July 06, 2009
Redefining Digital Inclusion
We met with Tristan Wilkinson this morning at Savoy Place in London. Tristan, who is Intel's Director for Public Sector for Intel EMEA, wears many hats and has several interests.
Below Tristan with Perveen Akhtar, Intel UK PR Manager
He tells us about a program called One Goal which will be launched in August and piggyback off the South African World Cup. The goal is to get 30 million online signatures in an effort to help make poverty history. Take note: 75 million children still don't have access to primary school education in the world.
Tristan asks, "do those that enjoy the benefits of technology have a moral right over those who don't? If you don't have access, you're missing so much." He adds,"for example, when did a blue collar worker need access to the Internet and many of these tools simply to get a job? It's particularly important in this economic climate."
He talks about the broken education system where we're still assessed by written exams, rather than an interactive system that allows students to exchange ideas and use technology to learn.
Essentially you've got a 21st century learner in a 19th century environment and the two are starting to cancel each other out. And, what are the other things that allow these technology tools to be unleashed? We have to figure out a way to embrace and value informal learning, such as self-study.
The thread is one that isn't a new one: the digital divide, largely an economic one, however it's beyond a financial issue, it's also attitude; attitude among teachers and among parents.
Parents have learned about the perils of Internet use but haven't necessarily learned about about the value that it can bring to their child's life, particularly in the classroom.
Robert Scoble asserts that the change will come from the kids, not from top down. And, adds that it's not about the technology or being able to afford it, it's about lack of knowledge and education - what's out there? what tools can help me find a better job? go to a better school?
We discuss key drivers. If success and nirvana is a digitally educated population, we shouldn't have to wait twenty years for people to catch up to embrace these changes...with technology change accelerating at such a dramatic rate, there needs to be an effort to bring those who are being left behind forward.
Tristan asserts that the problems are very fragmented and that there needs to be a more concerted effort to bring groups like us together to take action.
Sky adds, "the best thing that educators can do is to be totally open to the new devices that already have some of these services embedded....but we have legislation." Robert has become demoralized and is one of the reasons he doesn't get involved in this debate regularly.
We also discuss the role of the press....how do the press educate parents and educators and what form it takes. "It's not that my children are going to get online and be stalked but that if they don't get online and learn how to use these new technologies, they won't get jobs, they will be left behind. Parents need to understand that the jobs of the future are going to require them to support their kids to learn how to use technology. There may not be any public or private funds for it but the change needs to happen.
We need to redefine Digital Inclusion. The definition of digital inclusion today is basic access. It doesn't include basic skills such as understanding some of the technology and social media schools to network and make friends not just locally for globally. It increases their job and life opportunities significantly.
It's time to move that definition beyond simple access. We need a new definition that policy makers, technology creators, parents, and educators can rally around. There will be a revolution when more and more students get their hands on some of these devices and start using them in the classroom.
May 25, 2009
Freshly squeezed last week "My Black President" by Sean O'Toole.
April 23, 2009
South Africans Vote
South Africans voted for party and president yesterday, and though the ANC is going to maintain its 15-year hold on power in SA post-apartheid, it is unclear whether the party will gain a 2/3 majority necessary to change the constitution. It will also take at least a few days to determine whether the results indicate shifts that may lead to significant change in the 2014 elections and beyond.
There was hope among the many unhappy with the ANC that a breakaway party, Congress of the People (COPE), would offer a strong alternative. Infighting and poor leadership extinguished that, but there is reason to believe that demographic changes are substantive and point to the future.
More when results are in, but in the meantime there may be stories that report the continuation of one-party rule and highlight the compromised nature of Jacob Zuma, corruption and rape charges and tribalism. There is truth to this, but the country is only 15 years removed from totalitarian rule, and alternatives are slow to emerge to the ANC, which is still rightfully seen as the deliverer from the wilderness.
April 07, 2009
On Blogging: A Word From the South Africans
My buddy Nic, who was on the South African blogging expedition with us last December is listed as the first runner-up although they did win for best group blog. Matthew Buckland who also joined us for part of the tour is included in the runner-up list as well.
Interestingly enough, there have been a few debates raging since the ceremony on Friday night. including disappointment from one of the judges.
2oceansvibe won in 6 categories and although she was a judge, votes were weighted in favor of public votes. According to the rules, that means that ‘in the voting phase the vote weighting will be 30% judges and 70% public’ whereas in the nomination phase it is ‘50% judges 50% public.’
It sounds like she is disappointed with the voice of South Africans, in other words, where they spend their time and what they think about. She says, "I realise that there is a pretty large audience for tits, ass, cars, rugby and surfing, but the fact that this is the blog that we hold up to the world as our national pride and joy makes me want to hurl."
She encourages the need to distinguish between popular voted blogs and then get the judges together to discuss their choice of winners that best reflects where South Africa is right now and where it is heading. Of course, that model is the old media model where two men decide which movie gets a two thumbs up or three book reviewers can influence whether a book makes it to the NY Times Bestseller List or not.
She talks about brand and the power of brand, in this case, something that stands for quality in the way that perhaps the Oscars do here. Her take: if the blog awards brand doesn’t have any meaning, any vision, any unique take on the world of blogging, then - 'it becomes just another popularity contest.'
"The masses decide" is where its heading though - no more judges, very few editors (who can afford them now in the new Google economy where everything is expected for free), and less calling for experts, although we'll return to experts soon enough as quality goes down. We now live in a Digg and Yelp society where hopefully over time, quality will rise to the top and the unauthentic voices and players will drop to the bottom.
The upside: more feedback and discovery than anytime in history. The downside: too much clutter and noise until the next genius brings out advanced filters that make that online discovery process even more efficient, more compelling and more fun.
March 22, 2009
South African Blog Contest
The South African Blog Awards is live. Given that I've lived there a couple of times and just spent a chunk of time down there late last year into early 2009, I'm a fan of several of their blogs in countless categories and hey, South African bloggers voted for my blog in the PR Week blog contest last summer.
The SA Blog Awards is a showcase of the very best of South African blogs. The goal is to bring South African bloggers to the forefront of peoples attention, both locally and internationally, increasing exposure for South Africa's great bloggers.
Categories are broad and include: The Best of the Best from South Africa, Best Entertainment Blog, Most Humorous, Best Post on a South African Blog (the one that stood out in 2008 was Moral Fibre), Blogs written by a South African in any foreign country (interesting one - South African Sea Monkey: what a great name), Best Original Writing on a South African Blog, Best Political Blog (there's some provocative reading here), Best Photographic Blog, Best Food and Wine Blog, Music Months, Gay / Lesbian / Bisexual / Transgendered Blogs, Best Design Blog, Best South African Podcast, Best Group Blog, Best Business Blog, Best Technology Blog, Best Sports Blog, Best Blog covering Enviro-Friendly Content, Best African Language Blog (cool, eh?), Most Controversial Blog, Best Travel Blog, Best Personal Blog, and lastly, Best Parenting Blog for the trials and tribulations of dealing with "little people."
Do some scanning, do some reading, so some digging, do some laughing, and by all means, do some voting.
March 21, 2009
June Arunga on Western Attitudes Towards Business in Africa
March 14, 2009
Economic Slump: Time to Tap into Nature's Ancient Wisdom
Ever notice that when you stop writing for awhile, writer's block takes over and cripples you? I've known for awhile that I needed to take a couple months off from blogging and from the web in general, but not because I grew tired of writing or new stuff. Disconnect from the web and new media when its your bread-and-butter? You must be mad I can hear you say.
When I was in Africa late last year through early 2009, I had laptop in hand and blogged but not nearly as much as I expected. Nor was I connected as much as I expected I'd be.
I've lived in Africa three times, so its not as if I didn't know what to expect and yet somehow I figured I'd be so inspired since it had been awhile since my last visit, I wouldn't stop writing. Blog posts would be pouring out of me.
But no. Not even close. Notice the break in between my last South African blog post and the most recent ones. The closer I got to nature -- on a regular basis -- the more disconnected I felt from the blog. It was all about immersion.
Think about it: all of the best coaches in the world pitch immersion and language courses based on immersion or living in the country are the best way to go. That's what off-site business retreats are based on and one of the reasons why the Aspen Institute and Renaissance weekends are so insightful and inspiring.
We're human. We need immersion or as the Aussies put it: walkabout time. Frankly, most of us don't get enough of it. I read a Brad Feld tweet recently that updated us on his run in the mountains behind his house and that because of it, he was "completely and totally broken."
Of course he was. Bravo. Nature does that to people, particularly when you're really present with it. It's our roots - all of us regardless of what continent we were born on or connect to.
There was something about being so close to the African earth, particularly in the parts of the continent where humanity began, that begged me to listen to its silence. Over and over again. Listening to its silence calls for a dismissal of machines, at least it was the case for me. As much as I was inspired to write, I couldn't do so on a "machine." It would have disrupted the silence. And so, I took it all in, digested it and secretly hoped it was getting 'baked' into my DNA so I wouldn't ever lose the feeling.
I felt the same way in the Israeli desert, the Arizona desert and when I drove across country a few years back. I thought I'd blog about the whole trip and instead, took notes along the way and blogged after the fact.
The downside of the latter is that the posts ended up reading like a travel log rather than the richness you get from live-blogging. I'm a fan of the latter but when I'm that close to dirt, flowers and trees, its as if the force of Mother Nature herself pulls me away from anything that has a power cord or battery.
Isn't it a great time to reconnect with nature, in an era where you've either been laid off, your contracts are smaller than they've been in years or you have a full time job but most of your budgets have been slashed by ten?
When I was 21, I traveled around the world with my 32 year old British boyfriend, who was at the time a marketing rockstar in the London scene where we were living at the time. He took nearly two years off if I recall correctly, but not without thought. Would he be able to slot back in after being intimately plugged into every thread and conversation twenty four months later? After all, he was a 32, not 22. Unforgiveable? Perhaps, but certainly not traditional. We returned, he got a job and life carried on.
Years later, I did the same thing. I took off for a few years - Africa, Europe, you name it. I'll never forget an experience I had a month or so after my return.
I used to do PR for Computerworld so there were a ton of old copies of the magazine in my grandparents basement where we stored everything at the time. The industry stories hadn't changed all that much and while there were new versions, new companies and new solutions, I couldn't believe how easy it was to slot back into the industry without being connected with anyone for a few years. It took me three long days of reading to get back up to speed.
Today, the story may be a little different. With countless examples of Kurzweil's Singularity coming into play, everything is moving at a much faster pace and jumping out of the game and back in a couple of years later may be tougher. Perhaps true, perhaps not.
This much I know. Despite all the articles and blog posts I've read that traditional media and PR is dead, Jeff Jarvis' WWGD book tells me that the middle men are dead and that the economic recession means marketers will starve for quite awhile, there are always opportunities.
Remember Helen Keller's famous quote, something I remind myself of often: "When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we don't see the one opening before us." Newspapers have been doing this for years, Hollywood too.
Wherever there are threats, there are opportunities; it just may mean taking a step back (for awhile), taking less money (for awhile) and looking at the world a little differently (for awhile). Reinventing oneself or simply a role can be magical and rewarding.
If you're good at what you do and you listen and think strategically, there will be a need for your skills even if they get used in a way you never imagined. And trust me, if you're in marketing or communications, they will.
Ignite the universe, spend a little time with the trees and ask them for ancient wisdom. Ask them what your "real value" is. And then listen. In that silence, you may just learn something very powerful about yourself and about what is happening around us.
Remember that not just the industry is seeing a significant shift, but the world is undergoing a dramatic change as well and if you're not tapping into that energy source too, you're missing the mark (we just elected a black president baby and money is getting pumped into energy at home and countless other things.....)
While it may sound like a flighty "new age" solution to the changes we're undergoing, I'm not suggesting that asking the ancient skies and trees for guidance is all you do. I'm simply suggesting that you do it.
March 09, 2009
Below is a recent Jeremy Clarkson letter to the London Sunday Times regarding Johannesburg.
"I dare you to visit Johannesburg, the city for softies - It’s the least frightening place on earth, yet everyone speaks of how many times they’ve been killed that day Jeremy Clarkson
Every city needs a snappy one-word handle to pull in the tourists and the investors. So, when you think of Paris, you think of love; when you think of New York, you think of shopping; and when you think of London – despite the best efforts of new Labour to steer you in the direction of Darcus Howe – you think of beefeaters and Mrs Queen.
Rome has its architecture. Sydney has its bridge. Venice has its sewage and Johannesburg has its crime. Yup, Jo’burg – the subject of this morning’s missive – is where you go if you want to be carjacked, shot, stabbed, killed and eaten.
You could tell your mother you were going on a package holiday to Kabul, with a stopover in Haiti and Detroit, and she wouldn’t bat an eyelid. But tell her you’re going to Jo’burg and she’ll be absolutely convinced that you’ll come home with no wallet, no watch and no head.
Jo’burg has a fearsome global reputation for being utterly terrifying, a lawless Wild West frontier town paralysed by corruption and disease. But I’ve spent quite a bit of time there over the past three years and I can reveal that it’s all nonsense.
If crime is so bad then how come, the other day, the front-page lead in the city’s main newspaper concerned the theft of a computer from one of the local schools? I’m not joking.
The paper even ran a massive picture of the desk where the computer used to sit. It was the least interesting picture I’ve ever seen in a newspaper. But then it would be, because this was one of the least interesting crimes.
“Pah,” said the armed guard who’d been charged with escorting me each day from my hotel to the Coca-Cola dome where I was performing a stage version of Top Gear.
Quite why he was armed I have absolutely no idea, because all we passed was garden centres and shops selling tropical fish tanks. Now I’m sorry, but if it’s true that the streets are a war zone, and you run the risk of being shot every time you set foot outside your front door, then, yes, I can see you might risk a trip to the shops for some food. But a fish tank? An ornamental pot for your garden? It doesn’t ring true.
Look Jo’burg up on Wikipedia and it tells you it’s now one of the most violent cities in the world . . . but it adds in brackets “citation needed”. That’s like saying Gordon Brown is a two-eyed British genius (citation needed).
Honestly? Johannesburg is Milton Keynes with thunderstorms. You go out. You have a lovely ostrich. You drink some delicious wine and you walk back to your hotel, all warm and comfy. It’s the least frightening place on earth. So why does every single person there wrap themselves up in razor wire and fit their cars with flame-throwers and speak of how many times they’ve been killed that day? What are they trying to prove?
Next year South Africa will play host to the football World Cup. The opening and closing matches will be played in Jo’burg, and no one’s going to go if they think they will be stabbed.
The locals even seem to accept this, as at the new airport terminal only six passport booths have been set aside for non-South African residents.
At first it’s baffling. Why ruin the reputation of your city and risk the success of the footballing World Cup to fuel a story that plainly isn’t true? There is no litter and no graffiti. I’ve sauntered through Soweto on a number of occasions now, swinging a Nikon round my head, with no effect. You stand more chance of being mugged in Monte Carlo.
Time and again I was told I could buy an AK47 for 100 rand – about £7. But when I said, “Okay, let’s go and get one”, no one had the first idea where to start looking. And they were even more clueless when I asked about bullets.
As I bought yet another agreeable carved doll from yet another agreeable black person, I wanted to ring up those idiots who compile surveys of the best and worst places to live and say: “Why do you keep banging on about Vancouver, you idiots? Jo’burg’s way better.”
Instead, however, I sat down and tried to work out why the locals paint their city as the eighth circle of hell. And I think I have an answer. It’s because they want to save the lions in the Kruger National Park.
I promise I am not making this up. Every night, people in Mozambique pack up their possessions and set off on foot through the Kruger for a new life in the quiet, bougainvillea-lined streets of Jo’burg. And very often these poor unfortunate souls are eaten by the big cats.
That, you may imagine, is bad news for the families of those who’ve been devoured. But actually it’s even worse for Johnny Lion. You see, a great many people in Mozambique have Aids, and the fact is this: if you can catch HIV from someone’s blood or saliva during a bout of tender love-making, you can be assured you will catch it if you wolf the person down whole. Even if you are called Clarence and you have a mane.
At present, it’s estimated that there are 2,000 lions in the Kruger National Park and studies suggest 90% have feline Aids. Some vets suggest the epidemic was started by lions eating the lungs of diseased buffalos. But there are growing claims from experts in the field that, actually, refugees are the biggest problem.
That’s clearly the answer, then. Johannesburgians are telling the world they live in a shit-hole to save their lions. That’s the sort of people they are. And so, if you are thinking about going to the World Cup next year, don’t hesitate.
The exchange rate’s good, the food is superb, the weather’s lovely and, thanks to some serious economic self-sacrifice, Kruger is still full of animals. The word, then, I’d choose to describe Jo’burg is 'tranquil.'"
January 06, 2009
Muizenberg Beach at SunsetAfrican sunsets are always dramatic even when they miss the vibrant oranges, reds and purples. Below, birds play at sunset in Cape Town's Muizenberg Bay.
Too Many Encounters & Stories to Come up for Air
The blog has been a bit quiet lately but not through lack of things to say or visual content to post. And, 90% of that content has little to do with PR, marketing or the world of Web 2.0 due to an extended trip to Africa, a place that touched my soul for the first time more than twenty five years ago. Okay, perhaps the place ran my soul over with a bulldozer.
In addition to capturing one incredible story after another from a wide range of South Africans, Zimbabweans, Kenyans, Brits, Belgium and Dutch folks and more, I am meeting with technology and sustainable energy companies and people, as well as designers, artists, technology and social media visionaries.
Additionally, a cast of journalists, bloggers, scientists, botanists, gardeners, photographers, architects, farmers, pilots, environmentalists, politicians, authors, sculptors, bankers, real estate agents, miners, chefs, musicians, dancers, faerie preservationists, dreamers, psychologists, vets, game hunters, jewelery designers, psychics, solar experts, hot air balloon racers, sailors, wood carvers, captains and builders have all landed in our path between the Zimbabwe border and the most southern point in Africa Cape Argulas.
Connectivity has been slow and limited and given that a lot of the content we've captured has included video, stories will come when they come, no doubt slowly until there's decent broadband or until the encounters stop coming. Look for images in the next few days as placeholders until the stories can be unveiled. And as for images, this has been by far, my favorite place to shoot on the planet. Costa Rica and Paris are close seconds. Morocco is probably third.