Friday, December 18, 2009

IF IT IS TO BE, IT IS UP TO ME

LEADING WHERE WE ARE
by OLUWATOSIN AJAYI

What I think is currently wrong with Nigeria:
Lack of Leadership.
Not just the lack of it, but the lack of understanding of what a leader is. Every Nigerian can list what is wrong with the country; every one has a statement that begins ‘What we should do in this country is …’. But very few do anything about it.

I was recently running a discussion for Nigerian students in the UK, and some one said that the problem is the leadership of the country. She said ‘they’ make wrong decisions; that ‘they’ care more about their pockets than the country. When asked who ‘they’ were, she said: ‘the leaders’.

I asked her to define Leadership, and she was stumped. She went away with a paper and pencil and tried to figure something out. She eventually asked me for my opinion.

I think she demonstrated a lot of the general thinking about Leadership among Nigerians, both inside and outside the country. There is a general feeling that Leadership is totally dependent on your position, therefore although most people rightly detect that the problem is Leadership, they wrongly think that it is solely political. This makes the problem ‘they’, never ‘me’.

People rarely ever ask ‘what is my part to play?’ As far as most are concerned, the problem is the government, or the other guy, whatever the case is; the solution rarely ever has to do with the individual who’s making a complaint taking action.

So are they right? Is Leadership something bestowed on the few, and are those few the ones who are to sort out every single problem that exists? Or is Leadership a responsibility we all have, that in whatever sphere of influence we have, no matter how small, we act in a way that improves things and causes others to do the same. In other words, we lead. I say the latter is right.

Going back to the question I was asked by the student. My answer was that Leadership is influence, and you don’t need a position to get that. Everyone has a sphere of influence, so everyone can, and should lead. I ended by giving what I thought was the most important Leadership role in any society, that of the parent. The family is the building block of society, and once the Leadership fails there, the country is in trouble.

So the problem is the understanding of Leadership, but more importantly than at the highest level, at every level. Our biggest problem is that we fail to recognise which area we should be leading in NOW! Once we realise this and start acting on it, we are on our way.

- Oluwatosin Ajayi (May 2008)

I love this essay. This is the new and important thinking that is spreading among Nigerian Youth today: that as the more vibrant half of the population, we (all of us) are the government and must act everyday to make society what we want it to be. HapPY New Year 2010 to all!

Mo Adefeso sends in her essay. She is one deep Nigerian.

What I think is currently wrong with Nigeria
and my thoughts on solutions to address the problem.
Mo Adefeso. April 2008

Most of Nigeria’s major problems - lack of adequate healthcare, falling standards of education, institutionalised corruption, rampant crime, poor transportation, insufficient energy and power provision and disregard for the rule of law - are the ripple effects of fundamental structural problems which originated long before the current dispensation.

Nigeria as a geopolitical entity was created without sufficient consideration for the existing governance structures that characterized the different communities. Successive governments, most of whom were military, focused on the creation of a pseudo-federation, and economic reforms which were not strategically thought through. The resultant devastating effect on Nigeria’s socioeconomic wellbeing has only recently begun to be addressed. There however continues to be little individual commitment to the greater good because that greater good appears non-existent. Citizens have become more concerned with meeting their own needs –often through unscrupulous means, because it is natural to become disenfranchised with a system that disregards human dignity and continues to fail its subjects.

In democratic Nigeria of today, geographical representation at the executive level of government (ministerial appointments) is still erroneously perceived as representative democracy. In addition, the average Nigerian has been socialized not to demand accountability from the leaders he/she has elected (or ever so often that have been selected to govern) and even partakes of the gains of their leaders’ corrupt practices. Our value system has been skewed to the extent that examination malpractices are viewed as ‘simply helping’ each other and the collection of bribes by police officers is considered as routine practice. No community can thrive without adequate mechanisms to enforce the rule of law. In Nigeria today, law enforcement systems which were systematically weakened by several incompetent governments, continue to be challenged. We have a crisis of leadership but there is no crisis of leadership without a corresponding crisis of followership, for people get the leadership they deserve either by their action or inaction.

There is a need for a strategic plan to identify each of the interrelated facets of our societal existence which have been corroded over the years and develop a holistic and systematic approach to correct these. As a people, we must not only acknowledge the mistakes of the past but also take responsibility for our continued exacerbation of same by our mindset and actions. If we are indeed to take a place amongst the world’s leading economies, we must begin to question our national identity, collective priorities and value systems. It is however worth remembering that Nigeria is a nation in transition and historical analyses of the evolution of many ‘developed’ nations reveals that these also passed through phases such as Nigeria is currently undergoing. The solutions to our challenges, though simple, are difficult to implement due to vested interests of those who benefit from the status quo. What is urgently needed is a generation of leaders with a clear and unified vision for the country and its citizens; leaders of all ages and in all spheres of endeavour who would learn from past failures of the country, dare to challenge the status quo, and collectively build and strengthen institutions which would outlive personalities.

- by Mo Adefeso

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Coolest Money/Career Blog ever.


BingBlog really is amazing. Stanley Bing has been a Fortune magazine staple for ten years. How does he do it?

Apologies that recently, upnaira has focused more on griping about Nigeria and hankering after world peace ;) and less on the naira and dollar in your own pocket.
It's been less money/career and more business/economic development. Apologies.
More money features in future, right?

Have a merry Christmas season and a lovely new year.
By the way, what do you think is the coolest Business/Economic Development blog ever? (one candidate is Africa Unchained)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2008 Essay by Rotimi Awopetu. What has changed?

I'm still fishing for short responses to the question: Nigeria's current issues, strategic directions and the author's role in the solution. Here is one by a brilliant Lagosian brother...please enjoy

WHAT I THINK IS CURRENTLY WRONG WITH NIGERIA AND MY THOUGHTS ON POSSIBLE EFFECTIVE SOLUTIONS

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, the 2006 census recording a population of 140m. A nation of abundant natural resources, variegated weather, the economic powerhouse of West Africa-contributing nearly 50% of regional GDP, a member of OPEC and the world's eighth largest exporter of oil. As a matter of fact, revenue from Natural Gas is expected to surpass oil revenues over the next 10 years. Nigeria is also blessed with talented and hardworking human resource. The country is listed among the "Next Eleven" economies, and is one of the fastest growing in the world with the IMF projecting growth of 9% in 2008 and 8.3% in 2009. An evolving democracy and a booming mobile phone sector have also contributed largely to recent economic development. In 2003, Nigerians were reported to be the happiest people in a scientific survey carried out in 65 nations between 1999-2001.

Nevertheless, Nigeria is beleaguered with a myriad of problems: comatose industries & refineries; increasing lawlessness in the oil-producing Niger Delta region; one in five children die before the age of five; 12 million children are not in school. More than 54.7% of the population (75 million people) live below the poverty line in a country where the life expectancy is 47. Also many Nigerians complain they have yet to see any major improvements in the basic infrastructure - power, water and utilities - or in their prospects of getting a job, while prices keep on going up. According to Transparency International, Nigeria still ranks as one of the world's most corrupt countries. Years of military rule, corruption, and mismanagement have hampered economic activity and output in Nigeria and continue to do so, despite the restoration of democracy and subsequent economic reform. Nigeria’s problems are in fact too numerous and complicated.

All the above listed problems can be summed up as BAD LEADERSHIP. The current reality of Nigeria is a direct reflection of the quality of leadership the nation has benefitted from. Once we can get it right with a strong, upright and visionary leadership, all else will fall into place. The other things I think we should expedite actions include:

Promoting shared values. Let’s consider those things that best unite us and celebrate them. Creating a brand for Nigeria

Strengthening the institutions of Judiciary and Law enforcement. Thus creating a system that will check bad leaders from assuming office and also kick out incumbent bad leaders.

Setting a national vision, breaking it down into timelines that are specific and measurable. This should be used to appraise leaders at national, state and local levels and also corporate leaders.

A review of our constitution and removal of immunity clause, rotational presidency and federal character.

A sound education at all levels; primary, secondary & tertiary.

The aforementioned by itself will not suffice unless we develop new thinking, “For as a Man thinketh in his heart so is he”. We need a national re-orientation.

Today’s Nigeria lacks quality education, standard health care and development with all the wealth being displayed. However, Nigeria has a bright future but we must take a stand. Let us stand as a people and resolve to get it right. Nigeria is a fine place worth standing for and we deserve nothing but the best.

- by Mr. Rotimi Awopetu

Thursday, November 26, 2009

LIGHTUPNIGERIA FLASH MOB

What is a flash mob?
Remember them from five years ago?
This is just the flavour of madcap hilarity we need to energize #lightupnigeria. One person picks a date, a time, and a funny central place, emails/texts race across the town within hours, and a crowd of thousands (or maybe just fifty) materializes somewhere: in VI, at a park in Ikeja or Maitama, or in Houston or London. A lightupnigeria flash mob. Hey, why don't you do it, be the first, don't forget to text me oh (my number is on my fb page)

http://www.wordspy.com/words/flashmob.asp
flash mob
(FLASH mawb) n. A large group of people who gather in a usually predetermined location, perform some brief action, and then quickly disperse. —v., —adj.
—flash mobber n.
—flash mobbing pp.

Example Citation:
The Internet has spawned a gaggle of new verbs — Googling, surfing and flaming are words most of us are used to hearing in everyday conversation. Now you can add "flash mobbing" to that list.

In recent weeks, New Yorkers have been using forwarded e-mails to coordinate "flash mobs," or not-so-random crowds that appear and dissipate within a matter of minutes. Is it performance art? The cutting edge of a new social movement? Or just an easy way to flummox carpet salesmen?

To protect the planned serendipity of each event, participants aren't told exactly what the mob is supposed to do until just before the event happens. For the most recent New York happening on July 2, participants passed around an e-mail telling them to assemble at the food court in Grand Central Station, where organizers (identifiable by the copies of the New York Review of Books they were holding) then gave mobbers printed instructions regarding what to do next.

The result: Shortly after 7 p.m., about 200 people suddenly assembled on the mezzanine level of the Grand Hyatt Hotel next to Grand Central Station, applauded loudly for 15 seconds, then left.
—Maureen Ryan, "All in a flash: Meet, mob and move on," Chicago Tribune, July 11, 2003

Earliest Citation:
As proof that some people have way too much time on their hands, consider the "flash mob" phenomenon.

Organizing a "flash mob" basically involves e-mailing a bunch of people with instructions to show up at a certain place for a few moments, then disappear.

According to www.cheesebikini.com, salespeople in New York were a bit confused when there was a huge, instant gathering around a particular rug. The flash mobbers agreed to tell the salespeople they all lived together in a warehouse in Queens and were thinking of buying a rug. The crowd dissipated after precisely 10 minutes. Poof.
—Kim Lamb Gregory, "Briefs," Ventura County Star, July 1, 2003

First Use:
Our senior Manhattan correspondent David Danzig reports that New Yorkers are using e-mail to coordinate "inexplicable mobs" — huge crowds that materialize in public places and suddenly dissipate 10 minutes later.
—Sean Savage, "Flash Mobs Take Manhattan," cheesebikini.com, June 16, 2003

Sunday, November 22, 2009

www at work

Googled "I Hate Criticism" today. Got some helpful, and funny, articles that helped me relax after being criticized with nowhere to turn for relief.
You can search *anything* to suit the situation you're going through, and it helps so much to find immediate help from virtual friends.
Comment if you tried it...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fine Boy, No Pimples :)

Please read the WIRED Interview of Dr. Balagadde at TED

I was just clicking around the web, saw this picture, stopped to look and who was it but dear former Caltecher, Frederick Kigali Balagadde, PhD, and now TED Fellow.

I happen to know that he don try! Remember when he was getting stupid questioning for theft and the like, because he was working all hours of the night and being black looked suspicious. (Like the renowned scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) I even lent him a book once. And shouted "FKB" really loudly when he graduated. Yes, yes, I'm claiming to know the guy :) I don't understand how they do all that fancy micro-fluidics stuff that they do, but I do know that he is a lovely young scientist, who is already doing great things. More power to him.

Please also read his TED Fellow profile and interview, it's a little easier to understand :)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Don't just rebrand, do something!

Nigeria is hosting U-17. Got stuck in traffic last night because the match was in Lagos. Up Naija!

I'm linking to this video of Jay Jay Okocha because the guy has a heart of gold. He just got done training dozens of young Nigerians in an intensive camp for a promotional for Oceanic Bank called Talent Hunt. He is down-to-earth and just great. And in addition to name recognition: when you travel and say you're Nigerian, don't people immediately start naming football players - that's what happens to me o. In addition to that, now he's given more to those youngsters that he trained, and to their families.

Enjoy Okocha's game

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Careers in Africa

Career Fair in Houston
November 20-22, 2009


UPNAIRA. Read More on Money Talk at www.UPNAIRA.blogspot.com

Saturday, November 07, 2009

AJEGUNLE.org

I just can't keep this to myself.
Echoes from Ajegunle reports on Ajegunle.org, a Nigerian NGO which seeks to create better livelihoods for young people in Nigeria’s underserved areas through ICT opportunities, entrepreneurship training, short-term internships, and a Graduate Loan Scheme.
Project Video.
Meet the People
Ajegunle.org

UPNAIRA. Read More on Money Talk at www.UPNAIRA.blogspot.com

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Show about Entrepeneurs


BUSINESS REALITY SHOW:DRAGON'S DEN KICKS OFF LAST NIGHT ON TV...PLUS FACES OF THOSE WHO ARE READY TO STAKE THEIR MILLIONS FOR A GOOD BUSINESS IDEA




The premiere episode of Dragons’ Den Nigeria commenced on a very promising premise. The den had come alive as a Mecca where good business ideas meet great opportunities. The presenter, Nwaji Jibunoh captured the feeling that would permeate this episode in his introduction, “when the entrepreneurs come into the den, they can ask for as much money as they like but in order to convince the dragons to part with their hard-earned cash, they must be willing to answer some tough questions (and defend their business proposals)…also, the pitchers must get the exact amount they are asking for or they leave the den with nothing…”

From his picturesque prologue, Nwaji proceeded to introduce the dragons through an exciting montage; a beautifully captured show of business savvy and material opulence in yachts, luxury cars, and expansive offices; creating an appetite for success in the would-be entrepreneur. The dragons were doing big business, living the good life, and loving it!




More Here
__


Nigeria and indeed Africa needs all the job creators she can get. Until our education and labor policies are directed at creating business owners instead of job seekers, we will remain in one long funk of poverty bred insecurity . 

Thursday, October 01, 2009

I wrote this 16 months ago. What has changed?

What I think is currently wrong with Nigeria and my thoughts on possible effective solution(s) to address the problem. May 2008.

Nigeria is a large country with a unique character. Some of us wish it to be a very great country as well – to wield real power on the world stage or perhaps to be at peace within or to have moral authority without. One challenge is to define to some extent what “good” we want, following which it is natural for us to apply the nation’s resources as well as our will and power to make that dream a reality.

In this essay I’ll focus on objectives that are almost indisputably good, bearing in mind that we often get mired in disputing what is “good.”

Lagos is a mess. Although I have fond memories of the City and even love its character, its danfo buses and all, it is overcrowded and has no apparent plan. The obvious solution is to help the people with mass transit (trains) and to also decongest naturally by having other successful economic centers throughout the country.

Nobody is leading the millions of Nigeria’s young people.
What is the path to success? What should their plan for life be? Hooliganism has become a popular career path: from Yahooligans to area hooligans. Mourn with me the waste of enormous intelligence and energy. Now attack with solutions on the scale of the problem: develop an economy or industry – your own company - that employs many people. Champion tourism. Upgrade a university. Insert your own brilliant idea here. You can be rich and successful while making Nigeria’s socio-economic development your career.

So far I have emphasized that we need more and wider paths to a better life for Nigerians. Next I’ll make additional comments on what I think is for the country’s good.

1. Some people are highly critical of government and they should continue to voice constructive criticism and protest. Their voices are important.

2. Some people are highly religious. They should focus on the personal aspect of religion, which helps govern your own life and be a good part of community.

3. Instead of ganging up people of other beliefs, we should gang up on our problems. We must not ignore the suffering of others, though class and tongue may differ.

4. We should honour our heritage, revel in our arts and culture, and develop our own stories for self-knowledge and for future generations.

5. Please join me and kill the bribery culture. In our country, let money flow through other channels, such as in reward for doing useful work that solves real problems.

As always, voice your own comments at www.UPNAIRA.blogspot.com
Happy October 1st.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What do you say about Ololo?

"Ololo's firms emerged the highest debtors to three of the troubled banks- Finbank, Afribank and Oceanic Bank – with a combined total non-performing loan of N88.3 billion. His indebtedness (or rather that of his companies), raised eyebrows. Not a few wondered how he could have used his companies to secure such massive loans from the banks without making a mark as an entrepreneur with manufacturing concerns and businesses that create wealth and employ thousands from the labour market. The recurring question was how did he manage to instill so much confidence in the banks to get them to extend his companies such massive facilities.
...
The official, in defense of his boss said Ololo borrowed the loans in good faith and has every intention of paying. He said, Ololo could never had thought that things will go bad in the stock market and blamed the banks for egging him on and getting it wrong. "If you want to borrow money from the bank, the practice is that you provide something that is equivalent to the amount you are borrowing. But in this case, it was the share certificates that were used to collaterise the loans, so when their prices fell, he could not repay the loans. It is largely the systemic failure that is responsible for this crisis. He acted in good faith in accordance with the dictates of his enlarged clientele. He is a reputable stockbroker and portfolio manager who used his ingenuity to create liquidity in the capital market." (...Read More)

Although he's a defendant in a civil suit relating to fraud, I would pay to learn from the guy. About the markets, about ethics and the vulnerabilities of the market, about where he screwed up, about how to keep up (or come out tops) as a country/continent in the hypertraded, hyperleveraged world.
Say what's on your mind.
Check www.UPNAIRA.blogspot.com for more.
Add to your facebook notes to share with your friends.
Peace.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Ramadan Mubarak and Meditation

Word of the day: IMPLEMENTATION.
Amen.

Nigeria: E for Effort

In July, I was in the Youth Working Group of National Vision 2020.
Here, on the website of the National Planning Commission are the reports of the National Technical Working Groups: http://www.npc.gov.ng/downloads.php
It is expected that ordinary Nigerians with feedback do their own part to shape the final Vision 2020 document. That is like a mission and vision statement for Nigeria and a plan to make the country one of the 20 largest economies by the year 2020.

I can't find the reports of the Youth Working Group, that will be in a later post, especially if you ask.

Until we lightupnigeria, I suppose we'll always seem to be a far underdeveloped country. Scandals abound, corruption is no myth, and the nation is rife with waste.
YET
We must start somewhere, and I see pockets of progress alongside some attempt to set up structures for a future of prosperity and good governance. Being in Abuja briefly in July and seeing the number of people working in civil society (NGOs and pressure groups) gives one some hope. Lagos has visibly improved. Maybe one or two other states has seen a non-crap leader.

All said, I'll grade Nigeria today a solid E for Effort. I hope that this moves us up to higher grades in future, away from F for f*rubbish. Some of y'all have to be the MVPs that will put in outsize effort and make outsize impact, considering the reality that so many people are working hard to pull us all down. Screw all the thieving liars that want to see things improve for themselves and not for the millions of their brothers and sisters suffering. Is all I have to say.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Unintended consequences

Extracting liberally from Nassim Nicholas Taleb's writing gives one a good idea of how smart people think about complex systems today.

1) Climate Change. I am hyper-conservative ecologically (meaning super-Green). My position on the climate is to avoid releasing pollutants in the atmosphere, on the basis of ignorance, regardless of current expert opinion (climate experts, like banking risk managers, have failed us in the past in foreseeing long term damages and I cannot accept certainty in a certain class of nonlinear models). This is an extension of my general idea that one does not need rationalization with the use of complicated models (by fallible experts) to the edict: "do not disturb a complex system" since we do not know the consequences of our actions owing to complicated causal webs. (Incidentally, this ideas also makes me anti-war). I explicitly explained the need to "leave the planet the way we got it" ...

2) Crashes. [I also] crusade against the risk of financial collapse and the need to robustify society. I find it depressing that the British public could have saved several trillion pounds and hundreds of thousands of jobs had they minded these hidden risks in the system. My position is that a robust system needs to produce frequent crashes, with citizens immune to them, rather than infrequent total collapse, for which we have no robustness. By constraining cycles and assuming "no more boom and bust" (as your current government did) you end up with a very large bust -and I am sure that I do not need more events like the most recent crisis to prove the point...

3) Social Fairness. I spent 13 years fighting bankers bonuses (when nobody else did) and am currently crusading for clawbacks of past compensation as I have shown how regular taxpayers have been financing bonuses of millionaire bankers ("socialism for the losses, capitalism for the profits"). We are financing today those who got us here, with tax hikes on those who do the right thing, and larger tax break for those who blew us up. Companies who made mistakes and fragilized the system are being subsidized by the countercyclical ones who make it more robust...unless we lower debt to "definancialize" the economy (instead of increasing deficits through stimulus) we face more risks of blowups. Read more from source

If you find any of this interests you, and particularly if you are very young, get thee a lot of books that thrill you and perhaps get to a place where people have similar interests so you can talk and learn. I learned a lot of "systems" from being at Caltech, and inspired by John C. Doyle. Sadly, in the real world, there is too little of this kind of understanding. More pertinently, even John's, Nicholas's, my understanding is very shaky and full of holes. The world is waiting for the kids with new ideas to help us understand systems. In this event, rather than not disturbing complex systems, we learn good and unsafe ways to disturb them.

If you're convinced that you're too old for very original thinking, you may still follow the thoughts on systems, complexity, robustness, and the like: If you like maths, any advanced study that makes you understand very well what solutions to ordinary differential equations look like is a great start. Without maths, try Nassim Nicholas Taleb's books The Black Swan and Fooled By Randomness, mostly on finance. I've never read them, but read reviews and discussions about. He's pretty much right.

Study Systems online:
I'm too lazy to read the following, but if you decide to study it, I'll gladly your take questions by email, since it will help me review the material that is supposedly my core area of study.
SYSTEM DYNAMICS SELF-STUDY, courtesy MIT Open Course Ware
"Course Description
Many books and thousands of papers cover the field of system dynamics. With all of these resources available, it can be difficult to know where to begin. The System Dynamics in Education Project at MIT put together these resources to help people sort through the vast library of books and papers on system dynamics. This course site includes a collection of papers and computer exercises entitled “Road Maps,” as well as a collection of assignments and solutions that were initially part of a guided study to system dynamics. Note that while the level of the course indicated in the upper right corner of the screen is "Undergraduate / Graduate," the material is suitable for people ranging from K-12 students to chief executives of corporations."
Download the readings
Post feedback in the comments.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What makes us happy at work? Hint: Times have changed.

Winning the Talent Wars
Source

We live in a world where companies are working exceptionally hard to attract, retain, engage and motivate their talented employees. A new generation of young people has started entering the workplace in the last decade, bringing with them new values, different expectations and a fresh outlook on work and the workplace. The shift in the values of these young people is necessitating a shift in workplace culture. Those companies wishing to attract the attention of these young stars – as employees or customers - must take these shifts seriously.

How Times Change
Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, and TIME magazine’s "Manager of the 20th Century", was asked on his retirement a few years ago what the most significant change in the workplace was during his career. As recorded in an article in Newsweek (4 April 2005), he answered as follows:
“In the 1960’s and 70’s all my direct reports were men. Many of those reports were fathers, and fathers were different then. They did not by and large, attend ballet recitals on Thursday afternoons or turn down job transfers because they didn’t want to disrupt their kid’s sports ‘careers’. Most of their wives did not have jobs with their own competing demands. All that changed of course.”
For Welch, the workplace of his early management days was one where employees were expected to work overtime without question, to be in the office over weekends on a regular basis, and where these things happened with no reference to the personal and family life of the employee. Today's workplace is very different.
The old workplace contract included terms such as “paying your dues” and “the system will provide”. The old contract swapped loyalty for security. In essence, the employee would come into an organisation and sell its products and services to its clients at its price through its channels, using its systems and processes. In exchange for the employee becoming that unmarketable (think about it - the more you learn about one company's systems and processes, the more unmarketable you become elsewhere), the employee was offered one thing in return: security. It was a simple contract, and it worked!
But how many companies can offer security these days? Not one!
Yet, that does not concern today's young workers. They are not asking for security, because they know that it is an illusion, even if it is offered. So, if your company cannot offer security, why is it still asking for loyalty? That's what today's young people want to know. If you can't give a long-term commitment, why are you asking for one?
Today's young people are looking for more than just a secure pay cheque at the end of every month. They are desperate to find deeper meaning, self-development and 1
fulfillment. They want to remain employable - having skills beyond just the current job description, and a confidence that they could get the job anywhere at any time. The more confident they are of that fact, the more likely they are to stay exactly in the place that is giving them that confidence. This is a paradox - but understanding it is the beginning of success with today's young talent.

Wells and Fences
A story might help to explain this. In South Africa, Karoo sheep farmers spend considerable time and resources maintaining the fences at the edges of their farms. Their sheep, in turn, often move to these fences and graze at the edges of the farm - sometimes even putting their heads through the fence to taste the sweet, green grass on the other side.

In Australia, however, most outback sheep stations don't have fences. Their focus is on building wells at the centre of their farms. They believe that the best way to keep sheep on their stations is to dig deep, clear, cool wells of water at the centre, and to draw the sheep in and keep them close.

The same applies in our businesses. Too often, we spend our time building fences (e.g. contracts) to protect the “boundaries”, and don't take the time to make the centre attractive. We focus on stopping people leaving, rather than giving them a reason to stay.

“Every afternoon at about 5 o’clock, all of the assets of this company leave the building and go home. It’s my job to ensure that they want to come back the following morning.” Jim Goodknight, CEO of SAS Institute, consistently rated one of the world’s best companies to work for (from an interview aired on Carte Blanche in July 2006).

Three Spheres of Life
Every human being operates in at least three spheres in their lives. The first is their personal life, which relates to their self, their body and soul. The second sphere is the social, which includes family, friends and community interaction and involvement. The third sphere might be called professional, corporate or work, and involves the income-generating activities of a person's life. These three interlinking spheres of life all need to be addressed by the individual.

Historically, companies have focused almost exclusively on the “work” part of this trio, leaving the individual a few hours a day, or one or two days a week, to look after the other two areas of personal and social interaction on their own. This must change. Companies are now expected to have some input and contribution towards an individual's personal goals and development, as well as their social and family commitments, over and above their interest in the person as a worker and employee.

What You Can Do
In order to build some wells to attract talented people, companies must consider at least the following:
• Work-life integration – we need to go beyond simple “balance” of work and personal commitments and help people to integrate. We already enable them to take work home, with laptops, cellphones and Blackberries, but now we need to reciprocate, and allow them flexibility to let their personal lives intrude into the office. Today’s young people ask questions like: “If I answer emails on a Saturday night, can I take my kids to a movie on Tuesday afternoon? If not, why not?”
• Outputs-based remuneration – companies that have tried flexibility and failed to make it stick invariably did not adjust their remuneration and reward systems to take account of the work-life shift. To be truly effective, you need to pay people for what they produce, not how many hours they spend doing it.
• Better use of technology – to achieve the above two goals requires everyone to use mobile and interactive technologies, and especially requires leaders to learn new skills of managing virtual teams.
• Significance – they need challenging work that stretches and develops them, and a sense that they are contributing to changing the world in some way.
• Mentoring – they need access to the senior leaders in their company, to learn the things you can’t read in books or get from studying. They want to have access to the years of wisdom often locked up in the unwritten instincts of those who have been on the job for a few decades.
• Savvy Leadership – to achieve all of these, companies need new types of leaders that are not constrained by command and control approaches, but are willing to learn, unlearn and relearn on an ongoing basis.

The war for talent is not a temporary blip in corporate history. It is a new reality that is here to stay, and the sooner companies make adjustments to their cultures, the more competitive they will be able to become. Talent is the most important component of a sustainable competitive advantage in the 21st century.

Found at http://www.rawltd.com via MIT OpenCourseWare
Find more at TomorrowToday's blog and Ethical Customers

The author, Dr Graeme Codrington, is an international expert on talent and the future of work. He works with TomorrowToday.biz, a strategy consultancy focused on helping companies get the most out of their leaders and talented staff and customers. He can be contacted at graeme@tomorrowtoday.biz. See more by the author at www.graemecodrington.com

Hmm, food for deep thought.

Monday, August 24, 2009

International Development Design Summit

The International Development Design Summit is put on by Amy Smith and her students at MIT. This year it took place in Kumasi, Ghana – which will be followed by Maker Faire Africa this weekend in Accra, where some of their work will be shown.

Here’s a quick list of the projects they have been working on over the last five weeks:

- A press that speeds up the process of extracting oil from shea nuts- A device for generating electricity from a playground carousel

- A machine for making recycled plastic products from used water sachets- A set of tools for threshing groundnuts

- A mechanism for producing chlorine from salt water using readily available materials

- A simple, low cost battery made from local materials, for household lighting and other uses

- A human powered grating machine for speeding up cassava processing

- A thresher to improve the quality of rice by preventing stones from mixing with the grains

- A chlorine dispenser for disinfecting drinking water

- A family friendly latrine designed to promote use and hygiene among young children

- A device for monitoring the growth of children under five through cell phone technology

- A container that extends the shelf life of tomatoes during transport and storage


Niall Walsh also outlines the importance of IDDS's move to Ghana this year:

The main difference between IDDS Ghana and IDDS in MIT is the proximity to community partners and potential end users of the projects. IDDS prides itself on the spirit of co-creation and this movement from the States to Africa is a crucial one in line with this vision. The difference between participants sitting in lecture halls in MIT, learning about international development and the importance of speaking to at least fifty villagers before designing a technology, and actually living with and talking to hundreds of villagers all over the country, is immeasurable.
In total IDDS this year worked with ten villages throughout the Bromg – Ahafo and Ashanti regions and teams had the chance to make three separate two night visits (spread throughout the design process to make sure they had input into every stage) to these villages. Among a huge number of other factors, the simple experience of having end users actually become extremely excited about your prototype, and seeing them test it out, is an incentive for teams to continue their project after IDDS.

More here
reBlog from Emeka Okafor, Timbuktu Chronicles, Aug 2009

Nigerians in Diaspora


There is a Committee on Diaspora Affairs in the Nigerian House of Representatives. The current chair is named Abike Dabiri-Erewa.

I sometimes think *somebody* could help promote working visits for interested highly-skilled workers, especially Nigerians in Diaspora. Now I hope the somebody could come from Diaspora Affairs.

Like if you had one month, three months, or say a year off from normal employment at say Microsoft, the Mayo Clinic, or MIT, and wanted to do something useful in Nigeria, how to go about it? How to find the place where your skills are most needed and apply yourself to that for several hours a day (and not to figuring out bureaucratic crap among red-tape artists, for instance)?

One way is to go for NYSC (like I just did) if you're under-30. It's only 11months at most, and it's a lot of fun. It's real: nobody will stop you from making a contribution (once you've figured out the system a bit, that is.)
I've also heard of the occasional program for doctors to volunteer their time in Nigeria.
I haven't heard of an IT program, really.
But these kinds of things need to be massively encouraged, and the scale needs to be greatly increased. We need not 100 skilled visitors a year, but perhaps 10000 or more.

In this post, I'm focusing on science and tech fields, because I have seen the specific need for rural doctors, for IT expertise, and for state-of-the-art tertiary education. Yes, I'm sure such a plan can be extended to several other fields too (agriculture, government, risk management, ...)

What do you think? What would you have to have guaranteed before you venture to Nigeria for a one-month work leave? Is it a matching salary? Is it a certificate? Appreciation? Housing? Security? Or just a visa? Would you have to live with your folks, or would you be open to seeing some new parts of the country? Or you're just not going to Nigeria for work, period?

Please post a comment at www.upnaira.blogspot.com

Consider visiting the tres-modern website of the House Committee on Diaspora Affairs and sharing your ideas and opinions there as well.

Cheers.


Update, September 2009
In related news, the National Planning Commission engages Nigerians in the diaspora for National Vision 2020...
NPC engages Nigerians in the Diaspora for NV2020

London, August 2009 - Nigerians living in the United Kingdom and the United States have canvassed for greater involvement of Nigerians in the Diaspora (NIDs) in the NV 20:2020 process, especially in the implementation phase. This request is one of the outcomes of the town hall meetings held with them by a delegation of National Planning Commission officials, NV 2020 Secretariat and Accenture, the lead consultants for the process. The delegation, led by the Honourable Minister of National Planning, Dr. Shamsudeen Usman, was in London from Aug.20-21 and in Washington from August 22-23. In London, the meeting, which was held under the auspices of the Central Association of Nigerians in the UK (CANUK), was attended by over 200 people from all walks of life. The association challenged the Federal Government on the need to faithfully implement the recommendations in the final blueprint. They called for social welfare of the citizenry to be central to the outcomes of the Vision exercise,continuous reform of the Civil Service, and the need for Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) to be an integral part of the Vision implementation, among other issues. In his presentation, the Minister challenged NID to support initiatives drawn up in the Vision document with analysis of where gaps exists, implementation strategy and canvassing for investments to support Nigeria's infrastructural development, using their links abroad. The town hall meeting held at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington was convened based on requests made by the US Chapter of NID to the Business Support Group (BSG) of the NV20:2020. Exploring areas of collaboration towards the implementation of the NV20:2020 blueprint was also central to the need for the trip, NPC said. A key outcome of the meeting was the need for the Federal Government to create unique roles for NID in the Vision process through the launch of a Think Tank. As a first step, the NPC was enjoined to initiate the creation of a database of NID, to serve as a reference point for any request for subject matter experts abroad by Nigeria's development partners.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Seven Wonders of Nigeria

You've been reading about Dora Akunyili's charge to rebrand Nigeria. "Good people, Great Nation," goes the slogan. What if we had a list to direct tourists to seven most treasured destinations (everybody knows that in Egypt you must see the Pyramids and in India you must look for the Taj Mahal.) What would be on that list?

What are the Seven Wonders of Nigeria? Why?

Some suggestions are Yankari (I just visited), the much talked about Tinapa/Calabar experience, and maybe some of those beaches in Lagos.
Maybe you prefer the very historical, like Nok or Igbo-Ukwu sites; the cultural, like Argungu Fishing festival, Eyo masquerades, Durbar horseracing festivals; the macabre, like the bullet-ridden car in which Murtala Muhammed was assassinated.
Is there a church/mosque grand enough to merit inclusion on the list? A theater, museum, stadium? A football?

Chime in below.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Happy Lagosian!

Physical development of Lagos has been outstanding in the past few years...this blog documents its all

http://happylagosian.blogspot.com

I have some few pictures to share for those who mind..of course, surf to my picasa folder called Lagos of 2006 to see the difference...it is a new Lagos. Eko o ni baje!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Croton Biodiesel Fueling Mt Kenya matatus

[Nairobi, Kenya]
Well, I just got my hands on some biodiesel based on the indigenous croton megalocarpus tree that's ubiquitous in East Africa. My contacts in the Nyeri/Nanyuki region (near beautiful Mt. Kenya - aka Mt. Kirinyaga - which sits right on the equator) are able to produce about 500 Litres a day, and then reselling it at about KShs 55 per Litre. CHEAPER than diesel.

So, if you peeps in the West (or other parts of Africa) are looking for something "hot" to invest in, I'd say a project like this has no way to go but up. Incidentally, this project could use more "investment" for expansion.

Think green energy and how keeping monies that would've been spent on petrol will go to better use supporting local farmers and the domestic economy. This is the key to Africa's prosperity.

By the way, we're soon gonna get started on hemp cultivation here in East Africa. You can find out more on my Twitter updates: http://Twitter.com/MaxTheITpro

Related links:

Monday, April 20, 2009

Get the Conversation Started

TOSIN SAID:

P.P.S. Maybe we can arrange a chat between Africans returned to Africa and those thinking of returning...Shall we?

Who will get us started? Some of us can't wait to hear...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Work to Love

Two articles in today's New York Times address an issue I've been thinking about, we all have, for some time. Meaningful work; work that fits into life as you dream it, not work as a wage slave. you know what I mean. Check them out:

In the bubble decade, making money as an end in itself boomed as a calling among students at elite universities like Harvard, siphoning off gifted undergraduates who might otherwise have been scientists, teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs, artists or inventors. The Harvard Crimson reported that in the class of 2007, 58 percent of the men and 43 percent of the women entering the work force took jobs in the finance and consulting industries. The figures were similar everywhere, from Duke to the University of Pennsylvania. Dan Rather, on his HDNet television program in December, reported that at Penn this was even true of “over half the students who graduated with engineering degrees — not a field commonly associated with Wall Street.”

Clearly the last person to serve as an inspiring role model for alternative values would have been Summers. But in her first baccalaureate address last June, his successor as Harvard president, Drew Gilpin Faust, stepped into that moral vacuum, zeroing in on the huge number of students heading into finance, consulting and investment banking. “Find work you love,” she implored the class of 2008. The “most remunerative” job choice “may not be the most meaningful and the most satisfying.”

This same note was hit a month earlier by the commencement speaker at Wesleyan University, Barack Obama. “The big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should buy,” he said, amount to “a poverty of ambition.” He wasn’t speaking idly. As America knows, Obama turned down the lucrative career path guaranteed to the first African-American president of The Harvard Law Review to pursue the missions of service and teaching instead. The potential rewards for our country, now that that early choice has led him into the White House, are enormous.

But it’s hardly a given that the entrenched money culture has evaporated along with the paper profits it generated. One skeptic is Howard Gardner, the Harvard education professor who has created seminars at several elite colleges to counsel students in the notion of pursuing meaningful, ethical and effective work — “Good Work,” as he has titled it. He believes that many students may still be operating on the assumption that the world of finance will just pick up where it left off in a few years. “But we’re not going to be back there,” Gardner told me last week, “and we shouldn’t be back there.”

He notes that while the New Deal was built from ideas developed in the Progressive Era and that the Reagan counterrevolution was the culmination of the conservative movement of the 1950s and ’60s, there is as yet “no counternarrative to replace ‘money is king.’ ” The post-crash influx of graduates into Teach for America, while laudable, may be transitory unless there’s the political vision and leadership to make altruistic values stick after our crisis has passed. “It’s completely up in the air what’s going to happen,” Gardner said.
From an opinion piece in the New York Times. Read More...

“In choosing careers, young people look for signals from society, and Wall Street will no longer pull the talent that it did for so many years,” said Richard Freeman, director of the labor studies program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. “We have a great experiment before us.”

What will the new map of talent flow look like? It’s early, but based on graduate school applications this spring, enrollment in undergraduate courses, preliminary job-placement results at schools, and the anecdotal accounts of students and professors, a new pattern of occupational choice seems to be emerging. Public service, government, the sciences and even teaching look to be winners, while fewer shiny, young minds are embarking on careers in finance and business consulting.

For the highest-paid business fields, the outlook is for a tempering correction instead of an all-out exodus. At Harvard, for example, about 40 percent of undergraduates in recent years went into the most lucrative corporate arenas like finance and consulting, based on surveys at the school year’s end. “That certainly won’t be the case this year,” observed Lawrence Katz, a professor and labor economist who has studied undergraduate career choices at Harvard going back to the 1960s. “We’re seeing students who would have been part of the Ivy League pipeline to Wall Street in the past considering very different career paths.”

Kedamai Fisseha, a 21-year-old senior, is one of them. An economics major, Mr. Fisseha says he always assumed he would go into finance, and his summer internship last year was at the investment bank Morgan Stanley. Yet after Wall Street’s meltdown, job prospects there have withered. Instead, he is interviewing with Teach for America, a nonprofit group that recruits college graduates to teach in hard-to-staff schools for two-year stints. (After that, only one-third stay in the classrooms, though two-thirds remain in education.)

Mr. Fisseha regards the turn of events as an opportunity to broaden his horizons. “It’s been liberating, and lucky for me,” he said. “But your situation does dictate your preferences.”

Graduate schools of government and public policy are seeing a surge of applications. In a survey of its members released last week, the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration found that 82 percent reported an increase in applications this year, and many saw the largest percentage jumps in several years, or ever. The most-cited reason was the expectation by students that government will be hiring.

Still, the appeal of public sector careers extends beyond job openings, say school officials. The laissez-faire presumption that government is not the solution but the problem, dating back to the Reagan era, has been cast aside, they say.

The government’s need to step in with financial bailouts and recovery programs to steady the economy is seen as the immediate proof, they say, but not the only one. The environment, energy and health care also pose huge, complex challenges. “Young people today understand that government has a powerful role to play in solving these problems,” said Sandra Archibald, dean of the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington, where applications this year are up 26 percent.

Government school officials also point to an Obama effect: his election as an endorsement of government activism.

From "With Finance Disgraced, Which Career Will Be King?" Read More...
Well, there's always Nigeria etc. In Africa there's raw talent. There's high population. There are problems. There is a great need for competence in several fields. There is low-hanging fruit, so you can with little effort make a huge impact. There's often not the huge pay that you can expect in the West, although that can be arranged sometimes. It's worth a try.

P.S. Ask me about my own time in Nigeria (July 2008-July 2009) sometime.

P.P.S. Maybe we can arrange a chat between Africans returned to Africa and those thinking of returning...Shall we?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Spitzer: Huge Fan Of His. Have to be.

Source
On today’s edition of CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS," former Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer appeared on the program for his first television interview since resigning. A full transcript of the program is below.

Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

This has been another week of outrage over Wall Street. But mixed in with the outrage, there continues to be a bewilderment about how these problems in the financial industry could have been piling up without warning.

When being briefed by academics from the London School of Economics, Queen Elizabeth II asked a simple question: Why did nobody notice it?

In fact, some people did notice it. Warren Buffett, Paul Volcker and others did warn about the danger of derivatives and debt. Others warned about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

But through all these warnings, the markets kept rising. Financial firms minted money. The naysayers looked like fuddy-duddies, and the risk-takers like geniuses. No one likes to fight success.

Actually, there was one guy who took on the financial firms at the height of their prestige and power when the country, the media and Washington were gushing with admiration.

That man was Eliot Spitzer.

And he is my guest today, for his first interview since resigning as governor of New York.

You remember him as the governor of New York who resigned after a scandal involving prostitution. But think back before then. He was the attorney general of New York who went after Merrill Lynch, prosecuted AIG and several other institutions for practices he argued were corrupt, fraudulent and illegal. Those prosecutions were deeply controversial, and Spitzer made most of Wall Street his enemy.

I'm going to talk to him about what he thinks about the world he's watching today.

ZAKARIA: So, now to my guest today, former governor of New York, former attorney general of New York, Eliot Spitzer.

Welcome.

ELIOT SPITZER, FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK: Thank you. A pleasure to be here.

ZAKARIA: When you saw the news about these AIG bonuses, what did you think? This was the company that you prosecuted way back when.

SPITZER: On the one hand, I was not surprised. Bonuses are part and parcel of Wall Street compensation. And I think if you looked at any company, you would see bonuses of an equivalent size.

So I think to a certain extent, what we are now doing is looking at what is a typical part of Wall Street compensation, voicing a visceral outrage that is legitimate, but is not particular to AIG.

ZAKARIA: But when you took on AIG, what troubled you about it?

What made you look at AIG and say something's wrong here?

SPITZER: Their fundamental accounting structure was wrong. And when we prosecuted them, we brought a case alleging that they had manufactured false, fictitious reinsurance contracts. It's a very technical issue, but there were false reinsurance contracts designed to create the appearance of capital on the books, which was not there. And this was a structure that had been designed and orchestrated at the very top of the company.

And as we dug into the accounting...

ZAKARIA: So, they were basically fudging the numbers to make it seem as though they had a stronger balance sheet than they had.

SPITZER: Precisely. That's exactly right.

And the underlying effort was to create an illusion of financial strength that was not there. And as we dug more deeply into the underlying structure and organization and accounting that was ongoing at the company, we knew there was a problem.

And just parenthetically, four people have been convicted of this.

The former CEO was called an unindicted co-conspirator in the federal courtroom by the federal prosecutor. So, this was a fundamental effort to alter the actuality and to lie to the public.

ZAKARIA: So, do you think that the problems that AIG got into later on stem from some of the same practices that you were trying to get at?

SPITZER: They stemmed from an effort from the very top to gin up returns whenever, wherever possible, and to push the boundaries in a way that would garner returns almost regardless of risk.

And so, to the extent that there is a discussion, did this begin before or after the tenure of Hank Greenberg, it's unambiguous -- unambiguous that the structures and the flaws and the policies began while he was there. That is why the board that he had controlled with an iron fist asked him to leave. It was their decision -- not my decision, their decision -- to ask him to step down, something that was then and is now very unusual.

He has invoked the Fifth Amendment, which, of course, is his right to do. But he was asked to leave by his own board, because they saw the flaws and the problems that have since multiplied and created this monster that can bring down the financial system.

Back then I said to people, AIG is at the center of the web. The financial tentacles of this company stretched to every major investment bank. The web between AIG and Goldman Sachs is something that should be pursued.

And as I have written...

ZAKARIA: Meaning what? Meaning that a lot of the money that we the taxpayers gave AIG has ended up being paid to Goldman Sachs...

SPITZER: Precisely. And...

ZAKARIA: ... and other companies.

SPITZER: The so-called counterparties to these very sophisticated financial transactions.

When AIG initially received $80 billion -- a decision that was the consequence of a very brief meeting of the president of the New York Fed, the secretary of the Treasury, perhaps Chairman Bernanke and arguably, some reports say, the chairman of Goldman Sachs -- $80 billion, virtually all of it flowed out to counterparties, $12.9 billion to Goldman Sachs.

Why did that happen? What questions were asked? Why did we need to pay 100 cents on the dollar on those transactions, if we had to pay anything? What would have happened to the financial system, had it not been paid?

These are the questions that should be pursued. Look, bonus is a real issue. It touches us viscerally. The real money and the real structural issue is the dynamic between AIG and the counterparties.

ZAKARIA: Because those payments are in the tens of billions of dollars. The bonuses are a few hundred million.

SPITZER: The bonuses we think are $164 million, give or take -- huge money. I mean, nobody should diminish that. These counterparty payments, tens and tens of billions of dollars.

ZAKARIA: And it, to your mind, it seems as though this taxpayer money may have been recklessly and unwisely paid off?

SPITZER: Well, it may be that a case could be made that it should have been paid.

But at a moment in our nation's history when everybody is being asked to bear a piece of the burden -- everybody -- people are being told work four days a week, not five. Sales taxes are going to go up.

Contracts are being broken and renegotiated for workers across America.

Our 401(k)s and our savings have been depleted by the recklessness of Wall Street.

For Goldman and the other counterparties not to be able to say, we can make do with only 50 cents on the dollar, 30 cents on the dollar, after we've already given Goldman a $25 billion cash infusion, they are sitting on vast amounts of cash on the sidelines -- which is their right, but they're going to invest it in due course, based upon their judgment -- for them, on top of all that to get another $12.9 billion in the dark without questions, after a meeting of this sort, is fundamentally wrong. And that is the nature of the inquiry that should be raised.

ZAKARIA: Is there, as far as you know, a congressional inquiry into these monies?

SPITZER: I do not know if there is or isn't. I certainly hope that Barney Frank, who is the chairman of the right committee, will do so.

He's a brilliant guy, a spectacular legislator and lawyer. I have absolute confidence that if he pokes at this, he will get to the bottom of it.

He is somebody -- there are many on Capitol Hill who are beating their chests so loudly, you know it's just a cover-up of their neglect and failure over the last decade. They sat there and watched and did nothing, as they clearly should have known that we were building a system that was a house of cards. And they enjoyed it and prospered from it, and there was a symbiotic relationship between them and Wall Street.

Barney Frank is not one of those. Barney Frank will ask the right questions, and I hope he does.

ZAKARIA: Was the regulation -- was the regulatory regime in place strong enough? And I'm thinking particularly of the New York Fed, which was headed by Tim Geithner, of the SEC?

Where do you see the flaw having been over the last few years?

SPITZER: Here's my answer to that. The regulatory system was structurally flawed, but that's not why this happened.

After the last round of scandals -- Enron, et al. -- we passed Sarbanes-Oxley. And we said, aha, we've solved the problem. Now we have another set of scandals.

There are enough laws, enough regulations on the books for smart, aggressive regulators and prosecutors to make all the cases. What was missing was judgment. And you can't legislate judgment. You can't regulate judgment.

Either the people who are the regulators will walk into a bank and say "Your leverage is too great. We are going to take actions to pull it back," or "This type of investment is flawed," or they won't. You can't pass a law that says, you must use sound judgment.

Bubbles have been there through history, through over-regulation and under-regulation. This is a question of judgment and of failure of judgment.

When I was attorney general, people said, "Oh, you're using this crazy little statute," the Martin Act in New York, "to bring all these cases." The Martin Act had a simple anti-fraud provision. That's all we used.

The federal government has exponentially more regulatory power than we did. What was lacking was the judgment, the tenacity, the desire to rein in a financial system that was spiraling out of control.

ZAKARIA: How do you think President Obama is handling this crisis?

SPITZER: Well, I think he is doing stupendously. I mean, I'm a huge fan of his. I think we all have to be and should be, if only because he has been thrust into a dynamic that is almost impossible.

He is trying to put out not 500 small fires, 500 forest fires simultaneously. And he is addressing them sequentially, trying to keep a political coalition together. But it's very hard.

And I think one of the largest, most difficult tasks that he has is to control the outrage that is brewing in the public -- sympathize with it and garner it, but use it to get good policy, not policy based upon anger.

Populism, if we go to the other extreme -- and we had libertarianism masquerading as capitalism for the past 30 years. That didn't work.

And we knew it wouldn't work.

I'm worried that we will go to the other extreme and end up with rank populism. That could be just as dangerous.

And it's very hard to craft the reasoned policies that make the market work without losing the support of the public. That's what he's trying to do. It's a very difficult task.

He is a brilliant communicator and a brilliant leader, and I think we all have to hope that he succeeds.

ZAKARIA: Do you worry about this kind of populist anger when you watch the outrage over the bonuses?

SPITZER: Yes, yes. The outrage is legitimate, but it is being fomented by sort of a faux populism by many on Capitol Hill who saw this coming, who knew this was going on.

And so, I look at them and I say, "Come on, guys. You're supposed to be more mature. Express the anger, but then say, how do we solve it? Don't just throw more oil on the fire."

And I am worried about that. And I'm worried that it will be destructive to our capitalist system. And I've said since the very beginning, that my energy was directed at preserving and protecting capitalism.

The libertarians didn't understand it. Populists don't understand it. But capitalism is what we want to preserve.

ZAKARIA: A simple legal question. If you were in a position where you could do something about it, what would you do about the bonuses?

Legally, what strategy would you employ?

SPITZER: I think I might go back to a very old tort theory of unjust enrichment -- contract theory, tort theory -- and say, you know what, guys? There's a theory in the law that says -- a couple of theories -- one impossibility saying, AIG just doesn't have the money to pay you. And absent the federal infusion, it wouldn't have it, so we can't pay.

And second I would say, unjust enrichment. You simply don't deserve it. It's an equitable argument. Some courts might go for it, some courts might not.

But as a practical matter, as the president of the United States, I think I would call the CEOs into the Oval Office. And I would say, "Guys, this is untenable. We're all going to have to suck it up a little bit and show the American people that we know what it means to be part of a community, and share the sacrifice. Let's see if we can't solve this without the legal wrangling."

And I bet he could. I have no doubt that President Obama could do that.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back with Eliot Spitzer right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: You know there are a number of people watching who are going to say, Eliot Spitzer doesn't have credibility to talk about these issues, because of what happened over the last year with your own behavior.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: And we are back with Eliot Spitzer.

Eliot, you've spent a lot of time looking at Wall Street, battling with them often. What do you think is the fundamental thing that got us into this mess?

SPITZER: Recklessness, greed and a misunderstanding of what capitalism is all about, and a belief that financial services alone could generate wealth.

Financial services doesn't really generate wealth. Financial -- the capital markets are designed to raise money and then apportion it to industries that are creative, whether it's biotech or automotive, or anything else.

Financial services should be a conduit. Instead, we became enamored of the products themselves. And what resulted was this enormous bubble in assets, ginned up and supported by a financial services sector that, because of a series of improper incentives, got us to where we are right now.

ZAKARIA: And what should have been done? Should there just have been a lot more attorneys general like you kind of battling this?

SPITZER: We had one who was enough, I thought. But it was...

ZAKARIA: But should there have been a different kind of regulation? How should this have been prevented?

SPITZER: There should have been a very different regulatory framework. Not in the sense that we needed more words in the books. We needed more aggressive voices at the SEC, the FTC, the OCC -- this welter of federal agencies -- people who came to Wall Street and said, "Wait a minute. That leverage is crazy."

And it was -- it's kind of odd, because everybody derided leverage in public, but in private, participated to the hilt. And when you look back at these deals you say, this was crazy. We needed regulators who said it. We needed wiser voices on Wall Street.

This was sort of a disease that got into the bloodstream and the DNA of Wall Street leadership.

Now, there were some who were spectacular who disagreed with it, who said, "Wait a minute, guys. We can't afford this."

The more traditional, old-fashioned investment bankers -- you think of Felix Rohatyn, who said, "Wait a minute, guys. This doesn't work."

And...

ZAKARIA: Right, right. Or Warren Buffett or Paul Volcker...

SPITZER: Or Warren Buffett. Well, I love Warren Buffett. We all do. He also invested in some of these vehicles that had the leverage, but I think he always was a voice of modulation.

And we needed more of that and, frankly, less of the sort of, you know, hotdog, cowboy mentality that leveraged everything up, sent it out so that people would structure deals without retaining any of the ownership.

If you want a technical answer, all of the securitization that was done, where you had the rating agencies, you had the originators who would originate loans they knew were bad, securitize them, get AAA ratings, securitize it out into a market -- they didn't maintain any ownership.

So, a simple rule could be, if you securitize a stream of debt, you've got to retain 10, 15, 20 percent, so you are at risk. You evaluate deals very differently if you are actually at risk, rather than merely selling it to somebody else.

ZAKARIA: And that could have been part of the regulation.

SPITZER: Absolutely. The power of the federal agencies to do this stuff was unlimited.

And any time I hear the SEC say, we didn't have the power to do this or that, forget it. They had more people, more power, more money than was necessary. What they lacked was the creativity and the will.

ZAKARIA: In a sense, this is almost a greater failure of Washington than Wall Street.

SPITZER: Well, there have been debates -- Washington, Wall Street.

It's one of those debates where, of course, both were at fault.

Now, I happen, having been on the government side, to have a slightly more aggressive view of what government should do, perhaps.

And I believe that Wall Street was at fault for fostering an ideology, and imposing an ideology, or buying its way into an ideology in Washington that said, "Let us alone. We will self-regulate."

So, Wall Street created this notion of self-regulation, sold it to Washington with all of its tremendous capacity through fund raising and intellectual capital. Washington was happy enough to succumb to the temptation.

Self-regulation was a mirage. It was an abject failure. Some of us were saying, it always will be a failure.

So, Wall Street is to be blamed for creating the notion, Washington is to be blamed for buying into it. Who's more at fault is sort of a puerile debate, but I think both parties.

ZAKARIA: What about the media, CNBC? You actually know Jim Cramer. You know all the parties involved.

SPITZER: Full disclosure. Jim is a great and close friend. And I think he took his licks from Jon Stewart last week. And Jim said on the show, "Yes, we have to have done better."

And I think the media -- writ large. I mean, forget CNBC. I think the entire media -- print media, TV media, et cetera -- did not ask the hard questions as these deals were being structured, as the bubble was inflating.

We turned the Wall Street masters of the universe into these icons, who bestrode the universe and made no mistakes, when I think a more inquisitive attitude would have said, "Wait a minute, guys. This won't last."

And so, I think, yes.

We're all at fault, which is why the search for villains is emotionally satisfying, not terribly useful. The better effort is, OK, what do we learn? What do we do going forward?

ZAKARIA: Now, a lot of people look at your prosecutions, and they say, "Look. This was very unfair, very selective. You would threaten these companies, therefore plunging their stock price. In many cases you didn't get convictions. If this is the model, it's not going to work. It's unfair."

SPITZER: Well, I think they're wrong, needless to say. But I think if you look at the cases, the analyst cases where we highlighted -- you referred to the Merrill Lynch case where, at the end, we got Merrill, Goldman, Bank of America -- all the major firms, all of the bulge-bracket firms -- to agree to an entirely new structure of doing analytical work, which was necessary for the integrity of the marketplace.

Whether it was insurance, mutual funds, analytical work, on and on, each of the major areas we looked at, we sought to craft a solution.

ZAKARIA: But your real leverage was that, once you go out in the public, their share price starts dropping and...

SPITZER: No question about it. And I'll give you a real example of that, and you can evaluate it as you wish, with Merrill Lynch.

They wanted us to settle. They would have paid some money. But they said, you must keep all the evidence secret."

And I said, no, my job as a public prosecutor is to explain to the public what the problems are in Wall Street. I said, that is the only way we will get a remedy. And I said, we must present this to the public. It may be right, it may be wrong.

And we didn't do this to hurt individuals. And we took out the names of most of the individuals. But we said, the public has to understand why the market is flawed.

And I think it's fair to say we, several years ahead of time, were saying, be careful, beware of what is going on here. I'm not pretending to see everything. I'm not pretending to be smarter or better than anybody else, just saying, wait a minute. We have seen a problem that, if not addressed, will be the downfall of the market.

ZAKARIA: But you got very few convictions.

SPITZER: No, we -- well, first of all, most of the cases were civil cases. And there was a reason for that. I did not believe in taking one individual and making him the subject of all the venom. I said, this is a civil issue. Resolve it with the company.

I tried very hard not to vilify individuals, because it wasn't a mid-level executive who was the problem. It was the whole structure.

And that's why the global deal was with all the banks.

We didn't say to individual X, you're the problem. That's a mirage. That is an emotional, as I said, an emotionally satisfying effort, but it would not have solved the problem.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back with Eliot Spitzer right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPITZER: I never held myself out as being anything other than human. I have flaws, as we all do, arguably. I failed in a very important way in my personal life, and I have paid a price for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: And we are back with Eliot Spitzer.

You know, there are a number of people watching who are going to say, Eliot Spitzer doesn't have credibility to talk about these issues, because of what happened over the last year with your own behavior.

What would you say to them?

SPITZER: I would say to them that I never held myself out as being anything other than human. I have flaws, as we all do, arguably. I failed in a very important way in my personal life, and I have paid a price for that.

I have spent a year with my family, with my wonderful and amazing and forgiving wife and three daughters, and have rebuilt those relationships, and hope to do that as time goes on.

I also feel that, to the extent, if I'm asked, and I can contribute to a very important conversation, I will do that as well. That is our right, arguably our obligation as citizens. I will do what I can, and with full awareness and heaviness of heart about what I did.

ZAKARIA: But it wasn't just a personal failing. There were also legal issues involved...

SPITZER: Well, those were not pursued by those who decided to pursue them.

But I have made no excuses. I have not shirked, and I will not do so. I failed. I resigned my position, because I said this is the appropriate step for me to take.

ZAKARIA: Do you feel like you wish, watching all this, you were back in office doing something about it?

SPITZER: Well, obviously, I, first and foremost, hope that we can solve the problems, because the future of our economy -- and without overstating it, our nation -- is at stake here. If I can contribute, I will do so in whatever way I can.

Obviously, I care deeply about these issues. They were central to what I did as attorney general. And so, I read the papers and say, sure, these are issues that I feel deeply about. But I am where I am, because of my own conduct. And as I said, I make no excuses.

ZAKARIA: Do you imagine you could ever be back in government?

SPITZER: I don't think about it. I don't worry about it. I focus on a family, on the issues. If I write an occasional column and speak occasionally, that is all I'm doing.

ZAKARIA: Eliot Spitzer, thank you for coming on.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

An interesting take on Africa

...Her resources..and exploitation...

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2008/12/14/world/africa/20081215-africa-resources-graphic.html?ref=africa

Monday, January 26, 2009

What is good for America...

Venture Capital is good for us all. Right?

Source

Venture capital funds invest in new or unproven enterprises. These funds come in the form of equity that is invested in new companies. While this equity usually commands a preferred return to compensate for the risk of backing unproven companies, venture capital funds do not earn any return unless there is a financial "exit" for the organization as a whole in which all shareholders benefit. Until that exit (which can take many years), the venture capitalists (VCs) stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the founders and management of the companies they back, for better or worse. If the company fails, the VCs typically lose all. If the company is successful, the VCs make a return -- but so do the other shareholders.

Venture capitalists bring managerial and technical expertise to the companies they invest in. They bring experience and open their Rolodex. They find multiple ways to be helpful, to promote the companies' varied agendas. But VCs don't manage the companies directly. They are minority shareholders who act as advisors to the brilliant innovators, the individuals whose ideas will create whole new markets or transform existing ones.

The U.S. has the most developed and sophisticated venture capital industry in the world. The industry has helped build significant companies in technology (Compaq, Yahoo, Google), biotech (Genentech), health care, medical devices, financial services (eTrade), retail (Home Depot), renewable energy and pretty much every segment of the economy.
...
Big companies have been shedding jobs for years. In the current economy, big companies are jettisoning employees at a furious pace. These companies are not going to be hiring any time soon. When the economy picks up, they'll find ways to stay lean. The only source of new jobs (apart from the government, and that's another story) will come from start-ups and existing small businesses. We need a lot of new businesses to pick up the slack. We need more venture capital. Read More

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

This is One Laptop Per Child

http://laptop.org/en/vision/project/index.shtml


I just ordered mine last week. Look forward to getting and using it. Unfortunately, the give one, get one program closed on December 31st, so you can no longer order an XO laptop for yourself. (Not sure why they do this.)

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