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Trump Repealism Rolls Back Obama’s Cuba Reforms

Grunge Cuban flag, image is overlaying a detailed grungy texture

Donald Trump’s push to repeal many of the Obama administration’s foreign policy initiatives has extended to the landmark lifting of the embargo against Cuba. Will the new hardline approach be effective in achieving its goal of encouraging political reform and economic liberalisation? 

On 16 June, US President Donald Trump announced a long-expected change in US foreign policy towards Cuba. The new policy will roll back many of the Obama administration’s reforms including travel liberalisation, while imposing further restrictions.

The exiles and dissidents here today have witnessed communism destroy a nation, just as communism has destroyed every single nation where it has ever been tried. But we will not be silent in the face of communist oppression any longer. You have seen the truth, you have spoken the truth, and the truth has now called us—this group—called us to action.Last year, I promised to be a voice against repression in our region—remember, tremendous oppression—and a voice for the freedom of the Cuban people. You heard that pledge. You exercised the right you have to vote. You went out and you voted. And here I am like I promised—like I promised.Remarks by President Trump on the Policy of the United States Towards Cuba 16 June 2017, Manuel Artime Theater, Miami, Florida, US.

Specific elements of the Trump policy include restrictions that prohibit individual travel (with the exception of Cuban Americans who will continue to be able to visit relatives in Cuba and send remittances) and limit non-academic educational travel to organised groups. While the US embassy in Havana will remain, the policy effectively reaffirms the statutory embargo of Cuba.

The stated objectives of the Trump policy are to:

  • “enhance compliance with United States (US) law—in particular, the provisions that govern the embargo of Cuba and the ban on tourism”;
  • hold Cuba “accountable for oppression and human rights”;
  • further US “national security and foreign policy interests”; and
  • empower the “Cuban people to develop greater economic and political liberty”.

The policy changes seek to prohibit business, trade and financial transactions between US companies and entities linked to the Cuban military’s holding company Grupo de Administración Empresarial (GAESA). Instead, it seeks to promote direct economic ties between US individuals and entities and the private sector in Cuba. According to the White House, the policy will promote commerce with “free Cuban businesses and pressure the Cuban government to allow the Cuban people to expand the private sector”.

The Trump policy was announced at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami, Florida, before a gathering of Cuban Americans. The new policy fulfilled a commitment made by the Trump campaign several weeks before the 2016 election in which Donald Trump pledged to roll back the Obama administration’s reforms. It was made in order to secure the presidential endorsement of the Brigade 2506 Veterans Association—the organisation of veterans of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Florida Republicans Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, both influential advocates for the continuation of the US embargo against Cuba, supported the Trump initiative.

On the day of the announcement, the Cuban government responded in the strongest terms. In a statement published in Cuba’s official newspaper Granma, the government condemned Trump’s action as a “setback in the relations between both countries”.

“Once again, the US government resorts to coercive methods of the past when it adopts measures aimed at stepping up the blockade, effective since February 1962, which not only causes harm and deprivations to the Cuban people and is the main obstacle to our economic development, but also affects the sovereignty and interests of other countries, which arouses international rejection…

“The Government of Cuba condemns the new measures to tighten the blockade, which are doomed to failure, as has been repeatedly evidenced in the past, for they will not succeed in their purpose to weaken the Revolution or bend the Cuban people, whose resistance against aggressions of all sorts and origins has been put to the test throughout almost six decades….”

With the exception of hardline anti-communist Cuban Americans, the Trump administration’s approach to Cuba has limited support within the US. For example, a December 2016 Pew Research Center poll found that 75 per cent approved of the 2015 Obama administration decision to re-establish US relations with Cuba, while approximately 73 per cent favoured ending the trade embargo against Cuba.

Following the Trump announcement, the Engage Cuba Coalition—a US lobby group which advocates for the lifting of the embargo—published a statement noting that the directive would negatively impact Cuban entrepreneurs and that the new restrictions could cost the US economy “billions of dollars and affect thousands of jobs”.

In the days leading up to the Trump announcement, human rights groups, such as Amnesty InternationalHuman Rights Watchand the Washington Office on Latin America, also expressed concerns about the implications of the proposed changes.

Many Republicans also don’t support the policy. On 16 June, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AR), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a statement in which he criticised renewed restrictions on US citizens’ ability to travel to Cuba. Other Republicans known to be critical of the policy include Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Senator John Boozman (R-AR), Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), Representative Tom Emmer (R-MN), Representative Rick Crawford (R-AR), Representative Ted Poe (R-TX), Representative Justin Amash (R-MI), Representative Mark Sanford (R-SC) and Representative Rodney Davis (R-IL).

Several conservative organisations and think tanks are also critical of the Trump approach, including the Cato InstituteReasonCampaign for Liberty and the Federalist.

While some dissidents in Cuba reportedly support a hardline policy approach, it is difficult to ascertain—on account of restricted access to the internet and social media in Cuba—whether the policy has any support among moderates who might be critical of the regime. However, some Cuban academics and entrepreneurs have expressed concern about the implications for Cuba of the election of Donald Trump.

Following the Trump announcement, one academic commented privately that “what happened in Miami… was imaginable”. She added, however, that it would be difficult to reverse what had hitherto been achieved in terms of bilateral engagement and closer ties between the two countries. That said, it was necessary for Cuba to continue to implement political and economic reforms; Cuba “must make deeper and better paced transformations”.

A Cuban entrepreneur commented separately that the Trump policy would impact adversely on tourism and, in particular, on individuals and small businesses involved in the provision of hospitality and accommodation in private dwellings, the so-called ‘casas particulares’. Another academic noted that while the Cuban government and many Cubans had expected the announcement, they were angered to see Trump surrounded by the “most radical members of the Miami hard-right exiles, some of [whom are] associated with the old mafia and wanted by the Cuban police”. Irrespective of whether or not this was the case, there is little doubt that the Trump announcement angered both stalwart supporters of the Cuban government and Cubans of more moderate persuasion.

The new Trump Cuba policy will be implemented through a series of regulations in coming months, the full impact of which remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the policy is another example of the isolationist approach of the current US administration and will likely enhance nationalist and anti-US sentiment among key players within the region, such as Mexico and Venezuela. In terms of its impact on business, US companies and their Cuban counterparts are taking a wait-and-see approach to ascertain how and to what extent their interests will be affected.

The new Trump foreign policy towards Cuba may have additional unintended consequences. It would provide a strategic opportunity for China to enhance its relations with, and influence in, Cuba. China is already Cuba’s third destination for exports after Canada and Venezuela, and its second source of imports after Venezuela. During a 2016 visit to Cuba, where approximately 30 bilateral agreements were signed, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang spoke of the need to deepen their “traditional friendship”, enhance “pragmatic cooperation” and maintain “close cultural exchanges”.

China has previously taken a cautious approach to Cuba. However, in the wake of the Trump announcement, China is likely to assess potential trade and investment opportunities, which may be created by the US vacating the proverbial field, and seek to build on its existing interests, including with the provision of foreign loans.

The coming months will reveal the full extent of the rollback of the Obama administration’s initiatives to liberalise US-Cuba bilateral relations and its implications for the region and beyond. As always, the devil will be in the detail.

[Original published at]

Mixing Fame with an entrepreneurial spirit

Dr. Dre is one of many celebrities using their fame to build million-dollar businesses.

Venture capital and investment, in the last two decades has been a bigger part of pop culture than it has ever been before. High profile investment deals have made headlines and some of the byproducts of these deals have been companies that have quickly become household names in countries across the world.

Venture capitalists and the entrepreneurs that they back have suddenly taken up the space reserved for movie stars and pop icons. The trend seemed to be a global one. It is difficult to tell whether it has been a conscious attempt to snatch the spotlight back or just a natural progression from their status as celebrities, but a growing number of them have begun to take up active roles in the much-vaunted start up space. Celebrities have begun to take their fame and considerable wealth and channel it into the perfect kindling needed to kick start the sharp growth needed in early stage businesses.

Some celebrities have found tremendous success in the field on a consistent basis, building themselves a reputation as smart business people and thought leaders. For others there might have been one big success story that seemed to have caught all the headlines. Still more and more celebrities have put on their entrepreneur hats and backed a variety of businesses. Some deals seeming like a natural fit to their public persona while others, not so much.

When put to good use, the value a celebrity brings to a business is undeniable. It might be their personal networks that would seem inaccessible to most people. The ability to garner support for a venture that could never be replicated by any marketing spends. Sometimes it might be their considerable personal brand. Their fan base becoming an eager set of early adopters and spokespersons for a brand that most companies can not replicate in their lifetime. Whatever the reasons for success, celebrities have found an incredible amount of success with such ventures.

For such a business to see any kind of success, it takes more than just a celebrity and the clout they bring. The business has to address a real need and more importantly, it needs to have a team that is capable of taking a big picture idea and vision for a company, and roll it out, garner traction and turn that vision into a flourishing company.

One company that seems to have found the perfect mix of all these elements is the Special Guest App. Actor, comedian and now entrepreneur Damon Wayans, Jr found himself a co founder in seasoned serial entrepreneur Kristoper Jones, and between the two of them, they seemed to have all the tools they needed to get their big idea off the ground.

The app takes the two sided marketplace model, that has been the bedrock of countless successful tech businesses, and applies it the world of entertainment. The focus of the company remains to help comedians, musicians, actors, magicians and performers of all types to find work independent of a network of agents and managers.

This is where the app comes in. Kris explains “Special Guest removes the friction for entertainers of getting discovered and generating paid gigs, while making it easy for any type of venue to book LIVE entertainment. We developed the app for LIVE entertainers, actors / actresses, artists, bands & ensembles, circus acts, comedians, cultural entertainment, dancers, DJs, impersonators, magicians, musicians, photographers & videographers, speakers and officiants, specialty acts, and kid’s entertainment. And on the other side of the market, we made this for traditional venues like restaurants, clubs, and bars, and non-traditional venues for anyone, anywhere, who is interested in experiencing LIVE entertainment in less formal settings like someone’s backyard, office party, or home.”

For Damon, coming from the world of entertainment, the passion stems from personal experience. He explains; “Hundreds of thousands of LIVE entertainers struggle to secure work on a regular basis because the process of getting gigs is brutally difficult. I believe the traditional booking process favors managed talent, yet most incredibly talented people don’t have management and struggle to get paid doing what they are most passionate about. The process of discovering and booking talent is elitist and riddled with friction that disproportionally favors managed talent.

Most LIVE entertainment is hosted in traditional settings like bars, nightclubs, and restaurants resulting in limited demand for new, up and coming talent. No on-demand mobile technology exists at scale for ordinary people to seamlessly host LIVE entertainment in their home, backyard, or similar non-traditional venues with the push of a button. We developed Special Guest to make it extremely simple and affordable for anyone, anywhere, to hire LIVE entertainment on demand.”

This ripe mix of passion, know how, connections and experience is a prime example of how celebrity driven ventures can set themselves up for a run at real success. For all the spotlight the celebrities image might bring, it is important to remember that first and foremost, the venture remains a business. Anyone with any experience in the filed will testify to the fact that building a business takes dedication, discipline and a great deal of intelligence. Whether it is for their work in front of the camera or in their offices, these are the traits of the celebrity entrepreneur that people tend to overlook. Even for them, nothing comes easy and their fame is by no means an assurance for success. When they do find success, it is important to acknowledge their achievements in isolation from the constant, bright spotlight shining over their lives.


America’s dismal smoking cessation rates call for innovative methods

Millions of people from across the globe are plagued by a habit detrimental to heath: smoking. It is so rampant that governments are implementing laws in an effort to curb the addiction. Raising the prices of cigarettes and setting strict smoking laws in regards to where smokers may or may not light one up.

One of the best ways to be smoke-free is by not starting. As they say, prevention is better than cure. According to BBC, “two-thirds of those who try cigarettes go on to become daily smokers”. The effect of tobacco manifests itself after just one experience and people tend to be more inclined to pick up a cigarette following their first.

And what comes next is a lifelong battle of quitting smoking. The statistics shown by U.S New and World Report reports that seventy percent of smokers in America want to quit but, without a smoking cessation program, the success rate is close to dismal – with only a five percent chance of success.

Furthermore, many that curb the habit find themselves smoking again after a year or two or even after a few months. To quit permanently, researchers point out that a successful smoking cessation formula is to prepare oneself mentally, get support from family and friends and find new ways to cope without cigarettes by picking up a new habit. Finally, knowing how to quit smoking naturally includes preparing oneself to face difficulties and knowing how to cope in the case of falling off the bandwagon. Although one should recognize their moment of weakness is not an open invitation to go back to full blown addiction.

Other tips to stop smoking include not setting up oneself for failure by telling people you are planning to quit, identifying desire and accepting that it is going to affect you but do not give in to it. Understand that it is within your every right to smoke but just that you do not want to. All of which strengthens your personal resolve without feeling trapped by your own decision which may aid in your quitting smoking attempt.

To quit smoking naturally, it’s essential to use mental rationalization and ask oneself about the reasons they have for wanting to stop smoking. This is important as it helps every quitter focus on their endgame and what they want to achieve.

So, why should one quit smoking naturally?

To live a longer, healthier life. Aside from the obvious health issues of smokers having higher chances of getting cancer, a heart attack, emphysema, chronic bronchitis or strokes, it is bad for blood circulation and food does not taste as good. One will also have perpetual bad breath and develop premature wrinkles. Neither of which are sexy or glamorous – both of which are qualities that people think smoking convey.

There is also a matter of finances. Depending on the amount of cigarettes a smoker goes though per day, it could easily add up over the course of a lifetime. Even if one only smokes a pack a week, over the course of the year, it could have easily paid for a smartphone, perhaps not the latest model, but a fully functioning one with all the features you need.

A father in Indonesia managed to stop smoking and buy a brand new motorcycle through his efforts posted on Facebook. By depositing a Rp 20,000 bill into an old fish tank daily instead of using the money on packs of cigarettes, they were surprised to find the total amount after just a year and a half.

Regardless of what one chooses to purchase with their saved dollars, the amount is substantial and yet people are literally burning it for a moment of pleasure and degraded health.

There is an online calculator that helps you figure out how much you can actually save per annum. People are often surprised at the amount, even though anyone could figure it out with basic mathematics. The problem is that not many people give it any thought and oftentimes underestimate how much they actually smoke and spend.

Then, the question of family. Perhaps not your parents, but your children. Statistics show that kids who grow up in a smoking household are more likely to become smokers due to the exposure they receive. Parents destigmatize smoking when they smoke in front of their children and instills in them the notion that smoking is not that bad. Why would their parents do it if it were? Children are creatures that learn through imitation, after all.

The good news is that those currently aged between 18 and 24 are highly against smoking, as can be seen in the backlash received by a high profile celebrity and role model to teenagers, Kylie Jenner. According to reports, millennials have been discouraged from smoking through the efforts of no-smoking campaigns. Now, all that is left are those who are still struggling to quit.

Hopefully with the guidance detailed above, 2018 will be the year you finally manage to kick the habit and kick it for good.

Capitalism in a finance-centered world

Economist and philosopher Adam Smith, famed for producing the Wealth of Nations called the “Bible of Capitalism”, has made many wise observations. He once said, “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which, the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”

The timelessness of this statement makes it a relevant observation today as well. Ironically, the “Invisible Hand” of Capitalism that Adam Smith spoke of, appears to be no longer trusted by young Americans today. A poll conducted by the Harvard Institute of Politics of Cambridge, Massachusetts, recently, found that only 19% of young Americans between the ages 18 and 29, categorized themselves as “capitalists.”

On the other hand, many young Americans appear to be drawn to the ideals of socialism. Twenty-four year old Asher Kaplan believes young Americans find socialism “both a political identity and a culture.” According to a poll conducted about three months ago, 44% of millennials wish to live in a socialist society, while 42% wish to live in a capitalist society. Young people in their late teens have bleak memories of the financial crisis of 2008 that has tainted their view of capitalism.

Indeed, according to the classical view of capitalism, individual and corporate savings are channeled into profitable business ventures, which transform those funds into a dynamic process of new jobs, prosperity and economic growth. With a consolidated bonds and banking system, finance was an integral part of the US economy from the late 1790s to the early 1970s, but it was not the dominant or central focus of everything.

Political decisions over the years changed the conventional role of finance in the economy. Today, finance is a combination of banks, hedge funds, mutual funds, insurance firms, trading houses and the like. Academics like Oscar Jorda, Alan Taylor and Moritz Schularick, who have made insightful study into the workings of finance, find that only about 15% of the capital of finance institutions get drawn into funding business ventures today. This is a significant deviation from the traditional role of banks in the economy. Jonathan Adair Turner, Chairman, Institute for New Economic Thinking headquartered in New York, said, “Across all advanced economies, and the United States and the U.K. in particular, the role of the capital markets and the banking sector in funding new investment is decreasing.”

In the conventional capitalist set up, the most productive elements were the people who produced goods and services. The limelight today is upon people who invent things to be produced. Once a viable model is in place, producing different varieties of it, like software or pharmaceuticals, is plain sailing. Therefore, the big bucks are drawn, not by those who produce, but by those who figure out what to produce. This is a significant departure from what used to be. This is a reason why American workers are not consistently getting richer, even though the American economy is increasing its wealth.

Furthermore, globalization, even in a conventional set up, led to great leaps in increased productivity, as funds got allocated to where production took place at minimum cost. However, in agricultural and industrial economies, finance was not considered important to the exclusion of all else. In today’s world, where what should be produced is as unclear as much as where it should be produced, distribution of finance is of utmost importance. Financial analysts observe that the trend today is for capital in an economy to be pulled into lending against existing assets like housing, stocks and bonds. Thus, the role of finance has intensified in importance as a component of the economy. In 1980, finance was 4% of the US economy. Today it is 7%, and draws in about 25% of all corporate profit, but creates only 4% of all jobs.

Post-Bretton Woods globalization and free trade policies have led to finance getting drawn to areas that Wall Street deems important. The general understanding is that the US and other developed countries have advanced from being agricultural economies, to industrial economies, and, now, into being service economies. This deluding concept threatens to destroy capitalism, for it is no longer the system that Adam Smith described. What exists today is categorized as “financialization,” a phenomenon where the finance sector is expanding in scale and profitability with disappearing restrictions, and at the cost of the rest of the economy. In 1982, Wall Street profit amounted to less than 10% of all corporate profit. By 2003, it had increased to 40%. Thus, income got redirected from labor to capital with a growth that was out of proportion. Manufacturing was a high-employment sector. At rapid pace, the low-employment finance sector replaced it, with outsourcing adding to the woes. Power over other sectors got transferred to Wall Street, a sector that focused on short-term profit, and not on long-term growth strategies. As a consequence, in order to compete for funding, the industrial sector was compelled to lay off workers and focus only on areas which brought speedy Return on Investment (ROI). Productivity increased through technological advancement, and different stages of manufacturing were outsourced to economically viable global spots. The financial dashboard of companies was enhanced at the cost of regular Americans, desperately striving to maintain a sliding standard of living. The one consistent factor in the finance-centered economy, was an ever mounting demand for credit. The incongruity of building a house on credit cards was overlooked while growth persisted. The consumption boom spiraled upward, spinning on lenient credit terms and lending standards and low interest rates. The outstanding debt of households at the end of 2007 was 140%.

Confidence appear to be everything. As Adam Smith rightly said, “All money is a matter of belief.” What was tragic was the disbelief that followed the inevitable economic collapse in 2008.

Is e-learning more beneficial than in-person training?

E-learning is web-based learning and can be taken at anytime from an internet-connected device. On the other hand, Instructor-led training (ILT) is the more traditional, formal version of training that takes place in a classroom in front of learners

One of the greatest advantages of instructor-led training is that students have the opportunity to ask questions. Highly-trained corporate trainers and instructors can also adapt their presentations to the skill level and personality of the class they’re teaching. Further, learners are able to actively interact, engage with instructors and other fellow learners.

Online education on the other hand, removes geophysical barriers for students to participate in learning. In a traditional classroom setting the biggest difference from eLearning is that there is, in fact, a physical classroom. E-learning, on the other hand, turns the world into the student’s classroom or just the corner of their living room if they prefer, and work at their own pace. With e-learning, there is huge potential to deliver a learning experience beyond what a pen and paper course could. E-learning can provide a learning experience tailored to individual learning styles and needs. In a traditional classroom context, it is difficult for instructors to engage every student in the classroom, and impossible to cater for each and every student’s personal learning needs. Every individual has a different learning style, which impacts upon the way they best absorb and retain information. This is where e-learning steps in to complement what students are being taught at school. With big data creating the opportunity for designing more customised courses and tracking student patterns, instructors are able to access information that can be used to enhance teaching methods. Utilising AI, courses can then be delivered in a way that constantly adapts to individual learning patterns and behaviours, solving instructors’ perpetual headaches over how to keep students engaged and motivated in the learning process. E-learning’s capability of delivering education beyond the “one size fits all” model has become increasingly more attractive. This grows more achievable every day, with a fast-growing e-learning market to meet growing demands.

There are further advantages to e-learning over instructor led training. One of which, is that an e-learning course can take anywhere from 40 to 75% less class time than a traditional course. In addition, cost benefits may be an enticing incentive – corporates save about 50% to 70% on training when they replace instructor led training with e-learning as they save on costs related to wages, travel, and training material. Pluralsight research suggests that online education ‘speeds up learning time by 35-60%’ in regards to retention rates.

On the other hand, instructor led training such as the PMP Certification training can provide advantages that e-learning cannot. E-learning also requires a high degree of self-regulation as opposed to a mandated learning schedule. Social interaction is a big part of traditional learning. Hands are raised, questions asked and answered, presentations given, and so forth. However, it can be argued that e-learning can provide online interaction through online forums and email. However, it places a human instructor as the driver for these discussions, acting as a participant. In recent times, learning management systems (LMS) virtual, classroom, mobile, social and eCommerce capabilities in a single, secure, and scalable platform. More and more organisations and schools are turning to e-learning to educate their employees and students, with flexibility being a top incentive for employers.

Performance Support Coordinator/Instructional Designer Sherri Dosher argued that ‘If learners know why the information is important to them and the course is designed well to engage learners, then there will be less “going through the motions”’. Dosher believes that e-learning can be just as effective as instructor-led training if the certain conditions are met – such as content being appropriate for online delivery; a well designed course that includes context, challenge, activity and feedback; a communication plan that outlines the benefits, and; supervisory support being present as part of the e-learning course.

With both learning styles having their own benefits, it can be argued that whether one is better than the other, is dependent on each individual’s preference. However, e-learning has become increasingly popular, and the advantages that traditional learning has over e-learning can be obtained with a well designed course.

Adapt or die: how can shopping malls stay relevant in the E-commerce era?

It’s an evident fact. Shopping malls are nowhere near as popular as they used to be – at least not as a shopping destination. In fact, according to a report last year by Credit Suisse, between 20 percent to 25 percent of malls in the US will close within five years. While the projection is limited to the US alone, the trend is a worldwide phenomenon. There is a notable shift in how customers view shopping malls. For the malls, it is simple: Either adapt or die.

Internet, it is safe to say, is the major culprit behind the down fall of shopping malls. In the past, shopping malls are the ultimate go-to place for shopping malls, as it hosts numerous different stores with a variety of different products within a comfortable, convenient and secure building. The advent of online shopping, driven by the surge in smartphone use, has changed things. Going to the mall to purchase goods is now seen as quite a hassle, compared to buying online at the comfort and convenience of our own home.

This may not be much of a surprise for the purchase of food and daily groceries as delivery services have been around for a long time. The bigger surprise is the rising popularity in online purchases of luxury goods such as jewelry, designer bags and luxury ladies watches. The fact that customers now prefer buying these valuable items online rather than in going to brick and mortar stores indicates just how e-commerce has changed the shopping landscape, leaving no department untouched.

The internet, however, is not the only factor. The change in the behavior and financial conditions of customers is also influencing the fate of shopping malls. In the last few years, we have been seeing the retirement of aging Bloomers, the largest consumer group ever, and the rise of the Millenials, which lifestyle tend to be notably different to those of their predecessors. For Millennials less is more, and the quality of lifestyle is desirable over big quantities. They would prefer smaller, more intimate over giant stores and massive choices presented by malls.

In the face of these changes, shopping malls, which used to be the heart and soul of communities and the foundation of retail economies, now need to fight and adapt to remain relevant for today’s customers.

One of the ways shopping malls can survive is by to put emphasis on experience rather than product and prices. This is simply because malls have no way of competing with online shopping when it comes to convenience and product and price selection. Malls can add to their value through various innovations such as holding concerts, arts centers, spas, fitness clubs and farmer’s markets in and around their malls. These initiatives offer a level of leisure and entertainment that online shopping experience does not provide.

Malls also need to adapt to the times by embracing technology. One of the most effective ways of leveraging popular technology is by the use of social media, which is a great tool for malls to extend their relationships with customers before and after their visit. However, what must be noted is that being social on social media does not merely mean aggressively uploading random posts. There needs to be a strategy in place. Customers needs to be engaged, and this is done through compelling content and creating deeper bonds with them through interaction on social media. Moreover, social media can also be used for other purposes, such as to create buzz about new tenants or solicit ideas from consumers about ideas for new stores.

Another way to attract interest to malls is by applying innovation in the physical appearance, design and structure of the mall. In this case, different is always better. Open air malls, for example, would be a refreshing concept and is bound to attract a crowd of visitors for its uniqueness. So would malls that are incorporated with mixed use real estate.

Adopting a totally different strategy and concept of course is not a guarantee to success. There is always the chances of failing, which could put a lot malls in a worse state than when they started. The easy way out for dying malls, some have argued, is simply to shut up shop and change the function of the mall. Conventional trade should cease to take place in the mall building, and instead it should be used to serve and support digital sales, as alluded to in a recent Fitch Ratings report.

Unused store space and extra parking lots could be transformed into last-mile fulfillment centers, helping to speed up logistics and cuts costs in the crucial last step of the delivery journey, when a package reaches the customer’s home, the report said.

This may be an ingenious idea for malls as retailers have for a while been looking for spacious places in dense population centers that could be used as mini-warehouses to stock their most popular items. This would enable delivery to the region to be done within the time frame of one or two hours.

Using excess mall space for last-mile delivery warehousing would help retail companies solve one of the most difficult parts of e-commerce fulfillment, because, as many retailers would confirm, the last mile of delivery takes up more than half of the total cost of package delivery.



The science of great leadership

Since the dawn of civilization, leaders have existed. They have sprung up among us, purposefully or purely the result of circumstance. And though the scientific study of leadership has been well documented over the years, its key discoveries remain unknown by most people. Recruitment companies and HR personnel, alarmingly, are often among this naïve portion of the population despite the fact that they are generally those tasked with the mission of finding and selecting leaders. 

So, what is the science of leadership? Is there a tried and tested scientific formula for developing charismatic, ambitious, intelligent and impactful Type A personalities, capable of managing major companies or organizations?

The debate over whether or not leaders are born or made has not yet reached a verdict as there are substantial arguments for both sides. However, much of the rhetoric and teaching in business schools and colleges worldwide has a technical, scientific tone, giving the impression that business leadership success can be achieved simply by following a step-by-step plan.

The thing is, research generally proves that such an approach can actually produce strong leaders. Statistics show certain types of behaviors and routines can help contribute to one’s ability to establish themselves as a true leader. Leadership theories, which seek to explain how and why certain people become leaders, are part science, part psychology and part organizational theory. An understanding of philosophy helps, too.

Estimates suggest that 30 to 60 percent of the character traits essential to becoming a leader are genetic or heritable. Those traits, namely personality and intelligence, can also however be developed through rigorous training or coaching interventions, with the potential for such purposeful manipulation to boost leadership competencies by 20 to 30 percent. Science also tells us that individuals who are more confident, sociable, ambitious and curious are more likely than others to become leaders. Higher levels of cognitive ability (otherwise known as one’s IQ) can also increase the chances of someone becoming a great leader.

The Cognitive Resource Theory of Leadership was a theory of industrial and organizational psychology developed by Fred Fiedler and Joe Garcia in 1987 and it focuses on the influence of a leader’s intelligence to formulate strategies, communicate action plans and then execute those plans. The theory emphases that during any one of these phases, however, unanticipated incidents that create stress may have an impact on that individual’s effective leadership. In other words, a person may be in control and capable of leading at the best of times but the minute they encounter stress that person will likely flounder and fall, unless of course they have experience in a similar situation. The theory also asserts that intelligent leaders speak more in high-stress situations than less intelligent leaders and often find themselves upset and overreacting to small things, sending a negative ripple effect throughout the team. Hence the age-old interview question we all dread: ‘Can you me a problem you encountered in your last job and how you dealt with it?’

This aside, cognitive ability is deemed both an asset and a prerequisite to leading effectively since leaders must usually engage in intellectual functions and tasks such as developing strategies, solving complex problems, motivating employees and interpreting enormous amounts of information.

On the other hand psychologist Daniel Goleman, whose research to date focuses mostly on effective leadership, advocates that even if a person has first-class training, advanced cognitive ability, good ideas and admirable ambition unless they are equally blessed with emotional intelligence – it all counts for nothing. Self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills are surprisingly even more valuable qualities to possess than having good business sense and an ability to issue orders. Cognitive empathy in particular is key to understanding one’s staff and is a crucial aspect of all relationships, particularly those in the workplace. The very best leaders are those who are cognizant of others’ feelings and who exercise empathy toward others on a daily basis.

You also have the age-old word bank of qualities one typically associates with a strong leader: courage, humility, passion, generosity, approachability and accountability. A leader will constantly innovate and will have an insatiable appetite for learning and growing. They will be capable of creating lasting, meaningful relationships with customers, clients, partners and even competitors. They will foster creativity and encourage innovation. They will constantly be setting new strategic goals – and sticking to them. They will inspire respect and engage others, both in the boardroom and on the street. They will always be curious and genuinely interested in the business environment they are in. They will be flexible in trying new approaches and ideas.

Science also says that great leaders rarely smile, wear powerful colors to work and often pace the room with their hands behind their back; a symbol of supreme confidence in that they are exposing the most vulnerable part of their body – their groin or chest.

Ultimately, if you believe all that is required to be a great leader (professionally speaking) is to act confident, engage in the odd workplace feedback survey to ensure staff satisfaction, wear a nice watch and develop a nice, strong handshake – you are sorely mistaken. Research shows these are all great starts, but to enable truly effective leadership one must make an effort to learn the psychology and sciences behind the art of leadership.

Is Texting Undervalued in the Marketing Industry?


 All businesses with a marketing professional, small or large, curate their content selection and distribution platform contingent with the demographics of their target audience and past results. For many marketing professionals, this might look like a social media calendar, leveraging automation services, and looking at in-platform analytics which are easy to digest.

And why should these marketing professionals deviate? After all, as the old saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Well, that’s an old saying for a reason: marketing requires an unconventional approach and innovative ideas. Phones are still a present factor in consumer life, and to isolate a marketing campaign to browser-based platforms is the epitome of self-limitation in a highly diversified market. There is a tangible difference between unnecessary risk-taking and innovation, though: so quantification of your results, as well as analytics capabilities for your proposal, must be present.

The numbers don’t lie. An average email campaign results in less than a 25% open rate. Text messages are almost always read, and while your content space may be more limited than that of an email, it’s certainly more opportunistic to leave an impression on your prospects than a mere email subject line read, sent straight to the delete box. Far too many businesses overlook text message marketing campaigns. Businesses that are leveraging text message marketing campaigns have quantifiable results to justify calling text message marketing a ‘must-have’ in any portfolio of branding.

A common objection to running text messaging campaigns is being unable to leverage analytics, which is a huge misconception. The same analytics tools you may be using for links disseminated on your social media platforms can be leveraged in text message campaigns. Something as rudimentary as a URL shortener can be utilized, negating the need to invest in third party applications or higher-tiered services thereof. As long as you leverage a clear message in your campaigns, you can further catalyze the success of your text messaging campaign with automated responses, as many successful businesses have been doing.

Keeping an eye on industry demographics and planning for the future are paramount topics within marketing. The consumer market for teens and young adults is ripe, yet often targeted with the wrong methodology. Preference and utilization for phone calls compared to text messages have leveled off and this trend is likely to continue to push forward, only further leveraging the growth opportunity for those willing to jump into text message marketing now. Late adopters are certain to lose opportunity in terms of client acquisition and retention.

As either a marketing professional, business owner, or both, we all know time is the most valuable resource. Generating content and disseminating it must be justifiable within the scope of your opportunity cost. It’s a laughable idea, but many have contemplated manually sending their text messaging campaign to each customer, which would be overextending in terms of time consumption and inefficient. Thankfully, the market necessity for streamlining text messaging has begun to be tapped, with text message blast services expanding: both in options and end-user utilization.

Deciding upon which platforms to utilize your advertising budget on is a tricky game of allocation and analytics. Some platforms are extremely expensive and provide a barrier to entry, such as LinkedIn. Some platforms are relatively low-cost, but might be niche to certain demographics, such as Pinterest. However, text messaging is leveraged across highly varied demographics and is a surefire approach to be implemented in any general marketing campaign.

The scalability of text message marketing is a strong factor worth your consideration. Just like you’d target ad groups with Facebook ads to certain demographics, text message campaigns can be targeted as well. In fact, SMS retargeting is inarguably one of the most effective methodologies for conversion optimization and an increase in client lifetime value.

Scalability regarding marketing investment applies to services from text message marketing vendors as well. It is not only uncommon, but the industry standard, to offer tiered services contingent with a business’ budget. Many of these services start as low $25 per month, providing a low entry point with upward scalability to disseminate your messages to more clients or acquire a wider range of tools. Best yet, many of these services offer free trials, which is often difficult to find in other marketing platforms. While some services such as Bing occasionally offer ‘free ad credit’ promotions, these promotions are sporadic, and these types of services require extensively more setup and oversight than a text messaging campaign.

A multifaceted approach to any operations marketing campaign provides both better results for the business via exposure to clientele, as well as relevance in a continually expanding, multi-channel industry. With a low entry cost, minimal setup and oversight, and proven high results, it can be safely stated that it is foolish not to leverage an opportunity like text message marketing now: before your competitors beat you to the punch.

Academia’s Online Black-Market

Investigations into claims of academic plagiarism throughout 2017 revealed more than 20,000 university students in the United Kingdom are buying professionally-written essays every year, alongside thousands of students from Canada, the USA Australia. A clear indication that contract cheating is becoming more prevalent amongst the student body globally.

The contract cheating business began courting clients and writers in earnest during the aftermath of the global financial crisis and today, the business of academic plagiarism is rampant. October last year saw universities around the world committing to fighting back against the tide of black market services, with the second International Day of Action against Contract Cheating.

But why is it occurring in the first place? What’s contributed to the rise of students outsourcing their assignments to a custom writing company, rather than completing the work themselves?

Today’s university students are under even more pressures and obstacles than ever before. Workloads are becoming larger, with the addition of more assignments, more tests and more practical assessments every year. Most students today are required to juggle unpaid internships and work experience, alongside a part-time job, and all while attending classes and lectures. In some industries, it’s becoming impossible to secure a position with only a bachelor qualification, meaning many students are extending their stay, on to graduate school, and inevitably suffering the burnout that comes with studying and living in the limbo of student life for the better part of a decade.

The system leads to students outsourcing their work to freelancers and paper mills for a range of reasons. Pressure to adhere to deadlines, or achieve top grades is one obvious reason why a student might engage these kinds of services. For others, it’s the time aspect. A student working a part-time job could earn money to cover daily expenses during the time they spend working on assignment, but for a small fee they can outsource their assignment, work more hours at their job, presenting the lure of more money, and a better grade.

Unlike the services offering banks of already written papers on numerous topics, ready to be shipped out to buyers, many of todays operations connect students with a freelancer, and the paper is written according to the specific criteria of the student (and what their instructor has told them.) The end result is a unique paper that will be found nowhere else on the internet, emailed to them, which makes all of the plagiarism detectors developed by universities and colleges to deal with issues of cheating, irrelevant.

Some of these suppliers are located in offshore countries, like Pakistan, India and Nigeria. In these instance, even small amounts of money earned in US Dollars of British Pounds can end up as hefty sums once they are converted into the writer’s local currency. Meaning that there are workers out there who will offer cheap services to the strapped-for-cash student.

But the reality is that not all of these companies and writers are located in developing nations. The recent reports out of the UK have revealed that there are teaching assistants and lecturers working with academia who are providing these black-market services to top up their earnings. In Canada too, the working conditions of academics have come under scrutiny, with some academic staff earning as little as $28,000 a year. It’s hardly surprising then, that many faculty members moonlight for paper mills and essay writing companies.

It’s not just papers that students are buying. The range of services available are only as limited as a student’s funds. Online exam taking services, even course outsourcing services exist. Where an agency will hire an expert to complete your entire course for you, and they guarantee you a good grade.

The market that these services are trying to sell to, are the students who are not there for the love of learning. But rather just for the grades on the piece of paper at the end. The oversaturation of degrees has meant that top marks are becoming the best way to stand out. These services understand this, and are making a point to profit from it, by selling what students want. Good grades.

Even though universities across the world all possess strict rules and penalties for academic plagiarism and cheating, they haven’t managed to deter students from soliciting the services of paper mills, and submitting outsourced work. There’s also the issue of separating legitimate translation and editorial businesses from the essay mills. While there are many disreputable companies selling custom dissertations, there are an equal number of professional editing and consulting professionals who provide services to ESL students, or produce ungraded reports and materials for businesses or community groups.

Most autobiographies you read are written by ghost writers, and in 21st century society, there is nothing illegal about outsourcing the tasks you can’t complete. Whole industries were born from the concept, cleaners, dog-walkers, finance managers… does it really come as a shock to add academics and education to that list?

In the free market, where there is a demand, there will be a supply. Students need help with papers, coursework, and tests, so a market has developed to provide them with the services. It may be that academic papers and theoretical thesis become a thing of the past, with only those truly interested in the process of research being encouraged to submit academic papers and reports. The question universities should be asking themselves is not “how do we stop academic plagiarism at our institutions?” Instead they should focus on reengaging with students, and finding ways to help them see the value and benefit in learning for themselves.

Show not tell: how parental approach is key to tackling childhood obesity

Cheerful, healthy, energetic are some of the words usually associated with children. While this generally remains the case today, it seems that more parents are having to come to terms with the fact that their children are struggling with health issues. And the most common of all is the problem of obesity.    

With the rise in the popularity of fast food among children, coupled with the advent of the internet as a source of games and entertainment over the more traditional physical activities, more children are becoming overweight than ever before. This is confirmed by a recent data by the World Health Organization (WHO) which reveals that the number of overweight or obese infants and young children (aged 0 to 5 years) increased from 32 million globally in 1990 to 41 million in 2016.

Having children that are overweight is a cause of concern for many parents, understandably so. The fear of their children growing up with health and self-esteem problems has prompted many parents to urge and even force their children to lose weight. However, what many parents fail to realize is that the key to their children’s weight loss is actually the efforts put in by the parents, not the children.

This starts with being selective with what parents say to their children. This can be tricky, because according to some studies, even well-intentioned comments about the body weight of children, girls in particular, could have long-term negative consequences for their health.

These findings follow the somewhat more obvious findings which show that girls who were told they were too fat as well as those put on a diet are more likely to struggle with obesity.            

Based on these studies, a parent’s concern about their children’s weight could easily end up backfiring if it is not manifested correctly, which is a worrying thought for parents. Because of this, some experts believe it’s actually best to avoid the use of words altogether when it comes to urging children to lose weight. Instead, parents should adopt the magic parenting trick of showing instead of telling.

Setting good examples is as important for teaching healthy living as it is for the teaching of values like kindness and or honesty. Role-modeling is a powerful way of getting your message and arguments across to children, as children tend to want to do what they see their parents doing. A study by the University of California found that the best way to help you child lose weight is to lose weight yourself.

If you are an overweight parent, set the good example by joining your local fitness gym. If your diet is sabotaging your weight loss effort, either learn to cook healthy or join a diet food home delivery to jump start your weight loss and learn healthy eating habits.

The notion of healthy living and weight loss, in the minds of many parents, involves first and foremost carrying out routine exercise and physical activities. To give an example of healthy living, parents may start going on regular morning jogs and even and take up certain sports to encourage their children to take up similar activities.

While this is important, what some overzealous parents must realize is that exercise alone will have little or impact in any weight loss efforts.  More studies and research are showing that exercise has a negligible impact on weight loss, without a change in diet.

This is simply because, in contrary to popular belief, it is very rare that a person burns more or the same calorie as they eat, even through a decent exercise session. According to experts, a person would typically need to do an extra two hours of cycling just to burn an extra 500 calories, or about two doughnuts.

Furthermore, for children who are overweight or obese, physical activities alter their ‘hunger hormones’ which researchers believe increases the person’s appetite. This in effect may undo any weight-loss effects of the exercises carried out, making it difficult for them to achieve their goals.

This theory is backed up by a paper on childhood obesity published in 2008 by Steven Gortmaker and Kendrin Sonneville. The two Boston academics looked into something they called “the energy gap” or the daily imbalance between energy intake and expenditure. The result of the experiment they carried out showed that when the children in their experiment exercised, they ended up eating more than the calories they had just burned, sometimes 10 or 20 times as many.

In order for it to be effective and have the desired effect in regards to weight loss, particularly for children, exercise training needs to be integrated into a lifestyle approach to weight loss, including exercise combined with diet.

There have been various different weight loss diet and exercise combinations developed and experimented for adults, but these obviously cannot just be forced on to children, as ensuring safety is doubly important when developing a weight loss program for children.

While many have started formulating the right scheme to help children lose weight using a combination of healthy eating and necessary physical activities, one of a few that has claimed resounding success with their approach is Danish pediatrician Dr Jens Christian Holm.

Dr Holm claims that his weight-loss scheme for children, which involves adjusting 20 elements of a child’s lifestyle, has treated 1,900 patients and helped 70% of them to maintain normal weight. The success has prompted eight Danish municipalities to adopt the program and implement it for children in the area.

What makes this scheme special is the way it tackles all aspects of children’s lives instead of the “small steps” approach used by other weight-loss schemes. Dr Holm’s scheme requires children to make wholesale changes in lifestyle to defeat the body’s natural resistance to losing fat, and gives each child has a personalised treatment plan which targets 15-20 daily habits.

Among the tailored strategies that could be given include having No fast food or white bread for lunch and eating brown bread, meat, fish and vegetables instead, having portions served up in the kitchen – no pots and pans at the dining table and wait 20 minutes before having second helpings to allow time for the body to feel full.

Strategies related to physical activities, meanwhile, could include things like cycling or walking to school, limiting screen time to two hours a day and setting a regular early bedtime.

The program, Dr Holm says, has been proven successful. But all weight-loss schemes, bar none, it is not easy and takes hard work and determination. This, again, requires the role of the parents as their support could make or break their child’s weight-loss efforts.

Art and Business, opposites or identical?

If one were to mention art and business, many would think of them on different sides of a spectrum. However, over at Forbes, they beg to disagree. They have dubbed those in the two fields ‘idea-revealers‘ and going on to elaborate that an artist and a businessperson is identical in the sense that both artistic and entrepreneurial ideas are only made to manifest through “experimentation, creativity, and collaboration” and “to address some aspect of human need”.

It is ironic as too many students who would rather pursue art, end up in business instead. However, art is one of the best investments a businessperson could ever make – provided they have the eye for it. Take for example, da Vinci’s ‘Salvatore Mundi’, sold just last month for $450 million dollars. Originally owned at just $200, it disappeared into history around 1950 and only emerging recently, in 2005, when a pair of business owners purchased it for $10,000 dollars believing it to be Renaissance-era work. Upon restoration, it was revealed to be painted by Leonardo himself.

Artwork has become such a fixture in society that there are banks allowing art to be collateral for loans. Art-backed credit is not a recent trend but is not well known due to certain problems. Firstly, there is the question of its authenticity. Secondly, artwork is not as easy to value as a diamond or some piece of jewellery. Furthermore, art collectors are oftentimes reluctant to part with their collection due to the fragile nature of paintings or other forms of artwork, especially if aged in which case it requires special care.

A specialized division by Dr. Tim Hunter called Falcon Fine Art, is enacting a movement allowing collectors to retain possession of their artwork in order for owners to properly preserve them and also to encourage art-backed loans.

Art collection has become a business of sorts in recent years. While it used to be a luxury item for those who appreciate art, it is being increasingly monetized. To complete payment for a special piece of art an increasing number of people is also willing to back up with short term loans, as they consider the artwork an investment. Companies from all over the world offer this kind of cash and so does Vexcash, a German provider. But this is not the only way to fund art: Over at Art Works, an art gallery which originated from Sydney, Australia, collectors are presented with the option to lease their purchases for display. The company takes 1% of the income whereas the buyer will see a return of 6% per annum. This means that a $100,000 painting will fetch the owner $6,000 every year.

They hope to groom the market to start seeing artwork as an asset that can generate income, rather than something that sits at home gathering dust. Art Works has put its roots down in Singapore, opting to target the Asian market which has been steadily growing for the past ten years. They carry pieces from all around the world, but is focused on Asia, mainly China, but also from the UK and Australia.

China has seen its fair share of growth, rising by 20 percent in 2017 with domestic auctions dominating the field. While Chinese investors have been looking to the West to expand their galleries, the government is very strict on its relics leaving the country as they seek the return of their heritage. Anything created prior to the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, is banned from being traded internationally. Deborah M. Lehr, a business consultant opened up regarding this matter on The Diplomat, announcing that if China were to “be a global player in the art world, it should not fear competition” and goes on to suggest that by “opening doors to foreign auction houses (it) will raise standards among Chinese firms”.

On the other side of the continent, a Danish start up by brothers Mattish and Jeppe Curth, wants to broaden the virtual trading world of art by creating what they call a mix of Instagram and Linked In: Artland. CEO Mattish Curth says that “five years ago, no one thought you could seriously buy art online. Now, the online market is growing by double digits, and in 2016 the overall share of the market was 8.4% out of a total market value of €32 billion euro.”

Employing the use of an app, they have created a platform for galleries and art collectors to conduct business. It also acts as social media for art enthusiasts, whereby they may get to know those that share their tastes. They have recently gone global in September, 2017.

However, fine art trade remains to be exclusive and geared to the wealthy, who pay extortionist amounts for the privilege to insider information such as auctions. Art critic Robert Hughes once stated that “the biggest unregulated market outside illicit drugs” is the art world. Financial Times report that “the market lacks transparency and auctions are susceptible to manipulation” and that “dealers’ inventories can be artfully managed to massage prices”.

Fanciful jargon and the use of tactics to generate income by offering services and products, perhaps art is merely business disguised with a mask – a very expensive and elitist one at that.