Friday, 23 August 2019

Banks - The True Modern Day Alchemists - Can Solve Youth Unemployment and Control Sierra Leone's Soaring Prices (Entrepreneurship is the answer)

As a young person I have a first-hand experience with the difficulties young people face in finding employment our country. But I should start by telling you what I truly believe. Despite the challenges we face as a country, I believe deep down that we would all like to wake up in a prosperous Sierra Leone where things such as youth unemployment and our ever soaring prices are both things of the past. I also know that an economically flourishing Sierra Leone is in the best interest of every Sierra Leonean - including the president, all members of parliament, business owners and each and every other Sierra Leonean. Why? Well, from a purely pragmatic sense, government depends on taxes to execute its basic functions and pursue projects of national importance. With a strong and flourishing economy our government can raise taxes from its own people without relying on aid, the president and all other policy makers can go to bed in peace without worrying about unemployment and uncontrollable prices. Isn't that what we all want? Also, I am simply not able to think of anyone being happy to captain a sinking boat.
Of course, probably because youth unemployment (you can call some of it underemployment) has been a part of Sierra Leone’s narrative for such a long time despite changes of government, it is easy to perceive the problem as unsolvable. However, this is not true, in fact unemployment and soaring prices in the presence of banks is an absurdity.
The backbone of my thought here is that while the banking sector (when not well managed and directed by Government) can be a major source of the ever rising prices, they are also perhaps the best remedy for ending unemployment and creating inflation-free, stable and sustainable economic growth that I believe you so desire.  In this post I am going to push a theory of national development and poverty eradiation based on using banks for the national good.
An economy can be distilled into two basic economic activities; production and consumption (spending). It is the millions of individual production and consumption (spending) activities that take place in our villages, markets, households, communities, businesses and government offices that all come together to form what is known as the economy. While production takes place in three forms; households, market and public, it is market production that that holds the keys to economic transformation because it doesn’t only create new goods and services but it also redistributes benefits to its stakeholders.

On the other hand, we have consumption (spending) – here our problem with banks and rising prices comes. In an economy there are two ways to finance consumption; through what you earn (income) or by lending (credit). Credit can be created from thin air! Whenever, you go to the bank to borrow money or whenever you go to the nearby shop to buy a bottle of Sierra Juice and promise to pay at a later date, you have simply created credit. What many people don’t know is that a significant part of what they think is the money supply is actually just credit.  Credit has extremely powerful implications, it allows us to be able to spend beyond what our current incomes can afford. But credit creation, when not carefully managed, can also be extremely dangerous for a country and will inherently result to the problems we have been experiencing.

When banks lend money (creating credit), this can go into three main paths, only one of which can produce the types of results we want for our country. First, credit can be created to finance productive activities such as providing start-up capital for new enterprises creating employment and new goods and services. Second, credit can be used to finance speculative activities in the finance industry. Thirdly, banks can lend to people to finance household consumption such as buying a new television or building a residential house.

Mr. President, it is the second and third forms of credit creation that creates higher prices and leads to economies overheating and bursting into financial crises. When banks are left on their own, they won’t prioritize lending for new enterprises, especially for small and medium enterprises which are the perfect engine for the creation of employment.

Governments in many countries (for good reasons) have historically delegated the role of credit creation

          (To Be reason with me...)

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Investment In Childhood Nutrition Has The Highest Returns On Investment, According To Economists

"Nearly half of all deaths of children under five in Africa are attributable to under nutrition." (UNICEF 2019)
Furthermore the interaction of undernutrition and infection creates a cyclic relationship resulting in weakening health and poor cognitive development of children and poor work performance in adulthood.
However, it surprisingly turns out that investing in childhood nutrition has the highest returns on investment.
But why have past interventions failed?
What can be done to make the most of this?

A few days ago I was watching an interview featuring Dr.Jordan Peterson, where he was emphasising empirical research on how poor nutrition can have extreme (and as i found out sometimes almost irreversible) effects on the a child's cognitive development and the adult he/she turns out to be in society. Touched by this, I've spent the past few days reading up the issue of Early Childhood Development in general.

Billions of dollars in aid and interventions are spent each year by Governments, Intergovernmental Organizations, NGOs and Businesses aiming to transform the livelihoods of underserved communities. Decisions about what to spend available resources on are made difficult by the plethora of possible causes to target and interventions to support. However, not all causes are the same; the return on investment (ROI) of a dollar spent in one area may impact a broader set of outcomes and in a more profound way compared to another.

In economics, the value of pursuing a particular alternative (in the presence of competing alternatives) is determined by the extra benefit (return in this case) gained in pursuing that course of action compared to the second best alternative. The limited nature of the resources available to address our ever growing basket of challenges to tackle necessitates considering returns on investment (ROI) as a prudent endeavour for governments and agencies aiming to improve socio-economic outcomes in society. Research has shown that, among several of the big challenges facing our world today, a list including causes such as starvation, lack of water, tyrannical governance, poor sanitation, poor education etc., investing in childhood nutrition has the highest returns on investment for foreign policy dollars. According to this study involving a large and diverse group of economists, it was found that Investing in Childhood Nutrition has a staggering 250:1 return on investment! This means, for every dollar we invest in childhood nutrition, we get back 250 dollars.

The effects of poor nutrition on a child’s educational performance, mental and physiological health and development have been known for a long time, yet efforts to channel resources to tackling the problem has been mediocre at best. This is compounded by the fact that household consumption decisions don’t seem to follow the assumption of rationality so central to much of classical economic theory. The poorest households are most vulnerable to this problem.

However, demand for better health, especially nutritional health cannot just be reduced to the presence of income poverty. It has been observed that increases in income in poor households do not necessarily result in the consumption of more nutritious food; rather, poor households tend to go for tastier food! The more recent branch of behavioural economics may shed a lot of light into this strange phenomenon. The central theme in behavioural economics is that economic decision making is heavily influenced by social and psychological factors. This is a striking divergence from main stream economics based on the assumption of rational decision making.

What this all mean? Well, given that investment in childhood nutrition gives us the highest returns on dollars invested and we know that poor households may not necessarily improve nutritional intake given an increase in incomes, there is great impetus for intervention by governments and humanitarian agencies to seek out alternative solutions. Let us explore some of these solutions.

First of all, because of the great improvements in school enrolment and the fact that schools are already a well-integrated aspect of most communities, school feeding programmes can be a great way to provide essential nutrition for children while also promoting academic engagement. However, these interventions have mostly been short lived due to unsustainable funding mechanisms for their huge price tags. However, since agriculture is already the principal source of livelihood in most poor communities, finding ways to mobilise local production of the essential food ingredients and engaging parents (through a Parent Teacher Association or some other mechanism) can go a long way to ensure school feeding programmes are more cost-effective and locally driven. These school feeding interventions can also be packaged with a nutritional education component.

Secondly, general public information and awareness are an important part of sustainable solutions. Working with local authorities and traditional leaders, public and communal advocacy and educational campaigns can go a long way in changing local attitudes towards nutritional decision making. Community nutrition education campaigns can be done in a number of ways: local television and radio shows by local experts, radio soap operas, descriptive poster campaigns featuring local characters, short cartoon clips, and many others.

Finally, Governments can invest in school curricula reforms and teaching methodologies to ensure up-to-date nutritional education is accessible to all children, especially those from the poorest communities.

In the end, because we know investing in childhood nutrition has the best returns on investment, this gives an additional reason for governments and humanitarian agencies to invest in finding the most economically viable interventions to make adequate nutrition is accessible to children find ways to tackle the bottle necks that have limited the success of previous and existing solutions. Innovative and locally driven approaches with schools, parents and local community leaders at their centre will be critical to reach the most sustainable solutions.

Monday, 29 July 2019

The dream of every leader: Why and how to lead a passion-driven team

In an earlier blog, I wrote about why the best thing young people can do for themselves, their communities and the world in general is to follow, or better yet, develop a passion. Today, I want to turn my attention to discussing why and how leaders of businesses and organizations can lead passion driven teams.

  1. Es más dificil nadar contra el corriente. It’s is easier to swim with the currents than against them; so passion-driven leadership aims as much as possible to have team members swimming with their own unique currents, and this is fundamental to the achievement of powerful company and organizational results. In teams and organizations, leaders often rely on a few members of their team who bring a unique contribution to the team and on whose single performance they believe the best results of the team depends.
    However, as well as managing passionate employees, I believe leaders can actually develop and lead a passion driven team where, instead relying on one or two, every team member becomes a star bringing unique piece to contribute to the creation of a team achieving unbelievable results. Each member gets to engage in personally meaningful work and in what they enjoy doing while contributing their best to the achievement of the collective outcomes of the team.
  2.  Passion driven leadership is the best way to keep star employees and to nurture every team member to become stars and keep them committed to the team’s vision and goals over long periods of time. In previous post, I wrote about why one should build their passion and how this produces the best outcomes for themselves, those around them and the society. I also noted that one doesn’t even have to leave their current workplace in order to develop a passion. This is where passion-driven leadership comes in.
  3. A strategic advantage: with passion-driven leadership, it becomes harder for team members to leave and if and when they do, they continue to be an asset for the organization. In this perspective, passion-driven leadership takes the worry of losing highly performing team members away by focusing first and foremost on developing fulfilled employees who find personal meaning in the work they do and thus giving their best over long periods of time. A deep human tendency is the search for meaning and a sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves and not merely putting food on the table. While it’s true that salaries are important, it’s a well-known fact that beyond a threshold financial rewards serve a diminishing contribution to workplace performance.
  4. Passion-driven leadership relieves the leader from the position of chief discipline officer to a nurturer of individuals and relationships. Although most people in leadership hate to see themselves as this, the conventional idea of the leader is that of the severe and ever-ready-to-pounce boss. This leaves leaders in constant stress and detached from the people on whose commitment and performance their own success as leaders depend.

Here are some ways to develop a passion-driven team:

  • How 1: Develop a passion-driven leadership infrastructure throughout your organization, especially true for people leading multiple teams. While everyone has capacity to become a passion-driven leader, especially in the early stages, it is best to identify members of your team who themselves have found a sense of purpose with their work and who are not fearful of developing other leaders. Once identified, strategically place these members across teams where they can lead passion-driven micro teams.
  • How 2: Be attentive to the activities, both work and non-work, that excite each member of your team. Also, observe which tasks and opportunities they naturally gravitate towards and which tasks they dread and always turn in late. Nudge them in the direction of those activities. Using personality profiling tests such as this one based on Carl Jung’s and Isabel Briggs Myers’ personality type theory is one of the best I have seen for doing this for workplace, just make sure team members write what comes to mind first. Find it here:  
  • How 3: People’s strengths are tied to their core weaknesses. There are two solutions to this; one is to pair people up with others that complement their weaknesses and second is to give team members ample opportunities to develop their areas of weakness and stretch out of their comfort zones.
  • How 4: Observe team dynamics and work to fill in any skill gaps with new team members. Sometimes, after aligning everyone in your team to the roles and responsibilities they are best suited for, you may find empty space in the team. You may look within the team to see who, with some push and opportunities can fill that role, but sometimes the best thing is to recruit a new member into the team. Just ensure the hiring process is oriented towards shedding light on whether or not someone can fill this role; role-based hiring processes and probation periods are an excellent way to do this.

Finally, apart from the above suggestions, it is important for one to perform a regular diagnosis of their team, both personally as a leader, but also with the whole team where the perform a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis and execute the necessary action to move the team and individual members forward.  

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

The vision of a world free from poverty and the need for an empowered youth

Despite a very long history of developmental aid, one can still confidently use mostly the same adjectives to describe much of the African continent. Africa’s Agenda 2063 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are both testament to the radical change necessary if Africans are going to be able to benefit from the tremendous progress society has made and the vast opportunities existing in the world today.

The essential elements for the making of a self-sustaining and thriving Africa have always been there; what’s missing is perhaps as much about inspiring a new mind-set in the Africans as anything else. A new mind-set founded on inspired leadership and empowering young people with the skills and attitudes to champion Africa’s prosperity by providing innovative solutions to existing problems and by exploring the vast entrepreneurial opportunities in the continent.

Africa’s Agenda 2063[1] is the continent’s commitment and road map to eradicate poverty, provide opportunities for all Africans and catalyse education to transform skills acquisition, promote science and drive innovation and transform the face of the continent.
Recently, the United Nations also launched the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)[2] as the world’s comprehensive vision for the next 15 years for a world where poverty and hunger are eradicated, quality health care and education are accessible to all and women the world over are empowered to lead dignified lives and actively participate in transforming their communities.

The Youth Stand for Africa is a direct reflection of these twin visions. We vision a poverty free Africa where everyone is empowered to contribute to the continent’s transformation and prosperity.

Our focal areas are:

  • Education; because we believe development and transformation heavily depends on a robust and innovative education system serving the current and future needs of the country it serves.
  • Leadership; because we believe that inspiring and empowering young men and women to become capable of identifying and pursuing opportunities for change and transformation
  • Entrepreneurship; because we believe self-empowerment and independence is the only sustainable path to a poverty-free Africa
The Vision and Mission:

Vision: A world free from poverty.

Mission: A poverty free Africa; Eradicate poverty and transform society by empowering young people through education, leadership and entrepreneurship.
Our Goals:
  1. A poverty-free Africa championed by empowered young men and women able and inspired to solve problems and exploit untapped opportunities in their communities
  2. A resilient and independent Africa able to feed itself and lead its own growth and prosperity
  3. A globally engaged Africa leading in innovation and tackling global issues

Friday, 19 July 2019

What the government can do to inspire a culture of Entrepreneurship for a better Sierra Leone

Due to its unique place and big hand, Government more than anyone else, has a unique opportunity to inspire an entrepreneurship culture and mind-set in the youth of Sierra Leone. Government has great capacity to mobilize external as well as internal resources and use its offices to channel these resources in the creation of an atmosphere favourable for young people to take up entrepreneurship. There are several ways this can be done.

First of all, the government has to realize that entrepreneurship more than anything else is a mind-set which can be inspired and consciously developed to create a flourishing nation. It is a mind-set that sees challenges and gaps as opportunities for growth and transformation and requires the capacity to use readily available human and physical resources to improve communities. This has two major implications. First, the government rather than seeing itself as the solver of problems must take a facilitating role where it’s primary focus is in improving the capacity of young people and local communities to champion local solutions to local problems. The second implication is my next point.

Next entrepreneurship must bridge school and life. Apart from shifting to a facilitating role, the government must ensure the mind-set of entrepreneurship be inculcated in the minds of young people while they are still in school. We have to shift our attention to making sure schools promote entrepreneurship. This can be done by supporting well-planned entrepreneurship programmes in schools and the awarding of personal initiatives led by students. This will help them to develop the ability to see a need and use their creativity, skills and available resources to solve problems. We cannot wait until young people leave school to help them develop an entrepreneurial mind-set, it’s already too late then. Rather than have our children learn out-dated content and theories, education systems must innovate fast enough to reflect the needs of countries.

Role models are also a very important aspect of promoting a culture of entrepreneurship in a country. Young people have to be exposed to numerous examples of other young people or people like them who have taken up the spirit of enterprise and stories of how they did it. The government must put resources to ensure that through visiting school, radio, television and other means young people see people like them starting businesses to solve local and global problems and exploring new opportunities. When we showcase the work and achievement of entrepreneurs, we avoid the possible cognitive dissonance that young people would otherwise experience about venturing into entrepreneurship.

A crucial role the government can play to promote an enterprising culture is to de-clutter and strengthen the key pillars of a good business climate: the legal, financial and technological infrastructure that makes entry into entrepreneurship and succeeding in business in Sierra Leone as easy a process as possible. A thriving business climate is built on a robust and fair judicial system; people must believe in the integrity of the courts and investments must be made to make sure legal proceedings are as swift yet effective as possible.

Since business needs finance, the government should create and or support financial services and interventions dedicated to seeding, incubating and supporting young businesses so that they may withstand and outlive their infant days into thriving businesses creating gains for entrepreneurs, communities and tax revenues for the government.

Finally, the government must invest in strengthening the technological infrastructure that will allow businesses to connect, scale their production and take advantage of technological innovation transforming economies across the world. This is an area we have made significant strides as a country, however much more has to be done to solidify this progress and ensure it produces meaningful gains for the Sierra Leonean economy. Since developing such infrastructure is capital intensive, the government stands in a unique place to mobilize support from other countries, international development agencies and other forms of support to renovate our technological infrastructure.

In the end, we have most of the ingredients that makes prosperous and thriving nation (an extremely young population, vast natural resources, an excellent geographical location, a diverse and rich culture and so much more). With the right policies and mind-set, a caring government may just be the missing piece that will take us to the future we want.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

The only legitimate shortcut to true success and fulfilment in life: follow (or even better) build your passion.

Doing that which you are passionate about is perhaps the best gift you can give to yourself, your country and the world. A Chinese philosopher named Confucius was once quoted saying “Choose work you love and you’ll never have to go to work a day in your life again”.

It is not that when you follow your passion you won’t ever have to ‘work’ again, but rather you derive so much enjoyment and fulfilment doing what you enjoy and find impactful that it doesn’t feel like work at all. Through passion, we become resourceful, dynamic and so engaged that the results we are able to create cannot just make us ‘successful’ in the eyes of others but it is also the best way we can impact those around us.

In my opinion, passion generally comes from two sources; something you naturally enjoy doing or are naturally good at and secondly, passion can be inspired by your own experiences and those endeavours you find meaningful (through which you can contribute the most to people around you). For many, these are often painful experiences they may have gone through in their lives or an injustice they dedicate their lives to addressing.

Most of us have things we get consumed by, things that others find tedious or boring, but when we are engaged in these activities, time passes by unnoticed. These endeavours come naturally to us. Often people admire you for these things and they generally consider these things difficult and complex, but from your eyes these ‘pains’ are all just part of the fun. For some, this might be music, sports, for others it could be writing, solving maths problems, learning a new language or speaking in front of a crowd etc.

Secondly, apart from those things we are just naturally good at or enjoy doing, the experiences we go through in life can also inspire us to dedicate our careers to a particular cause. Naturally, we may gravitate to using those things we are naturally good at (our strengths) as the vehicle through which we tackle these challenges. For instance, a girl who has natural skills that lend themselves to sports, but who may have experienced discrimination because she’s a girl may end up developing and dedicating her career around making sports gender-friendly. She may end up becoming the Isha Yohansen of her country – leading sports and inspiring thousands of young girls, women and everyone around her. Another example is someone whose childhood may have been predicated on poverty who not just decides to take them out of poverty, but dedicates his or her life to making sure as many people as possible do not go through what he or she went through. People inspired to solve a problem are often willing to go the last mile to realize their dreams, and this is what makes the historic miracles we have seen in the world possible.

Although these may seem different routes towards living a life of passion, it is actually putting these two together that creates the perfect mix for achieving a successful and fulfilled life. My advice to all young people who want to be successful and fulfilled in life is ‘find something you are naturally good at or enjoy doing and use it to solve a problem you have experienced or care about so that you may create the world you want to see.

In fact even if you just want to become rich in life, it is better for you and those around you if you follow or develop your passion. This is closely related to an idea central to standard economic theory; that individuals often end up improving society the most when they seek to maximize their own satisfaction (I can interpret this here as deep desires and the things they enjoy). For instance, even though Mohamed Kallon may have gone into football simply because he wanted to do what he personally enjoys doing or because he thought he can make a lot of money playing football, developing his passion for football has led him to represent our country internationally, inspire thousands of young people in Sierra Leone and elsewhere, and him founding The Mohamed Kallon Children’s Foundation through which he improves the lives of thousands more of Sierra Leoneans. According to this idea in economics (my interpretation here), outcomes in society are best improved when Mohamed Kallon follows what he enjoys doing and cares about.

Mohamed Kallon, Zainab Bangura, Prof. Joe A.D Alie, K-Man, Jimmy –B etc. may have been lucky to have found something they naturally  enjoy doing and in which they can impact society the most, but for most of us our passions are discovered and developed through exposing ourselves to different experiences and activities in our lives. If you have something you have always wanted to do go ahead and try it, there’s no failure, you may just find something you naturally enjoy doing and through which you can impact society the most. Don’t focus on the money, although passion is also your best shot if you just want to become rich.

If you find that you are passionate about multiple things, that’s great; identify these and follow a career and or gain experience that best combines these interests you have. You don’t even necessarily have to leave your current job to develop (follow) your passion(s); discuss with your immediate boss and ask for opportunities that expose you to the things you are interested in. Even if your job doesn’t reflect all of your interests, try to expose yourself to as many of those opportunities as you reasonably can. When you do what you enjoy, you also create the best results for your employer.

To transform your country follow (build) your passion. God bless you.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Young People, here's why you don’t need what you think you need to get started with your great idea

A few weeks back I was in a conversation with a friend of a friend who has a great idea for a business he wanted to start up. Of course I won’t say his name or discuss the details of the business, but it is an idea that could service a big gap existing in the Sierra Leonean economy and could help him achieve his dream of becoming an entrepreneur; doing something he is passioned about, solving a real problem and being rewarded for doing so. He even went on to conduct market research on the idea, and the result of his discussions with his target customers (middle class professionals and local businesses) showed there was great demand for the product. He became animated as we discussed the details of his business; his original idea is part digital and part physical.

In his mind however, there’s just one problem; he thought he needed $22,000 to get started with the idea. Now, I became animated, because I have learned a hard lesson about this myself and have since developed this habit of dissecting ideas to get to their most vital core and working from those essentials. Actually, he was able to justify the amount of money he said he needed, he just doesn’t need it to get started!

My experience with this was when I saw that too many young people in Sierra Leone cannot afford quality teaching and their dreams of going to university were derailed simply because they cannot attain the credits (especially in English Language and Mathematics) they needed to pursue their careers. Being a trained and experienced educator myself, I knew I had the skills to get started. However, the long list of all I needed before I can start made it impossible  – I needed a studio, a professional camera, microphone kit, video editing software, a graphic tablet etc. etc. Seeing that I couldn’t get started I called a former colleague, whom I have known to be a very practical person. He thought this is a great idea and even offered to put me in touch with some Internet Service providers to expand reach of this content. His advice was simply for me to get started by recording the videos with my phone! I was shocked at first, but this ended up being all I needed to get started. It also turned out that a friend of mine has a graphics tablet and another has professional video editing software they were more than ready to give to me the moment I asked. This was strange, but since it worked, I have been obsessed with the idea of breaking down ideas to their most essential elements and finding already available resources to take things off the ground.

An entrepreneur is not someone with all the resources to get started, it is the resourceful person who has a vision for an idea and one who employs readily available resources to get their feet in the waters. If you wait to be ready or have all the tiles piled up before you can get started on that great idea you have, I can tell you there’ll never be such a time. We often postpone our dreams or worse never get to pursue them as a result of our preconceived notions of all that needs to be in place before we can get in motion.

This young man has been experimenting with technology since he was 14 and currently pursues his BSc in Business Information Technology (BIT), so he seems to have what it takes to get this idea off the ground. It turned out that he didn’t even need a dime to get started! As I probed him with more questions on the various aspects of the business, we either saw that he didn’t need that aspect at all, doesn’t need it to get started or it is an aspect that can more efficiently be dealt with by third parties.

The other interesting realization we came to was that half the idea (the physical product), which accounted for most of the $22,000 he thought he needed, is not necessary to for him to start his enterprise at all. My advice to him was that since it was clear that a) he doesn’t have the money to incur those high capital costs, and b) that that aspect of the business doesn’t seem to play to his strengths and experience, it’s best to just focus on the digital product for which all he needs is his tech skills and the core of the business is tied around.

I have had this conversation with many other young people; many trying to start community-based organizations, businesses, social platforms etc. In all these cases, our conversations made it clear that a) you don’t need most of what you think you need to get started and b) the best time to get started is now!

I wish you can muster the courage to get started on your dream. “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

Banks - The True Modern Day Alchemists - Can Solve Youth Unemployment and Control Sierra Leone's Soaring Prices (Entrepreneurship is the answer)

As a young person I have a first-hand experience with the difficulties young people face in finding employment our country. But I should s...