The Third Billion

At the beginning of 2013, the Harvard Business Review issued a report with the 100 best-performing CEOs in the world. In 100, only two were women. This is certainly weird: is it that women are less competent? Less performant? Less business-oriented? Is it because they don’t get a place at the table? Or is just that for too long they were family-oriented, and they haven’t separated from that role yet? Whatever the reason that might underly this lack of women in powerful positions (whether in business, politics, or high hierarchical positions), it is clear that women want and need to access these ranks.

The Third Billion is an expression used to describe the at least one billion women that are not given a seat at the table, in industrialized and developing countries. It is estimated that in the next few decades, more and more will be able to climb, and that leaving them out will no longer be an option. Booz & Company is the management consulting firm that is behind this analysis and the promotion of this idea, that aims at empowering women and focusing the world’s attention for the benefits of having them around. Pretty much all researchers agree that the more women are entitled to participate in the world’s economy and politics, the more benefits the entire society will get out of it. This is a matter of national politics, it is a matter of national economy, and all those that envision a more equal future must fight for the Third Billion to raise.

Thank you Beatriz Branco Gonçalves for giving us to know the Third Billion!

The Path of Non-Violence

This week, The Economist published a very interesting article entitled “The Weapon of Choice“. It started with a John Steinbeck’s quote: “The little screaming fact that sounds through all history is that repression works only to strengthen and knit the oppressed”. Indeed, History suggests that the use of violence by authoritarian governments is counter-productive.

But more interestingly – and perhaps more difficult to understand – it suggests that the use of violence by revolutionary movements against those authoritarian governments, are as well counter-productive.

As the article points out, the peaceful journeys led by Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi have shown that these historical suggestions are right. Actually when thinking about it, this message goes much more back in History: it was Jesus Christ himself that preached for us to give the second cheek when being aggressed.

Yet, how plausible is it for one to choose the non-violence path when attacked by others? As animals that we are, the rational thing to do when attacked is to counter attack.

Yet, we should not. (And we should keep this in mind).

According to two researchers from the University of Denver, “peaceful uprisings are twice as likely to succeed to violent ones”.

The only condition?

Unity. Unity of the movement. There cannot be the belligerents and the peaceful ones on the other side.

No matter where we are from, we should keep this in mind.

After all, what is violence if not the most absolute proof of our animality?

A Narco-State

Guinea Bissau, a small country in West Africa, is today recognized as one of the biggest narco States in the world, with drugs passing from Latin America to Africa and then to Europe. For ten years now, West Africa has been a hub of cocaine coming from the other side of the Atlantic in cargos, through which a fourth of Europe’s consumption passes. The amounts of money it generates are not negligible. In the ancient portuguese colony, the main trafficker is the army, that collaborates with Colombian guerilleros and governmental officials.

Indeed, corruption abounds in this Failed State (according to the 2013 Failed States Index), that has been facing an immense instability since 2009, with transitional governments and coups d’état. In April 2013, the United States’ Drug Enforcement Administration made a storming operation in Guinea Bissau, in order to try to dismantle the drug smuggling business. During this operation, the DEA arrested two military officials claiming to be in international waters (which was found that they actually were not), under the pretext that drug trafficking affects international governance, posing a threat to United States’ citizens.

The biggest problem of this State remains violence related to organized crime, and the indoctrination of the young Guinea Bissau’s population. The problem of drug trafficking highly affects all West Africa, and should be tackled at the international level. The non-handling of this issue shows that the Organization of African States remains an organism far from being able to handle with the problems of this continent. Read more about it here.

Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?

In the late 19th century – the age of schooling’ development in the Western World – John Dewey, an American philosopher and psychologist, started criticising the way schools were being modelled into. At this time, Dewey already defended that purely vocational schools were not enough, and that there was an urgent need to create “habits of mind” such as plasticity – the ability to change opinions after receiving new information.
Two hundred years later, the idea that school should be retaught is still here. (You can read an article we wrote about this subject a couples of months ago, here).
Yet now, what seems to be more and more relevant is the importance of emotional intelligence. What it is? Mainly, the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions. Should we teach emotional intelligence in schools? Probably yes.
A 2011 British study which had followed for fifty years 17 000 British men since they were children, discovered that a child’s level of mental well-being correlated strongly to his future success. Similar studies revealed that emotionally intelligent kids would do better in their professional lives as well as in their personal ones, as they would probably have longer marriages and suffer less from depression.
So the benefits seem clear. But how can we learn to be emotionally intelligent? Is it an innate virtue?

The NYT published an interesting article asking the central question: Can this emotional intelligence be taught? Their conclusion is that not only it is possible but there are already a bunch of schools teaching it. If this new vision of schooling became the norm, in 20 years the world would definitely be a different place.
Just in case you are wondering, we found a test to measure your level of emotional intelligence. Check it out.

Millennium Development Goals

In 2000, just as we entered a new millennium, the United Nations’ members defined eight development goals that should be achieved until 2015:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Global partnership for development.

Undeniably, these goals have mobilized many different actors in the society, from States to private institutions, to the civil society itself; women in general enjoy more rights, there is more concern about the environment and extreme poverty has decreased by half.

Nevertheless, we will be entering 2015 in one year and a half, and except if there is an unexpected change in the world, we are not even near to achieving these Millennium Development Goals. These latter aim at creating a society in which we all have better conditions of living, as a population. Disparities between “North” and “South” countries are far from being eradicated, showing that there is still a long way to go.

The objectives remain necessary and extremely important. They encourage huge investments by the global community, and they represent a small hope for the future of humanity. Today (25.09.2013), the UN gathers to review these Millennium Development Goals. It is an opportunity not only to be realistic about how much has been accomplished so far, but also to think about what comes after 2015. It is an opportunity for us to understand what were our mistakes and to transform them into successes.

15 years have passed and the world has changed a lot for the better. Let’s hope we will continue on this path, with realistic views to what we want to achieve.

Generation 9/11

Following the May 2011 Operation Neptune Spear – the operation that lead to the death of the founder and head of al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden – US President Barack Obama declared that the Islamist organisation had been decapitated and the war on terror would soon be won. The reality today is quite different. Al-Qaeda is still spreading its influence, most particularly, implanting itself in weak and failed States: from tribal zones in Pakistan and Yemen to the war-ravaged land of Iraq. As since its foundation, al-Qaeda is prospering from chaos and violence.

Reading about the story of al-Qaeda, we realised to which Historic period we belong. We do not remember of the Cold War. For us the world is a different place. We are the generation of 9/11. We live in fear. Just as our parents feared a nuclear conflict during the Cold War, we fear to be in a hijacked airplane every time we go to the United States and we fear a bomb every time we are in a super crowded event in a big city.

Of course, we do not suffer as those who live in a country at war. Nevertheless, we live in this extremely lawful and peaceful environment where one day, for no reason, we are killed by a bomb while doing tourism.

We are generation 9/11. We live in fear.

Do you agree?

Agostinho Neto (1922 – 1979)

António Agostinho Neto was born in 1922, in Icolo e Bengo, in the province of Luanda, Angola. In Angola, he served in the Portuguese Colonial Health Service, and in the late 1940’s he moved to Portugal to study medicine. While in Lisbon, he started to befriend several African students, and eventually founded the Anti-Colonial Movement that vehiculated some of the same ideas to the Négritude movement. His political activities got him arrested several times in Portugal, Angola, and Cape Verde, specially due to his anti-colonialist militancy. One of these arrests triggered a demonstration against the Portuguese administration, that killed 30 people. In 1962, Neto fled to Morocco and then to Zaïre, where he joined the Angolan independence movement, rapidly becoming the President of the Movimento Popular de Libertação Angolana (MPLA). Since Neto was a Marxist, the United States’ refused to endorse him, when he asked for support in the independence war between Portugal and Angola. Despite opposing the Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola (FNLA) and the União Nacional para a Independencia Total de Angola (UNITA), Neto’s ideas of socialism and racial-equality gained him an important popularity in Angola. After the Carnation Revolution in 1974 that resulted in Angola’s independence, the MPLA was able to hold the central part of the country with the help of Cuba. As a result, Neto became the first President of Angola, despite the Civil War that opposed the three parties until later than his death, in 1979. The legacy that remains from Agostinho Neto is that of a brilliant poet who wrote mainly about freedom, as well as that of a “National hero”. Indeed, after his death, José Eduardo dos Santos succeeded him as President of Angola and created the “National Hero Day” in his honor.

Shin Dong-hyuk, “The World’s Single Strongest Voice about North Korean atrocities”

We had never heard about the life of Shin Dong-hyuk. A tragic story. A nasty one. The kind that is so shocking and pitiful, that even though you might not remember his name, you will remember his story. He has been described by the United Nations as “the world’s single strongest voice on the atrocities inside North Korean camps, where some 200 000 people are imprisoned”. Shin Dong-hyuk is a North-Korean defector who was unlucky enough to be born in a North Korea slave labor camp – Camp 14. In accordance with Kim II  Sung’s order (he was the nation’s founder), criminal charges are extended to family members across three generations. As Shin Dong-hyuk’s is the nephew of two men of tried to escape North Korea during the 1950 War, he was condemned to live in a prison camp where life expectancy was around 45 years. Brainwashed by guards since his birth, at the age of 14, Shin denounced that his mother was going to escape. He was then forced to see her and his brother’s execution and was later tortured by the umpteenth time. In 2005, along with a friend called Park, he planned to escape the camp by crawling the electric fence around it. As Park was immediately electrocuted, Shin crept over his friend’s body and successfully managed to escape. He is the first North Korean ever to escape a camp and manage to arrive to the West. Today, not only his body is still covered with scars of camp 14, but logically, so is his mind. American journalist Blaine Harden is telling the story of his life in Escape from Camp 14, in an attempt to sensitize people of the horrible reality of life in North Korea – without any doubt the most totalitarian State in modern world.

How We Learn How To See Faces

A face is the most distinctive feature of a human being. In this very interesting piece, Virginia Hughes questions how we learn to see and distinguish faces. Basing herself on several scientific studies, she shows that one of the first things that we learn how to recognize when we are babies is the outline of a face. She points out that our brain only needs 200 milliseconds to understand a face, due to its unique, though simple, appearance: two eyes, a nose and a mouth. However, science has not yet been able to explain what precise neurological combination makes us “facial experts”. Studies performed on children who had experienced cataracts problems seemed to suggest that the earlier children were able to see faces, the better they were able to immediately recognize them amongst other objects. It would thus be a time factor: seeing faces since we are born would be the definitive factor to learning how to see faces. However, the different studies are not conclusive and the author seems to suggest that, more than biology, maybe what makes us recognize faces so easily is simply sociology. We are humans, and the first thing we look at is someone’s face. Undeniably, faces are the definitive factor of our interaction with others.