North Korean Flag*
- Ever think about how difficult it would be to access information without a computer? (Remember trivia competitions before iPhones?) Question Box has come up with a simple but clever way of connecting people in rural agricultural communities in India to the internet through a call centre. “The premise behind Question Box is that many barriers keep most of the developing world from taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge available through Web search engines.” A similar model has been launch in Uganda, but the slower internet connection and lack of relevant local information on the internet meant that Question Box had to create their own database of answers.
- This week I met Maurice Adema, managing director of Sundaya. He strongly believes that energy illiteracy is the reason for our energy crisis. “If I told you a man was 3m tall and 25kg you would understand something doesn’t make sense. But if I told you I ate 300MJ for breakfast this morning you would have no idea whether this was a lot or a little.” He advocates “getting rid of the Watt” because the unit is “useless and confusing”. Instead Adema says we should implement the “Joule standard” to simplify the way we talk about energy. His views make a lot of sense to me – you can read his more detailed explanation in his free short book, available here.
- Yesterday I was taken to a North Korean restaurant called Pyongyang here in Jakarta. I thought it was just the food that was North Korea, but wikipedia tells me the entire set up is North Korean. “According to Swedish journalist Bertil Lintner, the restaurants are one of several overseas business ventures of Room 39, a North Korean government organization dedicated to acquiring and laundering foreign currency for the North Korean leadership. The North Korean staff, who live on the restaurant premises, are said to be thoroughly screened for political loyalty and to be closely watched by on-site North Korean security agents.” I wonder where exactly the US$15 I spent will go and how many North Koreans have had the opportunity to try such a delicious and opulent meal.
* Image from John Palveka. Some rights reserved.
A water filter people "aspire to own"
- Looking for somewhere to invest? Next Billion recently covered an Economist article which spotlighted Africa as a potential place for your hard earned cash. While asking you to look at entire continent doesn’t exactly narrow your choices down, they do provide some interesting commentary– including the latest World Bank findings which showed that 78% of Sub-Sahara Africa countries improved their business regulatory environments in 2011. Also there is more on the role of China – “The country has signed bilateral trade agreements with 45 African nations (and) made investments in 49. The Chinese government provides enormous support to businesses engaging with the continent, and does so without pesky regulations like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to curtail back-room deals with shady officials.” In Ghana and Nepal I saw countless examples of essential infrastructure – roads, hydro power stations, telecommunications systems – being built by Chinese workers who could barely speak English, let alone the native language. And yet they were getting it done. Without “programs”, NGOs, subsidies, (shady back room deals aside). The entrepreneurial spirit of these individuals, the risks they were taking and how willing they were just throw everything in and see what happened was beyond inspiring to me.
- On Monday one of my bucket list items was to pick a list of best books and read every single one. Well, I don’t know that I’m going to make EVERY single one, but I’ve picked my list and it’s here. A podcast which highlights a much more manageable selection is here. I’ll pick out some for review during the year.
- I’ve met some interesting companies over the last few weeks – Project Alba, a start-go agricultural NGO with big plans (“why not target 2 billion farmers?”), YEJJ Group – who are thinking about a Green Building Council for Cambodia and PATH, a global healthcare NGO. PATH’s take on selling the Bottom of the Pyramid (poor people) is fascinating. They are selling water filters to Cambodia families. They made the product look less like a bucket and more like something you’d see in an office – and sales went through the roof. And all this despite an almost doubling in price. People will pay for something they aspire to own, was the message.
- Just recently I went to a pretty exclusive gym here in Phnom Penh. What made me think it was exclusive? The sign on the door – “No bodyguards, no weapons”.
I’ll be Jakarta for a week starting tomorrow and then will head on to West Kalimantan to work with Good Return’s partner CUKK. If you know anyone around let me know!
Yep, that's Brad Pitt
- GiveWell.org has announced their top reviewed charities in time for Christmas. These guys are very detailed (obsessive) in the way they review charities – their blog makes for interesting reading. They even keep a running list of mistakes they’ve made on their front page. Interesting GiveDirectly which gives cash grants directly to households in Kenya made their top charities list, as did a microfinance organisation. This is interesting because GiveWell had previously stated they were highly uncertain of microfinance as a concept. Pratham which my cousin’s charity partners with in India also made the list.
- As part of my 40 year mission I’ve been thinking about how people make the decision to give to charity. Sascha Dichter posted some interesting thoughts this week: “…simply giving people information about a charity’s overhead costs makes them less likely to donate to it. This held true, remarkably, even if the information was positive and indicated and the charity was extremely efficient.” He suggests that this is because generosity and analytics are not linked – once we start thinking about HOW we’re going to spend our money – nothing is ever “good enough, impactful enough, scalable enough, anything enough”. He suggests overcoming our analytical minds by committing to donate a particular amount each year. Then we can get as analytical about how we spend that money as we like.
- And from an expats evening in Iloilo City: “Why would you try and move a woman to Iloilo? It’s like taking coal to a coal mine” and “Coming to Iloilo is like turning into a kind of Brad Pitt - a Brad Pitt who has $100 bills falling out of his pockets”. To put things in context, I was apparently the first female expat to ever turn up on her own. It’s certainly a colourful city!
What are you guys thinking about the new threeish-links-to-love series? Let me know in the comments or at moniquealfris-at-gmail [dot] com.
So for now, the three-reasons-to-love series is morphing into a trial three-ish-links-to-love series. From my readings and the comments this week:
- The King Effect: Blog of an war crimes aid worker in the DRC. Her thoughts on the just held elections were featured in a recent New York Times guest post:
- “People want to vote in a way that won’t escalate into another full scale civil war,” explained psychologist Jean-Paul Syatokaki. “Regardless of whose politics they actually support.”
- I found Springwise recently – they share awesome unique business ideas from around the world. They recently did a profile of Simpa Networks – who allow users of their solar panels to pay for electricity service via mobile phone. If they don’t pay, then a remote monitoring system turns the power off. Just like at home.
- Autocorrect fails. As you might expect – there are plenty of non-family friendly fails, but this one would be alright for the kids.
- And finally, a comment on my “On asking for directions” post: “I think the key point is that we would go crazy if we didn’t have autopilot. The human brain is very good at ignoring certain information (like the fact that we can actually always see our nose)”. Good point. And thanks for making this week a “notice-your-nose” kind of week.