glower. The last time he was seen smiling was 1957, when his father broke down and bought him a piece of hard candy.

If I get my shot at him, I pledge to make him laugh.

Meanwhile, on other fronts, Muhammad Yunus is having his “Take that, Madame Prime Minister!” moment by accomplishing what she could not: a face-to-face meeting with Hillary in Washington to discuss the crisis caused by the Bangladeshi government’s ill advised efforts to boot him out of the Grameen Bank. The spectacle of what my partner, John Hatch’s wife, Mimi, called “the world’s most evolved human being” being villified in his home country while in North Africa one of the most evil men on earth clings to power removes any remaining doubt as to whether the Gods have a sense of humor. What would really be fun if Grameen’s millions of clients took a page from the Arabs and filled the streets of Dhaka, clamoring for the Prime Minister’s removal. Nothing scares the hell out a politician like the sight of people in the streets.

And, to complete today’s irony, I am just seeing that the head of the London School of Economics, where I may poke my head in this afternoon at a microfinance conference, has just removed its head because of his ties to Khaddafi. Check it out, it’s an ugly one, complete with academic fraud, curiously timed donations, and the education of a Ghaddafi goon squad.

Have a great day!

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