Nov 22, 2011

Make it count

Recently it seems as though not a day goes by without hearing some prediction of catastrophic events in the next few years and decades – the depletion of water resources, a world war triggered over rising food costs, a collapse of the global economic system….and the list goes on. Taking all this to heart can be especially demoralising. This is not to say we should bury our heads in the sand and pretend we’re living in paradise; I think we should use such things to spur us into action.

Let us innovate, especially those of us in the early years of our careers. What do we really have to lose? If this world is going to be worth living in for the duration of our lives, we need to start taking charge of our fortunes and helping shape the future.

Instead of making moon eyes at Forbes magazine’s with profiles on the “richest” and “most influential,” ask what you can do to make a difference in your own sphere of influence. 

Nov 20, 2011

How democracy works

On my drive into work last Friday, most of the news centred on the massive “Occupy” marches that happened across the country yesterday. I zoned out a little because I’d heard the same stories last night, and all the facts remained the same – over 100 people arrested in New York, Portland Police using pepper spray on protestors, etc. However, there was one thing that caught my attention, a chant by protesters in LA.

“This is how democracy works.”

For me this encapsulates some of the anger that’s been fermenting among Americans who feel that the system is rigged. From an early age citizens of this country are taught about the value of participatory democracy. These actions include registering as a voter, campaigning for candidates, standing as candidate, attending town hall meetings, etc. This has always been a source of admiration on my part because that’s how democracy works – having an active citizenry.

However, there’s a seedier side to the system with the influence of big money on the local and national level. People are rightfully asking, “if my elected representatives are beholden to big money interests, when does my voice get heard?” Isn’t the point of participating in elections the opportunity to get someone who represents your interests to sit at the table?

And as we continue to see families, schools, and social programmes hurt as the result of this prolonged recession while politicians dither and bicker, it should come as no surprise when people are protesting in the streets calling for a change in the system.

This is a test of the American system, seeing how most of us react to people involved in acts of civil disobedience to get attention drawn to the issues they’re complaining about. And even further, will this spur real change in the system. 

Nov 14, 2011

Juju’s Dilemma

Love him or hate him, the one thing you have to give Julius Malema credit for is his ability to get people in South Africa and around the rest of the world talking about issues of inequality, poverty, high unemployment, and the lack of economic freedom  for the majority of South Africans even after 17 years of post-apartheid rule. These are social time bombs that cannot continue to be ignored especially as we see a new ruling class flaunt obscene levels of new wealth while the majority remain stuck in poverty. Malema’s proposed solutions are what have people, including the ruling ANC, nervous about; these include nationalisation of mines and land expropriation without compensation. 

Nationalisation of mines would mean the change of ownership. However, how would that solve the issue of massive unemployment? Malema argues that the change of ownership of a mine can result in more people being employed, and greater revenues; and those greater revenues can be used to fund social programmes. I’m not entirely sure why he believes that under their current ownership mines aren’t as productive as they would be in public hands, and that there are hundreds or thousands of jobs that are just waiting to be created. And further, how would they be more profitable when nationalised?

This certainly wasn’t the case with Zambia’s copper mines. When prices and production fell, these mines became a drain on the national coffers. This was coupled with government meddling, lack of maintenance and investment in plant, equipment and technology. All these forces were a recipe for disaster and the industry was brought down to its knees, taking with it thousands of jobs and causing a tsunami across the country’s economy.

In addressing this issue of nationalisation, I have to ask – who exactly would benefit? Well, first there are the investors and shareholders in the mining companies who will need to be paid market value for the investment. Would this be achieved by purchasing shares on the open market or through negotiation? And does the government have the money to do so? This is something the South African government cannot get around, unless they wish to forcibly nationalise the mines and set the stage for a showdown large institutional investors and their countries of origin, as well as shareholders within their own country.

Other beneficiaries are people like Malema with business interests in the mining industry who are jockeying for positions as some sort of “Head of the Mining Nationalisation Commission.” I see it purely as advocacy for personal empire building and individual power and not about national interests. Their reasoning rings false.

Government, in my opinion, shouldn’t be running businesses. Countries like South Africa already have a system sullied by corruption, nepotism, etc, and are these really the right people to be running such an important part of the economy? Governments should focus on good governance, and creating and maintaining an environment conducive to sound business practices.

This is an issue of grave national importance and should be spoken about openly and honestly. Do not allow loose talk to drown out all the voices in the room. History is littered with utopian ideas that were based on good intentions but with what is at stake here, I’m sure the people of South Africa can’t afford to say “ooops” in 5-10 years when things go to hell.

Nov 9, 2011

Forgotten Rennaisance

This Saturday I'll be interviewing Simunza Muyangana on Zambia Blog Talk Radio. Simunza is a self described “communication and technology enthusiast,” and he works as Digital Media consultant in Zambia. He co-founded the popular African Urban Online magazine – Broken Hill Magazine (BHMagazine), which debuted in 2000.

Most recently Simunza has been involved in organising and hosting Zambia’s first TEDx event – TEDxLusaka. TED is a non-profit organisation devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started as a one-off conference in 1984 and has since grown to a global set of conferences. The TEDx program is centred on local, self-organized events that bring people together to stimulate dialogue and share ideas through TED-like experiences.

TEDxLusaka took place on November 4, 2011 and was held under the theme “Forgotten Rennaisance.” The objective was “to ignite a discussion among the thought leaders of the current generation by reminding them of some aspects that mark our common identity. Have our conversations changed over time? Have we made strides with regards to women enjoying their rights? How do we raise leaders for the future? What are the stories we tell of ourselves? Where have we achieved in the world of science and innovation?”

Listen in if you can  at 6 a.m. PST, 9 a.m. EST, 14 Hrs GMT, 16 Hrs CAT. I'll also be sharing the podcast after the show airs. 

The link for the live show

Nov 6, 2011

Finding happiness

A while back I shared how I’m increasingly more appreciative of the lesson all my college professors kept emphasising – the need to network. Working full-time and family commitment is definitely draining and it’s easy to get caught up in a relaxed routine that removes you from constant contact with people outside of work and nuclear family. You really have to work at it!

In recent months I’ve also come to the realisation that being around people who challenge and help me grow makes me a much happier person. I’ve learned not to be afraid of change because I don’t want to stagnate in my life, personally or professionally and so I empower others to help me as needed.

Additionally, I need to find meaning in my work. It’s not simply enough to just earn a pay cheque or to volunteer my time in projects to keep myself busy.  I hate being aimless or doing busy work. I’m getting back into one of my hobbies, photography, because I remember how much enjoyment I gain from it. This may sound like something right out of Oprah Show, but these are truisms in my life.

This quote by Andrew Weil put my thoughts quite succinctly:
"We humans are social animals. Reach out to others. Make social interaction a priority. It is a powerful safeguard of emotional well-being."
Where are you in your life and where do you derive true happiness?