Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bridging the gap between what we want and what we do.

Ethan Zuckerman posted a very interesting blog a few days ago. He pondered the connection between compassion and action. He asked, “Here’s my question: does it matter if action is effective or ineffective if we can demonstrate that action leads to more interest in a topic and more knowledge acquisition?”

He suggested that perhaps the lack of interest in the developing world, by the media and average Americans, is actually a lack of information. This information gap might be bridged through Social Media as a tool of information rather than just a networking tool. I don’t know about the social networking stuff. I very much like the informing part.

Zuckerman raises this interesting question of information in order to inform rather than for any other reason: for profit, for political advantage, in order to harm. Well, the purpose to inform is to allow the possibility of change: political, social and economic. The informing however is arguably neutral. I love this idea—tout simplement comme ça. I want to inhabit that space. This struck me because I spend a lot more time than I thought I would informing people about Stock Exchanges existence in Africa as opposed to discussing the law or regulation. People don’t know. Why is that?

Informing here, should be distinguished from Education. As Prof Larry Backer has explained, formalised education can be a tool of control.

Within that context, the internet is freer that educational institutions to raise awareness and inform.

A lawyer in the state of New Jersey recently formed a non-profit to provide low-cost legal education to the public. Her idea is to provide the public with the legal information they have a right to concentrating in areas of concern today such as, bankruptcy, foreclosure, immigration and healthcare law. She covers New Jersey and where applicable, federal law. We connected on

This week launched its global network of idealists. This new venture seeks to bridge the gap between good intentions and our actions. It is concerned with the same thing that Zuckerman is. How can we take all of these good intentions and put it to use with technology. Idealist wants to connect like-minded people starting with people already in it's own network.

I like what Ms. Jackie Crosby has created. It is an extension of what Legal Aid Organisations are doing. However, they are often over-worked and under-staffed and cannot spend the time necessary to educate the communities where they are situated. Of course, many of these networking and connection efforts are computer-based so they exclude members of society who have no computer. Those that are more accessible to everybody are more practical and do the most good. I would love to see something similar to inform people about the developing world. Unfortunately, information about the developing world does not seem necessary.

Ultimately, I think information is the key. No one can predict what this information will produce. What I have described here all begin with good intentions. People do not always do rational things with information. I predict the positives will outweigh the negatives and encourage you to visit, This site is full or gorgeous pictures of an Africa that we rarely see in the media and almost never on the BBC--Re-branding Africa is the goal. They need some pictures of stock exchanges on there!!

Friday, November 20, 2009

My passport and me.

I am thrilled to report that after many phone calls and only $65 passport with an attached visa to Nigeria is winging its way across the North American continent-from D.C to my humble and sunny, little town in Southern California. The total cost to me, including Express mail and paying a service to help me get it=$350.

It was an international effort and I thank and thanked the chaps at the Nigerian Stock Exchange for their assistance as well as the staff at the Nigerian Embassy in D.C. !!

Beautiful Abuja here I come.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why is it so difficult to get a Visa to Nigeria?

Not only for US citizens but also for Africans (so I have heard), the Nigerian visa is elusive.

Getting a visa for Uganda was easy and very inexpensive. The 'visa' for Zimbabwe was given at the Harare airport. I did note that Americans pay a smaller fee than Brits for entry to Zimbabwe. Teasing the English guy behind me in line about that did NOT go over well. Anyway, who knows how these things are calculated really?

I do know that I leave for London next weekend, on my way to Nigeria, and the Nigerian consulate in Washington DC has my passport, and not a small amount of my money already, and they don't seem to be able to get my visa to me for several weeks. I believe their explanation that they have a large number of visa requests at this time causing a backlog. Sadly, I was unable to keep my inner dialogue.....inner....and did say, out loud, that this was an excellent opportunity to get more money from me--given the tight spot I was in. Did I confirm the ugly American stereotype? Oh well, Nigerians like to call themselves the Americans of Africa. Perhaps, that will be in my favour.

How will this resolve? I sent a plaintive email to the African Stock Exchange Association (ASEA) conference organisers who previously assured me that my visa application would go without a hitch. I heard back almost immediately. Some poor gentleman from the Nigerian Stock Exchange whose Blackberry was still on, said he would help me in the morning. Mobile phones in sub-Saharan Africa are pretty awesome things!! They do everything, pay your bills, act as a bank account. My mobile service is exceedingly lame in comparision.

I think I will get to Nigeria. I mean I plan to get to London first with my trusty US Passport. A little more money may be extracted but it is worth it to me. The 2009 ASEA conference theme is the Global Financial Crisis and African Capital Markets-a fascinating topic!! Abuja, Nigeria sounds lovely and realtively safe. I am jazzed about going.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Manzanita Tree
Cahuilla Indians of California ground acorns into flour and left these holes from their efforts. (women did the grinding...they were strong!)
Beautiful San Jacinto Mountains!

Financial Market Social Responsibility

Late this past summer, I spent an evening at an exclusive rooftop bar in New York City drinking Prosecco with elite lawyers employed by top, top white shoe law firms. Fuelled by liquid courage, I floated my whole responsibility idea for them to critique. I suggested that they might have some responsibility for the global financial crisis since many of them helped create the agreements for banks and financial institutions that made credit default swaps possible. They actually helped invent CDOs. I suggested that the damage done was global and that their responsibility extended beyond the tiny island of Manhattan, across many oceans.

The best way to describe their responses is to refer to an episode from the original Star Trek television show called The Cloud Minders. Each elite lawyer was convinced they were from Stratos and I was a Troglyte. I was an inebriated, insane Troglyte with sub-standard reasoning skills. They were contracted to do a job, which they did-full stop.

I did not expect much else but I was impressed with the uniformity and vigour of the response. Context is everything. No responsible thought other than one motivated by profit is capable of being conceived in the world’s financial capitals. Change must come from elsewhere which causes dismay since their arms, financial firms, are very long. Regardless, I continue to think my thoughts and irritate whomever I can with them. Insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result………uh oh.

IESE Business School at the University of Navarra has suggested that, along the same lines as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), financial firms need to begin to embrace responsibility for their actions and the consequences of those actions. (See endnote) This would not be a responsibility that resides only at the corporate level. All professional participants in the financial market would be responsible players. The paper locates the idea in CSR rather than ethics because it is more palatable.

CSR is extremely popular and people embrace it because it has high look good factor and low do something factor. That does not mean it is useless. It just means that it is diluted. However, it has a tremendous amount of literature supporting and describing it. This has value.

There is a large normative dimension to the global financial crisis. It is prevalent mostly in terms of moral hazard discussions. This is helpful from a theoretical standpoint but decisions continue to be made to save those firms that made ‘bad’ decisions. (See Citigroup) Having said that, the whole discussion continues to be infused with a moral dimension which is some kind of step forward.

This kind of thinking can inform the financial reforms currently being considered in some legislatures. The White Paper in the US is considering imposing a fiduciary duty on stock brokers which is a movement forward. The reforms will need to go further and consider the affect that the financial crisis has had on the developing world. Here is where the reliance on CSR becomes less tenable.

There are other examples of making firms more responsible global citizens. The commitment of private industry to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is one such example. For awhile, when times were good, firms such as Goldman Sachs signed on to support efforts to achieve the MDGs. As part of that initiative, private financial firms consider how their actions affect the MDGs. Private firms, regardless of whether they are multi-national, participate in the global financial community and should take responsibility for that. The inclusion of private industry in the MDG global initiative recognizes the role powerful firms play.

Additionally, concepts of sustainability, preserving the future for our future earth inhabitants, are pervasive in the same dialogue and can extend responsibility from solely domestic to international quickly. The global recession has jeopardised sustainability. Poverty has increased and vulnerable countries have suffered the most.

These ideas are value laden and increasingly the discussion surrounding then includes private industry. Financial Market Social Responsibility simple specifies a particular industry and asks it to be responsible.

I hope to give a Post-Graduate seminar on this at the University of Warwick in England in a few weeks. As I prepare for that I will elaborate here. Antonio Argandoña, Can Corporate Social Responsibility Help us understand the credit crisis?