Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Got ninety nine problems…

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Welcome to Africa! Well, Sub-Saharan East Africa to be a little more specific.

I am at the end of a two-week trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar, and I have to say with this being my first trip to the continent, this place is truly amazing. I am down here doing some work for a British NGO who source human and financial capital from fund managers and European organisations who wish to invest in social and sustainable ventures in emerging economies.  Nice.

So let’s get the travel component of this blog out of the way first. Africa is awesome, but in a really unique kind of way. Firstly, the people are the best. Almost everyone we bumped into could not have been more helpful or welcoming. With a profile dwarfed by the neighbouring, more popular destination of Serengeti, the Mikumi National Park is truly one of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited. The only thing that was cooler than the local people in Mikumi it was the animals… and I’m talking thousands of them!! I never really had the desire to go on safari, but now having done it, I would say it is a “must do” when comes to building a bucket list.

Zanzibar is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. All the people are super cool, the beaches are great and there is plenty of rad quality seafood which is pulled straight out of the ocean. The island is very much structured around tourism, but is quite thin on other industries, as everything (including energy) is supplied from the mainland. It is a great place to have a break and truly unwind. And “Yes”, I did sing “Fuck Her Gently” each time I’ve ordered food from a restaurant (obviously).

Dar es Salaam is an interesting city. With a population of just under 2 ½ million people, the city has a massive waste problem. I have nothing against the city, but man, there is shit everywhere! When speaking with locals, many believe that it is the responsibility of the government to keep the city clean. When I put it to them that maybe they might have more success if the citizens decided to clean up the city, I got some very weird looks. “Why in Gods name would we do that?!?” was the most common response I received to this question.

This takes me to the work I was doing in Dar es Salaam, which was due diligence on start-ups businesses that creates positive social impact and are looking for capital. I interviewed companies in the areas of media, bio diesel, construction, finance and logistics. Across all these businesses, were two consistent themes to these business people were only too keen to discuss… the influence of China in Africa, and the entrenched culture of corruption throughout Tanzania.

I didn’t come across many people who had anything nice to say about African assets being purchased by the Chinese in recent years. Actually, to provide a more accurate explanation, they were ‘passionately bitter’ when it came to this topic. But when it came to the issue of corruption within the country, their real passion for change came out. Unfortunately, the majority of people I spoke with were at a loss to how they should deal with this crippling issue, especially when corruption is so entrenched in the culture of doing business in this part of the world. Their feeling of desperation got me thinking that surely there is someone in the country who has a half reasonable strategy to address this. So I made it a little bit of a mission of mine to talk to as many people as I could to find out what that answer is.

I heard a couple of good ideas, and a whole lot of bullshit (from poisoning the water supply to torching the Government Ministry Christmas Party). But I did have the pleasure of sitting next to a newly married couple for a few hours while on a boat journey from the mainland to Zanzibar. As with most locals who come across a foreigner’s willing ear, they were very quick to move our conversation (without being prompted) to the national issues which their country faces, which were unsurprisingly, China and corruption.

Like most locals, they too believed that China was being opportunistic (I think the word they use was “predatory”) in Tanzania. I explained that there is also another side of the story (ie: a Chinese prospective) which they weren’t particularly interested in hearing. They also were passionate about how the level of corruption in the country was a noose around the neck of the nation and their citizens. So I propose the question… “How do we fix it?” For the following 90 minutes, we vigorously conceptualised, challenged, and debated possible ways forward. We worked…. HARD! Although the three of us may not have come up with the silver bullet for a nation’s problems by the time we docked, I do think we made some inroads:

  1. Tanzania is a nation where its culture is holding its people at ransom. The actions of their leadership have dictated the behavior of those who follow. As one of my new Tanzanian friends so beautifully put it:

“A farmer’s responsibility is to look after his cows. If a farmer feeds his cows, the cows will follow. If a farmer moves left, the cows will follow. If the farmer moves right, the cows will follow. If the farmer moves away from corruption, the cows will follow”.

The focus for change must start at the top. Fighting the corruption culture at street level is futile.

2.  By creating an environment in which the government can consciously move away from the culture of corruption, you then begin to create an environment which is conducive to long-term thought processes. Once citizens begin to think like this, a business culture based on what it is considered to be ‘fair value’ can begin to emerge.

They firmly believe the only way that unity could be brought into an anti-corruption or ‘fairness’ culture would be under the instrument of religion. Although I am someone who does not have a religious bone in the body, I have a strong understanding and respect for the role of religion in society. The case that my newfound friends put forward, although not airtight, sounded better than most things I had heard on the continent. At the end of our ferry ride, we wished each other well and went our separate ways, but their views have kept me thinking… how can a country like Tanzania truly break the corruption cycle to become the country I know it can be? And more importantly, who will make the first move?

All if this talk of China and corruption is from what I heard from the locals, but I have a question based on what I saw; Since when did Africa become the dumping ground for the developed world’s shit?!? Seriously, all of our unsold and ‘used’ products end up here! I saw shipping containers of what I could only describe as ‘landfill’ rolling into port to be sold on the street. Hey, I’m good for bringing stuff of actual use and value into a country which needs it, but some of this shit IS SHIT! I have a story or three about this topic, but a plane back to London awaits, so I’ll pick this one up later. x

Highly Evolved.

Friday, May 20th, 2011

It’s nice to see that what is usually a horrific television show has dug this up.

Basically, everything is going wrong… but not for long.

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

I’ve been a big fan of Georgian band ‘The Chariot’ for many years, especially their live shows. This is where I think the business of music needs to go… back to DIY. Seeing this sort of footage from their Australian tour last month reminds me what music is really all about… respecting your pears.

Although, I have no idea if the insurance policy on my house would cover this. Meh.

My opinion which is of no consequence.

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

I’m giving the new Radiohead album 8/10, but not all agree.

Friday On My Mind.

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Everybody’s Russian.

It’s ever so, ever so satisfying.

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Welcome to Reykjavík, Ísland.

This place has got it’s shit together!! Cool vibe, Great people, Chewing Yogurt, Iconic architecture, Unbelievable scenery, Puffins, all the ‘things’ that come with it being Reykjavík Fashion Week, some of the world’s best musicians, and extra large cans of carbonated caffeine beverages… but alas, nowhere is perfect. This place is off-the-dial expensive!!

With that being said, I have managed to still have a great time within a set budget. A night at the Sinfóníuhljómsveit Íslands, a strange new birthmark, and a trip out for a swim in the windy as hell Blue Lagoon have all been well under what I would have been prepared to pay (if I wasn’t a poverty stricken student). As this is my only break this year until I finish MBA, I’m actually trying to relax and not think about the next bout of university work that waits for me back in the U.K.

It was reported as early as mid 2006 that the Icelandic economy was fucked, so it really came as no surprise when the country hit the skids as hard as it did in recent times. With that being said, things are definitely on the up here. With a population of 300,000 receiving 500,000 visitors per year,  tourism makes up a decent percentage of trade.  Many locals have returned to the country’s original economic powerhouses, aluminium production, and  the fishing industry, with cod, haddock, and ‘others’ in the net. Just down the road I can buy a Minke Whale kebab, which I’m sure would go down a treat back home in Australia! As much as I am now quite tempted to bust out my insightful macroeconomic assessment on Iceland, to be perfectly honest, I’m enjoying my one week break too much to keep typing, really.

Instead, go get the best set of headphones you own, plug in, sit back & enjoy what is one of the greatest (not just Icelandic) live acts I have ever seen. I saw this track live about a month before it was released. They closed the set with it, & I swear to god, 2,000 jaws simultaneously hit the floor.

Operation Ivy.

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

One would seriously have to question the specific line of logic used by Harvard to grant me admission, but I’m pretty glad they reached the outcome they did. Doing a stint at HBS is quite surreal. Tyra Banks is here a the moment, as is the Crown Princess of Norway, which is.. um.. nice?

The campus here is perfect… maybe a bit too perfect, the faculty are mind-blowingly good, and the program itself is without a doubt the best education I have ever undertaken. I believe that my time here will be a complementary fit with my MBA studies back in the UK. Beyond that, I would be more than happy to pass through here once every 18-24 months for the rest of my life. The wealth of knowledge in these walls is quite difficult to convey, but tapping into this school for only a brief period of time really does feel like jumping your brain with a 20,000 volt academic powerline!

In summary, I’m substantially broker for this experience, but deep down inside, I think they have just secured a repeat customer.

Tip Your Bartender.

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

A BIG Thank-You to the guy at Goorin Bros Hat Shop for hooking me up on the doorlist for tonight’s Sold-Out Glassjaw gig. A perfect way to end my first night in Boston on 39 hours with no sleep. xx