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9 August 2009

Wiring a Web for Global Good

We're at a unique moment in history, says UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown: we can use today's interconnectedness to develop our shared global ethic -- and work together to confront the challenges of poverty, security, climate change and the economy.



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23 September 2008

Jacqueline Novogratz on Investing in Poverty

Jacqueline Novogratz shares stories of how "patient capital" can bring sustainable jobs, goods, services -- and dignity -- to the world's poorest.



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Afraid of what you may see?
Added: Saturday, 7 June 2008

watch original V-Blog in Persian

Picture this: You park your car and rush towards a restaurant, which you're running late getting to. A parking attendant starts chasing after you.

-"Ma'am!"
-"Later!"
-"Ma'am!"
-"I'll pay you later! My God!"

Finally he catches up and you turn around, annoyed at his persistence.

-"What?!"
-"Ma'am, you dropped your wallet".

Has this ever happened to you? It's happened to me a bunch of times: the bag-lady in the street who stopped me not for money or a job, but because she needed help switching on her brand new cell phone; the man on the street corner who asked me to roll down my window, not because he wanted petty cash, but because he needed to know the time...

It's a real wake up call every time that happens. And it happens a lot in South Africa. The other day I was stuck in traffic, watching a man selling his magazines in the cold winter air. Despite literally shivering, he had a warm, gentle smile on his face. But people ignored him. Some get busy with their cell phones, others stretch out their arm; "talk to my hand", and one man remained absolutely motionless. He was in the car in front of me, so I had a good view of his features in his own rear-view mirror. The man did not move a muscle, not even to acknowledge the presence of a human being gazing through his window. It was cold. It was telling.

How thick is the glass that separates our hearts?

I learned from a friend of mine to always try and make eye-contact, show appreciation and respect for the presence of another human being. It doesn't mean buying things from him. It means rolling down your window or simply smiling through it. Asking "How are you today? Hope your days goes well..."

We're so afraid of that eye-contact, because deep down we know Who's standing before us:

"O SON OF MAN! Deny not My servant should he ask anything from thee, for his face is My face; be then abashed before Me."

Or get your money back - serious!
Added: Friday, 22 February 2008

watch original V-Blog in Persian

There's a book you can buy in German, which promises you the secrets of becoming rich. It costs about 700 Euro and offers you a timeless money-back guarantee if you don't, indeed, get rich after giving it 3 months to do its magic. Okay, so it sounds like one of those many formulaic books that have come out on the market. And each of them contains some amazing advice, but I have to say that this book is the culmination of 20 years of research on the part of a man who has compiled not only the aggregate wisdom contained in most other books, but also personal stories from people like Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates.

You're not sold yet? I heard the author talk and it was his interview that convinced me he knows what he's talking about. The first common denominator he used for persons who amass great amounts of wealth was service. He said if you think of Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey, they have been serving large masses of people. Although you might think service is an objective outcome, it's the intention he was talking about. He also said it was important to do something you love and enjoy, not something that is tedious and strenuous. This does not mean that hard work is not an intricate part of building wealth, but that you must enjoy that hard work. You must find the thing you love to stay up for ; if you're ever going to reach superlatives.

The next related common denominator was believing in the product your selling. This could be a vitamin pill, a house, a religion, a cough remedy ; whatever it is, people who are convinced of their product will convince you. He said you don't need money yourself when you can get 100 people to buy into your (genuine) enthusiasm and commit to paying you in advance for a product you can then go out and get made with your customer's advance cash. If you don't believe in the product and it sucks, this method will only cause mistrust and ultimately lead to failure, maybe even debt. So a genuine belief that your product can 'serve' is paramount.

His next point was keeping the goal always in mind. When you have the goal in mind, you can fail, stumble and fall, but eventually you'll get there, because you don't lose sight of your destination. But most importantly, he said, this goal must be externally oriented. In other words it must be you trying to achieve something positive for others: Be it making the best computers for people, providing hope and advice as a talk show guru, building the best shoes in the world, or whatever making them laugh.

Likewise he advises aspiring magnates not to dwell on the past. When you're a runner on a race track you don't look back when you're running forward. Although some of your past experiences might be great lessons, most of the negative ones tend to hold you back and wear you down, so stay focused on the future.

Now I didn't buy the book. My goal is not to be super rich as such and I didn't feel like spending 700 Euro. But what I heard from the author, who came across as a very intelligent man, was very valuable to me in itself. And I have an inkling that the book would probably teach you to rethink making 'wealth' per se your goal anyway. Wealth or fame in themselves are not a goal, but means to serve more. Likewise, what I gathered from the gentleman's interview was that money is a by-product, a culmination and fruition of an effort or passion to serve and excel. Ideally it's not the money that's driving you but the thing that you love doing so much. That's what gets you the wealth.

Wealth can mean many things, including spiritual abundance. But material abundance can be a manifestation of it. As long as you don't let your possessions possess you, wealth can be a blessing:

O YE THAT PRIDE YOURSELVES ON MORTAL RICHES! Know ye in truth that wealth is a mighty barrier between the seeker and his desire, the lover and his beloved. The rich, but for a few, shall in no wise attain the court of His presence nor enter the city of content and resignation. Well is it then with him, who, being rich, is not hindered by his riches from the eternal kingdom, nor deprived by them of imperishable dominion. By the Most Great Name! The splendor of such a wealthy man shall illuminate the dwellers of heaven even as the sun enlightens the people of the earth!

SON OF SPIRIT! I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.

SON OF MAN! Thou dost wish for gold and I desire thy freedom from it. Thou thinkest thyself rich in its possession, and I recognize thy wealth in thy sanctity therefrom. By My life! This is My knowledge, and that is thy fancy; how can My way accord with thine?

CHILDREN OF DUST! Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor, lest heedlessness lead them into the path of destruction, and deprive them of the Tree of Wealth. To give and to be generous are attributes of Mine; well is it with him that adorneth himself with My virtues.

YE RICH ONES ON EARTH! The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My trust, and be not intent only on your own ease.

A night at the chello kababi turns philosophical.
Added: Monday, 19 March 2007

watch original V-Blog in Persian

I was sitting in a restaurant with my friends a few days ago, when a lady who was at the adjacent table struck up a conversation with us. She told us that she lived in Dubai, owned a bank and was also in the construction industry. The lady was barely 40 but already had a daughter and a grandchild who sat with her and smiled. Overzealous or prodigious? I'm not sure. She told us that, with the money she made, she was able to give back to society and help orphaned kids in Iran. Granted, it was a strange thing to say to people you hardly know. But remember, Persians (and this was a chello kababi) often jump right into being confidants and skip the formalities.

My friend Mehrshad then said to me, it would be so good to be rich and be able to help people like that. And it's true, people like Oprah Winfrey are able to give from their own pocket and build an entire school. These services are vital and important. However, I am very cautious about saying, 'once I have money, once I get somewhere, then I will do something'. I think that's precisely the paradigm that paralyzes so many of us. We have our jobs and lives and we make ends meet. Then separately, we have our dreams and our visions; to open a girl's school, to create a scholarship, and similar lofty dreams. We think that once we get somewhere in society and receive worldly status, we can move mountains and make a difference. But having met some amazing people in the last few years who have moved mountains by their sheer faith and action, I have changed my mind.

While it is good to give when we have, I believe we can give no matter what our situation is. For example, in one of my earlier vlogs I spoke about an organization I sometimes work with called the African Children's Choir (ACC). This organization helps orphans all over Africa. The man who founded the ACC, Ray Barnett, has never had a proper job in his whole life. He has never had a stable income, or wealth, and he's even challenged with dyslexia. Despite all his seeming shortcomings from a worldly perspective, he has been able to turn around the lives of thousands of children for the better. All he has had is a vision, faith in God that the right things will be provided and restless action. His restlessness reminds me of Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happiness. He just doesn't give up. Through action he has attracted funders all over the world, and inspired miracles.

For example, last year he prayed about what to do with the new orphans he had recruited. He needed a home for them. He found an old school, which no one was using. The price was low compared to other similar buildings, but still required a couple of million rand. He found a person who was rich and willing to help by lending him the sum of money without interest. However, the man wanted his money back at the end of the year. Ray had prayed about it and felt he knew that this was the right thing to do, although he had no idea how he was going to pay off the bill at the end of the year. He decided to act on faith.

Now recently, just a few weeks ago, the deadline was drawing near and Ray began praying fervently for guidance. He had felt that he had been doing the right thing by helping these orphans and he needed some divine intervention to help them retain their home.

A few days before he was due to pay his debt back, there was a knock on the door and an unsolicited, unexpected buyer appeared on the steps, offering Ray more than twice the price that he had paid for the school! Of course Ray was very excited. He sold the school, paid his debt off and used the rest of his money to buy an even better piece of land for his orphans. What a story.

I think the paradigm to look out for here, is that first we have to take the step, risk our comfort and our security, and then the blessings come. It is not the other way around. Instead, we wait in our comfort zones for wealth and security to come to us, before we are willing to take a step. I think that we can all move mountains, no matter who we are and how little we have. We just need to wake up to the fact that this life is actually governed by the rules of the spiritual world first, not the contingent world, although it often seems like the latter. (Think: The Matrix!) We just need to tap into that spiritual world and try to walk a path of faith. Then the blessings will come.

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