International Development

Egyptian sumo wrestler bests a grand champion. Twice. While fasting for Ramadan.

My Hearts in Accra - Fri, 2014-07-18 17:23

My regular readers know that I’m a fan of sumo, and am especially interested in the globalization of the sport. The top three rikishi (wrestlers) in Japanese sumo are from Mongolia, and top ranks of the sport have recently featured competitors from Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, Estonia and Brazil. On the one hand, this is helping a distinctly Japanese tradition gain global audiences, which is a great thing for the quality of the sport. On the other hand, the globalization is in part due to waning interest in the sport by Japanese youth (few of whom are excited about living the highly-regimented life of the sumo wrestler), and globalization may be contributing to waning interest in Japan, as it has been many years since a Japanese rikishi was the top competitor in the sport. (If this topic is interesting to you, you might enjoy a ten minute talk I gave on the subject to Microsoft Research in January 2013, available as video or as my notes.

This is the first week of the Nagoya basho, one of six two-week tournaments that are the heart of the Japanese sumo season, and much of the big news is about a foreign competitor who has recently joined the sport. Abdelrahman Shalan, who competes in sumo as Osunaarashi (which translates as “the great sandstorm”), is a 138kg, 22-year old Egyptian, who is the first Arab, the first African and the first Muslim to compete at the top level of sumo. Osunaarashi came to Japan in August 2011 to compete, and has moved through the ranks very quickly, competing for less than two years at the lower levels of the sport before joining the highest level of competition (maegashira) this past November.


Osunaarashi defeats Harumafuji!

This week, he’s making headlines not for his origins, but for his performance. Yesterday and today, Osunaarashi scored back to back kinboshi, victories of a lower ranked wrestler over a yokozuna, or grand champion. In other words, yesterday and today, Osunaarashi fought the very best guys in the sport and won. It’s worth mentioning that these two matches were the first time Osunaarashi had ever faced yokozuna, which makes the achievement even more impressive.

Kinboshi are relatively rare in sumo. The term means “gold star”, and it refers to the fact that sumo victories and losses are traditionally tallied with white stars for wins and black stars for losses. A gold star signifies a particularly important win. These victories are so rare because yokozuna don’t lose very often – Hakuho, the most senior yokozuna, finishes most tournaments 13-2, 14-1 or a perfect 15-0… and those few losses are usually to other yokozuna or other high-ranked wrestlers (ozeki, komusubi, sekiwake). For an “ordinary” rikishi (i.e., a guy who’s competing in the top league, but hasn’t yet earned a particular rank) to beat a yokozuna is a significant enough achievement that fans usually respond by grabbing the cushions they are sitting on and throwing them into the air. The rikishi is rewarded with a modest, but significant, raise in pay, and the lists of rikishi who have accomplished kinboshi are relatively short and filled with sumo superstars. (Only 9 active competitors have 2 or more kinboshi.)

If you weren’t impressed by the fact that Osunaarashi beat yokozuna the first two times he faced them, leading the Japanese press to call him a “giant killer”, consider this: the man is fasting for Ramadan. Obviously, eating is an important part of sumo – one of the reasons rikishi live and train in communal houses is so they can follow a regimen of eating, sleeping and training that allows them to gain and maintain weight. But sumo training is demanding martial arts training, and in the summer in Japan, wrestlers gulp down water as they train to stay hydrated and cool. During Ramadan, Osunaarashi neither eats nor drinks during the day – in a Japanese-language interview, the head of his sumo “stable”, Otake Oyakata, explains that he hoses Osunaarashi down during workouts to keep him cool when he cannot drink water. Last year, commentators were concerned that Osunaarashi would not be able to compete for a full 15 days while fasting – the big man went 10-5, and I’ve yet to see a news story this year that even mentions his observance.

I have enormous respect for Osunaarashi, who not only is showing himself as a magnificent athlete, but is introducing the Japanese public to the dedication, intensity and beauty of the Muslim faith. Sumo wrestlers are not just competitors, but celebrities and cultural figures. Osunaarashi is emerging as an ambassador for the Muslim world, appearing as a guest lecturer in university classes and on TV to talk about differences and similarities between Japan and Egypt, between Islam and Shintoism.

I also have great admiration for Otake Oyakata, who has broken some of the traditions of sumo to make it possible for Osunaarashi to compete. Life in the sumo beya is highly ritualized – simply giving Osunaarashi time to pray five times a day is a break from sumo routines. Rikishi eat a rich, pork-heavy stew called chankonabe to pack on weight – the Otake stable now offers a fish-based chankonabe to Osunaarashi so he can gain weight while eating halal. These sound like minor changes, but they’re a big deal for a sport that is deeply rooted in Japanese tradition and extremely slow to change. (Rikishi appear in public wearing kimono and sandals, never in western street clothes, for example.)

My friend Hiromi Onishi, a senior executive with Asahi Shinbum, and I have been bonding over our fondness for Osunaarashi and trading links about him. Hiromi theorizes that Osunaarashi’s popularity in Japan tracks the nation’s engagement with different parts of the world. In the 1980s, Hawaiian sumo wrestlers came to dominate the sport, just as Japanese tourists were beginning to travel to those destinations. As Mongolians came into the sport in the early 2000s and eastern Europeans in the later 2000s, Japan has been increasingly globalized and engaging in trade and travel to these parts of the world. Now, as Japanese hotels learn to provide halal options for Muslim travelers and show other signs of connection to the Muslim world, Osunaarashi emerges as an ambassador.

For those of you meaning to start watching sumo, it’s great to have someone to support. If you’re an African, an Arab, a Muslim, or any other kind of human being, please join me in supporting Osunaarashi. With two kinboshi, he’s likely to win the Outstanding Performance prize in this tournament, and if he keeps his winning ways up, perhaps he can defeat Hakuho as well and take down all three yokozuna. Inshallah!

Thoughtful Quora post from Sed Chapman on the history of foreign rikishi and Japan’s reactions to Osunaarashi.

Kintamayama posts footage of bashos with English title cards – an amazing resource for the sumo fan outside Japan.

Summer Reading: Dan Drezner’s Theories of International Politics and Zombies, Colson Whitehead’s Zone One

My Hearts in Accra - Thu, 2014-07-10 14:37

Much of my summer reading centers on the idea of civics outside of the conventional bounds of the state. I’m interested in understanding reasons why individuals and groups grow frustrated with traditional state-bound politics, and what forms of civics they explore when they opt out of engagement with the state. I’m fond of extreme cases as a way of understanding the limits of a position, so I’ve been reading about seasteading, the “dark enlightenment” movement, and prepper culture, all of which appear to me to be responses to the perception that existing states are inexorably failing.

These three forms of exit all involve a conscious renunciation of states and their accompanying services and protections. In the case of seasteading and the DE folks, this renunciation is made on an ideological basis, the belief that freedom from state tyranny (defined various ways, but usually through taxation and regulation) requires exit from political systems rather than the use of voice to influence these systems. Preppers see a collapse of existing states, either through political or natural disaster, as inevitable, and preparation to survive the collapse as prudent.

In reading about these movements, I was intrigued to see the phrase “zombie apocalypse” recur as an example of the sorts of disasters that might bring existing states to their demise. Nick Land, one of the central thinkers of the Dark Enlightenment movement, titles a section of his manifesto, “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards zombie apocalypse”, a particularly dark way of stating his reactionary historical thesis. In the prepper community, “zombie apocalypse” is a common enough shorthand for “unspecified disaster” that the US Centers for Disease Control has used Zombie Preparedness as a way to get Americans to talk about more conventional disasters they should prepare for, like tornados or floods.

But zombies are not just another natural disaster, and our anxieties about zombies are more complicated and multilayered than our fears of the implications of global warming. As John Feffer notes, our fear of zombies is a manifestation of our broader fears about globalization and pandemic, and about immigration and “the enemy within”, the post-9/11 anxiety about sleeper cells and the fears that our neighbors will turn out to be homicidally “other”. Accompanying the fears is a set of fantasies. The dream of the well-prepared survivor protecting his or her family from mindless hordes is remarkably similar whether the hordes are composed of fellow citizens less prepared for the disaster, hungry for carefully stockpiled resources, or the undead hungry for brains. The zombie apocalypse is caused when people who look like us, but are not as resourceful/prepared/strong/worthy as us, become the enemy. It’s John Galt’s nightmare, where unproductive moochers rise up to demand food, education, healthcare and eventually the very lives of the more productive and worthy citizens.

The “what’s mine is mine” stance isn’t the only possible reaction to societal collapse, including zombie apocalypse. Jeriah Bowser, who self-identifies as a prepper, has a beautiful response to this selfish view of the comping collapse. His thoughtful piece on teaching wilderness survival to preppers concludes:

I very strongly believe that, in the coming collapse, those who are able to build communities and work together – abandoning their childish, apocalyptic fantasies – will have a much better chance of survival than any Prepper I have come across. Besides, what is “survival” even worth if you are encased in a concrete bunker for years, eating MRE’s and drinking recycled piss water, living in a constant state of paranoia that someone will “take what’s yours?” Not me, I would much rather live my last days actively doing meaningful work with people I love, creating a more beautiful world than the one we left behind; a world that is based on egalitarianism for all species and types of humans, a world built on cooperation, sustainability, simplicity, and freedom. You can keep your bunkers.”)

If we want to move beyond “hide and hoard” approaches, we need to consider the role of large-scale human organization in the face of the zombie threat. While most literature on the undead focuses on individual preparedness and response, it is worth considering the ways in which the zombie apocalypse has consequences for existing states, up to and including, their collapse. Fortunately, political scientist Daniel Drezner has considered the implications of widespread zombie attack and the stresses it would create on states in his seminal “Theories of International Politics and Zombies.” Published in 2011, Drezner’s volume is not only the most comprehensive overview of likely state responses to the rise of flesh-eating formerly dead ghouls, it is also a thoughtful overview of the zombie canon (though clearly an American-centered understanding of the canon that consciously excludes the West African/Haitian view of zombies as living servants enslaved by magic or pharmacology, for example.)

Dresner explores state responses to a zombie pandemic from various philosophical points of view. Political realists, he predicts, will see zombies as a manageable fact of life in a globalized world, more threatening to weak states than to strong ones (much as communicable diseases and famines are.) Liberals will seek cooperation through international institutions and may mitigate and contain the threat of the living dead through regulation, but their insistence on open societies will complicate crisis response by forcing governments to deal with civil society, which may support zombie rights. Neocons will likely incorporate zombies into an Axis of the Evil Dead and turn a disastrous war on zombies into a war on autocrats, likely creating more zombies in the process.

Some of Dresner’s most nuanced analysis comes in the chapter on the social construction of zombies. Referencing thinkers like Alex Wendt, Dresner outlines a constructivist view of zombies based around the core idea that “zombies are what humans make of them”. Under a constructivist theory, zombie and human coexistence is both possible and desirable – the key is to escape existing paradigms that see the rise of zombies as an existential threat to human existence and to seek integration of zombies into human society, much as is accomplished at the end of Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead”.

In exploring the constructivist approach to zombies, Dresner steps up to the edge of a radical idea, then steps back. Dresner’s serious consideration of human/zombie coexistence is a brave move, though one he’s clearly uncomfortable with. In his literature review, Dresner makes clear “this project is explicitly prohuman, while Marxists and feminists would likely sympathize more with the zombies.” (p.17) In his consideration of liberal, multilateralist approaches to the zombie phenomenon, he warns that the rise of activist organizations to protect zombie rights would likely complicate or prevent global zombie eradication. (p.58-9)

Perhaps due to his inherent anthropocentrism, his suspicion of rights-based theories of politics, or the simple fact that the extant zombie literature had yet to articulate this view, Dresner is not able to consider the idea that perhaps zombification is, perhaps, a desirable next state of human existence. This radical idea is articulated by celebrated novelist Colson Whitehead, whose underappreciated contribution to the zombie canon, “Zone One”, follows a “sweeper” nicknamed Mark Spitz, tasked with clearing lower Manhattan of zombies to make the nation’s most valuable real estate inhabitable once more. “Zone One”, Manhattan below Canal Street, is one of the last safe zones in a United States transformed by zombie attacks.

(SPOILER ALERT – Stop reading here if you’re planning on reading the novel.)

While annihilation is a common theme in the zombie canon, most works focus on the transformation of society by the zombie threat. Protagonists die, but humanity survives. There are simple narrative reasons for this: it’s hard to follow a narrative when all narrators have been exterminated. In Whitehead’s apocalypse, it becomes increasingly clear that humanity cannot survive. Lower Manhattan will fall. At the close of the book, we learn that the narrator’s nickname comes from his inability to swim and fear of water, which has near-perilous consequences as he is trapped by zombies with escape possible only by diving into a stream. (As with all of Whitehead’s work, this is a comment on race in America, a reference to stereotypes of African-Americans not learning to swim.) As the novel comes to a close, waves of zombies, held back by a fragile wall, threaten to swamp Zone One and Mark Spitz realizes that it is time to learn to swim, to dive over the wall and embrace his new life as a zombie. This is suicide, the annihilation of the self, but it is also rebirth, the embrace of a new way of being in the world.

Whitehead’s radical suggestion is that we entertain the idea that it might be okay to become a zombie. That Whitehead continually confronts the idea of otherness by examining what it means to be black in a white world, may invite us to consider this idea purely as metaphor. But read literally, it’s an intriguing concept, though impossible to evaluate as the zombie is constructed as so radically other than we cannot imagine our zombified existence in anything other than cartoonish terms. (Consider how few narratives are offered from the zombie’s eye view – Jonathan Coulton’s “re: Your Brains” is one fine example, but is a reminder that the zombie perspective is so uncomfortable, it must be played for laughs, not serious consideration.)

If we read the zombie as the fear of the immigrant as other, Whitehead’s possible future merits close consideration. Some of the anxiety over the zombie invasion maps to fear of a “majority minority” nation, one where the current “default” white, Anglo-Saxon identity is merely one of many origins and backgrounds that make up a heterogenous whole. Perhaps Dresner needs to offer an update, informed by Whitehead’s addition to the canon, that considers a cosmopolitan framing of the states and zombies question. If cosmopolitanism involves recognizing the validity of other ways of living life and accepting that we may have obligations to those who live differently, perhaps it offers a framework for human/zombie coexistence, and perhaps, a richer, more varied society that recognizes the contributions and perspectives of the differently animated.

More likely, this cosmopolitan framework would rapidly lead to annihilation of human life as we know it. “As we know it” is the key phrase. The radical version of the cosmopolitan stance demands we consider the possibility that a world transformed by zombies is an optimistic future, or perhaps simply a less bleak future than one in which the main form of human existence is self-centered conflict to avoid the zombie onslaught. This is a subtext in virtually all of the zombie canon: the seven occupants of the farmhouse in Romero’s foundational Night of the Living Dead cannot cooperate or compromise, while the zombie horde at their door is remarkably coherent and peaceful, united by their desire for tasty human flesh. If we cannot unite to tackle an existential threat, perhaps we deserve our extinction. Perhaps our unity with the horde is a higher state.

This is why the zombie apocalypse analogy is such a dangerous one. If we cannot imagine a future in which we survive our encounter with the other, our likely response is to hide and hoard, to hunker down, as Robert Putnam describes, in the most extreme (and heavily armed) ways possible. Drezner does us a service in positing a world where we manage a zombie invasion much as we manage any other pandemic, and life is transformed, but still recognizable. But as soon as we posit an other – zombies, terrorists, (welfare recipients and liberals for the DE folks) – whose desire for our extinction is innate, coexistence is impossible, cooperation towards extinction of the threat fraught, and our annihilation inevitable. “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”

Life, only moderately messed up: understanding (my own) high-functioning depression

My Hearts in Accra - Tue, 2014-07-08 14:55

My wife is one of the bravest people I know.

Almost six years ago, Rachel got pregnant. When we found out, she was in Colorado and I was home in western Massachusetts, and in phone calls and emails we giddily planned for the future. Five days after discovering she was pregnant, she miscarried.

Rachel mourned the end of her pregnancy by writing, processing a set of crushing emotions into a slim volume of poetry, Through. It’s not one she often turns to when she reads in public, but women who need the book seem to find the book, and she hears often from readers for whom the book was a lifeline in a very difficult time.

Not long after, Rachel got pregnant again and gave birth to Drew. In those first weeks of the sleepless, fumbling process of learning how to parent an infant, it was hard to notice Rachel falling into postpartum depression. It was months in, when Rachel was finding it hard to do anything more that nurse and sleep, that friends and family urged her to get help. She did and she got better, producing another book of poetry in the process, Waiting to Unfold.

(When Rachel reads poems from that book, some of the darkest lines get loud laughs from the audience. The level of despair associated with acute depression is hard to understand when you’re not personally plumbing those depths – it’s easier to understand those images as jokes about the dark night of the soul rather than actual dispatches from its depths. I suspect those that really need the poems read them as written.)

In a funny way, Rachel’s bouts with depression and her profound honesty in writing about her experiences have made it harder, not easier, to write and talk about my own depression. Having someone you love go through acute depression can make it easier to see the symptoms of depression in others, but may make it harder to see moderate, high-functioning depression, which is what I appear to be prone towards.

I was depressed for most of 2013, from roughly March through December. (I’m doing much better now – thanks for asking. One way you can tell is that I’m writing about the experience, something I could not have done last year.) Much of the depression coincided with the release of my book, Rewire, which was unfortunate for two reasons. One, I did a lousy job of promoting the book, and two, smart friends counseled me that publishing a book often leads to feelings of loss and mourning, which may well be true, but isn’t the best explanation for what happened to me during those nine months.

I didn’t understand that I had been depressed last year until a natural experiment came along. Every six months, MIT’s Media Lab holds “members week”, where principal investigators open our labs to the corporate, foundation and government sponsors who fund our work. Members week in the spring and fall of 2013 was an utterly miserable experience for me. It took physical effort to haul myself out of my office and talk to the folks who’d come to discuss our work, and I was exhausted for days after from the effort. I’d decided that this was normal – MIT is a high-stress place and members week is one of the higher stress experiences at the Media Lab.

But then I went through members week this spring, which was… fun. A really great time, actually. I’m proud of the work I and my students were showing, excited to see what my colleagues were working on and excited to see friends I have at the companies and organizations that sponsor the Media Lab’s work. I got a second chance at a natural experiment with Center for Civic Media’s annual conference, which we run each June with the Knight Foundation. I remember virtually nothing of 2013′s conference, and I spent a week in bed afterwards. 2014′s conference was a good time intellectually and emotionally, and not only did I manage to feel better after the conference was over than I did on the first day, I also managed to get in a four-mile walk each day before sessions started.

Objectively, there’s a lot that’s harder in my life this spring and summer than there was in 2013 – illness in my extended family, uncertainty about financial support for my research. If mental state were purely a reflection of life circumstances, these meetings should have been harder in 2014 than in 2013. But that’s not how depression works. While depressed, everyday tasks are hard, and social tasks that challenge my introverted nature are extremely hard. They’re not impossible, just highly draining, which is why high-functioning depression is hard to see in others.

These natural experiments have forced me to think about my depression and why it’s been hard for me to see. In retrospect, I now think I’ve had several periods of significant depression since college, and twice have sought professional help. (That I’ve never been put on medication for depression is more a function of my obstinacy and ability to talk my way out of treatment than an objective evaluation of my psychological state.) As I’ve been “coming out” to myself about depression, my closest friends have offered sympathetic versions of “well, duh!”, noting that it’s been clear to them when I’m having a hard time and am not my normal self.

My guess is that my depression is significantly less visible to people who know me only professionally. I’ve never missed work or another professional obligation. I teach classes, give talks, advise students, attend meetings. The difference is almost entirely internal. When I’m my normal self, those activities are routine, easy, and leave a good bit of physical and emotional energy for creativity and expression. When I’m depressed, the everyday is a heavy lift, and there’s little space for anything else. The basic work of answering email and managing my calendar expands to fill any available time in the day. I’m far less productive, which triggers a voice that reminds me that I’m an unqualified impostor whose successes are mere happy accidents and that my inability to write a simple blog post is proof positive that I’m in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing, in need of walking away from my life as currently configured and starting over. It’s an exhausting dialog, one that crops up for moments at a time when I’m well, but can fill weeks and months when I am not.

I think what’s made it hard for me to identify my own depression is having close family and friends who’ve dealt with severe depression. What I’ve experienced isn’t anywhere as serious as what friends have gone through, including bouts of near-catatonia. The problem with having experience with the harrowing and dangerous extremes of mental illness is that the experience of being moderately messed up may not even register on the spectrum. (I’m going to use the term “moderately messed up” to describe only my own experiences, so please don’t give me any crap about the political incorrectness of the term – moderately messed up is how I best understand my experiences.)

There are cases where it’s harder to find help as someone who’s moderately messed up than someone dealing with a more acute illness. About three months into this bout with depression, I decided to give up drinking. I theorized that I might have an easier time navigating this tough patch if I wasn’t rewarding myself for getting through a hard day with a few drinks every night. Thankfully, alcoholism isn’t a forbidden topic anymore, and twelve step approaches like Alcoholics Anonymous have been tremendously effective for many people, including friends and family. (My friend Wiktor Osiatynski’s remarkable account, “Rehab”, helped me understand why many people describe AA as having saved their lives.)

But powerlessness in the face of addiction doesn’t accurately represent my situation. I came up as a “sensible drinker” on the AUDIT questionnaire and other screening tests for alcoholism. While the Denis Johnson fan in me is vaguely disappointed in my largely undebauched lifestyle, the main consequence of my drinking history is an ample beer belly.

I ended up taking a year off from drinking, with very little difficulty, and have gone back to moderate drinking and haven’t found it particularly hard to stop drinking after reaching the limit I’ve set for myself. I recognize that I am deeply fortunate, and I gratefully acknowledge that many people who have trouble with alcohol do have a disease for which abstinence and support is one appropriate response. (New research suggests that cognitive behavior therapy and harm reduction may have at least as positive results.) But it’s harder to find advice and support for the moderately messed up; detox and recovery wasn’t what I needed – I needed help changing my habits and drinking less. (Talking about this question with friends, one pointed me to Moderation Management, which might well have helped. My friend Ed Platt notes, in a thoughtful blog post, that this probably isn’t an appropriate option for people with serious alcohol problems.)

As with my drinking, I am deeply fortunate that my depression is something that’s not life threatening. But that’s allowed me to gloss over long stretches of my life when I’ve not been my best, where daily life is a heavy lift. Identifying the past year as a period of high-functioning depression hasn’t led to the miracle cure or support group, but it’s allowed me to have incredibly helpful conversations with friends who are taking proactive steps to cope with their own depressive tendencies. A dear friend, a brilliant and productive programmer, uses meditation to help him manage depressive spells. I’m finding that walking is critical to my psychological health, as is finding a way to put firmer walls around my work life. (Turns out that the upside of drinking is that makes it very hard to do academic work, forcing an end to your work day. A year without drinking helped me see how flimsy my work/life barriers are.)

So why write about depression? One set of reasons is practical, and selfish. I process by writing, and much of my processing right now centers on these issues. I write better in public than in private, and so this is likely a helpful step for me, independent of whether reading this is helpful for you in any way. And writing about depression here, on the record, makes it harder for me to delude myself the next time I find myself writing off a bout of depression as just “a rough patch.”

It’s possible that writing about depression is also the responsible and helpful thing to do. Rachel talks about her decision to open much of her spiritual and emotional life to her congregation and to her readers, acknowledging that it would be a sin of omission if her congregants didn’t know that her experience of offering prayers of healing was deeply informed by having loved ones in the hospital who she was praying for. There’s a balance, she notes, between sharing emotions and making herself a three-dimensional human for her congregants and leaning on them to shoulder her troubles. My hope is that there’s a way to write about these issues that’s less a call for support (not what I need right now) and more an invitation to talk.

So far, talking about my experiences this past year has led three friends to talk about their own struggles with depression and others to talk about anxiety, mania or other issues they are coping with. The only way these conversations have altered my friendships is to deepen them: I am more likely to turn to these friends the next time I am struggling and hope they will turn to me as well. It turns out that depression is remarkably common in the US, affecting as many as one in ten people in any given year. As Ian Gent observed, nearly everyone in academia is high-functioning. As a result, there is necessarily a large contingent of high-functioning depressives at MIT, likely including some of my students and colleagues. If I can be open and approachable on the topic, perhaps it makes it easier for people to seek me out for help at a university where stress is epidemic and sometimes celebrated. (In the first semester I taught at MIT, two colleagues told me stories of professors who ended up hospitalized for overwork. These stories weren’t offered as warnings – they were celebrations of an admired work ethic. That’s an environment that makes it hard to talk about depression or other mental health issues.)

I’m writing about depression because I can. As John Scalzi has memorably noted, “straight white male” is the lowest difficulty setting in the game of life. Add to that the fact that I’ve got a good job at an institution that is trying to do the right things on work/life balance, with a boss who’s written openly about his relationships with alcohol and other health issues, and it’s simply easier for me to write about these issues without fearing professional consequences than it is for many others. I believe that speech begets speech, and if more people are talking about working through depression, it becomes easier for the next person wrestling with these issues.

“New media, new civics?” and reactions in Policy & Internet

My Hearts in Accra - Mon, 2014-07-07 15:17

This past December, I gave a talk at the Oxford Internet Institute about possible relationships between “new media” and new approaches to participatory civics – I blogged my notes for the talk at the time.

The fine folks at OII asked whether I would be willing to publish the notes of the lecture in the journal Policy & Internet, edited by Vili Lehdonvirta, who had invited me to lecture at Oxford, and by Helen Margetts and Sandra Gonzalez Bailon. I agreed, and worked with the editors to polish my handwavings into something more permanent.

What I had not realized was that the editors had solicited a set of responses to the lecture from some of the smartest people in the new media, political theory and social activism space. The latest issue of P&I features my essay, as well as responses from Zeynep Tufekci, Jennifer Earl, Henry Farrell, Phil Howard, Deen Freelon and Chris Wells, who do a great job individually and collectively of challenging and expanding my thinking.

P&I, unfortunately, is protected by paywall, but I and others involved are archiving pre-press versions of our papers. Mine will be up on MIT’s DSpace repository in the near future and is here in the meantime. Other participants have been making their pieces available online as well. If you’ve got access through your university or a library, please check out the whole issue!

Investments Intern - Boston Spring 2012

Next Billion - Thu, 2012-01-19 18:08

Organization: Invested Development

Location: US

Overview Title: Investments Intern
Start/End Date: Spring Semester 2012
Schedule: 15 hours per week
 Pay: Stipend
Location: Boston

Invested Development is looking for a highly motivated business student at the junior or senior undergraduate level. The ideal candidate enjoys learning about technology startups and businesses that create impact in emerging markets. Specifically, an interest in international business, investing, entrepreneurship, and mobile tech and/or alternative energy startups is preferred. The intern should possess a strong commitment to social enterprise.

Job Description

The intern will report to the ID Marketing and Research Manager. Primary tasks will include compiling key findings documents from research reports, online research, sourcing pipeline, lead generation, and creating deliverables for internal and external use.

Initial assignments will include:

  • Updating and creating an intuitive, robust system for tracking and sorting online pipeline leads and lead sources.  
  • Identifying hotspots and trends in pipeline and communicating the trends in different ways (written, orally, visually).

Skills/Requirements:

  • Demonstrated research skills and analytical savvy. 
  • Attention to detail and highly organized. 
  • Excellent communication skills, both oral and written.
  • Works well independently and in a start-up environment by taking initiative. 
  • Takes responsibility for and pride in his or her work.
  • Can create user-friendly Excel sheets and visuals to present qualitative and quantitative data. 
  • Microsoft Office proficiency. Advanced PPT skills and graphic design skills are a plus. 
  • Is adaptable and punctual.

Apply

Send resume (PDF preferred) and cover letter to Christina at ctamer[at]investeddevelopment.com. Use “ID Intern - first name last name” as the subject. Please note that only shortlisted candidates will be contacted for an interview.

About Invested Development

We are a for-profit, impact investment fund manager sourcing and funding the most impacting solutions to global poverty. We invest in seed stage social enterprise with mobile technology and alternative energy solutions that are affordable and scalable in emerging markets.

Read more...

India Country Director

Next Billion - Thu, 2012-01-19 18:06

Organization: Waste Capital Partners

Location: IN

INDIA COUNTRY DIRECTOR

Waste Capital Partners, a solid waste management company with a social mission, is seeking a country director for its India operations. Waste Capital Partners employs waste pickers to conduct doorstep garbage collection while also utilizing the collected garbage to create and market compost and recyclables. We are a rapidly growing young international company with a focus on delivering better livelihoods for waste pickers, cleaner cities, and a better environment. We seek an experienced professional that has strong field operational experience and is now seeking to build a high-performing business working with marginalized communities.

OVERALL RESPONSIBILITIES

Manage Waste Capital Partners’ two service lines in India: Household and Municipal Solid Waste Management Services.

  • Recruit and train operation managers, execute waste collection service across multiple sites, evaluate business data, and tweak operations as required 
  • Establish household demand for waste management services and willingness to pay 
  • Coordinate Waste Capital Partners technical and management staff to provide support to operation managers and partners to set up and execute solid waste management at scale 
  • Conduct market analysis, establish waste processing sites, and market compost and recyclables to drive profitability 
  • Establish a metric dashboard and maintain meticulous management of accounting system for donors, investors, and corporate headquarters

QUALIFICATIONS

  • Required 10+ years of demonstrated performance with a track record for performance, including 2+ years in the field in India working at a social enterprise or field office of a corporation including demonstrated ability to work with marginalized individuals (preferably as producers) 
  • Strong academic aptitude preferably with a post graduate degree
  • Exposure to Indian municipal systems is a strong plus
  • Past experience creating a new service line or organization is a strong plus – tweaking a failing service to succeed is an even stronger plus 
  • Experience raising finance and exposure to international work environments
  • Experience in solid waste management a plus but not required

REQUIRED SKILLS

  • Able to speak, read and write English and Hindi (ability to speak/ write another language such as Tamil or Kannada is a strong plus) 
  • Excellence in Microsoft Office and financial reporting (Familiarity with accounting software like Quickbooks is a plus) 
  • Demonstrated leadership of a team of at least five and outstanding communication skills
  • Eager to spend considerable time at the ground level and getting one’s hands dirty

COMPENSATION is competitive and will be a combination of salary and vesting stock.

LOCATION is flexible Please apply by submitting your resume and cover letter at http://www.wastecapitalpartners.com/jobs

Read more...

Social Entrepreneurship in Egypt: Challenges and Opportunities

Next Billion - Thu, 2012-01-19 11:00

Authored by: Myra Valenzuela

(Pictured: Abduallah Abdel Qassim, 47, a partner in aluminum shop making window frames that received microloan from Social Welfare Fund for equipment. Image credit: World Bank Photo Collection).

Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on the World Bank's Development Marketplace blog, where updates on this competition will posted. 

High rates of youth unemployment across the Middle East and North Africa were a major catalyst for the Arab Spring revolutions. To help address this pressing issue, the Development Marketplace is preparing for a country-level competition in Egypt early next year. The proposed DM competition will focus on social entrepreneurs with projects that have a strong impact on creating sustainable job opportunities, especially for low-income and marginalized groups. The main focus of the Egypt DM will be on supporting projects in the agricultural supply chain sector.

In order to understand the bigger picture of social entrepreneurship in Egypt, I spoke with Ehaab Abdou, who recently joined the Development Marketplace team to develop the Egypt DM program. Prior to coming to the Bank Ehaab was an Ashoka Fellow and advisor for the Middle East Youth Initiative at Brookings. For Ehaab, there are three main challenges facing social entrepreneurship in the MENA region and in Egypt in particular:

  • Social entrepreneurship infrastructure is missing. There are few supporting intermediaries that are present in the region, such as SE incubators, angel investor networks, replication funds, etc, that SEs require to develop and go to scale.
  • Policy and regulatory frameworks are restrictive. Capital market laws must be amended to encourage social investment funds to participate in the region. In addition, under current laws, NGOs are not allowed to be self-sufficient through hybrid models; they remain heavily donor-driven. 
  • Cultural mindsets and educational systems don't provide a supportive environment for SEs to flourish. Few would argue that critical thinking and analytical skills are essential for building a new generation of social entrepreneurs. However, schools in the region need to encourage critical thinking and reasoning skill sets to develop in the classroom. Additionally, a greater emphasis on community service would expose budding entrepreneurs to recognize and find solutions to the problems in their local communities.

Although the social entrepreneurship field in Egypt has its challenges, there have been some recent positive trends. The SE ecosystem is growing; for example, Technoserve is likely to expand its work to Egypt, joining other major players like Ashoka, Acumen, Endeavor, Schwab, and Skoll Foundation, all of whom have been working in the region for the last few years.

Plans to hold public-private dialogues around the restrictive regulatory framework are in the making. Additionally, civil society groups interested in becoming implementing partners of the Egypt DM program have expressed a desire to work collaboratively and not competitively. There is a strong sense of urgency now to build on this recent momentum and offer social innovators in Egypt the support they need to transform society. (Pictured: A Yemeni woman entrepreneur who rents the use of this pool table to the residents of her town. Image credit: World Bank photo collection). 

As Ehaab asserts:

"For social entrepreneurship and inclusive business models to thrive and play their desired and much needed role in the region's development, we have to create the necessary ecosystem which includes the missing intermediaries as well as addressing the restrictive legal and regulatory framework." 

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Investor Relations Associate

Next Billion - Wed, 2012-01-18 18:26

Organization: Calvert Foundation

Location: US

Calvert Foundation seeks an Investor Relations Associate to work closely with impact investors supporting low-income communities throughout the US and around the world. The Associate will support the organization’s work with investors, donors, and financial professionals at the cutting edge of investing for social impact.

The Associate will be a primary point of contact and provider of administrative support for impact investors. The successful candidate will be a talented and socially-committed individual, with strong communication and administrative skills, a sharp attention to detail, and a can-do spirit.

Principal Duties and Responsibilities:

  • Primary Customer Relations Contact for Calvert Foundation – Responsible for helping individual and institutional investors and financial advisors with their questions related to Calvert Foundation and impact investing. 
  • Investor Administration – Primary contact for all investors in the servicing of their accounts. Handle investor communication and reporting, including mailings and supporting the Social Impact Reporting process. Use Salesforce to document activity and communicate with team regarding key relationships.
  • External Relations – Support business development and external relations efforts to help meet organizational goals and build the impact investing industry. This includes representing the organization on the phone and at in-person events.

Qualifications, Skills and Required Experience:

  • Interest in using the power of investing to support community development and social enterprise 
  • College Degree 
  • Excellent Communication and Customer Service Skills 
  • Strong Computer Skills including Microsoft Excel and familiarity with databases, experience with Microsoft Access and Salesforce preferred 
  • Ability to accomplish multiple tasks while maintaining attention to detail
  • Desire to work within a team framework and take initiative

Comments: This position is full-time with generous benefits that include medical, dental, life, PTO & sick leave, 401(k), transportation subsidy, and more. The position is based in Bethesda, MD. No phone calls please. Interested candidates should send a resume and cover letter to jobs@calvertfoundation.org with “Investor Relations Associate” in the subject line.

Read more...

New Businesses Manager - Kigali

Next Billion - Wed, 2012-01-18 18:26

Organization: H2O Venture Partners

Location: GB

What is H2O Venture Partners? H2O Venture Partners (www.h2ovp.com) is an exciting, ground-breaking business in the field of social entrepreneurship and impact investment.

Based in Oxford, UK, but with activities in India and Africa, we are a team of ten entrepreneurs and support staff. We style ourselves as ‘pre-business plan investors’ who then run a full, highly creative process of business creation. Increasingly we apply our skills to impact investment: creating sustainable, profitable enterprises benefiting the poor of developing countries.

As part of H2O’s East African agricultural program we are establishing processes for identifying and mentoring a cadre of local entrepreneurial managers who can work to validate nascent commercial opportunities and, if appropriate, develop these into full businesses.

What is the Job?

We are recruiting a New Businesses Manager to be based in Kigali to identify and recruit entrepreneurial managers in-country (supported by executive search consultants) and thereafter to support the business development activities of those managers on their individual projects, including:

 

  • Establishing and managing an office. 
  • Identifying and engaging consultancy expertise as required to support individual projects. 
  • Managing the reporting process for projects to ensure interim reports and draft business plans are produced to time. 
  • Liaising with the UK-based Programme Manager, who will travel monthly to Kigali.

 

The New Businesses Manager will also undertake some travel to provide business development support for other H2O projects in the region.

Who Are We Looking For?

Educated to first degree level or higher in a relevant subject, you preferably have experience of working in the region.

You are a creative self-starter, who enjoys working autonomously and with considerable discretion to deliver high level outcomes. You are an experienced pair of managerial hands, able to run a process to tight timescales, willing to identify and address problems promptly, and able to work effectively with a range of people of different backgrounds, personalities and skill sets.

You will have a strong ability to communicate in written and spoken English, and a good grasp of Excel and PowerPoint.

Experience of business development is also highly desirable, but for candidates with demonstrable entrepreneurial potential the post will provide an opportunity to gain considerable exposure to the excitement and challenges of business creation.

What are the terms of employment?

 

  • A 50 week contract, initially. 
  • Based in Kigali, Rwanda. 
  • Remuneration package commensurate with experience.
  • Country allowance and home leave travel expenses.
  • Start date: as soon as possible.

 

Please respond with a CV and covering letter to Dr. Antonia Cardew

Closing date: we will run a rolling recruitment process, but in any case, please submit applications before 16 February 2012.

Read more...

Centre Manager

Next Billion - Wed, 2012-01-18 18:26

Organization: Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship

Location: GB

The Skoll Centre is looking to hire an entrepreneurial leader to help grow the Centre as the Skoll Centre Manager. This is a senior position within the team dedicated to designing and driving forth overall strategy and its operational implementation. They should have deep experience in global social entrepreneurship and a proven track record of managing teams and organisations.

The Manager will work directly with the Centre Director in all external facing efforts in building a collaborative network, including partnership and business development, as well as relationship management across Oxford University, the Skoll Foundation, and other investors.

The Manager oversees all operational aspects (including budgeting, marketing, finance, human resource and reporting) whilst also serving as a strategic advisor on the Skoll Centre activities, especially its Developing Talent portfolio.

The right candidate will need to know how to spot opportunities, manage people and key relationships, and create structures in flexible and open environment. They will be a collaborative self-starter, an excellent written and verbal communicator and an experienced ambassador for social entrepreneurs.

Full details available here.

Closing date February 10, 2012

Read more...

Decentralized, Distributed and Disruptive: The New Diseconomies of Scale

Next Billion - Wed, 2012-01-18 11:00

Authored by: Stuart Hart

Editor's note: This post originally appeared on Stuart Hart's blog.

Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, economies of scale have ruled the day, with massive investments in power plants, pipelines, factories, transmission lines, dams, and highways to more efficiently serve the burgeoning consumption needs of the rising consumer classes. Industrial-era technologies (such as electricity, petrochemicals, and automobiles) were also closely associated with mass production, the assembly line, and centralized, bureaucratic organization, resulting in the rise of organized labor, worker alienation, and growing social stratification. 

As we enter the second decade of the new century, however, the "dark satanic mills" of the Industrial Revolution are giving way to a new generation of technologies that promise to change dramatically the societal, economic, and environmental landscape. The information economy powered by the microchip has already begun to revolutionize society by democratizing access to information and empowering the repressed. Indeed, YouTube, Twitter, and the rapid emergence of the "blogosphere" have spawned a bottom-up revolution in user-generated content. 

Continue reading this story...

Mobile Money Payments: Why It's Time to Move From P2P to Me2Me

Next Billion - Tue, 2012-01-17 11:00

Authored by: Ignacio Mas

Mobile money helps people pay for things in two ways. Directly, by sending value to suppliers of goods and services; and indirectly, by getting remittances from friends and family members which can be used to pay for things. Mobile money works best when there is a coincidence of timing between sources and uses of funds, as then the transaction is immediate. But when there is separation in time between when money is available and when it needs to be paid out, mobile money has so far proved less useful.

The separation in time can occur for two main reasons: (i) if the payment needs to be made on a specified future date (e.g. rent, school fees, electricity bill, seeds for planting), or (ii) if the payment is sizable relative to income flows, such that there needs to be an accumulation of funds prior to the commitment of the expenditure (e.g. buying a motorcycle or new farming implement). These expenditures constitute spending goals, and people will use a variety of mechanisms to achieve them.

Bridging that gap is the role of the store-of-value account in a mobile money system, except that it appears that most people don't leave much value in there. That is probably to a large extent because for regulatory reasons mobile money is usually not marketed as a savings vehicle. But it could also be that people find mobile money too liquid, too easily available: like cash in the pocket, it is best gotten rid of in favor of something valuable (a chicken or a pig), lest it comes to be used for something superfluous.

Since these spending goals represent future expenditures, one could use a system of deferred payments to apply current income to these future goals (see this detailed paper, Savings as Forward Payments: Innovations on Mobile Money Platforms, written by Colin Mayer and myself). Think of these as Me2Me payments (across time), instead of the garden-variety P2P payments (across people, in real time). All it takes to create them is one additional optional field in the standard money transfer menu: the date when the transaction is to take effect. (Immediate execution could be the default, if no date is specified.)

Thus, if I had a good day and made $5 today, I'll cash in the $5, send $2 to myself for February 28 because that's when school fees are due, and another $2 to myself for June 30 because that's when I aim to buy a bicycle; the remaining $1 I'll keep in my liquid mobile money account for daily expenditures. Or if I am a farmer, I'll cash in the value of my crop at harvest time, but can then send good chunks of it to myself to those dates when I need to pay for the rent of the land for the next season, and pay for soil preparation and seeds at planting time. With the remaining value, the farmer could even create monthly payments to himself emulating a salary until the next harvest.

Me2Me payments to future dates are functionally equivalent to commitment savings sub-accounts, each of which is associated with a particular future date. Through this scheme, there is no need to pre-define or open multiple accounts. In the customer's mind, each date, and hence each sub-account, would be associated with a purpose. In this fashion, mobile money providers can create an easy-to-use commitment savings platform that maps out how people think about their needs and their money.

Most people save because they want to buy something. Applying a payments logic to savings behaviors makes it more tangible and relevant for people. It's parking money for a purpose, it's pushing it forward until you have enogh. It's reinforcing the positives (the spending goals) rather than the sacrifices (savings).

Enabling Me2Me payments is a value add for mobile money providers. But more importantly, it can help soften the brutal network effects that are inherent in the early phase of development of P2P networks. With Me2Me, mobile money may be a very useful even when few other people are on the network, because it helps people manage their own money. 

The Second Wave of Social Entrepreneurs?

Next Billion - Mon, 2012-01-16 19:00

Authored by: Blair Miller

Editor's note: This post was previously published on the Acumen Fund blog. 

I had an interesting moment of reflection the other day about the field of social entrepreneurship. We are reaching a point where we are seeing a second wave of professionals moving into this space. I look back to about 7-10 years ago when I started pursuing this work. We were all entrepreneurs in our own right trying to define a career path that just didn't fit with the mold. We all came at if from different angles and were experimenting in different sectors, geographies, and educational degrees.

The other day though I began to realize that the field of social entrepreneurship is becoming more professionalized. We have people prescribing their careers. First consulting out of undergrad, then a one year stint at an NGO or social enterprise abroad, then B-school, then they land a "job" at an organization in this field. It is so interesting that people are pursing "jobs" in this space, and it is also exciting to see as it is demonstrating that the industry is growing and becoming more institutionalized.

So as I observe this shift, there are two things I am thinking about.

First, what does this mean for the level of innovation pumping in and out of the industry? With a more "traditional" career path into this field, will it stifle the entrepreneurial drive of our industry and/or bring in the systems and processes we need to really grow?

Second, while there is a more traditional path into the field, there are still not traditional career progressions within the field. I find that many people who come into the field for a "job" struggle to see what their career path beyond that job looks like. That aspect of our industry is still very entrepreneurial: the people who are successful at staying in this field understand how to move in and out of sectors and organizations.

With this in mind, it is interesting to see how our field will evolve...

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NextThought Monday: SABMiller, Providing Beer at the BoP

Next Billion - Mon, 2012-01-16 11:00

Authored by: Marc Gunther

In the developed world, brewing giant SABMiller, whose global brands include Miller, Peroni, Grolsch and Pilsner Urquell, competes with the even bigger brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev, which owns Budweiser, Beck's, Stella Artois and Michelob. They're the Pepsi and Coke of beer, which, by the way, is the world's third most popular drink, after water and tea.

But in Africa, SABMiller's biggest competitor is the guy (or gal) who makes beer at home. That's a big reason why the company, which had revenues of $28 billion last year, recently began selling Impala, a beer made from cassava, in Mozambique. Similarly, for about a decade, SABMiller has been selling Eagle Lager, a beer brewed with sorghum, in Uganda.

Using ingredients local like cassava and sorghum crops appeals to local tastes, supports local farmers and keeps costs down so SABMiller can price its beer lower to compete with homemade brews.

"By using locally-sourced raw materials, we can make high-quality, but affordable products for consumers who would otherwise be drinking informal or illicit alcohol. So the long term commercial opportunities are significant," Andy Wales, SABMiller's global head of sustainability, told me in an email interview.

Beer at the bottom of the pyramid, you could call it.

Continue reading this story...

Scaling Up Impact Investing In China

Next Billion - Fri, 2012-01-13 19:59

Authored by: Tracy Elsen

Editor's note: This post was originally published on the WRI Insights blog. 

Opportunities in China for impact investing are growing, where investors look to create positive social and environmental benefits alongside returns. Impact investors actively choose to put their money into companies that address social and environmental issues through their business models. Tao Zhang, the Chief Operating Officer of New Ventures, WRI's center for environmental entrepreneurship with local operations in China and five other high growth markets, answers questions on the country's current investment climate for environmentally-focused small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Is there a culture of impact investing and impact-focused companies in China?

Zhang: Impact investing is a very new concept in China and most companies remain very commercially focused. Many companies with environmental and social benefits inherent in their business models are not yet familiar with the impact investing concept, and thus are not in a position to present themselves as "impact" companies. At New Ventures, which is led in China by Country Director Walter Ge, we have worked with companies that have only realized the environmental impact they create after they have gone through an exercise to help them manage their environmental performance. In this exercise, New Ventures helps companies to quantify the positive impacts of their products and services, such as reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

However, on the other hand, there are many companies that provide real environmental solutions in China, such as those that we work with in the energy efficiency, water quality, and recycling sectors.


How big is the impact investing opportunity in China?

Zhang: There is abundant opportunity in China for impact investing, particularly relating to the environment. A lot of the big business decisions in China are driven by government, not by the private sector. However, there is a huge demand and room for the private sector and investment, particularly SMEs, to help implement the government's goals for environmental protection and poverty reduction. The government has a "top down" approach, and it makes sense to add in a "bottom up" approach, which is where SMEs and their investors can play a significant role.

Who are the investors in China right now putting money into companies creating impact?

Zhang: Right now it is very much commercial capital, as I don't think there are many self-declared impact investors. There are a few trying to gain traction, but they face challenges building capacity on the ground to source deals and interact with entrepreneurs. These developments will require significant time commitment from investors. Impact investors from more mature markets in the U.S. or Europe do not have enough resources to set up an office or hire staff on the ground in China. And it's hard to find and hire the right type of people in China because qualified investment professionals tend to choose to work for more traditional investors.

What needs to take place in China for impact investing to grow?

Zhang: Given the need for China to create sustainable economic growth over the decades to come, impact investing has an important role to play and should gain traction in the country.

The government has an opportunity to develop policies that encourage more investment into Chinese impact companies both internationally and domestically. Specifically, policies relating to foreign investments in Chinese start-ups need further clarity. Investors have been finding it challenging to convert their money into local currency upon entry and vice versa when they repatriate the capital upon a successful exit.

Meanwhile, organizations that promote impact investing can do a better job marketing its potential benefits. When one talks to different stakeholders in China, including government officials, about impact investing, time and energy is required to explain to them what it is all about.

The good news is that some Chinese cities, like Shanghai, are starting to pilot foreign limited partner-friendly policies to improve the investment climate for international investors. This growing trend in China will potentially make international investors feel increasingly comfortable investing in local companies.

The government is also starting to take notice of impact companies. At the recent China New Industrial Development Forum in Shenzhen, China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) announced a report on the "Green Impact of Chinese SMEs", which is scheduled to come out in March 2012. The report, which makes extensive use of the environmental performance indicators that New Ventures uses, will collect and analyze the financial, environmental, and social performance of Chinese green SMEs, highlighting their environmental and social contributions to the economy.

What is New Ventures planning to do in China to grow the impacts of the environmental companies it works with?

Zhang: New Ventures China recently received funding from a Hong Kong-based foundation to look into the feasibility of creating China's first genuine environmental impact fund. The objective of the study is to look at the macro picture and figure out how to take advantage of New Ventures China's portfolio of environmental enterprises to either set up or help facilitate a fund.

Hopefully, New Ventures can help provide these companies not only with technical assistance but also the necessary financing to help them scale up to the point where they are sufficiently attractive to traditional venture investors.

We will also work with the Information Centre of MIIT to tackle the barriers to the growth of environmental entrepreneurship in the country. By sharing best practices from New Ventures China's high-impact environmental SMEs, we are well placed to develop recommendations for policy-makers and investors to accelerate environmental entrepreneurship and green investment in China.

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Director, Centre for Impact Investing

Next Billion - Fri, 2012-01-13 19:32

Organization: MaRS Centre for Impact Investing

Location: CA

Position Type: Full-time
Location: ON - Metro Toronto
Application Deadline: 2012-01-30
Category: Executive

Position Overview:

The Director, Centre for Impact Investing will provide strategic direction for the Centre’s programs and initiatives, manage the operations and staff of the Centre, and manage an extensive network of external stakeholders and partners.

About the Centre for Impact Investing

Building upon the foundational work of the Canadian Task Force on Social Finance, which was supported by Social Innovation Generation (SiG) and MaRS, the Centre for Impact Investing is a national social finance hub dedicated to advancing impact investing in Canada. The MaRS Centre for Impact Investing will increase awareness, develop and share knowledge and expand the effective application of social finance, by catalyzing new partnerships, mobilizing new capital, attracting and developing talent, and stimulating innovation focused on tackling social and environmental problems in Canada. The Centre will support the growing, vibrant network of players active in social finance across Canada, and help connect Canadian partners to the active global community working in the field of impact investing in both developed and emerging markets. The Centre will be active in market and product development, as well as develop and deliver programs and services focused on research and policy, impact measurement, education and multi-sector engagement initiatives to mobilize private capital towards public good. The Centre will also deliver current MaRS programs such as the Social Venture Exchange (SVX), the Canadian B-Corp licensing hub, and SocialFinance.ca.

For more details, visit: http://www.marsdd.com/careers/directory/director-centre-impact-investing/

How To Apply:

Interested candidates should forward their resume and cover letter to careers@marsdd.com by January 30th, 2012.

MaRS thanks all candidates; however, only candidates selected for an interview will be contacted.

If you have any questions about the position, please contact Allyson Hewitt, Director, SiG@MaRS and Director, Social Entrepreneurship. Allyson can be contacted via email at ahewitt@marsdd.com.

Read more...

Lending Analysis Assistant

Next Billion - Fri, 2012-01-13 19:32

Organization: Root Capital

Location: US

SUMMARY

The Lending Analysis Assistant supports the growth of the analytical capacity of the Lending Team by providing additional analytical capabilities to the Lending Analysis Manager and to the Junior Analyst. He/she will also support ongoing projects between the Lending Analysis and the Impact Assessment team as appropriate. This position will work closely with other members of the lending team, accounting team, and supervisors. Through his/her work, s/he will reflect the organization’s belief that a well-supported and well-informed strategic team will be the most effective in achieving RC’s mission.

MISSION AND HISTORY OF ROOT CAPITAL

Root Capital’s mission is to grow rural prosperity by investing in small and growing agricultural businesses that build sustainable livelihoods in Africa and Latin America. Root Capital is a nonprofit social investment fund that grows rural prosperity in poor, environmentally vulnerable places in Africa and Latin America by lending capital, delivering financial training, and strengthening market connections for small and growing agricultural businesses.

RESPONSIBILITIES

  1. Provide ad-hoc analytical assistance to support management on strategic decision making 

a. Conduct analytical analysis for portfolio management and reporting purposes.
b. Assist in identifying and creating a set of reports for different levels of lending staff.
c. Assist in the updating of the Lending Model by providing background and trend information.
d. Provide ad-hoc analytical support on a case by case basis for different projects.
e. Provide analytical support for the 2013-Annual planning process.  

2.  Collaborate and co-manage other interns in the construction of a "Lending Team Master Database"

QUALIFICATIONS AND EXPERIENCE

  1. An Economics, Statistics or other related major is preferred  
  2. Proficiency in Ms Excel and PowerPoint is a must 
  3. Experience analyzing large data sets 
  4. Conversational level Spanish a plus 
  5. Enjoys working in a multicultural, international environment. 
  6. Passion for Root Capital’s commitment to worldwide poverty alleviation and environmental conservation. 
  7. Applicants must be authorized to work in the United States.

SALARY: Commensurate with experience.

APPLICATIONS AND NOMINATIONS

More information about Root Capital is available at www.rootcapital.org

Applications are due by February 29, 2012. Candidates are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.

Applications including resume and a cover letter describing your interest, qualifications, language abilities, salary requirements, and how you learned of the position should be sent to: jobs+laa@rootcapital.org. Please type “Lending Analysis” followed by your name (Last, First) as the subject line of your email (e.g. “Lending Analysis – Marrero, Marc”).

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Best Ideas of 2011: 2012, the Year of Archimedean Entrepreneurs

Next Billion - Fri, 2012-01-13 14:00

Authored by: Eric Kacou

2011 will live in history as the year Africa made a dent in the world, to paraphrase Steve Jobs. As previously discussed in this NextBillion series, The Economist, a 'beacon of afro-pessimism', headlined "Africa Rising" late last year. What a jump from "The Hopeless Continent" in 2000. 

Thankfully, the cover underscores solid empirical evidence. Africa leapt forward at 4,9 percent last year in a growth starved world. While the Arab Spring heralded a new era of accountability, inspiring - some might suggest - the occupy Wall Street movement. 

Moving beyond the Survival Trap

Anyone visiting Africa would be hard pressed to see Africans celebrate this feat. This is not for being an ungrateful people. Rather, it is because the growth spurt has not materialized into tangible improvements in the life of the average African citizen. At least not yet...

Who is the average African citizen? It is a young woman (or man) living off subsistence farming on a very small plot of land in a rural area. This citizen feels stuck scrapping to survive in the pre-industrial age while the rest of the world moves forward in the digital age.

In reality, most Africans are still mired in the 'survival trap', a vicious cycle that makes individuals, businesses and nations react to short-term crises instead of developing long-term strategies for prosperity.

This where Haiti and Africa share a lot more than meets the eye. Beyond a shared history and deep cultural roots, one realizes that their development indicators are very similar.

Today's greatest challenge is the struggle for prosperity. It is also, arguably, today's greatest opportunity.

Make no mistake: Freeing the 2.7 billion people struggling on less than two dollars per day from the survival trap is not optional. In reality, it is not only a moral imperative, but it is also an economic one.

Continue reading this story...

Toppling a Paradigm, Building a New One in Europe: From Subsidies to Investment

Next Billion - Thu, 2012-01-12 18:53

Authored by: Renee Manuel and Felix Oldenburg

Over the years, financial indicators and quantitative metrics have grown in importance in evaluating society's competitiveness. In spite of this, the most important indicator remains remarkably simple: How many changemakers are there?

As representatives from Ashoka, we talk about making a world where "Everyone is a Changemaker" - empowering people to engineer social change in a way that no one has thought of before. From 30 years of experience searching for leading social entrepreneurs, we have learned two things:

1. Social entrepreneurs emerge in every society, no matter how progressive or traditional, and often from the most unlikely backgrounds.

 2. As resilient and creative as they might be, the speed of growth of their innovations depends on whether we can create and support the needed infrastructure for their ideas to scale.

But what happens when the financial ecosystem in which social entrepreneurs work is fundamentally broken? Where, for instance, the financing structures that are offered encourage dependency, organizational growth, and shrinking salary pools to pay top level talent?

Instead of empowering social entrepreneurs to unleash their innovations on the market, the current forms of capital hinder citizen sector organizations and box their ideas into programmatic grants and traditional non-profit models, or offer loans and equity at conditions that threaten to undermine their social purpose.

Continue reading this story...

The View from Canada: Impact Investing 2.0 - Your Money, Your Way

Next Billion - Thu, 2012-01-12 13:50

Authored by: Carmelina Macario

When you start to think about investing your money to save for retirement or to grow your net worth, you are faced with a lot of questions: 

How much do I put aside every month? Who do I trust with my money? I am a high- or low-risk investor? What do I want to invest in? Enter the financial advisor - they can help answer those questions, set up a portfolio for you and give you piece of mind. But what about when they can't offer you something you want to invest in? What happens with even Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) funds don't met your needs?

Enter impact investing. Of course it isn't a new concept (NextBillion has covered it extensively) but it is a concept that is gaining popularity in the investment community. For the uninitated, impact investing is the act of investing your money into projects that will have a positive social or environmental impact and getting a return for it. Impact investing experts credit the gain in popularity to among other things: the instability of financial markets, the creation of a common framework for reporting on impact investments and to the shift of donors lending money to causes rather than giving money to causes.

Continue reading this story...

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