Monday, September 25, 2006

Inspi(red) or just another colour?

One of the world’s most famous models is Gisele Bundchen from Brasil. Recently she has come out of retirement (At 26 !) to support the ‘Red Campaign’. The campaign is, according to Gisele, the only reason she came out of a season of retirement. “I had decided I wasn’t going to do anything,” she says. “But this was so great, the whole idea. I was like, ‘I have to do this.’”

Gisele will be the new face of the Red American Express card (you may have seen large posters showing her draped, laughing, over a Masai warrior). She says that of all the trends that have littered her career, this is the one she’s most proud of. ‘Making charity trendy?’

So what is Red all about? Back in January 2006 U2’s Bono launched this new global brand or associated product code called. The aim is for a share of profits from 'Red' branded products produced and sold by the likes of major brands, for example: American Express, Gap, Converse and Giorgio Armani. Monies to raise a percentage of purchases that will then be used to fight against Aids in Africa. Suggested / Proposed products will include: T-shirts, footwear, sunglasses and a credit card. The hope is that profits from the venture will generate a "sustainable" flow of money to support the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria.

Back in January Bono warned the world was losing the fight against HIV/Aids, with 6,500 Africans dying of the disease every day. He emphasised that this was a commercial venture and not philanthropy. He suggested that, ‘Philanthropy is like hippy music, holding hands. Red is more like punk rock, hip hop, this should feel like hard commerce’. The theory is that one day hundreds of companies could offer 'red' branded products. Red partners, in turn, hope to broaden their customer base while doing something good at the same time. Since Red was first launched with Bono and Scarlett Johansson, the campaign has been gathering pace.

Hang on ! Doesn't this sound appear to sound like a mix of commercialism and a connection to the human spirit of giving? It is certainly not something new as many organisations in the past such as the Co-op group have tried similar initiatives like ethical energy investments on the stock exhange. I recently saw an excellent documentary on Anita Roddick of The Body Shop. Her approach is different. NB The first Body Shop
was basic and at first sold only 15 lines. The Body Shopp's full range now has over 300 products. The Biography channel (An excellent source of information) outlined how she has helped fair trade and support communities, again by linking the human spirit to everyday purchases.

Being positive, any initiative that raises money has to be commended. Although the concept of red could be described as a built-in mechanism for raising fund, for example according to the terms for the card, everytime an American Express RED card holder spends money, 1% of the eligible spend will go to the Global Fund - one could argue that something is better than nothing. However, when it comes to negotiating trade allowances many countries find it difficult to give away any trade allowances. Led by the United States and the European Union, the rich nations' campaign to force open Third World countries’ markets while protecting their own was frustrated again when the round of World Trade Organisation-sponsored negotiations initiated in 2001 at Doha, Qatar, were suspended on July 27. Under the Doha Round, the rich nations want to make further inroads into “liberalising” the “trade in services”, slash Third World countries’ attempts through import tariffs to protect their domestic markets from domination by First World-based transnational corporations, and scale-back economic concessions granted to Third World countries by the rich Western powers under previous trade deals.

I guess the message is that although commercial retail organisation have commenced the red programme, after years of governments talking, we cannot seem to get to the root of the issue - some concessions are needed to harmonise world economies. Models can help yet the true will for change must come from all of us urging those that have the power to make change happen for the benefits of all in this world.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

When Actors become politicians or are our politicians actors??

I read with interest about the recent appearance /presentation of George Clooney and his father at the United Nations, last week (15/9). It was reported that George Clooney and his television-anchor Father smuggled cameras into the Darfur (Sudanese) refugee camps to report on what's been described as the 21st century's first genocide.
George declared that, ‘the news is that two years after we've said ‘genocide’ that it's still going on and it's increasing — and that somewhere in there we can all talk about this and make speeches and say this is horrible and we have to do something. But every day we don't do something, and every day this goes on, thousands of people are dying and dying horrific deaths.

All I can say is well said but I believe we all need to say ‘well said’ for it is our apathy that stops change from happening. If people are concerned enough about Weapons of Mass Destructions (WMDs) then they will try everything in their ‘power’ to send in troops. Where are the troops that need to defend the innocents that die starving in refugee camps? Where are the news reports that show that something must be done now? Where are the politicians when we need them? As I have said before, how about a G8 (or Jee’s came and ate!) running their next conference in a sand-blown tent adjacent to a camp of starving people being hounded by their (Sudan) state trooper!

It does amaze me that we leave it to pop stars and actors to raise the stakes on the issues of today. Maybe we are so busy that we cannot march for justice? Or, maybe we are not presented with enough information on what is happening in the world. I thought that with the Internet / global communications the world could become a closer and more concerned/connected world from a conscience perspective. I was wrong, the so-called resurgence in much required spirituality has not happened. Yet, the lust after celebrity-hood, fame and materialism continue. Bidding wars for houses and pension contingency is what has become the name of the game for survival.

Our voices our sounded out by the songs that we sing. Songs of love in a tone of singularity rather than a hoping for peace, fairness and freedom for all.

The irony being that pop stars sing about love, yet the love we have for each other is lost in a quite hum. If we expect actors and pop stars to be our spokespersons, sure, it is great that they can present well but are they not pretending to be us and doing the job we all should be doing anyway?

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Sept 11th 2001 remembered

September 11 is one of those dates where everyone remembers where they were. I remember where I was when the twin towers were hit. At the time I was working for a US company as a global programme director and I was on a conference call involving New Jersey and Boston based clients. Suddenly, one of the Boston staff declared that, 'Some weird news footage is being transmitted, we need to close this call and comeback to you'. In the UK it was approximately 2pm and we quickly terminated the call and headed to a general office floor where everyone was fixed to their screens attempting to download images or video of the first plane hitting the first tower. The result was that most Personal compcomputers were hanging – Internet traffic must have been really peeking. NB At the time the company I was working for was a leading Internet hosting premises organisation – with giant network pipes. One can only assume that the world was in shock desperate to get information on what was happening.

The devastation and shockwaves shook the Earth horrifically. Since that fateful day, a whole stack of films, documentaries and political statements have been released. We relive the day in our minds. It is an event that we cannot forget. When you see the twin towers fall on recorded footage it still sends shivers down our spines.

For Sikhs the ripple effects resulted in mistaken identity. Unfortunately, many Sikhs were abused in the streets and also killed. Should people not be uniting to fight the terrorists.I agree with the need to route out cowards. We also need to ensure that any strategy does not victimise innocent communities.

We need to fight to preserve a safe, united and fair world. It is our responsibility - it is up to us to place it on the agenda of the politicans and to stop building and selling arms between nations.

We need to hope for good news on the horizon – it is called fighting for unity, mutual respect and the need for us to achieve harmony.

Harmony against poverty and achieving fair trading laws can ensure that we are all equal. Once we also achieve this attitude of unity it can certainly help to route out the agitators and those that hide in the shadows.

Five years on the mental and physical scars are still present. We must not forget the victims and the fact that an attack on the world trade centre was an attack against humanity, against people of many nations. I recently saw a picture of children of mothers who survived or survivors of their lost husbands. It is hard to imagine that these children will not see their fathers, feel their love and support. The hurt continues and all we can hope for is an end to violence and a realisation by the perpetrators violence is fruitless as they achieving nothing. For this to happen we need two major things: Firstly, effective leaders with a vision to unite and secondly lesser apathy from us!

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Does success breed arrogance? More on the need for Corporate Responsibility

I recently watched Dragon’s Den episode’s two and three. The programme format consists of would be entrepreneurs ‘pitching’ for funds to develop their business ideas and dreams – In return experienced business directors who are now multi-millionaires decide on the viability of the idea and whether or not they should invest their money and back it. I wondered if arrogance is a by-product of success. Maybe it is the way the programme is edited or maybe it’s the playing up to the camera? I just can’t get over the arrogance of the panel. Sure, they have made it – whatever that means – They may now be multi-millionaires but are they humble? You know, they maybe and we shouldn’t believe all that we view/see - especially as the programme is probably highly edited for viewing purposes! Then again, am I boosting rating by not only watching it but talking about it!

I run a small company and everyday it is about trying to find new opportunities, ensuring/ maintaining good relationships and deliver true value to clients. I would not be a nice person to do business with if I demonstrated any arrogance factor. Take for example, the other day when someone called-up asking a series of questions straight away. As we get many crank and junk calls from call centres (they must have got purchased our trading address from somewhere!) we tend to ask who is calling. Unfortunately I may have been too questioning and subsequently ‘turning off’ the person I was talking to. The conversation got to a point where the caller almost hung-up. I apologised if I was not clear in my communication and luckily the caller stayed on and we pursued a really good conversation. It was a demonstration of how one can unintentionally be misconstrued, especially in an era where reliance of audio rather than video communications is still strong. During my call I suggested that I did not want to be perceived with the same attitude of a ‘Dragon’ from the treaded Den.

So, does success breed arrogance? I remember when working for one company a story where someone said, ‘Look over there, that man is the president of the firm.’ Someone asked, ‘How come he is always smiling?’ A returning comment from a passer-by was, ‘Hey if you had that much money, maybe you’d be smiling all day

I have a friend of mine who has done very well in business. He is an example of humbleness and politeness. He also encourages those around him – providing inspiring thoughts. I do not see arrogance in his eyes. A sense of giving is good to receive, yet he also says (in a non-arrogant way) that he achieves pleasure in giving good business advice and seeing others succeed.

! I guess the lesson we can learn is the importance of humility. I’m certainly impressed with Bill and Melissa Gates, their foundation’s (see: website states ‘the foundation's global health mission is to help ensure that lifesaving advances in health are created and shared with those who need them most. We focus on accelerating access to existing vaccines, drugs, and other tools to fight diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries, and we support research to discover new health solutions that are effective, affordable, and practical for use in poor countries.’

Maybe there is hope for us? Maybe there are some that lead the way in ensuring that a sickening desire for money does not cloud their judgement to be giving, to share and help others.

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