Saturday, 29 April 2017

Should Patriotic Ghanaians Be Grateful To Jon Benjamin Britain's High Commissioner To Ghana?

When today the U.S. has a president who tweets his thoughts to the world on a regular basis,  is it any wonder that Britain's high commissioner to Ghana, Mr Jon Benjamin, is a diplomat who enjoys the fun-loving lifestyles and welcoming natures of the citizens of the modern African nation, to which he is accredited?

The classic stuffy, stiff upper-lipped diplomat of yesteryear, representing Britain in the Ghana of today, will not make many friends for Britain. That is for sure.

This blog is of the view that Jon Benjamin has been one of the most effective diplomats accredited to Ghana by the government of Great Britain, ever. He has been phenomenal. And cool.

We must thank him for naming and shaming the hypocrites-in-Parliament, who stooped so low as to embroil themselves in shabby connection-man-schemes, in which diplomatic passports were deployed to get constituents, friends and family  members visas allowing them entry into the UK - so they could overstay,  work and live illegally in the UK. Disgraceful.

The question is: After the revealation of this scandalous and egregious abuse of diplomatic passports by some MPs, what sane Ghanaian in the upper reaches of society, will be prepared to risk their good name by becoming  embroiled in the visa  applications of dubious people whose sole aim is to obtain visas to enable them  overstay,  live and work illegally in the countries they obtain those visas to visit as tourists?

Henceforth, it will be well nigh impossible to find any important  person in Ghanaian society willing to allow  his or her good name to be dragged through the mud by dishonest people wanting to use them to obtain  visas to go and live illegally abroad. That is as it should be. 

We owe Jon Benjamin a huge debt of gratitude for this new development in Ghanaian society. Thanks to him, going forward into the future,  decency will rule OK in high society when it comes to visa applications to travel abroad.  Fantastic.

StartUp/David Bailey: Why Raising Money For a Startup Idea Has The Opposite Effect

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David Bailey

Entrepreneur, Early-Stage Investor, Coach
Apr 25

Why Raising Money For a Startup Idea Has The Opposite Effect

When entrepreneurs ask me how to raise money to build their product idea, my answer is always the same: you’re asking the wrong question.

I managed to raise investment off a PowerPoint presentation twice over the last 10 years. It sounds like a great idea to start off with money in the bank — but it turns out that it’s not that simple.

The cost of investment goes beyond equity dilution. Raising capital changes your mindset — often in unhelpful ways. Here’s why I’d never raise outside capital at the idea stage ever again.
1. Investor discussions lock down bad assumptions.

As you pitch an early-stage idea, investors probe into your business assumptions. Over time, a consensus naturally forms around the most ‘investable’ assumptions. When the investor finally says ‘yes’, it feels like a form of market validation. As focus turns to planning, the latest set of bad assumptions are locked down and only come back to haunt you later on.
2. Hiring people puts a layer between you and ‘the front line’.

When you build out an idea, hundreds of tiny decisions need to be made. Raising money allows you to recruit other people to take some of those decisions for you. However, every designer, developer, marketer and salesperson you hire takes you one step further away from your customers and technology. It creates a communication overhead that’s really hard to manage — especially at the idea stage, where the learning curve is steepest.
3. Raising capital is an excuse to not skilling up.

Every successful founding team I know has had to painfully learn the basic skills needed to build their ideas themselves. This includes how to design, develop and sell their idea. A desire to raise money early often signals a lack of skills on the founding team. I’d always suggest looking for ways to fill the gaps that don’t require funding. For example, recruiting, partnerships, or — my personal favourite — learning new skills.
4. Early money encourages ‘over-building’.

To quote product development guru, Marty Cagan, “the really good teams assume that at least three-quarters of the ideas won’t perform like we hope”. The scope of ‘minimal viable product’ tends to increase proportionally with the amount of money available. All too often, funded teams tend to over complicate their products just because they can say ‘yes’.
5. Investors sound more helpful than they really are.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge believer in connecting with and taking advice from people that understand startups. However, forming a solid board of voluntary advisors can be equally as helpful without raising any money at all. The truth is investors aren’t as helpful as you might think.
6. Investment requires you to ‘go all in’.

Raising money might sound like a less risky way to leave your job and focus full-time on the idea. However, given the low chance of success, it’s worth working on it on nights, holidays and weekends before putting all your chips on the table. It’s less risky for investors that can spread their risk across multiple projects.
7. Bad legal precedents will really hurt you later.

At the idea stage, you have virtually no negotiating power. Yet the first round of funding is where many important terms are agreed that form the basis of every future round of funding. Giving away the wrong terms could prevent you from raising professional investment further down the road.
8. You begin a never-ending addiction.

I meet funded founders all the time looking to raise more money in order to start selling, marketing or shipping their products. It becomes this never-ending excuse to put off the most important things they should be doing today. Herein lies the greatest dark-side to raising money. It consumes you. The easier it feels at the earliest stage, the more it takes hold of you. That’s how they get you!
So what should you if you have a business idea?

Maybe you read this and thought ‘my case is different’. While I can’t slap you out of it, I can offer you some absolutely real alternatives to raising money.

    Learn a skill. Over the last 10 years, I’ve taught myself how to write good copy, how to manage products, how to code, how to design, how to write articles, how to recruit people, how to build a following and anything I’ve needed to get to the next level. Skills are your leverage at the early stage and not money.
    Simplify your idea. It’s time to get creative. Can you serve earlier customers manually at the beginning? Can you use SMS and email instead of creating an expensive mobile app? When you take the possibility of money off the table, you’ll be surprised with how you can simplify things to get going.
    Focus on ‘ramen-profitability’. You need to think small before you can think big. Set your first goal to make enough money to live on. Maybe this is £2000 a month. Figure out how many customers you need to achieve this and how you can make it happen. Good businesses make money — the days of Twitter are long gone.

When you’re ready for funding.

Funding is appropriate for products that have some traction in a large market. For the 99 percent of companies that don’t fit this bill, external capital can be a recipe for disaster. If you’re at the invention stage, just remember that necessity is the mother of invention, not money.

This article was originally published on Inc.com. If you liked this, click the 💚 below so other people will see this here on Medium.

About Dave Bailey:
I’m a Venture Partner at Downing Ventures in London, Mentor at Google Launchpad and a serial startup founder. Previously, I built and sold tech businesses in the UK, US and Brazil. I studied at Oxford University, Stanford Graduate School of Business and Singularity University. Find my contact details on Dave-Bailey.com.

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Dr. J Mercola: New Technologies Offer Hope in Creating a More Transparent and Sustainable Food System


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New Technologies Offer Hope in Creating a More Transparent and Sustainable Food System
April 29, 2017 | 6,717 views
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By Dr. Mercola

Modern-day food practices are reliant on a series of unsustainable methods — including fossil fuels and chemical-dependent genetically engineered (GE) organisms — that pollute Earth's valuable resources such as our air, soil and water, as well as damage public health.

Our current food system, heavily treated with crop chemicals, is linked to myriad health problems including food allergies, gluten intolerance, gut and neurological dysfunction, immunodeficiency disorders and more.

Making healthy food choices is incredibly important, but can be a daunting task due to the extreme disconnect many of us have with the food we eat, as illustrated in the featured documentary "Digital Food."
'Food has Become a Black Box'

Food journalist Michael Pollan, who's authored many books and articles explaining how nature and culture intersect on our plates and in our farms and gardens,1 says not knowing where our food comes from creates a vicious cycle of unhealthy choices that results in sickness and disease not only for humans, but our planet too.

"Food has become a black box," says Pollan. "When you're buying a pound of hamburger, you know very little. You don't even know what kind of animal it is."

Most of the time, consumers have little to no details about the food they eat, including how the animal lived, where it came from, what it ate or how long ago it was slaughtered, says Pollan, who through his many thought-provoking books has educated millions about the downfalls of our current food system.

"It's always been my conviction that the more people know about how their food is produced, the better choices they will make," says Pollan.

"That can be very disruptive to the food industry," he adds while being interviewed in the featured film, which explores the potential new technologies have in bringing transparency to our food system.
Two Children in Every US Classroom Have Food Allergies

About 90 percent of the money Americans spend on food goes to buy processed food. What's worse, new research shows that, astonishingly, more than half — nearly 60 percent, in fact — of the food Americans eat is ULTRA-processed meaning the food could be purchased at a gas station.

The implications of this, in terms of public health, stretch far and wide. Researchers estimate that about 15 million Americans now have food allergies.2

This condition, which can be deadly, affects 1 in every 13 children in the U.S. or two in every classroom, resulting in an economic burden of roughly $25 billion per year, according to Food Allergy Research & Education.3

Food allergies among children increased about 50 percent between 1997 and 2011, according to a 2013 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.4

This steep increase in food-related illness has caused consumers to lose faith in the food system and, as a result, to grow very fearful, says Julian Baggini, author of "The Virtues of the Table: How to Eat and Think."

"They're worried about being poisoned and about their health," says Baggini in the film, adding that there's this interesting tension between the desire for cheap and plentiful food and at the same time, also a desire for clean, healthy food that's produced sustainably.
Silicon Valley Sets Its Eyes on Food Technology

In an attempt to help consumers regain their trust in food, companies such as San Francisco-based Nima Labs, featured in the documentary, are working to develop new technologies that allow consumers to avoid foods or key ingredients such as gluten that may trigger an allergic reaction.

Shireen Yates and Scott Sundvor, both of whom suffered food allergies and sensitivities for years, founded Nima Labs in 2013. Tired of wondering whether a food was safe to eat, Yates and Sundvor created a portable device that allows consumers to test liquid and solid foods for gluten in about two minutes.5

The Nima Starter Kit, costing around $300, allows users to insert a tiny sample of food into a capsule that uses chemical measurements to determine if there is 20 parts per million (ppm) or more of gluten in your food sample.

    "The sensor combines an electronic sensor with antibody-based detection in a disposable capsule. This process turns a complicated eight-step laboratory food testing process into an easy three steps," according to the company's website.6

    "Nima also syncs to an app that will record test results and restaurant reviews for future reference and community sharing."

Please note that this is merely a review of technology featured in the documentary, and I have not investigated its validity.

The device is one of many new technologies aimed at empowering consumers to make healthier and more confident food choices. Other emerging technologies include devices that measure anything from calories to pesticides to antibiotics, notes the film.
The Preference for Health Food Isn't Just a Trend; It's a Lifestyle

More than ever before, consumers have a heightened awareness regarding the food they eat, as well as an increased preference for organics and grass fed beef and dairy.

In the U.S., the organic sector grew 11.5 percent in 2016, while grass fed increased about 50 percent. As a result, for the first time in nearly 20 years, the amount of GE crops grown around the world has decreased in terms of acreage.

This preference for health food isn't just a trend; it's a lifestyle — and for good reason.  Studies suggest that organic fruits and vegetables may contain as much as 18 percent to 69 percent more antioxidants than pesticide-treated produce.

As antioxidants play a critical role in the prevention of diseases and illnesses, these higher levels of nutrients, in combination with a lower toxicity level, make organically grown foods a superior choice.

One of the strongest selling points for eating organic foods had been to reduce your exposure to pesticides and insecticides. Now, a recent study demonstrates that organic foods hold more benefits for your future health and the health of your children.

The study conducted by the European Parliamentary Research Service reviewed existing research and made several determinations.7

From their analysis they concluded that eating organic foods reduces pesticide exposure, improves the nutritional value of the food, lessens disease risk and improves early childhood development.8 They also found those who ate organic foods tended to have healthier dietary patterns than those who ate foods treated with chemicals.
Conventional Food Production Accounts for Up to 30 Percent of Manmade Greenhouse Gases

Organic and grass fed beef and dairy products aren't only better for human health, but for the planet too. Organic and regenerative agriculture involves holistic land management practices that improve soil health, biodiversity and water scarcity, while also mitigating the effects of climate change.

"Regenerative agriculture keeps the natural cycles healthy — like water and carbon — so that land can keep growing food and keep carbon and the climate in balance," said Tim LaSalle, Ph.D., former head of the Rodale Institute and co-director of the Regenerative Agriculture Initiative at California State University, Chico.9 Put another way, organic food keeps people healthy, and regenerative agriculture keeps the planet healthy, said Ronnie Cummins, founder of the Organic Consumers Association.10

Moving toward a system where 100 percent of food is produced using organic and regenerative agriculture practices is imperative for regenerating our planet's precious resources, on which human survival depends. Unfortunately, our current food system remains largely dependent on nonrenewable resources that, when used, have adverse effects on human health and the environment.

"The food system is responsible for somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of the greenhouse gases we produce," says Pollan in the featured film.11 Consumers are aware of the environmental impacts of the burning of fossil fuels when it comes to the cars they drive and the homes they heat, but are much less aware about the role fossil fuels play in food production, he adds.
Sustainable Food Production Relies on Human Innovations, Not Chemicals

    "We turn fossil fuels into food in many ways. The main ingredient in fertilizer — ammonium nitrate — is a fossil fuel product that's spread all over the world. The process of making it consumes a lot of fossil fuels and then when it leaches into the atmosphere, it is a very potent greenhouse gas itself," says Pollan.

Our modern-day food system also relies on nonrenewable energy inputs to ship products around the world, but the most damaging aspect is fossil fuel fertilizer, he adds. "It takes 26 ounces of oil to produce that one hamburger — an astonishing amount of oil," says Pollan. Sustainable agriculture, such as organic and regenerative agriculture, requires far less inputs.

    "The most sustainable farms buy the least amount of stuff," says Pollan. "Are the solutions in your head or in a bottle?" he asks. "The most important solutions are in the farmer's head."

Producing Food Without Fossil Fuels

One way to produce food without fossil fuels includes gardening indoors through the use of LED lighting. Based in the Netherlands, Deliscious produces food using LED lighting in a greenhouse equipped with seven layers, one on top of the other, of various types of lettuce. Started by twin brothers Roy and Mark Delissen, the company is the first in the gardening business to move a part of their cultivation to a completely closed space.12 

The brothers, who together share a background in logistics and plant cultivation, say their seven-layer design (area-wise) is seven times more efficient than a traditional greenhouse. In nature during the winter, it can take plants up to 100 days to reach 4 inches tall from the moment they are sown. But in the LED cells at Deliscious, the plants never need more than 30 days to go from a seed to 4 inches, expressed Mark Delissen in the film "Digital Food."

Together, the brothers have perfected the right light recipe to support optimal growth. "In the end you need red, blue and far-red for photosynthesis," says Mark Delissen, adding that the right combination of colors — which took the brothers four years to identify — optimizes growth. "You can even manipulate the flavor by using more blue or red. But it's only just now that people are starting to research this," he adds.

    "Every color has its own effect — and the plants are very sensitive to this. So we use blue, red and far-red. The combination of these three makes the lettuce grow the way we want," says Mark Delissen. "But if you add just a bit more blue, you would get very different plants. It's amazing how nature responds to this."

Growing Plants Indoors With LED Lighting

The brothers say the best part about gardening indoors with LED lighting is that you're in control, meaning you can manipulate the plants with different kinds of lights. For example, adding more blue light causes the plant to be longer and stretch more. While vastly different than outdoor agriculture, the brothers stress that plant knowledge is still necessary and predict that in the future farmers will go from being growers to engineers. 

"You still need knowledge of plants, but there will be more technology," says Mark Delissen. Growing plants indoors using LED lighting certainly has its advantages, including the fact that no pesticides are needed during cultivation. Another great advantage is that the process uses far less water; the Delissen brothers say they use 80 percent less water, in fact. It would also allow the crops to avoid any rain that is contaminated with glyphosate.

However, there are also downfalls associated with gardening indoors with LED lighting. Firstly, LED technology is still relatively new and therefore expensive. "It's like computers in the 1980s," says Mark Delissen. Secondly, growing plants indoors with LED lighting does not include soil, which is a natural and important part of the food-growing process. Because they aren't grown in soil, the plants cannot be certified organic, either.

Thirdly, gardening indoors with LED lighting does nothing to combat climate change because the growing process does not involve soil. As discussed previously, soil-based agriculture — including organic and regenerative agriculture — is extremely important for combating climate change by building healthy soils capable of drawing down excess carbon in the atmosphere.13
Why Our Current Food System Must Evolve

As technology continues to advance, hopefully so will our food systems, and in a way that's healthier for the planet and us. Like Pollan said, the ideas are in our heads and not in a bottle of Monsanto's Roundup. While the U.S. government has done little to nothing to support a healthier and more environmentally conscious food system, an improved model continues to emerge through methods like organic and regenerative agriculture — a phenomenon made possible only through consumer demand.

    "This is because people understand this public health crisis has now spread worldwide, and this environmental crisis and its relationship to the climate crisis are all due to an out-of-control, industrial, chemical-intensive GMO agriculture," said Cummins in response to the sharp growth in organics and grass fed farming. "People are turning away."

Most everyone can agree that our current food system model is failing miserably and won't hold up much longer. However, the key to fixing our broken food system relies on a combination of old, less environmentally impactful techniques and new technologies that allow better use of our natural resources.
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Will A More Tolerant Society Not Serve Ghana Better?

The polarisation of Ghanaian society resulting from the divisive nature of our nation's politics is one of the greatest drawbacks to the transformation of our country,

It is preventing our nation from moving forward at a much faster pace.

Tolerance of opposing views is a vital ingredient in any society that commits to upholding and protecting its democratic system of government.

Younger generation Ghanaians need to understand that democracy is not only just about institutions of state, constitutions, elections etc., etc.

Above all, democracy is a way of life based on tolerance. We need to be more tolerant of each other's  viewpoints and foibles as a people - and to undrstand that tolerance ensures peace  coexistence. 

For the sake of this blog's many  younger generation Ghanaian readers, we have culled and posted an inspiring article by a University of California at Berkley student, Pranav Jandhyala, who founded BridgeUSA to bring together fellow-minded open-minded students on the Berkley campus.

One hopes that members  of  the two affiliates of the  governing New Patriotic Party (NPP), and the main opposition party the National Democratic Congress (NDC),  on university campuses across Ghana,  the Tertiary Students Confederacy of the NPP (TESCON), and the NDC'sTertiary Education Institutions Network (TEIN), will read Pranav Jandhyala's   very interesting article - and learn from it. Ditto Ghana's current crop of active young politicians..

 Please read on:

 "The Washington Post

Democracy Dies in Darkness
   
PostEverything Perspective

I invited Ann Coulter to speak at UC Berkeley. Here’s why.

My group doesn't agree with her, but we believe in free speech.

By Pranav Jandhyala April 27

Pranav Jandhyala is a freshman at the University of California at Berkeley, where he is the founder and co-president of BridgeUSA at Berkeley.

"Here's why a UC Berkeley freshman invited Ann Coulter to speak on campus

Play Video2:56  president of BridgeUSA, the nonpartisan organization that invited conservative commentator Ann Coulter to campus. (Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)

I am the founder of BridgeUSA at Berkeley, the nonpartisan organization that worked with College Republicans to invite Ann Coulter to the University of California at Berkeley’s campus. Our organization hopes to create a future in which our campus and our country are venues for free and fair political discussion and debate from all sides. We stand for the preservation of spaces where political ideas can be shared and challenged without fear of violence.

To that end, we decided to help bring Coulter to Berkeley today to speak to a body of mainly liberal students on immigration. Unfortunately, threatened attacks from extremist groups forced the cancellation of this event. Let’s be clear: Blame for the cancellation of Coulter’s speech does not rest solely on the shoulders of any individual. The administration, student groups including ours, external resistance groups and the media all made mistakes that need to be corrected. Fundamentally, though, the system of political dialogue and debate is broken, not just on this campus, but across the nation.

We formed our organization earlier this year after the infamous Milo Yiannopoulos event here, where an incendiary speaker, violent rioters and a divided nation combined to create the perfect storm of political controversy. The university canceled a speech in February by Yiannopoulos, a prominent conservative writer, after intense protests that led to a campuswide “shelter in place” order. That day, instigation and violence replaced mediation and conversation — and we wanted to repair this breakdown in communication. Our goal since then has been to facilitate dialogue between political opposites, allowing everyone to engage with and understand opposing viewpoints. We have so far been successful in hosting forum sessions and debates on a series of different issues. We’ve hosted five events in about two months. Many students were immediately interested in our mission, and our membership has expanded rapidly — we have 40 officers and about 150 to 200 members.

Coulter was the choice of conservative groups on campus to represent their perspective in a larger campus debate about illegal immigration we were hosting. Liberal groups on campus had chosen Maria Echaveste, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton. She spoke on April 17 and answered questions from conservative students in the audience.

Coulter’s ideas have an audience, and though most members of our group don’t agree with her, we recognize the following she draws. We also understand that many see her as an inflammatory figure with destructive beliefs that disqualify her from appearing at an institution of higher learning. But we believe the only productive way to fight views one sees as bad or dangerous is with better views. So we chose to get involved and include Coulter in our speaker series on immigration so students could hear, and actively challenge, her views. We planned for the event to be a debate-style Q&A with rebuttals to allow for a back-and-forth dialogue. Coulter would have fielded tough questions about her views from students in the audience, and we would have done our part to ensure that she would answer those questions in their entirety and give students the opportunity to respond. Rather than repeating the failures of Yiannopoulos’s event, we wanted to create a national example for what free discourse and the questioning of ideas should look like here at Berkeley, the home of the free speech movement 50 years ago.

Free speech isn’t about provocation, violence, publicity stunts, selling books or testing limits. At their best, universities start and nurture conversations that advance dialogue and understanding further. Regrettably, the developments surrounding this event led it to fall out of line with our beliefs as an organization.

ZwBridgeUSA at Berkeley’s role and our plan for the event, instead reporting that the incident was a repeat of the Yiannopoulos fracas — exactly what  set out to avoid. And as the tensions between student safety and free speech entered the justice system, Yiannopoulos himself announced that he would be organizing a “free speech week” on Sproul Plaza where he and his supporters would attack a new perceived “enemy of free speech” every day. It pains me to see our campus being used as a pulpit for bad actors, people whose goal is to elevate themselves by inciting violence, without a thought for the safety of students who live and attend school here.

Sproul Plaza is becoming a battleground, and the ones who are left to pick up the bill of consequences is the Berkeley student body, which is vilified every day in the press for destruction that outside groups are responsible for. Antifa and other “black-bloc” groups that are able to organize do so far beyond the perimeters of our campus, and they receive an insignificant amount of support from Berkeley students, if any. But in national news, all that’s seen is violence and destruction being used to censor speech.

What’s disheartening to me is seeing the words “free speech” being used as a tool to garner headlines and publicity. The whole purpose behind the idea of free speech has been lost. What’s happening on our campus is no longer about advancing discourse anymore. It’s no longer an attempt to reach a larger truth and understanding about policy issues so that better decisions can be made. It’s just a furious chase to get in front of the news cameras and be trending on Twitter and Facebook.

Conservative groups, in their attempt to frame this complex series of events as a “free speech battle” by suing Berkeley’s administration, have used the label of free speech as a tool for publicity. Our organization prides itself on the values of free inquiry and discourse, yet we understand the impossible trade-off that the university faces: the administration is caught between upholding its commitment to free speech and its responsibility for student safety.

The administration attempted to work with us, to propose alternative dates this semester and next semester where a defensible venue would be available. In balancing the concerns of protecting students and allowing peaceful protest, they never backed down from their commitment to help us bring Coulter to campus. It is easy and expedient to blame the university in this situation, but that avoids the actual problem. The true issue here is not the way that the university handled this situation; rather, it is the fact that this trade-off between student safety and free speech even exists in the first place.

It’s a scary situation when the university cannot perfectly perform its duty, when it cannot guarantee the safety of all speakers at all times in all places. Those who would threaten student safety and destroy our campus to silence speech they disagree with are culpable for the existence of this new trade-off. And violence and threats which restrict the free exchange of ideas constitute fascism under the banner of anti-fascism.

We challenge the Berkeley administration, the Berkeley College Republicans and Coulter to work collaboratively and address the cancellation of the event and the current political climate. These respective parties continue to affirm their commitment to free speech, but they have demonstrated minimal effort in speaking freely with one another. Civil discussions are necessary to progress our democracy and address pressing points of contention.

We can alleviate polarization if we come to the table to talk, but until then, there is no constructive way forward. Threatening violence does not change minds, and instigating controversy for publicity does not fix a broken system. We, as a community, have to recognize that there is a world outside of Berkeley: How can we promote what we believe if we are associated with images of violence? We need to act with the knowledge that everyone is watching.

We refuse to meet speech with violence and oppression. We refuse to invoke the right to free speech to inflame, attack and generate publicity. We refuse to accept the current status quo surrounding speech on university campuses across the country. Instead, we will continue to pursue our mission of creating environments in which students can engage with their peers as free thinkers, express their opinions without fear and have their beliefs, suppositions and prejudices challenged rather than dismissed. Only through these means can we begin to bridge the gap brought on by polarization and allow for a free exchange of political ideas."

Written with additional contributions by Sean Vernon, editor of BridgeUSA at Berkeley’s publication

Pranav Jahndyala is a freshman at the University of California at Berkeley, where he is the founder and co-president of BridgeUSA at Berkeley.

© The Washington Post. All rights reserved.
   
  

Transparency In Government's Bailout Programme For Private-Sector Entities Is Vital

It was announced recently that 100 distressed private-sector companies applied to the ministry of trade industry to be given some of the bailout funds earmarked by the government for such companies.

It is extremely important in an exercise of this nature that there is transparency in all aspects of implementing the bailout programme.

It is taxpayers' money after all - in an  era of transparency and  value-for-money  in the utilisation of public funds: an oft-repeated mantra in public of President Akufo-Addo.

If members of the president's  regime  want to be returned to power again in the November 2020 presidential and parliamentary elections, no one in this administration should forget that new good-governance-reality in our public life. Ever.

They must be transparent at all material times in their work for Mother Ghana. Consequently, as a matter of urgency, the ministry of trade and industry ought to produce the list of the 100 companies that applied for bailouts.

The ministry's officials must also let the nation know the criteria used in selecting the 50 companies that were eventually succcessful in receiving the bailout  money and the amounts of money involved in each case. Immediately. Not at some indeterminate point  in the future. No.

That is what Ghanaians expect from President Akufo-Addo's administration. Nothing more. Nothing less. Full stop. That is why the New Patriitic Party (NPP) was voted into power.

The dynamic minister for trade and industry, Hon Alan Kyremateng, must be commended for moving quickly to implement this all-important economic measure.

It is a key building block in the transformation of our homeland Ghana in the shortest possible timeframe within the election cycle.

In light of that, Hon Alan Kyremateng must  ensure that there is transparency in the government's bailout programme from day one of its implementation. That is vital - as it sends all the right signals to the world: about the seriousness the government attaches to the programme's success.

Friday, 28 April 2017

TechCrunch: MIT’s giant mobile 3D printer can build a building in 14 hours, and some day it may be headed to Mars

Posted 18 hours ago by Brian Heater (@bheater)

At first glance, the Digital Construction Platform looks as awkward as its name. A nozzle is attached to the end of a pair of robotic arms atop a rover-like vehicle outfitted with tank treads. Then there’s a flatbed trailer attached to the back, with two big metal tanks strapped to its top. The system is actually a giant, mobile 3D printer, and the MIT team behind it believes it could help revolutionize home construction both here on Earth and other planets in the distant future.
The notion of 3D printing a house isn’t a new one, of course. It’s been tried before with varying degrees of success. What sets this project apart from much of its competition, however, is a move away from modularity, toward a system capable of printing a structure in one single go.

The system is freed of the special constraints of a more traditional 3D printer by the long industrial robotic arm out front. Another, more precise arm is attached to the end of that one, allowing it to be controlled with much more precision. This gives the system much a larger build space than a traditional 3D printer, which is constrained by the limited volume of its print bed.

The team has been working on the ‘bot since 2011, developing it through multiple iterations. This morning, it showcased what it’s been working on in the form of a quick time-lapse YouTube video, which features the platform constructing a 12-foot-high dome made out of a combination of foam and concrete, creating a structure that is solid, while still sporting space for things like wires and pipes to be inserted in its side.

In all, the process took a tad under 14 hours to complete. The video, however, is just the beginning of the team’s ambitious goals. Steven Keating, a recent PhD grad in mechanical engineering, authored the paper on the project that went live this week. He’s speak about his team’s ambitions with a rapid-fire enthusiasm that travels from the MIT labs to housing structures being built on Mars in a matter of seconds.

The project, he explains, was born out of a desire to create machines and structures with clear biological inspiration — something that’s all the rage in the robotics world these days. The system is programmable and can currently be operated with the push of a button. But if the platform is going to do its thing in extreme conditions like the Antarctic tundra (or, for that matter, Mars), it’s going to take full autonomy.

“Our future vision for this project is to have self-sufficient robotic systems,” Keating explains. “Just like a tree gathers its own energy, our platform is being developed toward the design goal of being able to gather its own energy. We’ve shown that through photovoltaic energy. And being able to gather and use local materials.”

With the proper combination of sensors, the system can customize a build based on conditions like light and weather and can utilize its own surroundings as the basis of its structures. The paper even goes so far as proposing walls built from organic living material like cyanobacteria, which can adapt to the environment, furthering the team’s initial goal of creating a biological structure.

Keating is also quick to point out the deliberate move of referring to the machine as a platform, rather than a 3D printer. The goal is to create a robotic system capable of several different functions working in tandem to create a structure, including digging and milling, in addition to 3D printing.

But while many of the team’s goals read like works of science fiction, Keating says he believes that the system will be able to start building real-world structures in the near future.

“My guess is you’ll see it happen in the next few years,” he explains. “You’ll start to see real structures made from these things. It’s going to be widespread and we won’t be able to make your house with this in the next five years, but there will be structures being built.

©  TechCrunch 2017. All rights reserved.


Energy Voice: UK reactor takes first steps towards fusion

Renewable/Other Energy

UK reactor takes first steps towards fusion

Written by Energy reporter - 28/04/2017 6:02 am

Britain’s newest fusion reactor has been fired up and taken the UK one step further towards generating electricity from the power of the stars.

The heart of the Tokamak ST40 reactor – a super-hot cloud of electrically charged gas, or plasma – is expected to reach a temperature of 100 million centigrade in 2018.

That is how hot it needs to be to trigger fusion, the joining together of atomic nuclei accompanied by an enormous release of energy.
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The same process enables stars to shine and in a less controlled way provides the destructive force of H-bombs.

The new reactor was built at Milton Park, Oxfordshire, by Tokamak Energy, a private company pioneering fusion power in the UK.

It is Tokamak Energy’s third upgraded reactor and represents the latest step in a five-stage plan to bring fusion power to the national grid by 2030.

Fusion power holds out the promise of almost unlimited supplies of clean energy. It uses special forms of hydrogen as fuel, produces no greenhouse gases, and the only waste product is helium.

But harnessing and raining in the mighty forces involved is a daunting challenge.

The plasma, which at 100m C is seven times hotter than the centre of the sun, has to be contained in a doughnut-shaped “magnetic bottle”.

Some way has also got to be found to turn the energy of fast-moving elementary particles into electricity.

Speaking after the ST40 reactor was officially turned on and achieved “first plasma”, Tokamak Energy chief executive Dr David Kingham said: “Today is an important day for fusion energy development in the UK, and the world.

“We are unveiling the first world-class controlled fusion device to have been designed, built and operated by a private venture. The ST40 is a machine that will show fusion temperatures – 100 million degrees – are possible in compact, cost-effective reactors.

“This will allow fusion power to be achieved in years, not decades.”

He said the project, now half way to the goal of fusion energy, still needed “significant investment”.

To date, the company has raised £20 million from private contributors.

Dr Kingham added: “Our approach continues to be to break the journey down into a series of engineering challenges, raising additional investment on reaching each new milestone.”

© Energy Voice 2017. All rights reserved.

Surely, The Ameri Power Agreement Can Be Abrogated?

On grounds it was procured by an illegality, and is merely voidable at the instance of the party innocent of that illegality, the Republic Of Ghana, surely, the AMERI power agreement can be abrogated?

To quote an incensed old wag I know: "Kofi, to use a pidgin English phrase of infamy, 'To chop Ghana small' to the tune of some US$150 million is intolerable, unspeakable, unpardonable and abominable. No question."  Well, said. Patriot.

That a Swedish conman, Umar Farouq Zahoor, wanted by police in Sweden and Switzerland for swindling people out of vast sums in Europe, can come all the way from Dubai to get public officials in Ghana to sign a one-sided power agreement favouring the company he was then representing, AMERI, which relieved taxpayers of tens of millions of dollars without bribing anyone in this country is pretty hard to believe.

The question is: Why does the current government not offer anyone with  knowledge of any such bribery offered by officials of the Dubai-based company in the AMERI power agreement, 10 percent of the US$150 million excess payment and immunity from prosecution, on top, for providing that vital fresh evidence?

Finally, this blog  has dug up the little beauty below from Allen & Overy, for the brilliant Mr. Philip Addison, to help Ghana make the case that the AMERI power agreement is voidable by Mother Ghana, the innocent  party led up the garden path by the wiles of the  forked-tongued-rogue-and-charmer,  Umar Farooq Zahoor, and therefore ought to be abrogated. Asap. Full stop.

Please read on:.

"Enforceability of contract procured by corruption
16 May 2016

​The English High Court ruled in National Iranian Oil Company v Crescent Petroleum Company International Ltd & Crescent Gas Corporation Ltd [2016] EWHC 510 (Comm) that there is no English public policy that would preclude enforcement of a contract procured by corruption (as opposed to a contract illegal in itself, such as a contract to pay a bribe). Under English law, a contract procured by bribery is voidable at the instance of the innocent party.  

National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and Crescent Petroleum Company International (Crescent Petroleum, a UAE entity) entered into a long-term gas supply and purchase contract. The contract was governed by Iranian law and referred all disputes, including disputes in relation to the validity of the contract, to arbitration. In 2003, Crescent Petroleum purported to assign the contract to its subsidiary Crescent Gas Corporation Ltd (Crescent Gas). In 2009, Crescent Petroleum and Crescent Gas (Crescent entities) commenced LCIA arbitration proceedings against NIOC claiming that it had breached its obligation to deliver gas under the contract.

In the arbitration, NIOC argued that the contract was not enforceable because it was procured by a bribe. The LCIA tribunal considered evidence of corruption in the arbitration, including at a 30-day evidentiary hearing. The tribunal rendered an award in favour of the Crescent entities ruling that the contract was valid and binding and that NIOC had been in breach since 2005. On the issue of corruption, the tribunal found that, although there was an attempt to bribe, there was no evidence that the contract was tainted by it and there was no evidence of imbalance in the parties' agreement.

NIOC challenged the award in the English High Court under s67 (lack of substantive jurisdiction) and s68 (award procured by fraud or contrary to public policy) of the English Arbitration Act 1996 (the EAA). NIOC contended that the award was not valid under English law because it resulted from a contract procured by Crescent's corruption, such that enforcement should be denied on public policy grounds (s68(2)(g) of the EAA). NIOC did not rely on any fresh evidence of corruption and argued that, although the arbitral tribunal dismissed the allegations of corruption, the court considering English public policy may take a different view. It also argued, albeit creatively, that even if the attempt to bribe failed, the contract was tainted by Crescent's misconduct, and that the taint was sufficient to deny enforcement.

Burton J ruled that NIOC's challenge was unarguable and had "no reasonable prospect of success".

No English public policy requiring court to refuse to enforce a contract procured by bribery

The principal issues before the High Court on the public policy argument were, in essence:

    Is an award contrary to public policy if the underlying contract was procured by corruption (as opposed to the subject matter of the contract itself being illegal)?
    Can the court reopen public policy issues if they have already been considered and decided by the arbitral tribunal?

On the first issue, Burton J agreed with Honeywell International Middle East Ltd v Meydan Group LLC [2014] EWHC 1344 (TCC), drawing a distinction between the enforcement of: (i) contracts to commit an illegality; and (ii) contracts procured by an illegality. While the former are void, the latter are only voidable at the election of the innocent party with counter-restitution and can accordingly be enforced. The judge noted that there is certainly no English public policy requiring the court to refuse enforcement of a contract which has been preceded, and is unaffected, by an unsuccessful attempt to bribe, on the basis that such contract is allegedly tainted. Introducing a concept of tainting of a contract which is otherwise legal and enforceable would create uncertainty and undermine party autonomy.

On the second issue, the judge agreed with previous decisions of the English courts which generally refuse to reopen the findings of an arbitral tribunal, absent "fresh evidence" or save in "very exceptional circumstances" (see, eg, Westacre Investments Inc v Jugoimport-SDRP Holding Company Ltd [1999] QB 740). Critically, the allegations of bribery were considered and rejected by the arbitral tribunal "after full consideration and evidence" in the arbitration. Burton J ruled that there was no basis to reopen the tribunal's decision on this point because there was no fresh evidence of corruption and no exceptional circumstances that would justify doing so.

Comment: The case confirms previous case law, including Honeywell and Westacre, that there is no English public policy requiring an English court to refuse enforcement of a contract procured by an illegality (to be contrasted with contracts that are illegal per se – for example, a contract to pay a bribe). Where a contract is procured by an illegality, it is merely voidable at the instance of the party innocent of the illegality (in this case, NIOC) as opposed to being automatically void and therefore unenforceable for being contrary to public policy. Here, the contract could have been avoided by NIOC if it had correctly argued that the contract was voidable (but it does not appear to have done so). By contrast, if the tables were reversed and it was NIOC who sought to enforce its rights under the contract against Crescent entities, the latter could not have resisted enforcement because they were not the "innocent" party.

While Burton J held that the court would not interfere with a contract even if one or more of the parties had committed criminal acts for which they could be prosecuted, he considered the claimant's counsel's arguments based on recent international conventions to outlaw bribery and the increase of legislation to criminalise it.  However, these arguments were not sufficient to persuade the court to change English public policy on the enforcement of a contract procured by bribery.

It is worth remembering however that under the English Bribery Act 2010, it is a criminal offence to offer a bribe (even if the bribe is not accepted). Moreover, any proceeds from a contract procured by bribery may constitute criminal property and be covered by money laundering rules. UK companies and foreign companies carrying on business or a part of their business in the UK are caught by the English Bribery Act 2010. 

Parties who are considering making corruption allegations before the English courts in order to resist enforcement of a contract should bear in mind that the evidentiary threshold for proving corruption is high; direct evidence is often unavailable and circumstantial evidence may be insufficient. Moreover, once corruption allegations are made, and regardless of the outcome of these assertions, the commercial relationship between the parties will likely be irreparably compromised. 

This case is also a useful reminder that, where issues of corruption had been considered by an arbitral tribunal, fresh evidence is required in order to reopen the arbitrators' decision before the English courts. The threshold for challenging an award on public policy grounds under s68 of the EAA is very high and the English court will not conduct a review on the merits of an arbitral award.

Further Information

This case summary is part of the Allen & Overy Litigation and Dispute Resolution Review, a monthly publication.  For more information please contact Sarah Garvey sarah.garvey@allenovery.com, or tel +44 20 3088 3710.

  ©2017 Allen & Overy LLP"

End of culled publication from the website of Allen & Overy LLP.
   

   



Climate Central/Brian Kahn: We Just Breached the 410 PPM Threshold for CO2

RClimate Central
Climate   
We Just Breached the 410 PPM Threshold for CO2

Carbon dioxide has not reached this height in millions of years

    By Brian Kahn, Climate Central on April 21, 2017

The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii recorded its first-ever carbon dioxide reading in excess of 410 parts per million. Credit: Sharloch Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)


The world just passed another round-numbered climate milestone. Scientists predicted it would happen this year and lo and behold, it has.

On Tuesday, the Mauna Loa Observatory recorded its first-ever carbon dioxide reading in excess of 410 parts per million (it was 410.28 ppm in case you want the full deal). Carbon dioxide hasn’t reached that height in millions of years. It’s a new atmosphere that humanity will have to contend with, one that’s trapping more heat and causing the climate to change at a quickening rate.

In what’s become a spring tradition like Passover and Easter, carbon dioxide has set a record high each year since measurements began. It stood at 280 ppm when record keeping began at Mauna Loa in 1958. In 2013, it passed 400 ppm. Just four years later, the 400 ppm mark is no longer a novelty. It’s the norm.

“Its pretty depressing that it’s only a couple of years since the 400 ppm milestone was toppled,” Gavin Foster, a paleoclimate researcher at the University of Southampton told Climate Central last month. “These milestones are just numbers, but they give us an opportunity to pause and take stock and act as useful yard sticks for comparisons to the geological record.”

Earlier this year, U.K. Met Office scientists issued their first-ever carbon dioxide forecast. They projected carbon dioxide could reach 410 ppm in March and almost certainly would by April. Their forecast has been borne out with Tuesday’s daily record. They project that the monthly average will peak near 407 ppm in May, setting a monthly record.

Carbon dioxide concentrations have skyrocketed over the past two years due to in part to natural factors like El Niño causing more of it to end up in the atmosphere. But it’s mostly driven by the record amounts of carbon dioxide humans are creating by burning fossil fuels.

“The rate of increase will go down when emissions decrease,” Pieter Tans, an atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said. “But carbon dioxide will still be going up, albeit more slowly. Only when emissions are cut in half will atmospheric carbon dioxide level off initially.”

Even when concentrations of carbon dioxide level off, the impacts of climate change will extend centuries into the future. The planet has already warmed 1.8°F (1°C), including a run of 627 months in a row of above-normal heat. Sea levels have risen about a foot and oceans have acidified. Extreme heat has become more common.

All of these impacts will last longer and intensify into the future even if we cut carbon emissions. But we face a choice of just how intense they become based on when we stop polluting the atmosphere.

Right now we’re on track to create a climate unseen in 50 million years by mid-century.

This article is reproduced with permission from Climate Central. The article was first published on April 20, 2017.



   

Scientific American is part of Springer Nature, which owns or has commercial relations with thousands of scientific publications (many of them can be found at www.springernature.com/us). Scientific American maintains a strict policy of editorial independence in reporting developments in science to our readers.
© 2017 Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc.

All Rights Reserved.
­

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Should The Government Collaborate With Telcos To Replicate Estonia's National Digital Ecosystem For The Transformation Of Ghana?

Radio and television frequencies are public resources allocated to private-sector entities to provide services that enable some of them to generate massive profits from.

The Africa-focused telecommunications giant, MTN, is a classic example in our homeland Ghana.

The question is: Should President Akufo-Addo not put Vice President Alhaji Mahammadu Bawumia in charge of a presidential task-force made of software companies, the telcos and Ghana's leading IT experts to put together a strategic plan, to replicate Estonia's national digital ecosystem to make Ghana an e-state, so to speak, in the shortest possible timeframe?

We are posting a culled article by  Vivienne Walt, entitled: "Is This Tiny European Nation a Preview of Our Tech Future?" in which she describes Estonia's digital e-state system.  We hope the powers that be in Ghana will be inspired by it.

Please read on:

"Search
Estonia

Is This Tiny European Nation a Preview of Our Tech Future?

By Vivienne Walt
6:30 AM ET

One Spring afternoon, I’m gazing out the window of an ­office building on the outskirts of Estonia’s capital, ­Tallinn, watching people stroll below, when a cream-­colored plastic container mounted on black wheels rounds the corner and begins maneuvering its way among the pedestrians. The device looks like a kid’s toy. But in reality it’s a high-tech delivery robot called Starship and potentially the next mega-profitable invention to spring from this snowy, miniature country on the northern edge of Europe—one of the more unexpected launching pads on the planet. “If you look at sci-fi movies set 20 years from now, you don’t see people carrying their groceries. Robots just arrive at their homes,” says Ahti Heinla, cofounder and CEO of Starship Technologies. Reality, he says, has caught up to sci-fi. “About two years ago we realized it was possible to create this part of the future right now.”

For a snapshot of how we might all be living tomorrow, there are few better places to visit than this picturesque city of 400,000, whose winding medieval alleyways offer an elegant contrast to its digital present. Creating the future now, as Heinla puts it, is Estonia’s driving project, and increasingly it is its core business too.

Most Americans or even Europeans would be unable to find this pinprick on a map, squeezed between its small Baltic Sea neighbor Latvia and mammoth Russia. Its population, just 1.3 million, is about the same as Dallas or the Bronx borough of New York City. But its ­modest size and remoteness belies its clout. It is here that a group of friends, including Heinla, invented the hugely popular Internet calling platform Skype.

Given Estonia’s history, the invention of Skype in this country was ironic. While Americans were buying their first cell phones, about a quarter-century ago, Estonians were shut off from the world as an outpost of the Soviet Union. You could easily wait 10 years to be assigned a landline phone. By the time the Soviet Union imploded in 1991, the country was in a time warp. “We did not have anything,” says Gen. Riho Terras, the commander of Estonia’s armed forces, who had been a student activist at the time. The country had to reboot from zero. Terras says each citizen was given the equivalent of 10 euros, or $10.60. “That was it,” he says, laughing. “We started from 10 euros each.”

One generation on, Estonia is a time warp of another kind: a fast-f orward example of extreme digital living. For the rest of us, Estonia ­offers a glimpse into what happens when a country abandons old analog systems and opts to run completely online instead. That notion is not fanciful. In various forms, governments across the world, including those in Singapore, Japan, and India, are trying to determine how dramatically they can transform themselves into digital entities in order to cut budgets and streamline services (and for some, keep closer tabs on citizens). Estonia claims its online systems add 2% a year to its GDP.

The moment I land in Tallinn, my phone pings with the city’s free Wi-Fi network, which rolled out more than 15 years ago. But the extreme-digital life of regular Estonians is far less visible. At birth, every person is assigned a unique string of 11 digits, a digital identifier that from then on is key to operating almost every aspect of that person’s life—the 21st-century version of a Social Security number. The all-digital habits begin young: Estonian children learn computer programming at school, many beginning in kindergarten.

In 2000, Estonia became the first country in the world to declare Internet access a basic human right—much like food and shelter. That same year it passed a law giving digital signatures equal weight to handwritten ones. That single move created an entire paperless system. Since no one was required to sign with a pen, there was no need for paper documents to pay taxes, open a bank account, obtain a mortgage, pick up a prescription, or perform most of life’s other tasks, other than marrying and divorcing. “I established my company in about 20 minutes, without going anywhere,” says Kaidi Ruusalepp, 41, CEO of Funderbeam, an investment t rading platform for early-stage, non-IPO startups, which she founded in 2013. “We never visited the tax board, the Social Security agency, anything,” she says. “Everything is online.”

So, too, are Estonians’ taxes. Almost all Estonians file taxes online—within minutes. Since public registries are all linked in one system, Estonians can log in to prefilled tax declarations showing their income, property, number of children, and so on. They make necessary tweaks and hit the send button. (Outside the U.S., this type of approach is increasingly common.) Last year then–Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas earned loud cheers on The Daily Show when he described to host Trevor Noah how he had filed his taxes on his iPad during a few idle minutes in the Luxembourg Airport.

When I visit Rõivas, 37, in his office in the Estonian Parliament, it’s weirdly devoid of paper. He says during nearly three years as Prime Minister the only time he signed his name in ink was in ceremonial guest books. Theoretically, he says, the government could issue an online order to send troops into battle. “I never signed any law physically,” he says. “Never.”

Estonians were also first to be able to vote online in elections, back in 2005. When I ask Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid where she voted in last November’s elections, which brought her to power, she responds as if my question is dumb: “From my computer at home.” Kaljulaid was ­speaking to me while we were on a boat to Tallinn from Helsinki, in neighboring Finland, where she had just signed a deal allowing the countries to recognize each other’s digital ID cards. Now, for example, Finns and Estonians can visit doctors in the other country and automatically call up their medical records—all stored online. “We have been using digital identifiers for 17 years,” she says. “People have learned to trust the system.”

Estonians might take all this tech wizardry for granted now, but the country was on its knees economically after the Soviet collapse. It had one huge advantage: It was starting from scratch. “People were paid in cash,” says Martin Ruubel, 41, president of Guardtime, a 10-year-old software security company that developed the country’s blockchain system (more on that in a moment), sitting in his Tallinn office on the grounds of a converted former military barrack. Since no Estonian had ever had a checkbook, once the Soviets were gone the country simply skipped past pen and paper and issued bank cards. It was a money saver, but had another benefit: It pushed Estonians to get online fast.

Scrambling to piece together a country, the new leaders, young and inexperienced, also rapidly privatized the telecom industry. “It was highly successful,” says Mart Laar, 57, who became the first post-Soviet Prime Minister, at age 32, and is now chairman of the board of supervisors for the Bank of Estonia. Since so few people had even landline phones, many simply bought mobile handsets instead. Laar, a historian, says he knew nothing about computers but believed they needed to start with the latest technology. When Finland offered to donate its analog telephone exchange to its poorer neighbor for free, Estonia turned it down.

The government recruited Ruusalepp, now Funderbeam’s CEO, as the new country’s first IT lawyer when she was just 20 and still a student. “I had no law degree and no understanding of technology,” she says. Her first task was to create a law for digital signatures, years ahead of many countries. “We wanted to change the country. We had brains, and we just had to shoot,” she says.

Those early decisions set the stage for today’s thriving tech scene in Estonia. Skype, founded in Tallinn in 2003, spawned a generation of techies and would-be entrepreneurs. “People thought, If Estonian guys could do something like Skype, I can do it also,” says Andrus Oks of Terra Venture Partners, an investment fund in Tallinn. And when Microsoft bought Skype in 2011 for $8.5 billion, ex-Skypers plowed money into new startups in Tallinn, further attracting U.S. investments. Skype’s founding developers, including Starship’s Heinla, also launched a venture capital fund, called Ambient Sound. “The Skype effect has been enormous,” says Heinla, who started Starship with Skype cofounder Janus Friis; major investors include Daimler A.G., as well as Silicon Valley firms Shasta Ventures and Matrix Partners.

Now, if you order Chinese takeout through platforms DoorDash or Postmates in Redwood City, Calif., or Washington, D.C., your food might arrive as a Starship test run, with a ping on your mobile phone letting you know your delivery robot is at the door. Starship is also doing test deliveries in Bern, Switzerland, and London, and Domino’s Pizza plans to test some deliveries by Starship soon in Hamburg.

The Skype effect does not end there. In 2011, Skype’s first employee, Taavet Hinrikus, cofounded TransferWise, an online money-transfer company, which now occupies four floors of a Tallinn building and handles about $1 billion a month in exchanges around the world. Investors include Andreessen Horowitz and Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures.
A worker scoots through the headquarters of TransferWise, an Estonian online money-transfer company co-founded by Skype’s first employee. TransferWise handles about $1 billion a month in exchanges and its investors include Andreessen Horowitz. Photograph by Piotr Malecki—Panos

With hindsight, it seems inevitable that Russia would sooner or later collide with its pint-size former territory, which, aside from becoming a major tech hub, had rushed to join both NATO and the EU after the Soviet collapse.

Russia’s payback finally came in 2007—and it would markedly change Estonia. It happened when Estonia’s government decided to move a World War II memorial statue of a Soviet soldier from central Tallinn to a nearby war cemetery. Pro-Russian demonstrators burned barricades and looted stores in days of ri oting. Then Estonia’s banks, its Parliament, and several public services suddenly went off-line, in one of the biggest-ever distributed denial-of-service attacks to hit a country. The 2007 cyberattack still haunts Estonia. “We were already really, really dependent on online. We had no paper originals for a lot of things,” says Guardtime’s Ruubel. Estonia believes Russia was behind the attack.

Shortly after, the only NATO-accredited cyberdefense center opened in Tallinn. And this year Estonia will open the world’s first “data embassy” in Luxembourg—a storage building to house an entire backup of Estonia’s data that will enjoy the same sovereign rights as a regular embassy but be able to reboot the country remotely, in case of another attack. “It was quite clear after 2007 that we knew how to fight against external attacks,” Ruubel says. “The worry was, What if there was an ­attack from inside the system, with someone tampering with the data?”

The answer to that concern came in the form of the technology that now underpins crucial parts of Estonia’s system, as well as some of its most successful startups, and that, in the years ahead, could help power the country’s future growth: the blockchain.

Essentially a distributed database, a blockchain—the system that also underpins the cryptocurrency Bitcoin—serves as a public ledger that can never be erased or rewritten. The technology allows Estonia’s engineers to strengthen its encrypted data and lets Estonians verify at any time that their information has not been tampered with. Estonians are also required to use two-step verification for many online tasks. These and other security measures, say Estonians, make their system as close to unbreakable as possible. (The U.S. State Department said last year that cybercrime “does not represent a major threat” in Estonia.) They contrast it, for example, to Edward Snowden’s hacking into the NSA, which he continued over 18 months. “No Snowden can crack this system,” boasts President Kaljulaid.
Test ballots wait to be scanned at a Board of Elections Elections voting machine facility warehouse, November 3, 2016 in the Bronx borough in New York City.

Outside the country, however, there are some doubts as to whether the Estonians’ technology is as secure as they claim. In 2014—seven years after the suspected Russian hack—engineers at the University of Michigan studied Estonia’s online-voting system and concluded that determined hackers—such as Russian operatives—could feasibly penetrate it, creating fake votes or altering the totals in order to rig elections “quite possibly without a trace,” they wrote in their report. “Estonia’s system places extreme trust in election servers and voters’ computers—all easy targets for a foreign power,” they said. Estonia disputed the claims, saying that it had worked flawlessly in six elections and that it had “a level of security greater than was possible with paper ballots.”

To Estonians, the potential of ­extreme-digital systems for both governments and businesses is dizzying—and with the blockchain, it has only just begun. Guardtime, which has 150 employees and estimates about $23 million in revenues in 2015, is now among the world’s biggest blockchain companies, with clients around the world, including Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Department of Defense. Funderbeam uses so-called colored coin technology, based on the public Bitcoin blockchain, to keep track of transactions and investments. That eliminates the need for brokers and clearing agents.

Ruusalepp, whose early backers at Funderbeam included the Silicon Valley venture capital investor Tim Draper, says she regularly hears Americans argue that paper records are more secure. Estonians, by contrast, would be aghast to have their medical records in paper folders in doctors’ offices, she says. “You can never see who has looked at your data,” she says. “Blockchain solves the issue of trust.”

Those who created Estonia’s system say they believe the arguments raging in the U.S. over data privacy are largely misplaced. The focus should instead be to give people control over who accesses their data, by using blockchain technology. “The real issue is data integrity,” says Toomas Hendrik Ilves, an Estonian-American from Leonia, N.J., who served as Estonia’s President from 2006 until last November, and is now a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation and sits on the World Economic Council’s Future of Blockchain group. He says it could take many years for the U.S.’s sprawling agencies to create an Estonian-type blockchain architecture. “I’m smack in the middle of Silicon Valley, at Stanford, and the amount of creativity is amazing,” Ilves says. “But the public sector is lagging way, way, way behind.”

Having built perhaps the world’s most seamless digital system, Estonia still faces a major limitation: its size. With just 1.3 million Estonians, it runs like a well-oiled machine. But engineers claim there is vast spare capacity. Built right, the system could work with huge numbers. (The U.S. could in theory reengineer its databases from scratch, say Estonian technologists, and serve 300 million Americans just as well.) To more fully leverage its technological advantage and boost economic growth, Estonia needs more market participants.
Taavi Kotka, a software engineer and entrepreneur, dreamed up the concept of virtual “e-residency' after becoming the Estonian government’s chief information officer in 2013.

Since Estonia had little means for attracting masses of immigrants to its icy Northern European landscape, it came up with a quirky idea—another of its firsts in the world: offering people virtual residency. Taavi Kotka, 38, a software engineer and entrepreneur, dreamed up the concept after becoming the government’s chief information officer in 2013. Kotka wrote a policy paper arguing that the population needed to grow fast, and proposed a target of 10 million people by 2025. Since Estonian women were not about to have 10 babies each, the alternative was to figure out what kind of product the country could offer to the rest of the world. Somewhat like Delaware-based corporations in the U.S., e-residents of Estonia can now run their European operations remotely and do business in euros. “We want to be the office for micro and small companies, because that is basically what our country is,” say Kotka, who now works as a consultant to Estonian startups. “You cannot grow without customers.”

Estonia’s first e-residency cards rolled out in December 2014. The micro­chips inside them are identical to Estonians’ digital ID cards but come without citizens’ rights, like voting or public pensions, and there is no obligation to pay taxes in Estonia. This is no tax haven: Estonia requires that e-residents pay their taxes to whatever country they owe them. But for a fee of 145 euros (about $154) e-residents can register companies in Estonia, no matter where they live, gaining automatic access to the EU’s giant common market—about 440 million once Britain leaves the union. Of about 18,000 e-residents so far, about 1,400 have formed companies in Estonia. On average, each of those companies spends roughly 55 euros (about $58) a month on accounting and office administration in Estonia.

This year the government doubled its budget for the program and intends on doubling it again in 2018, saying it’s determined to ramp up e-residency numbers quickly. As numbers grow, so too will the business services Estonia offers. Officials have traveled to Tallinn from around the world to examine how to start their own e-residency programs. Kaspar Korjus, managing director of the e-residency program, says his office hosts about 500 delegations a year. “So far the only revenue model for countries is taxes,” he says. “But if we get 10 million e-residents paying $100 a month each, maybe we would not need taxes.”

The possibilities do not end there. With its government running on the blockchain, Estonia could in theory begin marketing other inventions as they unfold—creating huge new business. Rõivas, the former Prime Minister, says Estonia is working on developing “precision medicine” that would tap into the genome data of its 1.3 million citizens in order to better diagnose illnesses, treat people, and design personalized drugs. “We can use blockchain to make sure that the data exchanged is able to be traced,” he says.

It’s possible to imagine Estonia’s idea becoming a multibillion-dollar business in the years ahead—turning the whole view of government as a bureaucracy offering public services into an entity generating profits.

Perhaps only a place that started over from scratch in 1991 could reimagine the idea of a country. As I watch the Starship robots maneuver across the company’s office in Tallinn, CEO Heinla says he believes Estonians, after decades of living under Soviet rule, were uniquely suited to creating new ways of doing things, including how to run a government. “People grow up and see an establishment they cannot break into,” he says, so Estonians simply built something new, and more efficient. Older, more set in its ways—and more skeptical—the rest of the world has yet to catch up. Just don’t expect Estonia to wait for us.

A version of this article appears in the May 1, 2017 issue of Fortune with the headline "Welcome to Tomorrow Land."

End of culled Fortune article by Vivienne  Walt.









Should District Assemblies Seek Market-Based Approaches To Rural Infrastructure Development?

President Akufo-Addo's pro-business policies at the national level should also inform the work of district-level administrations across Ghana.

It will enable local officials throughout Ghana to deliver village-level infrastructure through creative thinking, in public private partnerships (PPP).

The Rural Enterprises Project (RAP), the  National Board for Small-Scale  Industries and GRATIS should all be encouraged to look at how the adoption  of a market-based solutions approach through PPPs to deliver village-level infrastructure  is being successfully deployed in emerging economies elsewhere.

As our widow's mite contribution to a national conversation about leveraging creative ideas to develop village infrastructure through  market-based approaches  we have culled a page from the website of Village Infrastructure Angels (VIA).

There is no reason why district assemblies nationwide should not  work with  business organisations  to build and expand village-level power infrasructure - leveraging the 1-constituency-1-million-dollars and 1-district-1-factory initiatives, in collaboration with Ghanaian social entrepreneurs who collaborate with creative development organisations such as VIA.

Please read on:

"Village Infrastructure Angels

    About Us
    Who we are
    What we do
    Partners
    Contact

VIA has two major streams of work - it connects investors to village infrastructure projects, and
it helps others develop similar projects.

These are formalized as a two streams of business:
Project Development and Consulting Services

What we don't do is equally as important.


Project Development

Rather than shares in startup companies, VIA and its angels are building up a portfolio of project assets, generally through 3-5 year lease agreements with local communities or intermediate partners. With early support from Rotary (Melbourne and Arlington), the International Renewable Energy Agency, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, Hivos and a dozen angel investors, VIA developed a range of pilot projects in Vanuatu, Indonesia, Honduras and a few other locations. These pilot projects proved that local teams could quickly generate sufficient revenue from a modest number of solar power projects in rural villages to cover their daily operating costs, and additional revenue which accumulates in the bank to repay investors. The first projects focused on 5-10W of solar per house for lighting and phone charging services at the household level, then later projects installed 125-500W solar for 20-50 households to share a solar powered agro-processing mill, such as a rice huller, corn sheller, flour grinder, or coconut/cassava grater. In our first target villages that reached 1000 households, women spend up to 1 hour every day processing these staple crops into food by hand, a job that the solar powered 24V mills can do in just 5 minutes. So for 10-20W per household, more advanced solar power stations can be designed and deployed, and support has now been secured to scale up the portfolio to 10,000 households by 2018. See the projects here.

Consulting

VIA is as happy to help others with their projects as to build its own. For this, a suite of tools and services have been developed since 2012 that bring the team's expertise to partners who may need one or all of the following services that cover the full development process from start to finish:

    Mapping - both at large-scale for national and global planning, but also at the local level to map individual households (www.developmentmaps.org) and then create least-length rural electrification networks using open source algorithms, producing plans like this.
    Field studies - after initial analysis and mapping, it is important to fine-tune the desktop project design with on-ground data from targeted fieldwork to verify assumptions, communicate project objectives with communities and prepare for implementation.
    Product development - in some instances, existing products on the market do not exist for an identified need, or are at the wrong price point or are not designed as we believe they need to be. VIA can assist with developing new products and sourcing supply partners to address this.
    Procurement and logistics - VIA can also ensure that the products required for a project are procured and efficiently delivered to the project via sea, air and land transport modes.
    Installation and training - after delivery of the equipment, local partners can be trained on how to install the renewable energy systems into rural villages, and to train local village operators and supply chain partners on technical aspects of the products, and business skills.
    Asset management - in some cases, a client may ask us to manage the project they have financed the construction of, following up on after-sales problems, mobilizing revenue, decreasing default and increasing the capacity of the local team to fully run the business.
    Industry and policy papers - a number of clients have sought assistance in reviewing existing energy and water markets in their country and providing input to government and other stakeholders as to how further develop the markets. VIA consults widely and reviews large volumes of literature to ensure it provides well-researched strategies, often with some new ideas that had not yet surfaced or been fully analysed.
    Capital mobilization - the team of VIA has mobilized over $15 million for micro infrastructure over the past 10 years, some of which has been to help others further develop their project and dream. VIA does not aim to give classic capital advisory services, charging a percentage of any funds raised, but generally bundles such capital raising efforts at little to no cost with other general project management services, as a long-term project partner.

Details on these services can be found here.

what we don't do

A typical angel investment group is mostly focused on buying shares in early-stage companies that might one day become the next Facebook or SKS Microfinance. VIA is not, as it does not believe that the exits of trade sales, IPOs and management buyouts are particularly likely for any but the largest micro infrastructure companies (who probably don't need our help anyway). VIA prefers to focus on project equity and debt opportunities rather than corporate equity and debt, which causes less dilution for existing shareholders, less Board control issues, a much clearer exit from the project rather than from the company, and the ability to ringfence investment returns from the project itself rather than the overall performance of the company. Many creative financial tools exist beyond just plain vanilla purchasing of shares, and VIA is keen to any available tool to get better outcomes for investors and investees than will be generated by blind replication of the "Silicon Valley model" in developing countries that dominates a lot of impact fund management today.

Unlike other fund managers, VIA also does not stretch itself over too many sectors, but prefers to have deep knowledge about one particular sector - small-scale infrastructure. To our knowledge, no such entity exists with this kind of focus, and yet the potential infrastructure that needs to be built is a deep need running into many billions of dollars required each year.

Lastly, VIA is not requesting business plans from entrepreneurs, but is fine tuning a replicable model of infrastructure investment that can be undertaken in any developing country by the right partner."

End of culled website page of Village Infrastructure Angels.

Tearsheet: Investopedia now wants to ‘match’ financial advisers with readers


Tearsheet

      The integration of content from accredited financial advisers is one way Investopedia has distinguished itself among a growing family of personal finance and investment news sources.

By Suman Bhattacharyya | APRIL 27, 2017

   

Far from just a how-to guide to financial and investing terms, Investopedia has evolved into a media brand in its own right. With coverage ranging from bigger economic stories, advice on investments and budgeting, and entertainment with a finance lens (“Investopedia’s Guide to Watching Billions“), its reach is growing.

Now, the publisher is looking to drum up more interest with a new service that will match some of its contributing writers, mostly financial advisers, with readers.

“After talking to a lot of advisers, clearly building the brand is important, but what they really care most about is driving leads and new client acquisition — their goal is to grow their practices,” said David Siegel, Investopedia’s CEO, in an interview with Tearsheet.

The move could help solidify the publisher’s Advisor Insights platform’s reach among a specialized community of advisers and investors, making it even more valuable to advertisers and ultimately generating additional revenue.

“Our aspiration is to have every one of the 300,000 advisers [nationally] work with Investopedia as part of their daily workflow,” he said. “If we have hundreds of thousands of advisers who are using Investopedia, and if we have tens of millions of users who are asking questions of advisers, there is significant monetization in being the intermediary,” he said.

Siegel, who took over as Investopedia’s CEO two years ago, has been working to build a more socially-inclined, specialist audience for the site. It’s an approach that draws 27 million unique monthly visitors and a ranking of 6th among the world’s top investing sites globally, according to SimilarWeb. The site has also beefed up original news content, including video.

IAC-owned Investopedia launched the Advisor Insights section of the site a year ago as a platform to allow accredited financial advisers to answer questions from users, for no fee. While Investopedia doesn’t pay the advisers for answering questions, it said it offers perks and exposure to help them grow their reach — after 25 answers or articles, Investopedia staff will shoot a marketing video about the adviser, and after 50, Investopedia gives them additional visibility by letting be the sponsor of the term of the day.

“They’re not paid and they don’t pay us, but by publishing content, they get tremendous digital exposure and traffic,” Siegel said. “But what they really care the most about is driving leads, driving new client acquisition.”

The new matching service (called Priority Leads) is available to advisers who have contributed at least 200 articles or answers. In response to requests from clients to connect with advisers, Investopedia staff will tap into its pool of top contributors to find a suitable match. Only 50 to 100 of the 25,000 advisers using the platform today have access to this service, but Siegel said he expects it to grow quickly.

Investopedia has quadrupled its staff over the past two years and now has 115 employees — 12 of whom focus on Adviser Insights. Siegel said he intends to keep the online advisory service free, as the site generates revenue from advertisers. The move to offer free curated advice from accredited advisers is one way for Investopedia to distinguish itself among a family of sites dedicated to personal finance and investing, including NerdWallet, Kiplinger, credit.com and others. It’s just one step of a larger strategy to drive audience engagement, he said, and future plans include the launch of Adviser Insights as brand on its own; continuing education content for financial advisers; and the creation of a online community for advisers who could discuss industry issues such as succession planning.

“Our focus is how we can create content in a differentiated way, and engage with users such that users are coming back on a more frequent basis and are engaging much more deeply with our content — Adviser Insights has proven the answer to that for us.”




© 2017 Tearsheet. All rights reserved.

TechMarketView: Enter the 'Oscars for Technology Entrepreneurs' now!

This culled content  is posted for the benefit of this blog's UK  readers.  Good luck to those of them who will enter the competition.

Please read on:

TechMarketView
HotViews Editor, 16:34, 26 April 2017

TechMarketView is delighted once again to be both a Sponsor of/and Judge in The Enterprise Awards 2017 (in association with WCIT). This year’s event is even bigger and grander and takes place at the Dorchester on 14 June 2017.

Over 300 leaders in UK tech have already booked a place in the audience at the Awards ceremony - for full details and to book a table yourself CLICK HERE.

But what we really want you to do is consider entering for an Enterprise Award. Unlike TechMarketView’s Little British Battlers or Great British Scaleups, the Enterprise Awards are for individuals not companies. So, if you are already an LBB or budding GBS, why not enter yourself, or your CEO/founder, for an Enterprise Award? Indeed, many already have - and won - in the past.

Our dear friend, John O’Connell, established these ‘Oscars for UK Tech Entrepreneurs’ some seven years ago. TechMarketView – together with such notables as Sage, Smith & Williamson, Natwest, Silverpeak, R and D Tax, Questers and ScaleUp Group – are sponsors. And this year’s chosen charity is Sherry Coutu’s Founders4Schools. TechmarketView will be there on 14 June 17. We’d love to see you there too.The Award categories are as follows:

·      Young Entrepreneur

·      Evergreen Entrepreneur - for founders who started their business aged 50 or over

·      Emerging Entrepreneur – up to £1 million annual revenue

·      Developing Entrepreneur – annual revenue between £1 and £5 million

·      Scaling Up Award – fastest growing companies

·      Enterprise Entrepreneur – annual revenue over £10 million

·      Social Enterprise Entrepreneur - for entrepreneurs with a business model that gives something back

·      Public Sector Award - excellence and achievement in the public sector

·      Female Entrepreneur - for outstanding female entrepreneurs

·      Mentor of the Year

·      and the Judges Special Award.

Entries must be received by next Friday, 5 May. Entry forms can be downloaded from Enterprise Awards 2017 Entry Formor contact Sarah Robinson at tx2 Events - sarah.robinson@tx2events.com or 020 31372541. Good luck!

Forbes Woman Africa Launches First Television Show, “Against the Odds with Peace Hyde”


The show will feature women who are trailblazers in their respective fields of business and who inspire younger women to be bold and break boundaries, contributing to the narrative of growing female power on the African continent

LAGOS, Nigeria, April 27, 2017/ -- FORBES WOMAN AFRICA (www.ForbesAfrica.com), the continent’s first-ever women’s interest magazine from the highly-successful FORBES stable, launches its very first television show through FORBES AFRICA TV, in partnership with Ecobank.

On Friday, April 28th, FORBES WOMAN AFRICA’s “Against the Odds with Peace Hyde” will premieres on CNBC Africa, adding another thought-provoking and inspirational lifestyle show to their arsenal. The show will feature women who are trailblazers in their respective fields of business and who inspire younger women to be bold and break boundaries, contributing to the narrative of growing female power on the African continent.

FORBES WOMAN AFRICA has teamed up with leading Pan African bank, Ecobank to launch the 12-part series celebrating the achievement of exceptional women in business.

Award-winning Presenter and Journalist, Peace Hyde, joins Editor of FORBES WOMAN AFRICA, Methil Renuka, in the premiere episode to discuss the vision behind the series.

Commenting on the importance of having a strong platform like FORBES WOMAN AFRICA translated from a print to a television platform Renuka noted that: “Why only talk about the glass ceiling when you have ceiling-crashers who have done it all and can show the way. They may be very few, but they have had significant successes and a discerning show like this will be lessons from those who made it, to those who would like to scale those same heights and more, very much in line with FORBES WOMAN AFRICA’s own rich content philosophy.”

“The essence of the show is to really celebrate exceptional women. It’s about women who have tapped into their courage and persistence, and chosen to keep going in spite of all the hurdles. I think that in order for you to do that you need to have a very strong understanding of your purpose...” explains Peace Hyde.

“Against the Odds with Peace Hyde” premieres on CNBC Africa, Canal Plus Channel 171, DStv Channel 410 and StarTimes Channel 309 later this year.

To find out more about “Against the Odds with Peace Hyde” visit: http://APO.af/kCTJuN.

Distributed by APO on behalf of Forbes Woman Africa.

View multimedia content

For Further Media Requests Contact:
Frederic Van De Vyver
Head: West Africa
O: +234 (1) 279 8034
E: Frederic.VandeVyver@ABN360.com 
W: www.CNBCAfrica.com  
Twitter: www.Twitter.com/CNBCAfrica

About ABN:   
ABN offers a holistic approach to telling Africa's business story - first. With much-esteemed international brands such as CNBC Africa and Forbes Africa providing a broadcast and print platform respectively, the ABN conglomerate also offers resources to organize world-class events across the African continent, through ABN Event Productions. The recently-launched ABN Training Institute boasts state-of-the-art facilities to provide media training among many other courses, while ABN Digital is the company's online presence for your up-to-date business and markets news. Through its sub-brands, ABN aims to be Africa's leading aggregator and distributor of business and economic.   

About CNBC Africa:   
CNBC Africa is Africa’s most powerful multiplatform business media brand; owned by Africa Business News and headquartered in Johannesburg, is part of the global CNBC family, reaching audiences in over 100 countries. Together with its companion site www.CNBCAfrica.com, CNBC Africa focuses on business, money, finance and economic news originating from Sub Saharan Africa. CNBC is available in 90% of Sub Saharan Africa through DTH and Satellite TV operator, MultiChoice Africa, DStv, StarTimes Nigeria and Canal Plus. You can also access CNBC Africa through our digital live stream. CNBC has bureaus in over 15 cities, including, Lagos, Abuja, Johannesburg, Nairobi, Accra, Kigali. CNBC currently has an estimated patronage of over 500,000 viewers in South Africa. Viewership data in other markets is not currently available.   

About FORBES WOMAN AFRICA:
FORBES WOMAN AFRICA (www.ForbesAfrica.com) is the continent’s first-ever women’s interest magazine from the highly-successful FORBES stable. Launched in October 2013 and published in Johannesburg, FORBES WOMAN AFRICA has exponentially grown its readership over the years, reaching new markets on a continuous basis. The publication targets business tycoons and trailblazers in politics, society and life who are inspiring the next cadre of leadership on the continent. FORBES WOMAN AFRICA is published on a bi-monthly basis. FORBES WOMAN AFRICA is distributed across Africa from Southern Africa to East and West Africa and is also available as a digital version on Magzter and Zino.   

SOURCE
Forbes Woman Africa