Liberia Pics

September 22, 2009 at 8:47 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Here are some pics from my 2 months in Liberia. Enjoy!

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Comparing Malaria Solutions

September 17, 2009 at 12:47 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Damn, I can’t believe I got malaria again!”

That’s what I was thinking last week when I recognized the symptoms: fatigue, nausea, headache, pain at the base of the spine and lower back.  I flashed back to 1991 when I first got the disease in the Congo and spent 2 weeks on my back with IV needles in my arm to force fluids into my body.  “I’m so thirsty I could die.”  Literally.

Apparently the high-voltage mosquito-blasting tennis racket I’ve been using didn’t manage to zap all the little bastards!  So wondering what 2 decades of drug research has yielded I asked my UNPeacekeeper friends in Liberia whatswatter the standard expat cure is these days.  The answer was a loud and resounding “Artemisinin!”  Apparently this centuries-old Chinese herbal medicine has been keeping SouthEast Asians alive for many years but was relatively unknown in the west until recently.  Or perhaps we can’t believe in anything that doesn’t come from Big Pharma?

I picked up a 3-day dose for $12 from the local pharmacy,  immediately popped 2 of the 12 pills, and went to bed wondering if I could sleep with this horribly throbbing headache and seemingly compressed spine.  8 hours later I woke up feeling completely normal, rested, and ready to fight my way into a Monrovian taxi!

I can’t tell you how different this experience was from the one in Congo in 1991.  My first thought was how Big Pharma is missing a real opportunity here, but my friend Talli educated me how the Gates Foundation, UC Berkeley, and Big Pharma have a project underway to create a synthetic version of the drug for pennies per dose.  Malaria is the #1 killer in the world, far surpassing HIV-Aids, with 500 million infections annually annually.  I can tell you that Artemisinin works better than both Fansidar and Electric Liberian Tennis Rackets!

Read more about the Artemisinin Project here

Lowering Interest Rates

September 7, 2009 at 4:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Many people who read about my “motorcycle across Liberia to do a loan disbursement” story asked me, “Isn’t there a smarter way to do this with technology?”  Yes!  And it’s on the horizon.  I’m excited about its delivery because the main factor in higher interest rates for microfinance loans is the cost of administering the loans.   Just imagine what your mortgage would be if your Wells Fargo loan officer had to get on a motorcycle for 4 hours through the mud every month to come get your payment…

I’m a huge believer in technology solutions to replace mindless manual labor… such as driving across Liberia every week to get a $5 loan payment.  I’m in conversation with my friend Menekse Gencer, of mPay Connect, who is kindly educating me on the space and the opportunities they offer to Kiva’s 120+ microfinance partners in 55 countries.

MFS

Clearly there is real opportunity.  Click here to see the rest of Menekse’s presentation, including the complete Mobile Financial Services ecosystem, to see how technology will soon be bringing down the cost of administering microfinance loans.

Amazing Liberian Highway Exorcism

September 2, 2009 at 9:50 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Earlier this week I was in a 3-hour bush taxi (8 people crammed into a Hyundai) from Monrovia to Gbarnga, Charles Taylor’s former stronghold, when we hit a traffic roadblock. Curious to know what could cause a complete stoppage of traffic, I walked to the front of the line of cars to find a group of people gathered to do an exorcism of the evil spirits that have caused so many accidents at this exact spot. It was fascinating to watch, mainly because of the apparent fusion of Christianity, Islam, and “local vodoo” (for lack of a better descriptor). Here’s a quick glimpse of the full event that lasted for over an hour. Make sure your volume is up to hear the inclusion of all the higher powers…

No, This Does Not Happen Everywhere

August 21, 2009 at 8:56 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In the US we think the 6-year war in Iraq is long, but what is the impact on society when war lasts 15 or 20 years? Here in Liberia there is a whole generation which has only known war, and the complete forfeiture of all civilities.  Here’s an observation by a UN war observer:

skullThere were 20,000 skulls at the end of the runway at Spriggs-Payne airport. Mine was one of the first civilian aircraft to land there after years of civil war. As you stood in the sand, red ants emerged from beneath your feet; they were feeding on human flesh. A young child shamelessly holds a skull; his father and brother fell victim to the death squads that operated here. But his eyes are clear, as if to say, “what is so unusual about this – Does this not happen everywhere in the world?” A man named Louis fought in this war; he stands by the skulls. He is a strong man, but he has troubled eyes – as if he wants to talk about something. Finally, he does. “You know we ate people during this war; not because we were hungry, but because we were scared, and to eat your enemy makes you strong.”

There is a church where 600 people were killed. There are still blood stains on the alter; they had placed small children here and made them scream, “there is no God,” as they cut their throats. There is a smell of death, and there are bullet holes everywhere. A hysteric woman tells of how soldiers at road blocks would take bets on the sex of an unborn child. They would then slice the woman open to pull out the fetus with a bayonet – to realize who had won the bet.

Apologies for that graphic history, but it’s important in understanding the environment in which Kiva and its Microfinance partners are challenged to alleviate poverty and create jobs.  This is not “just another poor country”.  As I teach Business Best Practices to our partners I’m often greeted with mouths-open disbelief.  Not because they disagree with my training but rather they can’t get past the fact that in the US we’ve had the luxury to think so deeply about such relatively inane subjects as Accounting, Finance, and Marketing.   One Kiva loan recipient responded, “What’s my break-even point?  I don’t know.  I just sell food and wonder if peace will last.”

I’m feeling guilty about disliking my university accounting classes.  Such luxuries…

How Wealthy Are You?

August 20, 2009 at 6:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Thanks to my friend Anders who told me about this very cool yet simple site that allows you to put in your annual income and see how your income  ranks in comparison to the rest of the world.

Click here or on the link below (no I’m not an investor nor do I have an affiliate relationship with them) to be see a graphical representation of how wealthy you really are!

I’m the 107,565 richest person on earth!


Discover how rich you are! >>

Truth and Reconciliation?

August 14, 2009 at 7:57 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him.

Charles Taylor’s actual election campaign slogan

I find it amazing that there’s any debate at all as to how horrible a IMG_4644man Charles Taylor is, as is currently being debated at his war crimes trial and the court of public opinion.  I suppose elsewhere one would have to read the recently released Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, but here in Liberia all I have to do is walk across Tubman Blvd from my apartment to the soccer field where there is a multi-team league for amputee soccer players who have all lost their limbs per Charles Taylor’s orders as retribution for not murdering their own families and joining the rebel army.

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The UN asserts that Taylor created and backed the rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone, which are accused of a range of atrocities, including the use of child soldiers.  The prosecutor also said Taylor’s administration had harbored members of Al-Qaeda sought in connection with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

I learned more about him upon arriving in Monrovia, as he is a constant conversation topic at cafes and restaurants.  Things I didn’t know about Charles Taylor:

  • He has a degree in Economics from Bentley College near Boston
  • He was later jailed in Massachusetts, awaiting extradition to Liberia on charges of embezzlement, however he escaped by sawing through the bars in the laundry room window.
  • He fled the US to Libya where he was taken under Qhadafi’s wing and trained in one of his desert terrorism camps
  • After years of civil war, his 1986 presidential victory has been widely attributed to the belief that he would resume the war if he lost. He famously ran on the slogan “He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him.”  You can actually buy t-shirts printed with this!
  • 350,000 people, or about 10% of the Liberia’s population, lost their lives in the 14 years of brutal chaos that followed.

You should hear these soccer players’ take on “truth and reconciliation”…

IMG_4645

You Know You’re in Liberia When…

August 10, 2009 at 4:26 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Yesterday I was out at one of rural branch offices of LEAP, Kiva’s MicroFinance Partner in Liberia, giving some basic business training to the staff. They, in turn, will give this business counseling to their clientele as part of the complete microfinance package they offer.

My goal in this particular section was to teach them that instead of trying to besegmentation_training everything to everybody it’s better for the business to pick a space to play in and go win with the best product. In other words, basic “Business 101” and market segmentation stuff.

But I was getting a bunch of Liberian-deer-in-headlights when I got to the end of this slide so to engage them I asked, “Who can give me an example of a market segment that’s measurable, durable, and substantial?” Silence. Just when I thought I’d lost the whole class a tall skinny one-armed guy in the back of the room stood up, shaking his good fist in the air, and shouted “MURDEROUS DICTATORS!”

Hmmm… Can’t argue that it doesn’t meet the criteria, although I wonder if Drucker would say it’s a segment accessible via distribution channels…

How Kiva works

August 6, 2009 at 5:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Are you wondering how only 40 Kiva employees can enable 530,000 lenders to fund 250,000 entrepreneurs with $83M to date? I know, it seems impossible and too good to be true. On top of that it’s confusing. So I’m going to refer here to my colleague and fellow Kiva Fellow Kieran Ball who, when asked all the same questions, decided to make this video to explain how Kiva works. Kudo’s to you Kieran for such an amazingly well-made, funny, and informational video.

A Fistful Of Dollars: The Story of a Kiva.org Loan from Kieran

Random Oberservations From Monrovia

August 4, 2009 at 4:42 pm | Posted in liberia, Uncategorized | 2 Comments
Tags: ,

Here are some random oberservations, in no particular order, from my time thus far in the Monrovia office.  Enjoy!

  • The department of homeland security won’t allow any direct flights to IMG_4526the US from Liberia because they say the airport isn’t secure.  I can concur, given that this was my customs agent upon arrival.  Uh, pardon me but can you please wake up and stamp my passport?
  • This is the first time in my life I’ve had any semblance of work/life balance…because the power and internet are on only from 9-5.  It’s amazing how little work you can do when all the computers, printers, phones and lights shut shut off leaving the place pitch black.
  • There are advantages and disadvantages of living next to the Nigerian battalion of UN Peacekeepers.  You feel safe when you go to sleep at night but they wake you up every morning, including weekends, with revele call on the bugle.  Can you set that thing to vibrate?
  • Officially the language here is English however there are times during IMG_4525conversations when I nod my head knowingly while secretly waiting for just one word that I actually understand.  The signs around town are priceless, as evidenced by this one.  And no, “pepe” is not a local French guy.
  • The Liberians have a secret handshake they all do – snapping the middle finger as they separate hands – which they use to figure out who the locals are.  My inability to do the snap gives me away.  Plus I’m butt-white.
  • It’s like 1995 again: On a good day I get dial-up speed 28kbps internet connection, but they say it’ll get better when the rainy season is over. In November.
  • My fellow-office mates are great.  We start every morning by singing IMG_4532African American folk songs and 19th century church hymns.  Today it was “Amazing Grace” and “A Might Fortress”.  Then we took turns seeing who could rip-start the generator and then convince the night-janitor to stop hanging the wet mops on the ethernet cables hanging from the ceiling.

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