A journey to the end of a River

Rivers are most majestic when they are about to meet the ocean. And that couldn’t be less true for the mighty Zambezi River, which touches nine African countries before it flows into the Indian Ocean on the east of Mozambique.

Zambezi River in some of its mightiness

Zambezi River in some of its mightiness

However this region is also a highly disaster prone and extremely vulnerable to natural calamities such as floods and cyclone.  Welthungerhilfe, the organization I am volunteering with under RLF, is running a project in some of the districts in Zambezia and Nampula provinces of Mozambique to increase the disaster resilience as part of Disaster preparedness program of European Commission (DIPECHO).

Few day back I got to visit one of the districts called Chinde (pronounced Shin-Day), which lies right at the mouth of the Zambezi river. First of all this district is so remote that it is only reachable by boat. A quick look at the google map might give an idea.

Chinde's location on map

Chinde’s location on map

One has to take a long and tiring three hours boat ride (on a fast motor boat) to this place. Bigger boats or a big vessel can take more than ten hours. BTW the winds were so strong the that I lost my cap twice (the boatman was kind enough to do a turn to pick it up)

District has a remarkable small town, also called Chinde, where the district administration has its office. The population of town is just over 16,000 although the total population of the district is around 150,000 people. The town has only about 5 cars (there was only 1 till few years back). Even electricity is also a fairly new addition to the district, introduced just 2 or 3 years back. There are some colonial buildings in the town housing government officials. Plus a couple of houses were used earlier by sugar trading company called Sena, now dysfunctional. Unsurprisingly, the largest building in the town was a Church.

Some of the administrative buildings in Chinde

Some of the administrative buildings in Chinde

Main avenue in Chinde

Main avenue in Chinde

The Church

The Church

I saw some peculiar looking (though aesthetically pleasing) houses. These houses had wooden frames filled with rubbles from old rundown buildings. On enquiring I got to know that the building material is scares and expensive so people reuse material from the old buildings destroyed at the time of civil war.

A frugal architecture?

A frugal architecture?

Town also had an FM Radio Station of its own. I couldn’t resist visiting it. I was very thrilled (for some strange reason) at the sheer pleasure of listening to the lone channel on my mobile right outside the station with earphone in one ear and other ear tuned into the voice of RJ / music from inside the station.

Chinde FM

100.6 Chinde FM

I also got to be part of one of the rituals in the town. Every morning there is a flag hosting and the guard whistles. I was on my way to beach at 6 in the morning when I happen to cross the place. I saw everyone stop. Out of confusion and respect for local tradition I did too. After the hosting was complete guard whistled again and everyone moved on. Now it feels like time did stop for those 10 seconds or so.

The project sites are spread across many islands that are only reachable by boat. Those were some of the most beautiful places I ever visited. At one of these places the scenery around the backwaters was nothing less than breathtaking.

Backwaters at one of the Islands

Backwaters at one of the Islands

On one of these islands I observed that all women on the island had these little marks spanning across their arms and chest. We asked some of the women and no one knew why they had them. Looked like it was a custom. They were etched when women reached puberty. It’s possibly a way to show that they are ready for marriage. I didn’t want to be judgemental about their practices.

In the name of tradition!

A woman with marks around her chest line

Oh yes and on another island the village leaders were slickly dressed. Although they didn’t belong to any military establishment, they wore uniforms.  This was tradition from the time of Portuguese and still prevalent though more than four decades have passed since independence. Quite interesting how power dynamics could change but traditions can stay.

In the name of tradition!

In the name of tradition!

There was also a fort like structure at one such place. Turned out it was a prison at the time of Portuguese. New administration couldn’t find a use for the place thus it has been abandoned now. Looked like they were lucky enough not to need a prison.

The abondoned prison

The abandoned prison

I can’t sign-off without talking about food. Whereas all my colleagues relished fishes, I fall in love with Matapa and peri-peri. Matapa is a local Mozambican speciality made from Cassava leaves and coconut (with few other things added sometimes). I was eating Matapa day and night. So much so that the people who ran the eatery remembered me as “The Matapa Guy”, when someone asked them to call me from the guesthouse once. Our Project director joked about naming a cassava plantation against me at a conservation agriculture farm.  Peri-peri is a hot sauce (pickled sometimes) that is a must have with food in Mozambique (and many other African countries). I generously ate it, sometimes just peri-peri and rice or ncima (local dish made from Maize). My love for peri-peri was so conspicuous that the owner of the hotel we ate at decided to gift me a jar filled with peri-peri.

Matapa on left and Cassava plant on right

Matapa and Cassava plant

The Peri Peri :)

The Peri Peri :)

The whole experience was nothing less than astonishing. I was soon back to utilitarian life of cities. But my three days at Zambezi river estuary were a crash course in culture, food, people and a life so different. A journey to the end of a river and a memory till the end of a life.

Venture capital crash course

This year European Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC) took place in February in Barcelona. ESMT team performed great and was 2nd among top tier business schools such as London Business School, Oxford, HEC and Bocconi.  It is the best result of ESMT in this competition and we, as a team, are proud of it.

teams

The Team included Daria Markova, Julia Odegova, Didier Goepfert, Daniel Abel and Jose Fuquen. Our main goal was to understand the rationale behind Venture Capital investment decisions.

Since we didn’t know where to start, we started with reading. Blogs and articles gave us tons of information, but it was way too theoretical. The next step included interviews with VCs. Here we faced the first challenge: cold-calling VCs seemed to be a rather ungrateful job. To our surprise nobody told us “We, financial gods, don’t talk to mere mortals”. In the end, we had great talks with Mihai Streza from AQAL Capital, Rodrigo Martinez from Point Nine Capital, Thorben Rothe from Capnamic Ventures and Philipp Hartmann, former analyst at Index Ventures. From those we extracted detailed practical information about assessing entrepreneurs and business plans. Based on this we developed a draft term sheet and our own framework for business plan evaluation. However, we also understood: many VCs, many minds.

VCIC-VCs-1

We still lacked practice in communication with real startups. So our preparation culminated with a mock day at ESMT. This was the most important stage of our training. First, we managed to invite real entrepreneurs who are looking for pitching to VCs. Among those were Coyno, Elopay, Grabafruit and Keydock.

Second, we had a great jury that showed us how to improve: Christoph Räthke (GTEC), Olga Steidl (Inbot), Junayd Mahmood and Andreas Dittes (Talentwunder). Each of the jury members had his/her own unique style, which contributed not only to our learning experience, but also to the startups.  They had a possibility to rehearse a meeting with a VC and check their own performance in an extraordinary situation. We hope that expert recommendations they received will help them on their way to success.

VCIC-mock-1 copy

We were glad to put in practice all the theoretical knowledge and get expert feedback on our performance. Junayd Mahmood and Andreas Dittes were concise and looking deep into the startup challenges. Olga Steidl showed us the chair-on-fire tactics, shooting the entrepreneurs with simple but burning questions that drilled into the very core of the value added (or not added). Christoph Räthke representing GTEC was rather tough and critical regarding our startup evaluation. He noticed that our questions had a prepared structure and advised us to be more oriented on the concrete startup we were talking to. His “commonsense” approach included personalized questions to yourself: “Do I (not an average citizen, not Mr. Black, not some imaginary friend of mine) like this idea?” “Can I feel the pain of the target customer?” “What kind of person is the target customer?” We also appreciated how much energy and time Christoph and Andreas spent with us: they stayed until late discussing all the possible evaluation strategies.

Last but not least, the mock day was also an enriching learning experience for the audience, mostly students of the full time MBA and MIM programs at ESMT.

The mock event played a crucial role in our preparation. ESMT team took the second place in VCIC and was very close to winning. Probably the best part of the competition day was the feedback session with the judges, experienced VCs from all around the world. They praised our knowledge and realistic approach. The main reason we didn’t take the first place was that we didn’t sell ourselves well enough. Great, there is still some space to improve!

IMG_7109-1

We want to say a big THANK YOU to ESMT, GTEC and all the participants, it was a great experience overall.

P.S. Interesting fact: Barceloneta bars are great in any time of the year!

 

Women. Phenominally.

A salute! To all women breaking barriers, breaking their backs to fend for their young; to all the mothers bearing and raising babies (oftentimes by themselves) and bawss-ladies leading from the boardrooms, research labs, TV screens and lecture halls – I salute you! Today, the 8th of March marks the international, annual celebration of womenfolk.

I watched a movie today that made me reflect on a conversation that I had just over a year ago….

A couple of classmates and me were complaining, as students usually do, about how tough and strict one professor was on us. We all agreed that this particular professor was very smart and very competent, but very tough as well. Did I mention that the lecturer in question is female? One classmate, let’s call him John, one I considered particularly smart and poised for ‘success’ (whatever that means) then belted out, “She’s such a slave-driving **t**, man!” (Do excuse my language. No, actually, excuse John. I’m just quoting. :-) )

Blink.

Oh. No. You. Did’nt! As Germans would say, “Da hört der Spass auf, Junger.”

When I asked John if he’d just heard himself, he turned beet-red, and tried to explain by saying that he “hadn’t really meant it that way”. When out of interest I prodded further and asked if he would have insulted a male professor in a similar manner, he muttered, “Probably not.” I’m not quite sure whether John appreciated the full implications of his statement. I fear that that was not the last time I will hear such a comment about women who are considered ‘bossy’ or ‘pushy’ in comparison to their male counterparts who would be lauded for their ‘assertiveness’ or ‘strong-willed characters’ when exhibiting the same or similar characteristics.

While incredible milestones have been reached in advancing the rights of women across the world, rights that I gratefully enjoy, research shows that (subconscious) prejudices against assertive, confident women still remain in the corridors of corporate power. And no, it is not only men, but also sometimes even other women who suffer from the PHD syndrome (PHD: Pull Her Down). While I haven’t personally experienced that yet because I haven’t been in these corridors too long, research shows that it’s real. That’s scary, and sad.

The movie I watched today was Selma. Exactly 50 years ago, on March the 8th 1965, thousands of people of all ages, creeds and races crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. They marched with their arms linked in unity, solidarity and bravery for the voting rights of African-Americans. It was not the lonely effort of a single group of people, but the collective effort of many groups coming together. It is not enough to raise girls to believe that the world is their oyster. Boys too, boys especially, should be raised to understand the social and even economic value of supporting the women around them. Then we’ll have less people with John-like mentalities. “We Should All Be Feminists” is the title of my favourite author, Chimamanda Adichie’s, viral TED talk – I suggest you watch it.

Assignments beckon, so I have to dash. But not before I propose a toast, to all the women and men that have gone before us and have stubbornly made it possible for girls today (in many parts of the world) to have dreams and be able to strive towards them. Women that were, that are, and to those that are to come in business, education, science, the arts, television and many other fields – a salute; not just today, but everyday!

To all the women, phenomenal women, the bawss-ladies of this world: Keep doing your thing!

Lessons in Happiness

As a Responsible Leaders Fellow I am volunteering in some of the poorest countries in the world. For my work, I frequently travel to some of the remotest regions of these countries where people lack basic infrastructure and facilities. But it doesn’t mean people I meet are complaining or carrying a sad face all the time. On the contrary they are some of the happiest and most content people I have ever met. They sing and dance to everything they can and they share whatever little they have. They need help, aid and education but they need no lessons in happiness from west or east.

And happiest of them all are the children. I make a point to talk to them whenever I go for a project visit (they don’t understand me most of the time but sign and smile languages always work). They have no gadgets or fancy sports equipment. But they are happy with their friends around them.

Seven-years-old Henry and his friends love to play soccer and aspire to be local heroes. They can’t afford to buy a football. But they can make one. Yes they can MAKE one. Carefully wrapping plastic bags one over another around a piece of cloth, they have created their own nice football. So what if it doesn’t bounce enough or go as far as it should when you kick it. It’s no less fun.

Henry and his team

Henry and his team

The Handmade football

The Handmade football

Camera has been my best friend wherever I went. And it helped me make friends. During one of my site visits, little Gloria and Ester followed me wherever I moved, asking for one more picture. They are indeed the most photogenic girls I ever came across. I always show kids the pictures I took of them. Looking themselves in the 2 inch LCD screen increases their happiness many folds. They don’t need a camera to be happy. They are just happy being in it. Soon enough Gloria and Ester brought their friends to share their happiness.

Gloria and Ester

Gloria and Ester

And their friends

And their friends

and more Friends

and more Friends

As one of the projects, my organization Welthungerhilfe  is imparting health trainings in villages in Malawi and Zimbabwe. People graduate and receive certificates if they fulfill all 20 criterion on various health precautions during three months of training. There was a small event hosted in one of the districts for graduating community members. After the event I saw some kids collecting discarded soft drink caps. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity of participating. Every cap found was adding more smiles to each face (including my). When I asked what they are going to do with these caps, they said they can play a Strike and Pocket game. Who said only Billiards and Carrom could be fun.

The caps collection

The caps collection

Little Oscar is scared of Murungus (Shona word for Foreigners). Probably his mother uses stories of Murungus to make him finish his food. But hiding and looking from the back of the wooden door makes him happy that he is out of my sight. After some pursuing I managed to tame him for a picture. He is still camera shy. Too young may be. But looking at his own pictures did make him smile finally. And then he was happy teasing me around for the next one hour I was there (well his t-shirt said “T is for Trouble” :) ).

Little Oscar

Little Oscar

I got my lessons in economics and money last year and it made me informed. Now I get my lessons in happiness every day and it makes me humble. I live a privileged life not because I have lived in cities or had a great job. I have a privileged life because so many people are sharing their happiness and smiles everyday with me. I am happy as I have learned to find happiness in anything around me just like these little kids.

* Pictures have been taken at various Welthungerhilfe’s project sites in Zimbabwe and Malawi. Please visit: http://www.welthungerhilfe.de/  and http://www.welthungerhilfe.de/blog/  to know more about Welthungerhilfe’s projects around the world

Happy 125th Birthday Allianz!

Last Wednesday, 4th of February 2015, all of our ESMT Allianz Scholars have been invited to attend Allianz 125th Anniversary and its public dialog regarding “Social and Demographic Change in the 21st Century”. On February 5th, 1890, Allianz was entered into the trade register in Berlin. So…

Happy Birthday Allianz!

The Event

As a summary, the event started with the speech from the CEO of Allianz SE, Michael Diekmann, who introduced the major demographic changes in this era. He mentioned: “Our societies are undergoing profound change as they get older and digital technology becomes more widespread. This will alter the face of tomorrow’s society completely”. The idea was then related directly to the speech from Wolfgang Schäuble, German Federal Minister of Finance. He explained how important sustainable public finances are when it comes to mastering the challenges of demographic change. Followed up was the keynote from the Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, Jan Eliasson, who acknowledged the change.

There was also a forum where academics from across the globe took part in a panel discussion to talk about key demographic trends and their impact on both individuals and society as a whole from the perspective of the younger generation. Two of our Allianz Scholars: Tida and Bar were in the discussion as well.

Our Participation & Contribution

To celebrate and related to its 125th anniversary, Allianz SE is providing 125 scholarships to ESMT students to be awarded in course of five years for degree program candidates. Among these, 35 scholarships for the MIM and full-time MBA programs are earmarked for Kofi Annan Business Schools Foundation Fellows.

Here, I would like to introduce our current Allianz Scholars. We were presented by Allianz CEO, and prior to that we have been asked to talk about our views about demographic changes and the video is recorded and played in both public dialog events in Berlin & Munich.

ESMT Allianz Scholars

Personal Reflection & Experience

All in all, it was a wonderful event. The keynotes and forum were very interesting and gave a lot of fruits for thoughts. Personally, coming from South East Asia, this event gave a lot of information about welfare in European societies. The gap in demographic change readiness is obviously there. We had a chance to talk to Jan Eliasson and other important figures in Allianz as well. There was also this quote that Tida gracefully concluded during the panel discussion that keeps us all in awe. It was about the philosophy of Ubuntu – a Nguni philosophy which, in English, translates to ‘I am because WE are’.

We were supported, we were involved, and we were given an opportunity to be a part of the Allianz circle. To me – it meant so much. Thank you Allianz!