The Experts

Fi Bendall
+ About Fi Bendall

Fi Bendall is chief executive of The Bendalls Group and a Westpac/AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence, who was described by CEO Magazine as 'The CEO's Secret Weapon'. An expert and pioneer in digital strategy, she has over 23 years’ experience in the digital and tech sectors.

Is Libra a game-changer?

Monday, July 22, 2019

Things were grim for Mark Zuckerberg at the end of 2017. In the wake of Donald Trump’s surprise 2016 election win, critics had accused Facebook of nothing less than doing irreparable damage to democracy through its failure to control the spread of fake news.

That grave charge came on top of other festering issues, including rampant trolling, bullying and harassment on the site, especially of young people and women, and complaints that Facebook’s news feed was no longer delivering quality results for users.

By the start of 2018, Zuckerberg and his team were in major damage control. He said as much in his annual New Year’s post on Facebook:

The world feels anxious and divided, and Facebook has a lot of work to do — whether it's protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent.

My personal challenge for 2018 is to focus on fixing these important issues. We won't prevent all mistakes or abuse, but we currently make too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools. If we're successful this year then we'll end 2018 on a much better trajectory.

In truth, 2018 wasn’t much better as the company became mired in US Congressional hearings, EU privacy regulation battles and a severe media backlash.

Interestingly, though, Zuckerberg signalled something in his New Year’s post that baffled some observers. Part of Zuckerberg’s stated mission for 2018 was to explore the possibilities of blockchain and cryptocurrency. Was this faddish pandering to Bitcoin-mania or something more serious?

He framed this within the overarching issue of the role tech giants like Facebook (throw in Google and Amazon, for good measure) play in the centralising or decentralising of power: “A lot of us got into technology because we believe it can be a decentralizing force that puts more power in people's hands.”

With the rise of a small number of big tech companies — and governments using technology to watch their citizens — many people now believe technology only centralizes power rather than decentralizes it.

There are important counter-trends to this — like encryption and cryptocurrency — that take power from centralized systems and put it back into people's hands. But they come with the risk of being harder to control. I'm interested to go deeper and study the positive and negative aspects of these technologies, and how best to use them in our services.

Fast forward to June 2019 and Facebook has announced the imminent launch of its own cryptocurrency, Libra. According to the explanatory White Paper, “Libra’s mission is to enable a simple global currency and financial infrastructure that empowers billions of people.”

Facebook, through its subsidiary Calibra, is a driving force behind Libra, but it’s also joined by a powerful group of partners, including Mastercard, Paypal, Visa, Stripe, eBay, Spotify, Lyft and Uber among others. These founder members make up what’s called the Libra Association. The White Paper says the target launch for Libra is in the first half of 2020.

Amid all the Bitcoin hype and the claims about the revolutionary potential of blockchain, could Facebook really be the company that tips these technologies into the promised land of mass consumer uptake and usage? It’s an ambitious undertaking even for a business with the size and scope of Facebook.

To better understand all of this, I spoke to Neil Staunton. Neil has been advising me and The Female Social Network team on tech issues like AI, blockchain and cryptocurrency. He is the founder and CEO of Crypton, an AI-Quantitative Fund for institutional investors and the first digital assets company in the UK to receive an equity investment from a tier 1 capital markets global law firm, Ashurst, headquartered in London.

Fi Bendall: What’s the benefit of Libra to Facebook? Why do it?

Neil Staunton: The benefit to Facebook is simple: they don't have the one key piece of data that would help them understand what everyone cares about the true value of a transaction. Facebook have a lot of social transaction data and some economic transaction data BUT they don't actually know the true value that one person puts on consumption.

With financial transaction data, Facebook now understands and can influence us more effectively than any other technology giant (Google, Apple or Amazon). Facebook have social transaction data, political transaction data and now financial transaction data, all in one view. It means Facebook can target advertising more effectively and generate more revenues, an extra $19B in the next few years some analysts have suggested.

This is the pessimistic view, justified to an extent through recent experience of how we know Facebook or its 3rd party business partners (Cambridge Analytica) have used the data to influence US and UK political outcomes.

However, the Libra whitepaper says Facebook are setting up a governance structure in Switzerland that separates financial data from social data. Although most people won't believe this will deter people inside Facebook and Libra from sharing data that will help Facebook increase its advertising effectiveness, I believe the scrutiny will be so public that it won't risk another beating of its reputation.

FB: So why else would Facebook do this?

NS: Stickiness. Having financial transactions inside the Facebook ‘walled garden’ (they control the system) means users are more likely to use Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp and this leads to more advertising revenues, and it will also attract more users to these platforms, further increasing advertising revenues.

FB: Is it a serious threat to traditional banking?

NS: Absolutely! Facebook are creating a new financial system that lives outside the US dollar banking system or any banking system once users transfer fiat into Libra. They will have to use the old banking system to gain access to the new banking system, so depositing fiat in return for Libra. However, once inside the system the US or traditional banking systems lose sight of all transactions. And currently, all transactions across the world are recorded by banks unless it's cash transactions that don't enter the banking system. Banks report this and people and businesses pay taxes on this. Libra doesn't prevent people or businesses from paying taxes and it's likely Facebook will be forced to report transactions, but Libra essentially means banks and governments lose control of the monetary systems that have given them power and wealth for many decades.

FB: Would its success squeeze out other cryptos?

NS: It's more likely to raise awareness and increase adoption of other cryptocurrencies. There are 70 million Bitcoin wallets and 2.5B Facebook users. Now 2.5B people will know about a cryptocurrency, and that if it has well-designed technology and governance, it is actually a better form of money than any previous form of money. People will realise cryptocurrencies can be used for frictionless and global transactions by anyone with a $40 smartphone. Finally, my hope is Facebook genuinely want to build a new, fairer and more inclusive financial system that will one day become permissionless and decentralised.


In women we trust

Monday, July 15, 2019

For the past 19 years, the Edelman Trust Barometer has been published annually. The barometer measures levels of trust in institutions like government, business, media and NGOs among populations globally. The annual report is based on an online survey in 27 markets with more than 33,000 respondents in total.

Over its lifetime, the report has identified key shifts in the public’s thinking and attitudes towards trust. In 2005, for example, the annual report noted a shift in trust “from authorities to peers”, noting the impact the internet was starting to have on the sharing of information, transparency and verification processes. The following year, 2006, the report noted the emergence of “a person like me” as a credible figure of trust.

In keeping with the tenor of the times, in 2013, the report noted a “crisis in leadership” and then in 2017 it was trust itself that was in crisis. This was followed in 2018 by “the battle for truth”.

This year, the main theme of the report was “trust at work”, especially the nature of the employer-employee relationship. A significant aspect of this year’s report was that women have become increasingly less trusting of major institutions while at the same time they have become increasingly engaged as news amplifiers.

The Trust Index – which is the overall aggregated result for trust in institutions – found that globally 55% of men and 50% of women trusted institutions. Globally, the best trusted institution among men was business, with 60% of men expressing positive sentiment; among women the best trusted institution was NGOs, with 55% expressing positive sentiment. Both men (50%) and women (45%) least trusted the media.

The figures for Australia showed generally lower levels of trust than globally. The overall Trust Index for men in Australia was 51% and for women 45%. Both men (60%) and women (52%) had most trust in NGOs and the least in the media (men 42%, women 38%).  

In an analysis of the 2019 report, Lisa Kimmel, the chair and CEO of Edelman Canada and the global chair of Edelman's Global Women's Equality Network, noted the significant gap in trust scores in comparisons between men and women:

In nearly every market surveyed, from the U.S. to the UAE, women trust less than men. Women in Germany and the U.S. cite higher levels of distrust with 12- and 11-point gaps, respectively. The data also revealed that the largest trust gap between men and women globally is in business, placing a great deal of importance on the employer-employee relationship.

Kimmel goes on to note a very interesting insight into low levels of trust in media and the role of women as news ‘amplifiers’.

This year revealed a 22-point jump in news engagement among women. This is a profound shift. We now consider more than one-in-three women as amplifiers of the media (those who share and consume news weekly and share and post content at least once per month)—a lift of 15 points. This means they aren’t just consuming the news, but are actively adding to the conversation in ever-greater numbers. Women are sharing stories, debating topics and spotlighting issues that matter to them. 

So even though women appear to be more cynical about news and the media in general, they are becoming more engaged as news consumers and more active in sharing news and views across their networks.

This trend is even more pronounced among what Edelman label as the ‘informed public’ – which it defines as aged 25-64; university-educated; in the top 25% of household income per age group in each market; and report significant media consumption and engagement in public policy and business news. This group represents around 16% of the global population, according to Edelman.

Women in the ‘informed public’ category recorded a massive spike in engagement as amplifiers over the past year, going from 34% to 57% now consuming news about weekly or more AND sharing or posting content several times a month or more. The report cites issues such as #MeToo and equal pay campaigns as being key drivers of this rise in engagement and activity.

To quote Kimmel again:

Building brands women trust — and want to buy from, work for and engage with — is hard work, but the upside for business is real. Last year, women are estimated to have controlled about $40 trillion in consumer spending across the world. And the most gender-diverse executive teams were more likely to have above-average profitability than the least diverse companies by 21 percent.

The decline in women’s trust in institutions like the traditional media is entirely understandable when seen through the lens of something like #MeToo. Sexual harassment has been an open secret for decades and the media never really did anything about it until some women started to share their stories on social media. More broadly, and excuse the language, women are calling out all the big institutions on their shit now. They are making their voices heard and demanding better from businesses, media, government and other major organisations.

However, women talk to and listen to each other, especially to women they respect, admire and find credible. That’s why many women have been able to build strong independent media platforms through blogging and other social media activities, often bypassing traditional media. It’s why women are looking to other women as figures of trust.

At TFSN, we believe our Effective Opinion Leaders can do an important job as trust builders. Our EOLs are far more than ‘influencers’; they have been identified by our unique profiling process as women who score highly on measures like authority, credibility, engagement and network centrality. That’s why our EOLs work with brands to create better trust and engagement between brands and consumers. We’re also looking at potential partnerships with governments and NGOs where EOLs can help develop and deliver key messages of relevance to women.

With the internet and social media, we’ve seen a major shift in how content is delivered and shared. Women are playing a major role in how the new paradigms of trust are being configured. Fuelled by distrust and anger, women are turning away from the old sources of trust and finding it among other women in their own networks. Governments, businesses and other major institutions need to take note of this profound shift if they want to effectively engage with women.


Women’s World Cup kicks goals for women’s sport

Monday, July 08, 2019

About 7.6 million people tuned in to BBC One to watch England play the USA in the Women’s World Cup semi-final, making it the largest TV audience for a women’s football game ever on UK TV. Along with that single game figure, the BBC has reported that the 2019 tournament had extended its record for TV reach to 22.2 million, well in excess of the 12.4 million audience figure for the 2015 edition of the Women’s World Cup in Canada.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup in France has been a celebration of women’s football, a fantastic event with lots of drama, action and passion. It has also signalled a new age for the recognition of women’s sport around the world.

Although female footballers are still struggling to achieve pay parity with their international male counterparts, this World Cup has seen a tremendous leap forward in the recognition and acknowledgement of women’s football.

FIFA has raised prizemoney for the tournament from $15 million in 2015 to $30 million, but for the 2018 men's World Cup it was a staggering $400 million, with winners France taking home $38 million. But even though the money is not at the level of the men’s game, corporate sponsorship and support is starting to ramp up.

Look through the list of the tournament’s major sponsors and you will see some of the biggest global brands committing their support to the future of women’s football. Major sponsors of the tournament like Adidas, Coca-Cola, Wanda, Hyundai, KIA, Qatar Airways and Visa all recognise not just the feel-good factor of being involved with the Women’s World Cup, but also the potential of reaching female consumers too.

While it is not at the behemoth level of the men’s tournament yet, this Women’s World Cup marks a watershed moment in many ways for women’s sport. Big crowds at the games, healthy global TV audiences and strong corporate support all indicate women’s football is well and truly on the up.

Football is the world’s biggest sport, played in almost every country in the world, and with the most participants and spectators of any sport. Its reach is truly global and cuts across all sectors of society. That women now have a seat at this table is brilliant.

While Australia’s women’s national team, the Matildas, might not have gone as far in the tournament as we had hoped, we can now turn our attention to the prospect of potentially hosting a Women’s World Cup in Australia. Australian sports fans have an opportunity to #GetOnside and support a bid to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see the world’s best female footballers gather together in our country for this tournament. And as the host nation, we might even have an opportunity to go all the way and win the World Cup!


Why Mary Meeker loves recommendations

Monday, July 01, 2019

It’s the annual event all self-respecting observers of the online world look forward to with breathless anticipation: Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report. Meeker has been doing this report for 26 years now. Was there even an internet to report on then? Yes there was, and Mary Meeker was there, meticulously analysing the development of what we once called the Information Superhighway.

Meeker is an analyst and venture capitalist of long-standing. Formerly of Morgan Stanley and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, when it comes to internet trends and happenings, she has seen it all. So in a manner similar to Warren Buffett’s annual Shareholder Letter, people listen very carefully to what she says.

Among Meeker’s most interesting insights this year is one about the power of referral and recommendation online and its effect on consumer purchasing decisions. In marketing circles, it’s always been a given that strong word of mouth and positive referrals are gold. But as Meeker identifies, social media has amplified the value of the recommendation economy. The power of referral and recommendation signals a broader shift in understanding about how consumers use the internet, including social media. 

This is Meeker’s recommendations equation: Effective + Efficient Marketing = One’s Own Product + Happy Customers + Recommendations. 

Marketers are waking up to the internet’s transformational effect on communications and consumer behaviour. On how people buy things. In essence, we’ve been going through, as marketing expert Paul Rand notes, the ‘beginning’ of the social media age:

We’re now at ‘the end of the beginning’ of social media marketing. While nearly every business and organization has adopted foundational social media platforms, many brands are now asking how they can effectively use these channels to engage their consumers. The answer? For businesses to succeed in the social media-rich world, they now have to transform their business strategies. They have to make their brands the most recommended.

Social media users have led this transformation, while marketers have blindly followed, scrambling to comprehend what it all means, and how they can use these new tools to connect and sell to potential customers.

Mostly we’ve seen a hybrid transitional model in action, where content and ideas from pre-existing mediums like TV and radio have been grafted on to the internet or repackaged fit-to-purpose. The marketing orthodoxies of old have been used as guide maps that barely correspond to the new terrain. For example, though it has been repackaged and sold as something new for the social media age, most influencer marketing is little more than celebrity product endorsement. American golfer Arnold Palmer was doing it back in the 1950s and it was probably going on a lot earlier than that too.

Marketing has been adrift without a map trying to work out how to leverage referral and recommendation online. The internet, even more so social media, has given everyone the opportunity to opine, share a story, voice their concerns. That is the thick chatter of the social media jungle. It’s cacophonous and unintelligible at times, but it’s where real insights can be gleaned and where new forms of power and influence have taken hold.

Don’t believe me? Then how did Facebook, a company barely more than a decade in existence, so rapidly rise to the point of becoming pivotal to the election of a U.S. president? You may not use it yourself, but social media is the medium by which the message is carried for billions of people around the world.

Everyday, people use LinkedIn for business; Twitter to follow and comment on news events; Instagram to like and buy things. The essential connecting commonality to all of this is that it is communal. Whether that is always a good or bad thing is not the point. The point is that our new medium is about communality and interacting with others. We look to others, sometimes maybe celebrities or authority figures, but most often family and friends for advice, opinions, validations, refutations, recommendations and referrals.

As Meeker has identified, referral and recommendation is about to become the heated new battleground for brands and marketers.


Gloria Vanderbilt’s legacy as a pioneering female entrepreneur

Monday, June 24, 2019

Fashion icon, heiress, socialite, artist, writer, designer, entrepreneur, Gloria Vanderbilt was much more than just a pretty face. Vanderbilt lived an incredible life before she died last week at the age of 95.

She traversed the highs and lows of life, from creating an iconic fashion brand bearing her family name through to losing one of her children to suicide. She was creative, in touch with fashion and the arts, but also shrewd enough to recognise opportunity when it presented, as she did when she launched the designer denim jeans that would catapult her to iconic fashion status.

Her death last week was announced by her son, CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper. Cooper spoke about his mother’s tumultuous and colourful life with great tenderness and love.

“Gloria Vanderbilt was an extraordinary woman, who loved life, and lived it on her own terms,” Cooper said in a statement. “She was a painter, a writer and designer but also a remarkable mother, wife, and friend.”

“She was 95 years old, but ask anyone close to her, and they'd tell you: She was the youngest person they knew – the coolest and most modern.”

From birth, she was in the public eye. She was an heiress to the Vanderbilt family fortune, which was originally amassed by her great-great grandfather Cornelius Vanderbilt, who built his wealth in railroads and shipping in the America of the 1800s. As a daughter of one of America’s wealthiest families, her childhood became a news spectacle, especially when her mother and aunt fought a bitter custody battle over her when she not yet even a teenager. That family dispute led to her being dubbed by the press as “the poor little rich girl”.

By the age of 40, she had been married three times, including to film director Sidney Lumet, and had dated several of the most famous men in show business, such as Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando. Her fourth marriage to Wyatt Emory Cooper lasted 15 years until his death during open heart surgery in 1978.

Vanderbilt’s business career didn’t really kick off until she was in her mid-forties. In 1969, her fashion designs received the prestigious Neiman Marcus Fashion Award seal of approval, putting her in the company of contemporaries like Bill Blass and Oscar De La Renta. Vanderbilt, who had been a fashion model in her teens, had an instinctual grasp for visual design and modern aesthetics.

Over the next few years, her reputation as a designer burgeoned. However, it was in 1976 when she teamed up with her Hong Kong based production partner, Mohan Murjani, that the Vanderbilt name would become known for posterity on the posteriors of American women, or as comedian Gilda Radner said, Vanderbilt “had taken her good family name and put it on the asses of America.”

Murjani was a smart and ambitious clothing and textiles manufacturer who had the idea of teaming with Vanderbilt to create a whole new category of fashion apparel: branded designer jeans. Up until ‘Gloria Vanderbilt for Murjani’, the denim clothing market had been dominated by Levi’s and jeans were still really only worn by younger people or working men. Denim jeans had yet to cross over into high-end designer fashion. Vanderbilt and Murjani would change all that with what Vanderbilt famously referred to as the stretch jeans that “really hug your derrière.”

The celebrity cachet that came with Vanderbilt’s image and name, combined with the manufacturing and marketing nous of Murjani, was a game changer in global fashion. Propelled by Vanderbilt and advertised by the likes of Blondie singer Deborah Harry, Vanderbilt’s tight fit jeans became a must-have item for fashionable American women in the late 1970s and early 80s. Soon enough, designers like Calvin Klein and Elio Fiorucci got in on the act too, opening the floodgates to many other brands. Vanderbilt licensed her name to a host of other fashion and cosmetic products, creating a $100 million business in the process.

There was a certain irony in Vanderbilt using the family name that had often hung around her neck like an albatross to make her own fortune. “I’m not knocking inherited money,” she told The New York Times, “but the money I’ve made has a reality to me that inherited money doesn’t have. As the Billie Holiday song goes, ‘Mama may have and Papa may have, but God bless the child that’s got his own.’ ”

In 1988, Vanderbilt experienced the stuff of nightmares for any parent: She witnessed the suicide death of one of her sons, Carter Vanderbilt Cooper, who at the age of 23 jumped from the family's 14th-floor apartment following what was thought to have been a psychotic episode possibly brought on by his medication.

She would also experience some nasty legal fallouts in relation to her business and some tax issues. But she was a woman who knew her own mind. She had taken the gifts she was born with and made something of them. In her 95 years, she lived more life than most mere mortals.

“If you were around in the early 1980s it was pretty hard to miss the jeans she helped create, but that was her public face – the one she learned to hide behind as a child,” Anderson Cooper said of his mother. “Her private self, her real self – that was more fascinating and more lovely than anything she showed the public.”


Trust and the influencer bubble

Monday, June 17, 2019

Influencer marketing is big business, but are brands thinking things through when they hand over their valuable reputation to ‘influencers’ with high follower counts but low credibility?

A recent University of Glasgow study assessing the nutrition and diet information provided by key UK social media influencers suggests people turning to influencers for advice and guidance should do so with a healthy dose of scepticism.

The findings, presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity, reveal just one out of the nine most popular UK health and wellness bloggers studied met the criteria for transparency, evidence-based references, trustworthiness and adherence to nutritional guidance, and bias.

“We found the majority of the blogs could not be considered credible sources of weight management information, as they often presented opinion as fact and failed to meet UK nutritional criteria,” says the study's first author, Christina Sabbagh. “This is potentially harmful, as these blogs reach such a wide audience.”

Of course, Belle Gibson is one of the most publicised examples of an influencer deceiving their followers and trashing the valuable currency of trust. Gibson’s Instagram fame rested specifically on the claim she had devised a diet that had cured her of terminal cancer. Her ruse was exposed in 2015 when it was revealed she did not have any form of cancer. Gibson had no educational background or qualifications relevant to the areas in which she was giving advice. She faced the Federal Court in 2017 and was ordered to pay a fine of $410,000 after being found guilty of misleading and deceptive conduct.

Influencer marketing has been with us in some form or another going back to the rise of the celebrity sales pitches of the 1950s and 1960s on TV and radio. In the digital age, with the proliferation of online platforms and channels and its myriad forms of celebrity, from the Kardashians through to social media stars who have made their name in niche areas, the numbers of so-called influencers has exploded.

Apparent influencers are everywhere. The problem is that these people are generally really only as influential as they say they are. Rubbery social media metrics such as follower counts and likes are difficult to trace and verify. Thousands of followers does not necessarily equate to any kind of authentic engagement or real influence on the behaviour of consumers. This is often where desperate brands fall foul of the influencer bubble. They too often mistake vanity metrics for trust, authenticity and actual influence, and consequently end up seeing their marketing spend on influencers disappear into the digital ether.

That’s not the worst result though. Even worse for brands is they open themselves up to the potential of being aligned with someone who spreads false or even dangerous information, as in the case of Belle Gibson.

With something like health advice, it’s not just about being misled about buying a product like a TV or something, which is bad enough, it’s about people potentially putting their health at risk because of something someone told them on YouTube.

Our research at The Female Social Network indicates only 6% of the population is effective in changing someone else’s opinion, in having influence, and it’s certainly not always the person with the biggest follower count. It’s important not to confuse social media vanity metrics with credibility, which is why we actively seek out women who are smart, trustworthy and credible to work with our clients as effective opinion leaders.

Companies madly scrambling to reach and connect with consumers have turned to influencers as the answer to their digital engagement problems. However, as the University of Glasgow study, Belle Gibson and countless other cases have shown, without proper due diligence, they risk tarnishing their brand and eroding the trust they should be looking at building between themselves and their consumers.


Which country has the highest proportion of female entrepreneurs?

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The answer to which country has the highest proportion of women-owned businesses might come as a surprise. No, it’s not any of the progressive Scandinavian countries. It’s not the very forward-thinking Canadians, nor is it the UK, Australia, US or New Zealand. Must be Germany or The Netherlands, I hear you say. Wrong again.

The country with the highest proportion of female business owners is the West African country of Ghana, with women owning 46.4% of all businesses, according to the Mastercard Index of Women’s Entrepreneurship (MIWE) released last year. The next two on the list might surprise you too, with women owning 35% of all businesses in Russia, while the figure is 34% in Uganda.

The MIWE report found that New Zealand is the best country overall for female entrepreneurs and women business owners. New Zealand achieved its top ranking because of its high scores in the areas of supporting entrepreneurial conditions, knowledge assets and financial access, and women’s advancement outcomes.

So why exactly is there such a high rate of business ownership among women in Ghana? The answer is intriguing.

In the report, Ghana is described as “uniquely placed”. Many of the factors that contribute to the overall conditions for female entrepreneurship are classified by the report as either “poor” or even “very poor”; this includes such as factors as ease of doing business, quality of governance, support for SMEs, and education levels. These factors place Ghana on an equivalent level to countries like Malaysia, Romania, Russia, Brazil and Argentina in the overall MIWE index rankings.

However, Ghana’s women manage to overcome these factors and demonstrate an extremely high drive to become business owners. Part of this can be explained by ‘need-based’ entrepreneurship, which basically means that women in Ghana have very few options other than to start their own small business as a way of supporting themselves and their families.

As the report outlines: “Given that the country is a lower-middle income and factor-driven market, women typically turn to necessity-driven entrepreneurial activities out of sheer will to survive and to support oneself and family.”

Many of Ghana’s female entrepreneurs are agricultural or food-based operators: “The vital role that women play as farm owners, farm partners and farm laborers is astounding: their contribution is estimated to account for around 70% to 80% of food consumed in the country. They have also become increasingly responsible for the education and other material needs of their wards, especially in female-headed households.”

The entrepreneurial drive of Ghana’s women is truly unique, outstripping the other African countries included in the survey, as well as most other countries with higher levels of overall support and income levels around the world.

Women in Ghana do it tough, as the report notes: “It is ironic to note that although Ghana (one of the 3 newly added markets) has the highest women business ownership (46.4%), women entrepreneurs are not as well-received by society as men despite them being the sole breadwinners and backbone in their families most of the time.”

It’s incredible to think what an amazing source of talent Ghana possesses in its women entrepreneurs. Imagine if these women could be properly supported to achieve their dreams and use all of their drive to enrich themselves, their families, and their compatriots?

At the moment, most women’s businesses in Ghana struggle to move beyond the micro level, in part because of common factors like lack of finance, which affects women-owned businesses all over the world. Backing Ghana’s women in business could have a very real and lasting positive effect in growing the country’s economy and improving the overall wealth and wellness of its people. In fact, the same could be said the world over.


What’s emotional labour and should men do more of it?

Monday, June 03, 2019

Call it emotional, mental or invisible labour, it’s basically all of the work women, and it’s mostly women, do outside of their job or career to organise a household and run a family. It’s the neverending and always growing inventory of lists and tasks women carry in their heads to keep the show going – because the show must always go on.

As the author Gemma Hartley wrote in her Harper’s Bazaar article ‘Women aren’t nags; we’re just fed up’: 

Emotional labor, as I define it, is emotion management and life management combined. It is the unpaid, invisible work we do to keep those around us comfortable and happy. It envelops many other terms associated with the type of care-based labor I described in my article: emotion work, the mental load, mental burden, domestic management, clerical labor, invisible labor.

It’s not only about who does the dishes or who mows the lawn, or any of the other household chores domestic partners often bicker about. It’s about the heavy mental load mostly shouldered by women in thinking about children’s vaccinations or aged care arrangements for an elderly parent. In thinking about setting up play dates and talking to kinder teachers about behavioural changes in your child. Or staying awake late at night thinking through the minutiae of organising the next family get-together that’s coming up on the weekend.

It’s keeping all the plates spinning in the air at once and making sure the plates are clean and we’ve pre-ordered spare plates, because accidents always happen. And someone’s going to have to clean up that mess, aren’t they?

It’s all the stuff women have almost always done, mostly without any real gratitude or thanks. Which is OK, sort of. But not really.

Women are still doing all of this stuff, but now we’ve got careers and businesses to think about too. We’ve got mortgages and financial security to consider. We want nice things for our kids. Maybe even a few little things for ourselves along the way. We want family. We want career. Perhaps the men in our lives could help that happen? 

But it feels like we’re carrying a lot of this on our backs alone. Women have entered the workforce, but in so many ways, we’re still waiting for men to enter the household. Cooking every now and again is nice. Doing the gardening is good. But too many men still seem to ghost through the grind. Present in body, absent in mind.

Not all, of course. But it does sometimes feel like men cherry-pick the tasks and chores they don’t mind doing, while women take on pretty much everything else that’s leftover.

Do men need to do their fair share of this work? Would it actually help men better understand their partners and bond more with their children if they did? Would a more evenly shared domestic and mental labor load help both men and women at work and at home? Might we even find a deeper harmony and understanding in sharing this work?

The world has changed a lot in the past 30 years. Women have moved with the times. Certainly, in some ways, so have men. But just as men and women have learnt to work together and appreciate each other in the workplace, maybe we can start to do the same at home. It’s sad, but I’ve known men who feel like they don’t really know their wives or children. Hard-working, professionally successful men. Even when they’re at home, they never really feel like part of the furniture.

Men could start to talk to the women in their lives about all of that invisible work, about the mental load. The braver ones could even start to take on some of the load. They could learn about all the bits and pieces, cogs and levers, that keep a household running. In doing so, they could ease the burden on the women in their lives. They could even find a new kind of meaning and connection in their lives too.


What’s your business plan for blockchain?

Monday, May 27, 2019

When a new and potentially transformative technology comes into view, it will commonly divide observers into three broad camps: ardent believers, dismissive non-believers, and the wait-and-sees. One of the most famous examples of this is of course the information superhighway, or as we refer to it now, the internet.

Back in the innocent, early days of the internet, as hard as it is to believe, many people thought the internet would at best become something like a global electronic bulletin board for academic papers. Aside from a visionary few, not many saw its commercial or even cultural potential.

Arguably the most cited example of the non-believer perspective is a semi-famous article from 1995 by an academic named Clifford Stoll. To be fair, Mr Stoll was not totally dismissive of the internet, but he did display a now-unfortunate degree of cynicism about just what the internet could become:

Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic.

Baloney. Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.

Today, we see similar screeds about other new technologies, especially blockchain, which has become maybe best known as the underlying technology for cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

As with the internet, blockchain has its boosters, naysayers and neutrals. It is at a relatively early stage of development and most people are still getting their heads around what it actually is, let alone what it could become in 5, 10, or 25 years’ time.

But many more entrepreneurs, startups, big companies, and even governments are seeing the massive potential of blockchain beyond bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and even banking and finance. Just as the internet moved beyond its initial adoptee community of academics, cyber pioneers and computer enthusiasts, blockchain is emerging from the shadow of bitcoin.

Just in the past couple of months, these organisations have been testing ways to incorporate blockchain into their operations and value chain:

● The Bank of Canada and the Monetary Authority of Singapore successfully completed a digital currency swap using blockchain.

● PepsiCo’s pilot project incorporating blockchain into its digital advertising yielded a 28% improvement in advertising efficiency.

● Amazon Web Services has made its Amazon Managed Blockchain generally available, allowing businesses to connect AWS accounts as nodes in their own blockchain network, with Amazon overseeing the management and maintainenance of the overall network.

The sober perspective on all of this is encapsulated by this quote from experienced tech venture capitalist Todd Hixon:

The bottom line for entrepreneurs: don’t expect Blockchain to change the world anytime soon. Blockchain architecture faces an uphill battle in many large-scale applications. Major near-term impact will be limited to a few markets with lower transactions volumes and higher importance for security and direct end-user control of personal data: medical and personal financial records are possibilities. Much of the currently-vigorous activity in the Blockchain world is option-buying or pure speculation.

As with any new wave of technology, there will be winners and losers. There will be those who brave the risks and go all in on blockchain, only to find they’ve backed the wrong horse, while others will seemingly stumble into good fortune.

But it’s vital for any entrepreneur or business to be thinking about the possible scenarios and at the very least investigating the ways in which your business could utilise or benefit from blockchain. So what camp does your business fall into? Believer, non-believer, or wait-and-see?


We need 21st Century thinking for childcare

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Regardless of who is in power, childcare is one of the biggest policy challenges facing the government. It’s a complex area with lots of moving parts and numerous stakeholders. It’s also an emotive area because it involves the care of our children and has a massive impact on the finances of so many Australian families. Successive governments have tinkered with it to varying degrees of success and failure.

Most parents will tell you that childcare, despite the rebates and government subsidies, is still an onerous financial burden. For many women (and it’s mostly women), being able to access childcare means they can return to work but will come out financially only marginally better off than they would have been staying at home. 

For others, it’s just not worth it. These are the women who drop out of the workforce entirely, leave careers, and end up paying the ‘motherhood penalty’. They fall behind in lifetime earnings, retire with less super, and often find it extremely difficult to return to the workforce at anywhere near the level they were at upon leaving to have a child.

Of course, parents are crying out for affordable childcare. But they also want quality. At the moment, most parents would tell you they are happy with the quality of the care, but at what financial cost?

Does the government drop regulatory requirements and open the industry up to more competition, putting the big operators on notice, or does it continue to pump subsidies in the vain hope of keeping prices for parents down?

Or does the government need to find a disruptive solution that manages to tick all the boxes for children, parents, childcare centre operators and childcare workers?

The depth of feeling on this issue has been palpable during the federal election campaign. In parent and community groups on social media, opinions and views have run hot. One of Australia’s best-known ‘mummy bloggers’ Adele Barbaro catalysed much of this passion in one of her Facebook posts:

The discussion thread that followed her post was packed with parents sharing their experiences and talking about the choices they’ve had to make. It’s hard to summarise or pick out specific comments because they each tell their own story, but the overwhelming sense is that many parents feel they are being gouged by the operators, who seem to up fees when subsidies to them are increased. There was also almost universal respect from the parents who posted for the childcare workers and educators looking after their children, with the general consensus that these people were still not being paid enough for the great work they do.

Beyond the immediate and important concerns of cost and quality, it’s also essential to consider the long term ramifications of childcare as an educational service that is preparing our children for schooling and, indeed, life. Children absorb so much in those formative early years. There is a strong social and economic argument to be made that quality, affordable childcare lays the foundations for future academic success as well as socialisation.

In addition to this childcare enables women to either return to their careers in a full-time or substantive part-time capacity, which means businesses don’t lose these talented women from their ranks, and these women can continue to develop their careers. That’s a massive win for women as well as the economy.

Other countries are grappling with childcare too. In many ways the US is even further behind than Australia, the UK and Western Europe. As columnist Matt O’Brien writes in the Washington Post, “At this point, it seems pretty clear that our 20th-century institutions are failing our 21st-century seems like the fact that our educational system wasn’t set up with dual-earning households in mind is a big part of the problem.”

Like the US, policy discussions in Australia on childcare still seem to be stuck in a 20th Century mindset. We’ve seen so many industries overturned by new ideas and disruptive thinking, why not childcare? What can the government learn from the innovations in platform business models that have occurred in areas like transportation (Uber), accommodation (Airbnb), and entertainment (Netflix, Spotify)? Can any of these lessons be applied to the childcare industry?

At the moment, the main thrust of the debate about how childcare provision can be improved runs along the old regulate vs deregulate axis. This is largely what came out of the Productivity Commission’s Childcare and Early Childhood Learning inquiry from 2014. But are we missing something in this puzzle? Do we need a more radical approach to fix this problem? What would a truly customer-centric approach to childcare yield?

There are definitely worse places to start than by listening to what consumers want from a service. Maybe the best thing the federal government can do about childcare is to listen to the likes of childcare consumers like Adele Barbaro and other mums and work from there.



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