Sponsor a business, heal the world

This post is about something really cool and close to my heart - Kiva. Kiva is a social enterprise in Uganda that lets you connect with and loan money to unique small businesses in the developing world. Gives you the chance to give your contribution to the world. Your money will be invested, it won't be a one-time food package or smth. You can help an entrepreneurial individual (and their family) to get out of poverty. All this through a website.

Half the world's population lives on less than $2 a day. The poor remain poor because they cannot borrow against future earnings to invest in education, skills, new crops, and entrepreneurial activities. They are cut off from economic activity because they are deprived of many collective goods (such as property rights, public safety, and infrastructure) and lack information about market opportunities. Most of these poor people live in developing countries and are self-employed.

In almost every case, those who have businesses are doing dramatically better than those who can't get a grant or a loan to start or expand a business. Furthermore, the amount of money it takes to start or improve a business is often as little as $100. Raising the income of self-employed poor and vulnerable non-poor (those hovering just above the poverty line but lacking savings or insurance, and dangerously susceptible to sudden changes in their financial environment) strategically fights poverty.

By choosing a business on Kiva website and then lending money online to that enterprise, you can "sponsor a business" and help the world's working poor make a step towards economic independence and getting out of poverty for good. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive monthly email updates that let you know about the progress being made by the small business you've sponsored. These updates include reports on loan repayment progress, photos of new capital equipment, narratives on business growth and standard of living improvements, and more. As loans are repaid, you will get your original loan money back.

The amount of money you loan can be as less as 25$! These businesses don't need a lot of money.

Its like adopting someone. Only you adopt a business. Hey - maybe one day you can even fly over and meet "your" people.

Don't know what to get your friend for his birthday? Buy a Kiva Gift Card and let him sponsor a business! (My birthday is coming up in about 2 months).

How cool is that! You can read much more about the whole thing on their website and follow their progress by checking their blog once in a while.

The people who started and run Kiva are a true inspiration for me. One beautiful excerpt from their blog:

"Jessica, my wife, and I came up with Kiva together. Kiva is a manifestation of what can happen when two people love eachother, spend every moment together, and allow imaginations to go places together that would have never been explored alone. For this reason, among others, it has been an amazing experience."

How about a kiss?

Public displays of affection in the UAE are not allowed. No kissing. Even if you think there's noone watching, a cop might suddenly appear and ask 'what do you think you're doing?' or something similar (yes, it has happened to me). I know its the culture. But hey - Dubai would need some colour in its gray artificial environment. Everybody and everything needs more love, even Dubai.

So what to do? How to spread the love in the city without offending anyone? Here's an idea (look at the picture).

I'm sure there would be quite a few people using those. This could even be a business idea. You could use kissing points either as advertising space or set up kissing booths where you have to pay for entrance.

Probably the kissing points would have to be the biggest in the world, then the shaikhs would allow it.

Which blog do you read today?

I'm reading a good number of blogs every day. Sometimes I even go to work early so that I could go through those blogs. Or stay late. Not because surfing the blogosphere is a cool thing to do nowadays, but because I get so much out of it. Yes, some of the blogs belong to my friends and I can check what they're up to. Some people write thought-provoking material that stimulates my thinking and creativity, even expands my horizons. Some blogs give me motivation, a kick to become a greater human being and take the best out of my day.

There are quite many blogs I read for educational purposes. Today I read this great post in John Sviokla's blog. He is the global managing director of Innovation & Research at DiamondCluster International, Inc.

He is writing about how marketing mix should be re-mixed and how the good old 4P-s of marketing is obsolete; or rather have expanded. Why? Because the traditional marketing model is insufficient to address the reality of today’s customers. Each of these concepts becomes much more complex and diffuse in this new world.

"Place" is not so obvious because where people shop is not anymore just physical space. "Promotion" is not so clear, because while traditional efforts (advertising etc) will continue, marketers must also acknowledge the self-organized nature of user-defined ratings of products and services. These are influential and out of control of the marketer. It is now much more about word of mouth - and internet is the king in this business.

"Product" continues to be crucial, but the services surrounding product, and the possibility to buy that product totally hassle-free is more critical than ever.Lastly, price is much more dynamic than it used to be.

Price comparisons are much more transparent than just a few years ago, and getting more so. In many markets, from books to used cars, the influence of the used market is completely changing the pricing dynamics -- with new products competing with used substitutes that can be from 25% to 99% cheaper than their new alternatives.

The remix is from Place to Presence; from Promotion to Persuasion; from Positioning to Preference; from Price (static) to Price (dynamic); and from Product to Personalization. These are the key elements of the new marketing remix.

Want explanation? Read the post yourself.

Weekend trip

I hadn't been travelling inside the UAE for awhile and so it was cool to get an opportunity to do some of that. My friend Ahmed started an adventure club and as a proper club they organize cool outings. On friday I decided to go with him to check out Khatwa oasis and some other nice places. As my friend Mr Shady just got his new Jeep, it was a cool opportunity to take this baby for a ride as well. Places we were heading towards were near the city of Al-Ain, which is the greenest city in the UAE - very different from Dubai. Green and quiet. I bet it would be somewhat boring to live there, but for awhile could be really nice.

The oasis we went to was beautiful - looked like a postcard. Being there felt like being in another country, rather India than UAE. Sometimes nature looks so powerful that you feel totally insignificant. Nature (together with mountains) over there was magnificient.

When you live in Dubai where everything is artificial, you seem to forget that real nature also exists. In Dubai the trees look fake and flowers smell disgustingly (probably because they are being watered with recycled (read: shit) water). So all in all it was a nice getaway

As I haven't been posting a lot of pictures lately, take a look at some now:

Oh yeah, we went to the moon as well. This is how it looks like.

Some of our gang. I decided to hide myself by closing my eyes.

Like a postcard. Too bad that my camera couldn't capture the real beauty of that place.

Another view of the mountains and trees.

They were also growing some stuff in the oasis, looked like dill, cabbage and some other stuff. Smelled like tomatoes. Couldn't figure out for whom and what exactly.

Fun with moving

Finally I moved! Feels so good. I like my new place. Makes me feel like a normal human being!

As most of the things in country, the whole process didn't go that smoothly. Everything started out nice since the day I found the ad in the paper. I called, one guy showed me the flat and it seemed nice. It was unfurnished at the time, they said after I confirm that I'll take the place they will furnish it within 48 hours. Okay, deal. Next day I met the owner - nice Indian dude, 53 years of age. His main business is women's garments (I also had the chance to see his shop), all the clothes are handmade by his company. Real estate is just his hobby. He buys small old flats, renovates them and rents to earn extra income. First challenge came when I told him which flat I want (I was showed 3) - turned out this is more expensive, although the dude who showed it to me said all 3 are same price. I tried my luck negotiating this (I had also just finished a book called "Getting to Yes" about principle based negotiating) and was successful in getting the cheaper price after all (convincing him to put the higher price to another flat).

So far so good.

In 2 days I went to pick up the keys - was supposed to meet the same dude who showed me the place, but of course he wasn't on time and I spent around 40 minutes just waiting for him. Finally he came and showed the flat - now with the furniture inside. First thing I noticed - ugly metal dining table and chairs. Rest of the furniture was pretty nice, although some of the stuff that was promised to me was not delivered yet (I will receive the missing pieces today inshallah). Before handing over the keys he wanted to demonstrate how the lock works. Well, it didn't. At all. So he called some repair dude who started to change the lock. I waited for 5 min. Then another 5. Since changing the lock doesn't usually take that long I asked how much more time does he need? "2 hours". 2 HOURS!? I demonstrated that I wasn't pleased with what he told me, called the owner - who also spoke to the repairdude - and I was told 30 min. Okay. 30 min it is. I waited for 25 minutes, showed him how impatient I am and poor fellow finally got scared, left for a moment and came back with a locksmith - who changed the lock in 2 minutes.

He charged money of course and they wanted me to pay for it! Clearly I refused and told them what I think of their wonderful idea. So all seemed well now. I went back to my old place, got all my stuff and took everything to my new home. Last challenge was that there was no water. Water Authority guys were on their way, I was told, so I had to wait for 15 min. 15 minutes became 2 hours. Every now and then I called the dude to check where are the waterguys. "5 more minutes", was the answer every time. It seems to be in their (indian) culture that they try to make you happy by telling you what you want to hear (they'll be here very soon!), but it results in frustration as I can't plan my time and lot of time is wated. He said I have to be there as they need to get in to my place. Hunger was attacking and made the wait long. Finally it was pretty late and supermarket close by was about to be closed, so had to go there for some shopping, although the waterguys wadn't arrived yet. When I was in the shop, I got a call that everything is all right now. So 2 hours spent on waiting were in vain. Nice.

First I was told that the rest of the furniture will be delivered 9:30 in the morning. 10am I called: "Oh, Mr Peep, How about 5 in the afternoon?". Remains to be seen :)

I will post pictures once all the stuff is there and I've had some chance to decorate it.


What is purity?
Purity is keeping things simple.
Purity is a state of mind, a state of body.
Purity is to live without regret and love without doubt.
Purity is not a fashion, its a way life.
Purity is not an aspiration, its a choice.

Live a meaningful life. Purity guaranteed.

(Paraphrasing a radio commercial)

Goal of life reached. So now what?

Quite often when you ask people "what's your goal of life?" or something similar, they say "happiness", "being happy". If thats the ultimate goal, then I've achieved it. I'm happy. Even very happy. Problem-free. So now what? This must mean there's gotta be more to life than happiness. Being happy is not enough. I want more. (Does this mean I am not happy?)

Anyways. Some good news. I'm moving! After a long search I found a suitable place and will move in to my studio flat tomorrow. Will keep you posted regarding this (and provide pictures soon!).

Life in the office is going smoothly, only the launch of our service (the real estate portal) is delayed a bit, so most of the exciting things are still yet to happen. Also most of our staff hasn't arrived yet, right now it's just 3 of us. Hopefully within 2 weeks all of us will be here and we can start kicking (real estate) butt. I'll also try to remember to take my camera to work and will take some pictures of my office as well.

Which country has the best cricket team?

A conversation I had yesterday in a taxi:

"Where are you from, sir?"
"Estonia! Do you play cricket?"
"Uh.. no"
"But you have such a good team!"
"I don't think so"
"Yes you do! The best in the world!"

Hmm? Not sure which country was confused with Estonia this time, but I guess as always you hear what you wanna hear. Word of advice: whenever somebody tells you something - listen!

(This is how taxis look like in Dubai. And for those who don't know much about Estonia - there maybe about 11 people in Estonia who know how to play cricket. Or less. )

Some career advice

When you need some help, whom do you turn to - to the one who is best able to do the job OR somebody you like, is friendly with you and might know how to help? Research done by Harvard Business School finds that people go for the latter choice.

Drawing from their study encompassing 10,000 work relationships the authors have classified work partners into 4 archetypes: the competent jerk, who knows a lot but is unpleasent; the lovable fool, who doesn't know much but is a delight; the lovable star, who's both smart and likeable; and the incompetent jerk, who... you know.

Of course everybody wants to work with the lovable star, and nobody wants to work with the incompetent jerk. Most importantly - people prefer lovable fools any day to competent jerks.

Researchers concluded that being liked is often the most important factor in getting hired, promoted, or placed in project leadership roles. People are willing to trade the overhead of working with a jerk for the ease of working with a likable person who needs help to get things done. When I think about, I guess I agree. I'm not doing it consciously, but I guess I'm still doing it. Nice guys finish last? Maybe not!

And perhaps there's a new market for training companies - to train jerks how to be nice guys. Everybody (or majority) likes to be liked. If this one thing can significantly improve your life, I think you can turn it into a business as well.

Are you wise enough to play the fool? Or smart enough to stop being an asshole?

You have a choice

Social and economic divide continue to increase. Rich get richer, poor get poorer. Both between and within different countries and continents. Thousands of people die every day. Where will this eventually lead to? Economic growth based on ever-increasing material use and discard is inconsistent with a finite world, and finite capacity to dissipate waste. Is there a way to reconceive growth and success? Is it possible to base healthy economies on continuing increase in value created rather than on continuing increase in material throughput? Can companies keep doing their thing in the outdated Milton Friedman way and only try to maximise their profit? Is it possible to educate everybody in the world? What impact would that have? Can we stop destroying the planet we live on?

Can you just stay in your bubble and say this doesn't concern you?

Recently I've been focusing on poverty, doing reading, researching, talking to people.

Development specialists often focus on helping poor countries become richer by improving primary education and infrastructure such as roads and telephones. That seems to make sense. Unfortunately, it’s only a small part of the problem, otherwise eradicating poverty would have been done by now. So where is the proble? Studies have found that education, infrastructure, and factories only begin to explain the gap between rich and poor. Because of its lousy education system, Africa is perhaps twice as poor as it could be. Because of its terrible infrastructure, it’s roughly twice as poor again. So we would expect African countries to be four times poorer than the western developed countries . But they are 50 times poorer.

More important, why can’t the Africans seem to do anything about it? Couldn’t they improve their schools? Wouldn’t the benefits easily outweigh the costs? Couldn’t businessmen build factories, license technology, seek foreign partners, and make a fortune?

Doesn't seem to be that easy, otherwise it would have been done already. Tim Harford sheds some light:

"The rot starts with government, but it afflicts the entire society. There’s no point investing in a business because the government will not protect you against thieves. (So you might as well become a thief yourself.) There’s no point in paying your phone bill because no court can make you pay. (So there’s no point being a phone company.) There’s no point setting up an import business because the customs officers will be the ones to benefit. (So the customs office is underfunded and looks even harder for bribes.) There’s no point getting an education because jobs are not handed out on merit. (And in any case, you can’t borrow money for school fees because the bank can’t collect on the loan.)"

Everybody has a choice.

A choice to do something about the problems in our world or to concentrate only on your own well-being. Sure, it is easier to look away from what is going on in the world. Being self-centered is the easiest thing to do.

Living in this soulless city, with its obscene applause for relentless material acquisitions and standing ovations of skyscrapers do not impress me anymore. I don't want to work in a corporate machine. Why would I want to be stuck in a machinery forever with unreasonable bosses, superficial colleagues, and meaningless jobs, where nobody thinks they're ever paid enough yet would never admit to their own ineptitude? Why would I want to spend my life in an office never seeing sunlight and waiting endlessly for yet another paycheque only so I can buy the things that I don't need? Why would I want to spend my life making other people rich? How many ipods, nokias, powerbooks, four wheel drives and apartments do I need to be happy in this life? It won't matter after I'm gone. It doesn't add value to the world. And I would rather people remember me as someone who changed the world, than as someone who could afford to buy cars and wear expensive clothes.

I want my sun to be brighter and sky to be more blue. I want to do my part to drive positive change. Improve the quality of life. I want to find parts of society that are stuck and to provide new ways to get it unstuck. I want to finds what is not working and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution and persuading entire societies to take new leaps. Its not just about giving fish or teaching how to fish. Its about revolutionizing the fishing industry. I don't know how, yet. But I will. I might have a job like everybody else right now. But my aspirations are somewhere else. Just give me some time. Its about the choice I've made.

“We can’t say our generation didn’t know how to do it. We can’t say our generation couldn’t afford to do it. And we can’t say our generation didn’t have reason to do it. It’s up to us, we can choose to shift the responsibility, or as the professor proposes here, we can choose to shift the paradigm”

Bono in the foreword of “The End Of Poverty” (Jeffrey Sachs).

The Personal MBA

Want to be educated, but don't wanna spend a fortune on it? There's a really cool concept called the Personal MBA (PMBA). Every answer to every question in the world is in the books. The PMBA doesn’t involve going into debt, and won’t interrupt your dayjob. Just set aside some dedicated reading time, learn from great books and go kick some butt!

My score so far: 4 books out of 42 of the proposed curriculum. Still a way to go :)

Read more here: http://www.joshkaufman.net/personalmba/

Why do we work?

Obvious answer would be that its for the money, right? We need to get compensated for our time. We need to pay the bills. It's a means to an end. At what point do the means become the end? Money becomes the ultimate prize, the golden fleece for many people. People struggle to earn more and more, neglect their health and personal life, forget their dreams and what the reward is or was. Till the prize is inconsequential and the struggle is the only thing that really matters.

We spend more time at work than anywhere else (excluding time for sleeping). It's where most of our life goes into. Deciding what to devote your life for seems to be an important decision. It could be worthwhile to think what are we really achieving with this one, precious life? I believe someone's worth is determined by how much value they add to the world. Is the world a better place because you do what you do? Is there a legacy you will leave behind?

Will you find satisfaction in this life without doing something meaningful, even noble? Secret of eternal happiness: discover what you truely love to do and direct all of your energy towards doing it. Great portion of happiness comes from doing the things that are most important to you and give you a sense of purpose. If work consumes most of our time, wouldn't it make sense to only get involved with things you are passionate about? Turn your life into a cause.

Indian philosopher Patanjali said when you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds. Your mind transcends limitations. Your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, wonderful world. I think it's worth a shot.

Why do we work? Is it because we get paid to? Or is it something that gives us meaning and defines exactly who we are?

Buying and selling

Often people decide on their roles and stick to it. Especially it seems to be true when it comes to selling. When I say selling, I mean it in a wider meaning. When people go out to sell something, they often identify themselves with this role and are very poor at playing roles. "My goal is to sell. I'm resisting every attempt from other people to change my role", is what their (un)conscious mind seems to think.

When me and Ali went to the biggest IT fair in the Middle East, Gitex, we talked to hundreds of companies there and were trying to see whether they could be interested in "buying" AIESEC's services. People we spoke to were absolutely surpised that someone would even try to sell them something, 'cause they were the ones who were supposed to sell! This made them also very deaf and our selling marathon didn't yield much results. They didn't even consider how much their business could have profited from what we had to say. In case somebody is wondering why we didn't change our role and started buying, then AIESEC is not in a position to buy anything ;)

Networking. People (mostly) network with a goal in mind, to get something they need (to sell). If they discover you are not beneficial to them (directly, so you can help them to get this thing they want), they lose interest and want to move on. Yes everybody's time is limited and we need to achieve our goals, but if we shut our mind to everything else but things related to our goal, we might miss a lot of opportunities. And missed opportunities can not be taken back.

You call a company. You ask questions, you talk to somebody. Often they are not very receptive/helpful, they don't wanna listen, if you're not going to buy. They pour a lot of money to advertising, to build their image and so on, but when it comes to person-to-person interaction, they suck. They only make an effort if they're in the role of selling. In my opinion that makes the money spent go down the drain. They often don't realise they can be in many roles at the same time and be good at those roles. Missed opportunities again and lost reputation. Joe Girard (hailed as the best salesguy in the world, was in the 70s at least) talks about the law of 250: that if you turn down a person, s/he will talk to his/her friends, relatives, colleagues who talk to their people and so 250 people will find out that you suck. My guess is the same rule applies here. I've told everyone how much Pepsi sucks in this country. There, I said it again.

This role thing applies same way to regular people as well. Someone who is self-centered and is busy talking about him/herself and how much s/he knows about stuff and how cool s/he is, are very poor at listening to (buying) other people. Their mind is fixed to selling. Jim Collins writes in his book "Good to Great" the following:
During my first year on the Stanford faculty in 1988, I sought out professor John Gardner for guidance on how I might become a better teacher. Gardner, former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, founder of Common Cause, and author of the classic text Self-Renewal, stung me with a comment that changed my life.

“It occurs to me, Jim, that you spend too much time trying to be interesting,” he said. “Why don’t you invest more time being interested.”

The truth is that is you buy from somebody (in a wider sense) they are also more likely to buy from you. In the end everybody will be happier. And you might (and probably will) benefit from it through improved relationships, new ideas and expanded world.

Don't identify yourself with a role as we all have so many of them. When talking to somebody and that somebody starts telling you about something that doesn't seem to be of your interest at first glance, keep going. The right mindset should be "what if this is the next big thing" what the guy next to me is about to tell me. You never know where a great idea/thought/opportunity is coming from. It might be in the head of the guy who wants to tell you something.

And beware of the exploding yogurts. One just exploded to my face this morning.

(Pictures from my last visit to Oman)


Hi all. Again I have to start with an apology that I haven't been writing. Why? Mainly because I haven't been online. What has been happening?

I've been busy setting up this and that for the company I'm working for. We got internet just recently (yes, setting up everything from scratch!), set up the network and so on. Now a lot of things are finished and I can also be more in the office and write my blog. I promise you will find postings from me now frequently. Things at work are going well, I'm having fun.

Whatever the month, I'm having fun. Clubs, bars, house parties, barbecue, beach, swimming.. getting burned by the sun :) The weather is still nice (soon the hell begings!), so enjoying outdoors while I can. You can't underestimate having fun! Having fun should be on everyone's agenda (marked high-priority) as its one of the main ways to enjoy life! I believe you should have fun in whatever you're doing (what's the point of doing something if you're not having fun?), but there is always room for pure fun. Because having a good time makes life more colorful. And I'm big on color.

I spent some 4 days in Oman (again). I just love Oman! Especially because of the people. People you meet on the street smile at you, say "hello", shake your hand. And they don't want to sell you anything! Cars that drive by honk - and not because of the traffic, but they're just saying hello. Drivers smile and wave. You wanna cross the road? Cars will stop. You can make your country attractive to people the Coca-Cola way (pouring gazillion dollars into advertising), the Dubai way (pouring money into building stuff that's biggest in the world) or the Oman way: its intrinsic. Its the people. Gotta love that! In addition marvelous mountains and nature, relaxed atmosphere and blue sunny sky.

Bottomline: I'm enjoying life :)