Monday, January 28, 2008
Sunday, January 13, 2008
To other countries, the U.S. is viewed as a nation that prides itself on the accumulation of wealth and success. In other words if you have enough money you are deemed a success, and with America’s addiction to celebrities, if you have wealth and “star” status you make the newspaper headlines.
The pursuit of the “American Dream” however has become it’s worst nightmare. Check out the growth of rehab centres, the shrinking of the middle class, the foreclosures, the increased crime and violence, and the 47 million Americans suffering from illness and disease because they are too poor to have health insurance.
When Obama reached $25 million in campaign contributions, he made the headlines and was immediately elevated to the rank of a possible contender. Conversely if you have “star” power, and no money, you are still classified as a “loser”. What is broken in America is the political process, where money is equated to power and power is equated to success. Oprah has money and “star” status, so when she gets behind Obama he is suddenly elevated in the minds of the American people.
Other countries view America as a “narcissistic”, spoiled child, and a bully who always gets what he wants. Bush Jnr. has spent the last 8 years proving all of the rest of the world right.
Make no mistake Obama and Clinton have both bought votes. Only 3% of American individuals actually give to political campaigns, that leaves 97% to come from major corporate contributions and self interest groups. The truth is, and the truth hurts, Wall Street is in bed with the White House and the White House is in bed with Wall Street.
I do feel that it will take a fundamental shift in the way Americans are elected to congress and the white house. But that requires a tsunami of change to come from the middle class. The gap between the rich and poor in America has never been greater.
The poor have no money, therefore no power. The rich have money and the power. The middle class have a voice and a little money. The “Middle Class” revolution is the only hope.
This is America’s wake up call. Take the campaigns away from the candidates and their managers. Political strategists will always advise candidates to say “what people want to hear them say”.
According to the Center for Public Integrity we are at the lowest level of trust of governments and companies since the 1930’s.
Americans need to start thinking about who they are and what they have become.
The middle class have become it’s greatest losers and subsequently “its’ greatest hope”. You have strength in numbers and a reason to be passionate about your cause. Start a “grass roots” movement that personifies truth, honesty and success measured in values, integrity, and compassion, rather than money and power. That is America’s only hope.
The Dalai Lama has said that it will take 8-10 years for America to change, let’s hope it is within our lifetime and the lifetime of our grandchildren. Let the revolution begin!
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
But why him? Why has Terrance Mohlala made it when so many others like him in South Africa – one of the least entrepreneurial nations in the world – have not?
Hard work. Courage. Divine intervention. These are some of the factors he lists. But it also takes knowing where to get financing, and how to market, and expand a business. That's where the Business Place comes in. Eight of them are spread around the country: brightly lit, friendly and free drop-in centers where so-called "navigators" walk South Africa's wanna-be entrepreneurs through the stages of starting a company.
The centers, supported jointly by the Investec bank and the government, employ 50 navigators and other staff, and help about 5,000 clients a month try to realize their dreams.
There's certainly a need. South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, with approximately 33 percent of the adult population out of work last year, according to the government. Worse yet, the country lacks an entrepreneurial culture. According to the 2006 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, only five percent of South Africans started businesses in the past four years. The country ranked 30th out of 42 nations surveyed.
Mr. Mohlala ponders his business success, and why it remains elusive to so many here.
"The problem is self-esteem. For so many of us, it is too low," he says slowly, controlling his slight speech impediment. "I think I have a high one. Even when I am stuttering, I think I can stand in front of a group of people ... or in front of congregation in the church and preach."
Self-esteem. It's certainly not a trait that was instilled in him by the apartheid system he was born under, or by his parents, who died when he was a boy. He did not learn it at the mediocre one-room schoolhouse that he attended while growing up with his granny on a farm, or at his first job, as a gardener pulling weeds at age 14. Mohlala suggests his confidence comes "perhaps ... just from the Man upstairs."
And a little help from the Business Place. "There are a lot of people selling odds and ends on the sides of the road. But to translate that into a little business with potential to grow, one needs help and encouragement," says Hilary Joffe, associate editor of Business Day newspaper here. "Something like the Business Place gives you both access and that encouragement."
Delse Dludlu is a senior manager at the largest of the Business Places, in downtown Johannesburg. They have fast speed internet here, a table crowded with the latest business magazines, and shelves filled with files on finance options. Every day, a free or 10 rand ($1.50) seminar is held. On a recent week, Monday was "First steps to starting your business." Tuesday: "Develop and test your business idea." Wednesday, "Market research." Thursday: "Understanding taxes for small businesses."
A well-built woman with a sassy attitude, Ms. Dludlu dreamed as a child of being a professional buyer of auto parts for Chrysler Daimler. "It's very classy work," she explains.
The youngest of 15 children, she learned early about self sufficiency. No one had their own bed in her household, she says, so you had to make sure you tagged one at night. Her dad owned a corner shop. Her mom was an "executive domestic worker."
A what? "Just an ordinary maid," replies Dludlu, laughing. "But presentation, as we say, is everything."
After getting a business degree, Dludlu came to the Business Place, first as a client, then later as an administrator. The work suits her. "There are lots of opportunities in life but people don't always understand that no one is bringing them to them," she explains. "No one will do that. You have to go out and get what you want."
The navigators at the Business Place work one-on-one with clients, and try not to prod or preach but rather move with them through a series of steps. First, they help clients define what they want or need. Then, the navigators direct them to sources of loans or grants, seminars, and to networking meetings that take place every week at the centers.
There are two kinds of people she encounters, Dludlu continues: "Those who sit, complain, give up, and do nothing to help themselves ... and people who realize 'OK. There is not enough employment. Now, what can I do to help myself?' "Attitude, however, is not enough, people need vision. "You don't start a business because you are desperate. You should do it because you have a clue and know what you want," she says.
Mohlala had both the right approach, and vision. As a youngster, he wanted to be a sailor. But his grandmother couldn't afford that class and so he enrolled in a cheaper course – computer training. He spent five years at a computer company, making 500 rand ($83 dollars) a month. "I had ideas about computer sales and repairs, but unfortunately they were not interested in my ideas there," he says.
When Mohlala first walked into the Business Place he mistakenly thought, like so many others, that they would finance his ideas. "I had almost everything in my head. The only thing I needed was capital." He went to workshops, spoke to navigators, applied for loans and government grants, and made contacts. The networking evenings provided a source of future clients (mainly other new businesses that needed computer services), and the landlord who would rent him space for his first shop. Within three years, he was up and running.
Terry's Computers, specializing in training, repairs, sales and business services, now has three locations, a yearly turnover of 350,000 rand ($58,333) and seven employees. "My family thinks I am a hero," says Mohlala. "They are so proud of me because I am the only one in the family who has his own business." His granny, who raised him, now lives in town with him.
Mohlala has also adopted an orphanage in Soweto, donating computers and giving training courses for free. "I feel that other orphans might not have the courage and opportunity I did. So I wanted to expose them to computers," he says.
"If I was to stand in front of God now and he would ask, 'What have you done in your life,'" concludes Dludlu, "I would say, 'Open my record and look at all the successes of others tied up with my name.' There is nothing better."
At a dinner party overflowing with accomplished professionals, someone leaned across the table to ask Julia Moulden what she'd been up to.When she replied that she was reinventing herself and everyone within earshot tuned in, she knew she'd hit a nerve.
"All these doctors and executives and professors -- everybody stopped talking and leaned in," Moulden recalls. "And I went, 'Okay, if it's that interesting to these people then there's something going on inside a lot of people, it's not just happening inside of me.'"
The result of that epiphany is We are the New Radicals, a book chronicling the mid-life transformation of baby boomers trading ordinary careers for a chance to change the world.
Due for release in February, it's partly a collective biography and partly a how-to manual for those who want to join the ranks.
Moulden, 51, hopes it will become a rallying point in 2008 and beyond for the millions of boomers she believes are searching for more fulfilment.
She divides New Radicals into three categories: activists who serve others firsthand, entrepreneurs who start news businesses in which making a difference is part of the plan and innovators who work to change their fields from within.
Overwhelmingly, she found this transformation happens around age 50.
Moulden counts herself among the New Radicals, having parlayed experience at the helm of her own communications company and as a speech writer into a more recent role as an executive coach guiding mid-life career changes.
"The boomers take a lot of slack for being yuppies and for having done nothing more than create a market for SUVs and non-fat tall chai lattes, but in fact the boomers have been responsible for driving change already," she says, citing gay rights, the women's movement and the cementing of civil rights as examples.
Moulden points to survey results that reveal three-quarters of baby boomers intend to keep working and earning in retirement, and more than 60 per cent want to do good works right now.
She maintains that becoming a New Radical can run the gamut "from mild to wild." Moulden also emphasizes that people don't need deep pockets to bankroll good deeds.
"This is about how you make a living being the way to give back," she says.
Canadian chef Jamie Kennedy provides an example of this, she says, with his escalating efforts to use seasonal and locally sourced ingredients in his restaurants.
At "the wild end of the spectrum" and also profiled in the book is Nicole Pageau. The former non-profit worker from Edmonton sold all her belongings and moved to Rwanda in her 60s, Moulden says, after a speech by a genocide survivor compelled her to help widows and orphans firsthand.
New Radicals are driven by the activist spirit of the 1960s, Moulden says, but they've adopted vision and hope as their tactics in place of the more confrontational strategies of their Flower Power predecessors.
"The boomers are the most powerful generation the world's ever known, but eventually we're going to be a note in the history books," she says.
Their larger legacy may come after they've passed through their New Radical years, she says, because many people in their 20s and 30s are now determined to do fulfilling work from the very start of their careers. "This idea is seeping through the culture, and although it may have been kicked off by the boomers, it's really being echoed in our children," Moulden says. "I think we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg."