Monthly Archives: October 2007

An answer to Zimbabwe’s fuel crisis? (mmm, not quite)

I do love a good con story and this one is as good as it gets. According to The Times a spirit medium named Nomatter Tangarira managed to convince senior Mugabe administration officials that she could bring forth an endless supply of refined diesel oil directly from a rock by tapping said rock a few times with her magic stick. No doubt the officials felt doubly blessed: miraculous enough to find oil, but to have it come out of the ground already refined was really something to behold alright. These bureaucrats were so impressed they paid her GBP1.7 million (before outrageous inflation kicked in), gave her and the rock 24 hour armed guard and assigned a high level task force to decide what to do next. It was not until the second high level task force appointed visited the rock that the ruse was discovered: a pipe behind the rock running to a distant dowser up the hill, where diesel was released on cue by a dutiful assistance assistant.

Humour aside it is sad to see how desperate things have become in Zimbabwe. I visited the country with Unicef back in 2000 and already things were pretty bad. Today inflation is running at near 4500%, 70% unemployment, 20% are facing malnutrition and this number is expected to double in the next 6 months. According to the UN World Food Programme 2.1 million people are hungry and by early 2008 this will grow to 4.1 million with the country producing just 1.29 million tons of cereal against a national requirement of 2.34 million tons. WFP also report life expectancy is now 37 years, 83% of population live on less than $2 per day and yet adult literacy is still over 80%.  

What is all the more tragic is the sheer beauty and abundance of the place, great people, great land, great resources.

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Responsible Social Media

Monday’s Wall Street Journal features an interview with Ken Stern, CEO of National Public Radio from the US. NPR does what is says on the can: it is public radio. NPR solicits charitable underwriting for its programming and also receives about 12% of its total income from the US Federal Government. With such a radical reorganisation of traditional media, you might expect such an institution with a shaky capital base to be shuffling off this mortal coil. Not a bit of it – it has doubled its audience from 13 million to 26 million in the past 10 years. This is thanks in no small part to NPR’s embrace of new social media outlets.

It was interesting to read Stern’s view of NPR’s special place in public life as a truly independent public broadcaster:

‘It’s important to building civic society, it’s important to democracy, it’s important to public disclosure

Stern provides 5 top tips for moving your company into the digital age responsibly:

    • Speed up. Pace of innovation is accelerating.
    • Your business model may change but your values never do.
    • Invest in your employees and take them with you – challenge, train and retrain
    • Embrace new partnerships and alliances
    • Never forget your core business

Last year Joan Kroc, heir to the McDonalds fortune left $225 million to NPR upon her death which now yields an annuity equal to 8% of NPR’s current operating budget. It is good to see this fine example of a philanthropic virtuous circle where fortunes made in the private sector are invested back towards strengthening our civil society, so necessary for a stable social climate where commerce can continue to flourish. It is also good to see web 2.0 enabling NPR’s work towards such goals.

Profanity, CSR and Social Cohesion (or ‘never mind the b******s’ it’s the workplace)

Just saw on the BBC News website the results of a fantastic University of East Anglia study extolling the virtues of swearing at work. Not entirely surprised to learn that shared use of taboo language helps to bring a sense of team spirit and solidarity. They researchers do not, however, recommend trying to build rapport with your boss or customers with the odd expletive thrown into the pitch even if you are ‘mirroring’. This is a sharp social instrument – you need the emotional intelligence to exercise careful political judgment so as not to come off abusive or offensive. This would upset the delicate dynamic and you end up destroying not creating social equity according to the research.  

Maybe this whole movement can be legitimised like dress down Fridays. How about ‘Bad Language Mondays’ or ‘Amnesty Wednesdays’? Anythings goes, so long as you don’t hurt yourself or others.

So there you have it, a new CSR concept perhaps – swear and blind your way to career success and social cohesion. Do well and do good. Assuming the same dynamic works for information worker collaboration on web 2.0, all I need is some clever translation software and a suitable outlet for syndication of the PG version of this blog. Anything for more traffic.

An RFID World

Last week I attended a really interesting forum on RFID hosted by SAP and the National Chamber Foundation in Washington DC. The presentations were categorised into RFID and Food and Drug Safety; RFID and Pandemic Preparedness; RFID and Security.

One presentation that got my attention was from Dow which describes how they deploy RFID extensively to manage security and public safety up and down the supply chain. This graphic on Dow’s approach to integrated security management in the chemical industry is extraordinary in it’s detail. David Nabarro from UNDP also expounded on the value of RFID for disaster preparedness and response when relief efforts needs to be mounted and distributed quickly without the usual bottleneck delays at point of entry when imported goods and personell have to be clearly identified and cleared through customs quickly. 

Last year I had the opportunity to visit the Germany based retailer Metro Group’s Future Store near Cologne as well their exhibit at Cebit and the use of RFID is really amazing to see. You can view Metro Group’s video demo below on YouTube and in this video on their own website:



One of the toughest critics of the use of RFID and the threat to personal liberties is Katherine Albrecht and you can find her book here. You can also find on You Tube a series of videos on this topic which she has also produced.

The flipside of privacy, however, is transparency which too has an important social function. RFID already is widely used in western health care but it seems to me it has great potential to help control corruption associated with the health care sector more globally and assure the provenance of safety critical supplies. Last year’s Transparency International Annual report focused on the problem of health care and corruption. I recommend reading it, it is simply shocking and heartbreaking. TI record patient deaths in Nigeria when water was substituted for adrenaline and in Italy when faulty valves are implanted — all because of corruption along the supply chain. In this report from AccountAbility, Chris Tuppen, Head of Sustainable Development and Accountability at BT, argues that RFID technology with it’s capability to track the provenance of a finished good from all stages of composition, can and should be used for ethical assurance purposes. But in this later report Accountability ask the more challenging question regarding transparency: for whom? Are citizens to be more transparent and accountable to institutions or vice versa?

There are definitely personal privacy issues associated with RFID that need to be managed and regulated carefully. Personally I think the key thing is that people should know to the full extent possible when their activities are being tracked and have an opportunity to trade their privacy in return for defined benefits such as convenience or loyalty rewards. This is what we have done for years already even without RFID, for example frequently flyer programmes. Web 2.0 is really no different – as an information worker I am now out here in public space selectively trading some professional privacy in return for a trade in insights that may help me to do my job better. Interestingly, one member of the audience at this event unfavourably compared Facebook, asserting that minors are enticed to unwittingly surrender their privacy with little known benefit in return.

We can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube and so I suspect we will be learning how to benefit and live with these technologies for a long time to come.