Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Season Greetings

Best wishes to all women and men for a happy, healthy & equitable 2012 

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Re-Inventing the Wheel

I attended the Women and the Economy Summit in San Francisco last week. 

It was different from all the other APEC Women Leaders Network meetings I have been attending over the past five years or so. This one was organised by the U.S (APEC host for 2011), which decided to take it to do away with the old structure and take the women and economy debate to a whole new level. In May 2011 the former APEC Gender Focal Point Network (GFPN) and the private sector oriented Women's Leaders Network (WLN) were replaced by high level dialogue to streamline the influence of women's issues within APEC.  

Hillary Clinton got involved, as did a number of Ministers from the 21 economies that make up APEC. Promising one might think. Perhaps they are finally seeing the light that women are good for the economy; that they have something to offer; that parity and equity makes sense; no more lip service and preaching to the converted without any tangible results. So after a lot of high powered wah-wah, below is the declaration we ended up with...

High Level Policy Dialogue on Women and the Economy San Francisco, California September 16, 2011
We, APEC ministers and senior government officials, along with private sector leaders, met in San Francisco, California, September 16, 2011 for the High Level Policy Dialogue on Women and the Economy, under the Chairmanship of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
In November 2010 in Yokohama, the APEC Leaders recognized that the full potential of women to contribute to the Asia-Pacific regional economy remains untapped. Gender equality is central to economic and social development. Equal opportunity for women and men supports economic growth and helps to reduce poverty. The APEC Leaders therefore expressed their will to work together to improve women’s access to finance, education, training, employment, technology, and health systems by promoting entrepreneurship and greater leadership for women in business and government.
In 2011 and beyond, APEC economies will take concrete actions to realize the full potential of women, integrate them more fully into APEC economies, harness their talents, remove barriers that restrict women’s full economic participation, and maximize their contributions towards economic growth. Evidence from both developed and developing economies has shown that increased participation of women will generate faster and more equitable income growth, create greater business opportunities, and enhance competitiveness for firms and economies by facilitating innovative thinking and fuller use of a significant resource. Moreover, higher incomes for women have proven to have significant positive impact on health and education outcomes for households, improving overall welfare and bolstering future gains in productivity and inclusive growth. We recognize the benefits healthcare and education services provide to women’s engagement in the economy. Actions to support women’s economic empowerment should be a core component in implementing the APEC Leaders’ Growth Strategy.
Greater inclusion of women will expand prosperity in the region and is an investment for the future. Women’s active participation in the economy at all levels, including in decision-making and governance in business and government, will also result in favorable social and environmental benefits, which are essential in addressing inclusive and sustainable growth objectives. We are determined to take concrete actions, implement gender responsive policies and programs, and improve laws and regulations to expand economic opportunities for women in APEC economies.
We welcome the establishment of the APEC Policy Partnership on Women and the Economy (PPWE), which streamlines and elevates the influence of women’s contributions towards economic growth and fosters women’s economic empowerment across the region. Also, recognizing the outcomes and efforts regarding gender equality issues on which APEC has worked, we have tasked the PPWE, including by working with other APEC entities, to provide effective policy recommendations on women and the economy to APEC member economies.
We declare our determination for APEC economies to mainstream gender to address the most significant barriers hindering women’s full economic participation. APEC’s work will initially focus on the following four priority areas: improving access to capital, access to markets, capacity and skills building, and women’s leadership. In pursuing these priority areas it will be critical for APEC to collaborate with and support the work of networks of women business associations and international organizations such as the Commission on the Status of Women and UN Women, as appropriate. The APEC Secretariat will provide support to implement this Declaration.
Access to Capital
Discriminatory legal and regulatory systems and banking practices can pose specific hurdles for women’s access to capital and assets. Evidence has shown that women-owned businesses tend to be smaller, newly established, and less profitable than male-owned businesses and generally have greater difficulty in accessing capital. A lack of information and knowledge about lending requirements and practices hinders women business owners’ ability to obtain capital. The challenges in accessing capital remain a concern for women entrepreneurs and business owners among APEC member economies. With these challenges in mind, we call on officials to:
· Review and report to APEC Senior Officials the status of laws regarding inheritance, spouse joint property ownership, and the rights to ownership of moveable and immoveable property, as well as head of household benefits for married, divorced and widowed women;
· Promote more inclusive access to financial services for women entrepreneurs and business owners;
· Conduct an inventory of existing effective SME lending programs, including micro-lending, offered at the central government level and in the private sector, making special note of the usage and metrics around these programs and their effectiveness in serving women-owned businesses to establish a baseline of current lending programs;
· Conduct a survey and workshop to identify and share best practices of government measures at the central and local level with a view to improving the capacity of women-owned SMEs in accessing capital, in collaboration with the G-20 Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI) sub-group to leverage the work they have undertaken on this issue; and
· Collaborate with the GPFI sub-group and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in their commitment to improve the collection of sex-disaggregated data on small and medium enterprises and SME finance.
Access to Markets
A lack of access to markets impedes the growth of women-owned businesses and restricts the number of jobs created. The ability of women active in the marketplace to expand their markets (domestically and internationally) can be improved by realizing women’s business acumen (including through mentoring and technical assistance programs); making information on regulatory environments in APEC economies and market opportunities (including through match-making and technical assistance programs); and promoting greater opportunities to obtain government and corporate contracts (including through supplier diversity initiatives). To address these challenges, we call on officials to:
· Identify and report to APEC Senior Officials, programs, including supplier diversity and technical assistance initiatives, that represent best practices of multi-national enterprises, governments, and SMEs that remove the barriers for women business owners and entrepreneurs, including rural and indigenous women, to obtain up-to-date information on the regulatory environments in APEC economies, and identify and take advantage of domestic or international market opportunities; and
· Identify networks and associations that can assist women to access business connections and distribution channels.
Capacity and Skills Building
Capacity and skills building is an essential way to develop an economy’s human capital—a key driver of economic competitiveness. However, in many APEC economies only half of the human capital is fully utilized. Women face barriers to full access to and
participation in education and training that can prepare them for success in the workforce and in business. Multiple empirical studies show that after training, women have access to better jobs and are increasingly able to grow their businesses and create employment. Access to information is critically important to expanding women’s economic roles and requires the attention of APEC economies. Women tend to have smaller social and professional networks, which limit their awareness of and equal access to labor markets, employment and business opportunities and information on how to handle challenges in operating their businesses. To address these circumstances, we call on officials to:
· Encourage the empowerment of women and remove discriminatory practices which inhibit women’s capacity and ability to build their skills;
· Conduct a survey and workshop to identify and share best practices that support entrepreneurial counseling and training opportunities that are offered at the economy level that target women, including entrepreneurs and business owners as well as rural and indigenous women;
· Incorporate a gender analysis, as appropriate, into existing capacity and skills building and SME assistance programs, and train the people who deliver programs on how to conduct gender equality analysis, so they can be more sensitive to and understand the different challenges faced by men and women;
· Conduct a survey and workshop to share best practices on how economies use technology (such as internet communications or mobile technologies) to train women businesses owners; and
· Conduct and share an inventory of good business models for women in small and micro enterprises.
Women’s Leadership
Globally, in economic sectors, there is a lack of representation of women in leadership roles in both the private and public sectors. Whether on corporate boards, in senior-level management positions, or other important economic decision-making roles, women represent a much smaller percentage of leadership positions than their economic contribution, education levels, and business successes would indicate. Studies have identified four major barriers preventing women from rising to leadership positions: organizational obstacles, including a lack of role models and exclusion from informal networks; work-life balance challenges, including travel requirements and long work schedules; institutional mindsets, meaning women are evaluated differently for positions from men; and finally, individual mindsets, due to a lack of positive reinforcement, and peer and senior-level support. We agree that these barriers are problematic not only for women looking to take on more responsibility, but also to the growth and success of the business or organization. It is also important to consider that many of these obstacles come from gender stereotypes related to the heavier load of domestic work and care-giving done by women. Society still sees women as mainly responsible for taking care of the children and maintaining the household, and this can become a restraint for women to enter the labor market and for women-owned SMEs to achieve a better performance. Therefore we call on officials to:
Encourage the upcoming generation of women leaders;
Raise awareness within APEC economies about the favorable effects of gender diversity initiatives on economic growth and corporate competitiveness by identifying and disseminating best practices from the private and public sector;
· Publicize the economic benefits gained from promoting work-life balance, implementing gender equality standards in private and public organizations, diversified leadership teams, and other measures for women’s empowerment, through APEC outreach and workshop activities, involving leaders from the public and private sectors;
· Foster an equitable participation of rural and indigenous women, and social enterprises, increasing their access to opportunities;
· Identify model measures to raise women entrepreneurs and business leaders’ profiles to promote women’s leadership;
· Make a concerted effort to include at least one woman in their ABAC membership; and
· Take a proactive approach and work together as necessary to increase the representation of women in senior management positions, including on corporate boards and equivalent public sector organizations.
Beyond 2011
Future APEC host economies are encouraged to host additional high-level sessions to discuss new growth strategies that harness women’s talents, innovation, and leadership.
Progress? perhaps... Implementation? not mandatory...  

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Why Invest in Women?

Why Invest in Women?
Impacting Individuals, Communities, Countries and the World
Investing in women teaches them to live up to their full potential, lightens the load on social programs and shows investors how money can be used as a tool for social justice, says Emilenne de León, executive director of Semillas, the only fund in Mexico dedicated to women. Founded in 1990, Semillas distributes funds throughout the country accordingly and teaches women skills that can improve their lives and the lives of their families.
For the rest of the article follow below link on the Economica - Women & the Global Economy link
Why Invest in Women? - International Museum of Women

Saturday, 21 May 2011

man power

I experienced a dose of man power last week ..

It occurred at a women's conference, which was attended, as you might expect, mostly by women. In the morning there were some interesting women speakers from the local community, telling their success stories. There was a relaxed woman-2-woman atmosphere, where each woman and her wisdom were given due acknowledgement, credit and respect. The afternoon featured three male speakers.  Once the 'blokes' entered the room, the atmosphere changed remarkably. The majority of women in the room visibly started kowtowing to the men and their agendas and in one felt swoop the earlier celebrated women's power was seriously eroded.  

Coincidently, a female friend who recently attended a surgeon's conference, told me a not dissimilar story, witnessing how during a panel session the comments of a female panel member were unceremoniously swept aside. No one protested. 

Not that it is always this easy to put one's finger on this still pervasive culture. Often it is less overt and we are so used to this, that we tend to gloss over whatever just happened.

It leaves me wondering what conditioning men have that they think it is acceptable to not respect the autonomy of women? What conditioning do (many) women have that they so easily hand over their power to men? Is it a generational thing? Can this culture be shifted and if so, how?

From 'Conditions of Faith'

"The way it is for us with some people...when you are with them, you feel yourself to be confident, intelligent and strong. Then with other people you are weak, unsure of yourself, and unable to make any sense of your life, and you begin to wonder if anything is ever going to work for you......(Alex Miller, pg  186). 

How should we live our lives? What values are important in our lives? How we change this conditioning is a decision each of us needs to make. Much like it is our decision and our choice what to think, what to believe, how to think, how to behave ! 

'The unconsidered life is not worth living' ~ Socrates

Sunday, 8 May 2011


Slack, slack, slack I can hear you think or that may just be my inner critic...  It is and it isn't slackness per se. Writing a blog is hard work in some ways. The regularity police can be relentless. There's a film, the title of which escapes me at the minute, in which a woman is so committed to her blog readers that she feels compelled to continue blogging throughout a live-threatening illness. 

I felt strongly that I had to keep up my blogging whilst traveling. Am clearly less pressured now that I @ home ~ the concept of 'home' is a whole other chapter. Be that as it may, the last week or so have been about networks. Re- evaluating, (re)building, and in some cases, even (re)moving links or obstacles to networks.

Networks have intrigued me for some time ~ ad nausea if you care to delve into the read. As I continue to action research the concept, I find that we are now past mere network creation ~ think Facebook or LinkedIn. Soon the world will no longer care how many friends or business contacts you have, but about the quality and value of those contacts. This is tied to the fact that we are reaching the point of network-to-network (N2N) integration. And you wouldn't want to associate yourself with a bunch of slouches now, would ya!

Network integration brings together place and space. How N2N integration will play out depends entirely on the network itself ~ on its cohesion, position (and yours in it) and local-global linkages, the level of trust and engagement with and within the network, and not in the least, if and by whom it is governed. 

It's a local global business pleasure public private event and all about trust and reciprocity! And more than anything, it's a gr8 opportunity to start linking all those women networks to enable feminized markets. But haste slowly as the saying goes. This is about longer term partnerships, about linking wisely and strategically. Said a learned source next to me @ a social media workshop last week, the next step is all about being a 'trusted authority'. Made sense to me.

Stay tuned..

Sunday, 10 April 2011

the status of women

I was at a meeting yesterday with a group of women ~ and one man ~ who all want to make a difference to the status of women. We came together to discuss how our mission could both be different and make a real difference.

As we engaged with one another, I realised there were a variety of agendas on the table that all had to do with the status of women and that all need addressing. A tall task indeed. 

Of course the UN has been reporting on the Status of Women for many years. Perhaps that is part of the problem? Reporting informs us that we are far from equal in this world. It does not necessarily link to action by and for women.
Many of the people around the table work or worked within corporate structures in one way or another and are seeking to influence change on a corporate level. Create more equity and recognition of their contribution to the workplace.  What they are really saying is that they wish to move towards a more feminized way of doing business ~ not that we were discussing this as a conscious theme or mode of being.  

Listening to the women around the table I couldn't help thinking of the women I've met during my travels, the indigenous, migrant and otherwise disenfranchised women who don't fit in the formal economy. They very much form part of what is known as the informal economy. The WorldBank estimates that 23.9 million people are employed in the informal economy vs. a 15.1 million labour force in the formal economy and more than 60% are women. These  are the women who contribute more to GDP than India and China combined (The Economist, 2010) ~ a concept sometimes referred to as Womenomics, which to some means women are good for business. In my book it means The science of understanding, supporting and linking women more effectively in the economy ~ wherever that may be.

Two very different pictures but it is clear that a change on the corporate level is as direly needed as a change in the informal economy. Both are a source of employment for women. Both are employing more women than ever, both deal with a gender gap in terms of equal worth and wages ~ although the gender gap in terms of wages in the informal economy is of course much higher than in the formal sector.

While women in corporate structures cope with unequal pay and 'boys club' conditions, women in informal economies haven't even had much of an opportunity to start the argument. Yet, while developed regions with 'formal' economies may be in a better position to fight the fights, it is the less developed regions that ~ due to sheer number of women ~ are more rapidly moving towards female critical mass in their workforce and, dare I say, to feminized markets. 

It is critical mass that will create the tipping point, as is the case with the adoption of any new technology or innovation. Just think, there were early adopters of the Internet ~ yours truly among them ~ but it wasn't until Internet use achieved critical mass that people really started to adopt it fast and understand its usefulness. Today adoption is not even at the tipping point so its potential remains in its infancy.  And of course there remain many technology adoption laggards for a variety of reasons ~ access, skills, culture ~ but that gap is closing with the rise and rise of mobile technology. There is no doubt that connectivity will be increasingly important to the status of women as it continues to connect women to knowledge and networks.

So I came away from the meeting thinking how good it was that we do all have different agendas, as they all do need attention and work. It will be interesting to see how all the agendas can be married into a meaningful effort. 

Stay tuned..

Sunday, 27 March 2011

The femination of markets - ongoing

You may recall I started talking about this a blog or two ago and said I am keen to do more research into this area, so whilst I have been a bit slack on the blogging front, I have been working away in the background on this issue.  I have been reading, surfing, watching, and listening. As you do. And am only just beginning to grapple with this enormous issue.

I have been reading on womanhood. On what women want. Of course a 20-year old doesn't want what a 30-year old wants, let alone a 40-year old or a 50-year old, who btw, more than anything, just wants a good night sleep :-). The 60-year old wants to believe that 60 is the new 40 and is at a point in life where she wants to make a difference; she wants to change the system ~ that should be interesting, with the baby boomers coming of age. I have been reading about how western women struggle to gain what some call the impossible art of balancing work & life.  Some women are going for the superwoman 'I can do it all' model, whilst others are seeking the return of the happy housewife model of the 1950s, back when women knew their place.  

Somehow the return to the obedient housewife thingy is going to be a bit hard..If you listen to the new data on the rise of women presented by Hanna Rosin in a TED talk, it is absolutely clear that we are going through (in Rosin's words) "an amazing and unprecedented moment where the power dynamics between men and women are shifting very rapidly". I would argue that it isn't a mere moment but a solid ~ if underestimated ~ shift towards the feminisation of markets. Yes, women are dominating in fields such as banking, law, accounting and medicine, but not (yet) in science, engineering and technology, often viewed as a geeky professions which do not appear to be a huge turn on for women. But what is more striking is that this is an economic shift ~ all over the world it is women who are taking on the role of breadwinner, becoming the more powerful earners. As Rosin puts it 'the 200,000 year period in which men were top dog is coming to an end'. 

Why now, one may wonder. Rosin puts her finger on it. Men haven't changed, but the economy has. It has turned into a service economy, a knowledge economy in which information, knowledge and creativity are king. Well, queen, really, since the knowledge economy requires skills that women are naturally good at. Things like inclusiveness, team building, listening (!) and fluid communication.  

And this isn't an isolated phenomenon in developed economies. It's a global economic reality. Rosin talks about how in India poor women are learning English faster than their male counterparts so they can take jobs in call centres. In China more women than men are starting small businesses. When I think about my recent travels, I can see the evidence in Bangladesh and Peru. It was the women, often in cooperative structures, who were entrepreneurial, are keeping their communities going, communicating with the outside world.  

Rosin's wisest words...We are all in this together and we need to bring each other along. A culture change that is hard enough to achieve in the developed world and a massively difficult task in traditional cultures...

Saturday, 5 March 2011

International Women's Day Centenary 1911-2011

Exactly a year ago, I wrote one of my first blogs on International Women's Day (IWD), sending my best wishes to the many women friends, events and networks that were going to get together.

This year IWD is celebrating its centennary. There are glossy websites displaying events around the globe (Australia has 210 alone). IDW is on March 8th and is now a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women in the past, present and future. It is a day when women are recognised for their achievements, without regards for divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political. The history of International Women's Day which started in Europe at a time of great expansion, booming population and (financial, economic, social and environmental) turbulence ~ mmh, sound familiar ~ is worth a read.

In the next day or so, women around the world will be attending dinners, they will listen to an inspiring speaker and celebrate one another. Over in New York women from around the globe are gathering for the 55th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, the annual fortnight long event to discuss progress on gender equality and on initiatives that advance the cause.

Our friends over in Europe are gathering in the Hungarian capital Budapest to mark the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, by joining "Women in Science, Innovation and Technology in the Digital Age", a Joint High-level Conference organized by the European Commission's Directorate-General Information Society and Media (INFSO) and the Hungarian EU Presidency and ECWT, sister centre Asia-Pacific Centre for Women and Technology ~more about that later. Our EU friends are taking advantage of the 100th anniversary of Woman's Day by taking a look forward and focusing on female talent in the Digital Age: how to measurably increase women's presence across the board  in education, research and innovation, entrepreneurship, workforce and leadership roles. 

Last year I mentioned some women's empowerment slogans and the UNIFEM Women's Empowerment Principles, waxing lyrically about us gaining momentum as the topic is on everyone's agenda. 'We are rocking!', I wrote.  'Or are we?'  And I quote:

'Soon after I (with great trepidation) posted my first blog back then, I read a piece in the Saturday Age (Insight, pg 3) on Germaine Greer, that rousing woman who wrote The Female Eunich and set women on a path of feminism in the 1970s. The writer, Gabrielle Coslovich reports on an article (written by a man) in The Monthly which describes Greer as demented grandmother. Coslovich, to her credit, brings in other voices such as Eva Cox who says "It's a very different world to the one we grew with, but not nearly different enough". Women should have done more to challenge workplace structures. Should have, could have, but we didn't. And we still don't today'.

'How painfully pointed the article was. Women still earn less money than men, the workplace has become even more macho, we reward workaholic tendencies and all we talk about these days is economics. The language used in the World Economic Forum 2007 report, writes Coslovich, is all telling. They sure have gotten the point that gender-based biases are detrimental to today's global economy, but there's no point empowering women to provide them with opportunities to develop to their full potential in the knowledge economy without looking at the bigger picture. We can't go on the way we are. We can't just slot women into positions to be the engines of economic growth'.

'What do we really need to work towards? A shift away from an economy-centric worldview, a new work(place) culture and ethic, education (for both women and men), sustainable development practices towards individual and community health and well-being, and the right type of information that builds our long lost self-esteem and worth. This is a tall order fraught with difficulty and reflecting on my own social conditioning' ~ end of quote. 

We are a year on and I still miss my mother, but I am optimistic. Why so, you may wonder when violence is against women is worse than ever, when economic and social equality is nowhere in sight?

What is different today is that we are building momentum. This week's IWD gatherings are no tea and scone parties. They are powerful events stocked with powerful women from powerful women networks who have come together through the power of  technology (ICT). That's what makes this era different. It may not seem significant yet to the average onlooker, but it an instrumental and integral component of the shift towards feminised markets. It is based on network linkages, collaboration and social media, connecting thousands of women ~ and more importantly their networks. Mark my words, ICT-enabled women's empowerment is about to take a huge leap forward. But let us take great care to be inclusive in the transition towards more female values, seeking neither domination nor revenge.

How I'd love to be a fly on the wall in 3011 ~ Happy Centenary !

Friday, 11 February 2011

The feminisation of markets

Life is rolling along at amazing speed. Back in the chair at work, but my mind remains firmly on women as I reflect on my time in Bangladesh and Peru, the amazing places I visited and the inspiring women  I met everywhere. 

I am also reflecting (on a higher level) about where women 'sit' in the world. Some ten years ago researchers predicted that we would move towards a feminized economy and it looks like we are starting to make some inroads into this. Whether and to what extend it differs in developed vs. developing economies is another question. 

I've been reading about the decline of men, how since the 1950s the image of women has gone through numerous make-overs and how the power of women is on the rise in the marketplace and at home. Indeed, in a TED address Hanna Rosin shows how (in America) women are surviving much better than men in these financially difficult times and goes as far as to quote a source that claims men are 'the new ball and chain'.

Early on in my travels I came across a Newsweek article (September 27) entitled 'What's the matter with men?" It delivers the direst of prognoses, that men are in decline and it's time to reclaim maleness as a force, as a phenomenon. One Harvard professor even goes as far as advocate action and aggression. Good going professor - what century do you live in? But have things indeed gone that far and do men really need rescueing? And wouldn't it be better if we strive for equal and shared value for all?

I am interested in exploring this further and intend to take a closer look at what is happening, what it means for women if and when feminine values become accepted into our ICT-enabled society and macho business world...

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Is travel overrated?

Suddenly, time's up and my Peru stint comes to an end..Hard to believe I've been on the road for 4 months, but the Endeavour Award has run its course. The report is written and officially presented to the Ministry. There is a combo birthday-farewell party consisting of small speeches, gifts and kisses, coca-cola, chips and a huge cake. Peruvians like to eat and it is not polite to refuse.

It's time to don the rubber gloves for a final clean of my digs in Miraflores. Only last week did I discover a new funky Lima neighbourhood and I feel I've only scratched the surface of this town, and country. I pack up my gear and head for the airport. Am flying to Santiago, Chile where I will spend the night with a mate before flying on to Oz the next night. Easy enough to do, but the first leg of my return to Oz ~ I later realise ~ sets the tone for the rest of the journey. What should have been a 4-hr flight turns into a 12-hr journey. Yes, the transfer part of travel is definitely overrated. 

But then I have a very relaxed day in Santiago and think how nice it is I get to dip into the Santiagoan (?) culture, brief as it is ~ this part of travel is definitely not overrated..

Only two more legs to go before I get home, surely that can't be too hard? As if on cue, new obstacles arise. There are operational issues.  There is a cyclone alert and we cannot lift off before we know that we can land. Sorry, but outside of our control. Yes we're aware you'll miss your connection to Melbourne, but we have a solution.. (not!).  It is as if the airline staff can't to make up their minds which story to tell us next about the eternal delay of the flight from Santiago to Auckland. At 3:00 AM in the morning I am thinking of the recent dust clouds and snowstorms over Europe that stranded thousands of people for days on end. I know just how they feel. By now another 10 hrs have attached themselves to the already 30 hr journey, so yes, airline travel from A to B is definitely overrated ~ but I am whingeing

Then, suddenly I find myself on the antipode.. A new culture to (re)adjust to. Life as I once knew it just isn't quite the same. It hasn't changed, travel has changed me, my thinking, my opinions, my priorities. It wasn't always easy, but it sure has broadened my horizons. 

In some ways my work is just beginning. I am compelled to explore new avenues to progress what I have started. It's global, local. It's about women; it's about men; it's about culture, equality, equity, and education; it's about using technology to disseminate and share knowledge; about building partnerships to tackle injustice; and above all, it's about change.  

The need for women's empowerment is everywhere, so the work (and the blog..) will go on. 

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Cruising the Amazon

Am up to date on my work trips and can finally give you a glimpse of one of my favourite trips since I've been  in Peru, a cruise on the Amazon river and tributaries thereof. Little did I know that I was trending when I booked this little adventure as 2011 has been declared the Year of Forests by the United Nations, to raise awareness of sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all kinds of forest

Having decided on a low consumption, green Christmas, I opt for a small cruise (the ship only has 6 air conditioned cabins) departing from Iquitos in the tropical north of Peru. On December 22nd we set sail from the town of Nauta (about 90 kms from Iquitos by bus) on a 7day/6 night cruise on the Clavero ~ a 1876 restored riverboat ~  towards the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, famed for its reflective beauty and known as the "Espejo de la Selva" or Jungle of Mirrors.


And for good reason. The Amazon valley offers unforgettable moments. Ever winding curves in tributaries of the mighty rubber river and its dark history; beautiful still, reflective waters in which pink-bellied dolphins suddenly break to the surface, cavorting around the boat ~ often in pairs ~ and spouting a glistening cascade of spray; brown and black necked hawks, kingfishers  and flycatchers in a rainbow of colours perched totally still on a wood stump in the river; sloths, red monkeys and huge wasp nests clamped high up in trees; butterflies fluttering by; walks in the jungle embracing huge rubber trees and looking for giant waterlilies; side trips in a tinny to look at giant waterlilies, fish for deadly dangerous paranah and caimans (at night); catching zen moments sitting on deck reading as the Clavero cruises along this peaceful setting and, to top it all off, stunning sunsets.

The rest is best said in visuals, so a few photos via the cruise mob's blog, and a glimpse of a dolphin I managed to record (please ignore the inane tourism babble) a few of my own pix, including a look around Belen, the part of Iquitos across the water, where houses and churches often flood and poverty reigns.  Many more to upload when I get bandwidth..

Sunday, 23 January 2011

San Marcos University

As soon as I arrive back in Lima it is time to prepare for a seminar I am giving at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, courtesy of my Ministry host who also lectures at the University.

I am honoured to be invited by the Faculty of Business Administration  and its Research Institute. San Marcos is the oldest public university in Latin America, established in 1551 by a decree of Prince Charles of Spain and possibly one of the oldest universities in the world. The University has 20 faculties and 60 schools, 30,000 undergraduate students and some 6000 postgrads. Due to its prestigious faculties and alumni ~ it has Mario Vargas Llosa, the 2010 Nobel Laureate for Literature among its alumni ~ entering San Marcos is a competitive process.

As it turns out, am not just giving a seminar ~ I am the keynote speaker at an international seminar on small business and ICT for innovation and competitiveness from a gender perspective. Tailored perfectly to my research work, I have no worries preparing for this. There are several other speakers and the seminar, scheduled to start at 9:30 AM, gets underway around 10:30ish ~ the Peruvian way! 

The auditorium is huge and not exactly filled, which makes it all a bit hollow but the event goes well.  After welcome words from the Dean, I speak ~ assisted by an interpreter ~ for about an hour, followed by three other speakers, who each speak for about 20 minutes. There are some questions and then there is lunch in the foyer. There seem to be a lot more people at lunch than were in the auditorium and the food is disappearing fast ...

A very different experience from the one at Khulna University in Bangladesh (see earlier blog) but both have been interesting in their own way. 

Wednesday, 19 January 2011


The last leg of the Cusco-Puno corridor is, you guessed it, Puno. My host has organised bus tickets for what turns out to be yet another 8 hour bus ride. We leave early in the morning and do not reach Puno, which is situated on Lago Titicaca ~  the largest lake in South America and at 3,811 m is also the highest lake situated above sea level  located on the border of Peru and Bolivia. At least one of us gets some sleep..

We wander off to the Plaza de Armas ~ there is one in every town in Peru ~ for some lunch ~ I try the local ceviche, my favourite Peruvian dish ~ after which we head to the Puno market, which is a real visual treat. I buy a bag of corn which looks like the ready-to-eat toasted corn kernels stuff that taste like peanuts, but instead it's the cooking kind..oh well. We wander all the way up to the lake until suddenly the weather turns. Everyone packs up in a hurry before they get drenched. We manage to grab a taxi back to our hotel before we get soaked.


In the evening we are invited by Ciro to visit a handicraft assocation called Suri Andino Associacion de Artisanas de Puno .The setup is rather odd in that they keep us waiting outside (well, inside an empty but freezing cold bus) for what feels like an eternity, but eventually we are led into a small back room down an alley where a number of women and men from different communities across the province have gathered to listen to the history of Suri Andino, delivered by Magdina the President of Suri Andino (middle). 

The association started in 2007 with 100 women and received technical assistance from Agro Rural with raw materials, training and marketing (attending regional fairs). They make hats, gloves, jumpers, etc.  Today only 15 women are active in the association, which experienced many teething problems in the beginning but managed to succeed through strong leadership and smart outsourcing ~ they collaborate with 8 other associations ~ to fill large orders.  Today they export to Switzerland, make finger puppets for Britt, communicate via email and transfer knowledge to other women artisans and associations, as is the case during this visit. Mostly, they grapple with quality control, how to better spread management responsibilities and succession planning.  I am impressed with the spirit and tenacity Magdina displays. Clearly having a driving force like her is key to their success.


Another 5 AM wake-up call (yikes) and we tumble out of the hotel and into a share combi (mini van) to Juliaca, the nearest airport about 40 kms up the road from Puno. An unexciting industrial town, we chose not to stay in Juliaca for the night. We are on separate return flights to Lima and say our goodbyes at Juliaca airport. I have a bit of a wait and settle in with a book and a strong Peruvian coffee.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Cusco-Puno Corridor - Day 2

When I return from my walk to the amazing sacred temple site, the van Mamita is waiting for me as arranged. I bid goodbye to the lovely women of Raqchi and we head off to our first stop, which is only a short distance up the road in San Pedro. 

We bang and bang on the door of a farm house but nobody's home. We are going by the schedule I have been handed by Agro Rural and not too sure where to from here.  I decide to phone Ciro at Agro Rural who manages to convey to me in Spanish that I've got it all mixed up (duh, who made this schedule?) and we should go see this other mob first and return to San Pedro later on in the day. So we head for a place called Marangani (near Sicuani), which is about an hour up the road, to visit an assocation of guinea pig farmers. Hoorah, I get to witness guinea pig farming after all and can only hope the mob will be around ~ according to the schedule we are not expected until early afternoon. 

When we get there, we are greeted at the entry road by the association leader who says he's been waiting for several hours as he was told we'd get there first thing in the morning ~ duh, who made this schedule?  Thankfully, he doesn't seem to fussed and leads us up the road to the association's common quarters where a bunch of women are waiting to speak with me. Out comes my list of Spanish questions and I get a picture of what life is like for this association of guinea pig (cuyes) farmers. 

They are a group of 18 families who received technical assistance from Agro Rural to build sheds to house the guinea pigs, how to feed them (the guinea pigs eat organic alfa alfa, ray grass and other greens that are grown by the farmers) and market them. Both the men and women work in the guinea pig business which means they can stay put in their village and do not have to go elsewhere to generate income. They average production of 50-80 guinea pigs per week, which are sold at local markets, at fairs and the association also has the ability to freeze the guinea pigs. They proudly show off the array of prizes they have won over the past years and socio-economic conditions in the village have improved considerably.

There is no Internet signal in this area and the farmers use mobile phones to communicate with clients and other communities. They would like to export but do have any access to market or marketing knowledge. They would also like to open a restaurant and become more commercial, serving an array of cuy recipes. I am keen to clamp eyes on the actual rodents and we take a tour of the shed where the cuyes are housed. I am amazed at the variety of guinea pigs that are there. The short haired ones look like rodents, the long haired ones almost like cute little dogs.


In the afternoon we do indeed make it back to San Pedro and find the people home. Not that they were actually expecting us. They thought we were coming yesterday! Whatever, I'm there and we are having a chat. Associacion de Productores APROLAC started out in 2003 with some 16 families. Today only 5 families are active. They make yogurt which they sell to the local market. It is a labour intensive process which takes 3-4 hours everyday and this is done on top of their regular jobs as they all work in the community as well as farm. 

The association does not have refrigeration and given their low capacity, their output is relatively low as well. They would like to expand beyond the Cusco-Puno Corridor and get their product to Arequipa but aren't really sure how to go about it. They do not have Internet at home and say that when it works in the community it is too slow to search for new ways to improve their yogurt making technology (they are keen to get Dutch knowledge transfer) and learn much more about marketing. They received initial technical support from Agro Rural but do not have the funds to expand. The best part of this visit is the yogurt, which is super fresh and delicious.

After we leave Aprolac, it is time to drop me off at the bus station. We get back on the road and suddenly the van is turned into public transport. Hang on, didn't I pay a considerable amount to hire the van for private use? Cheeky indeed, but by then people have started piling into the combi and are handing Mamita money for the transport ~ there's no point making a fuss. At one point mamita even puts her hand out to me to pay up and I give her a puzzled look. Ah, no, not you, she apologizes with her toothless grin. 

By the time we get to the bus station I am again the only passenger and mamita gets out with me, pushes her way through hordes of people and helps me buy a ticket. It turns out she'd bought me a ticket for a combi (apparently mini vans arrive an hour faster than the big buses). The van is late and I chat with two women patiently waiting for transport.  When the van finally takes off, I find myself crammed in the back corner. By now it has into quite a long day and I am tired. But not as tired as the woman squeezed in the middle seat next to me, who begins snoring and lowers her head onto my shoulder.  Don't think the bus fare includes being a cushion, so I gently shake her awake. Perhaps I should have let her rest... she ends up babbling all the way back to Cusco.

Monday, 10 January 2011


Our next stop is Raqchi, an eco-tourism spot popular for its archeological dig.  It is quite a long drive from San Salvador and we stop for lunch before we make the trek to Raqchi. Ciro takes us to his favourite fried pork restaurant. Not my thing so I opt for the only other item on the menu ~ chicken soup, which turns out to be a very large bowl indeed, sporting the biggest chicken leg I have ever seen and I struggle to make my way through it. It appears I've made the right choice as my MIMDES host gets violently ill that night ~ apparently eating greasy food on one's first day in Cusco while adjusting to the altitude is a lethal combination !

We get to Raqchi quite late in the afternoon and the women have been waiting for us since 3:00 PM. We apologise for our late arrival and have a quick chat with the women. Raqchi runs an eco-tourism assocation and the women promise to come see me later for an extended chat.

I am a bit confused as to what is happening but as it turns out, I am the only one staying overnight in this eco tourism resort, whilst the rest of the gang heads back to Cusco (a 2.5 hr car ride). I will be visiting other associations in the area the next day before heading back and we have to find a driver that can take me around. 

We get back on the road and drive to San Pedro to sort my transport. The only thing available is an overpriced minivan ~ normally used to ferry locals up and down the highway  ~  owned by a toothless mamita who does not speak a word of English, but my choices are limited (none actually), so we settle on a price and pickup time in the morning. 

By the time we get back to Raqchi it is pitch black and it is with some trepidation that I say goodbye to the gang.  I enter the guesthouse and my host comes in to set the table for dinner with beautifully colourful ceramic plates for me and her kids. Am afflicted by the altitude and a bit pale around the edges. I can't stomach much other than a bit of dry bread and cheese. Pity really as she has put together a nice meal and her kids tuck in heartily. In between giggles they tell me about their school and what they want to be when they grow up ~ the 12-year old boy wants to be a chef and maybe enter the tourism business. The 10-year old girl wants to be a doctor. Later on another son ambles in, he is about 15 and speaks a tiny bit of English. He too wants to enter the business.

My room

After dinner there is a knock on the door and one by one the women file into my reasonable spacious room. They strike down on the floor and soon the room is awash with colour, talk and laughter. I pull out my Spanish questions and amazingly we manage to communicate between the women speaking Quechua, my simplistic Spanish and the tiny bit of English translation from the eldest son


There are 13 families in the Raqchi eco-tourism association (known as turismo vivencial in Spanish) and a total of 4 different homes to stay (the women have a rotation system for bookings). A stay costs $35 which includes dinner and breakfast. The association was assisted by the Cusco-Puno Corridor funding, receiving technical assistance to build kitchens, bathrooms and furnishing guest quarters. An Internet cafe was also set up in the Raqchi village square as part of the Cusco-Puno Corridor project. 

There are other eco-tourism destinations along the Cusco-Puno Corridor and the women rely on agents in Cusco and Puno for client bookings. They do not use the Internet themselves and when I ask why they just laugh and say it is for the young people, who like to use it for their homework. When they can, that is, as I am told that the signal has been down for over a month and nobody is rushing to fix it. Perhaps by the next generation Raqchi will be able to make its own bookings.

The families complement their income selling handicrafts and ceramics ~ many sell the beautiful dishes I've been eating off, which have unique family designs. Life has improved significantly for these villagers now that they have a reasonably steady income. They are now able to afford better nutrition ~ creating better health conditions ~ school uniforms and supplies for their childre. Some are even able to afford costly tertiary education for their children. 

Conditions remain 'primitive' ~ or at least by western standards ~ the bathroom is walking distance from the room but it is dark at night and one could easily stumble over the various steps. There is no hot water for showering despite the assurance that the contraption hooked into the fuse box will deliver. But the bed is comfy and cozy with piles of blankets for a cold night in the mountains. We discuss their desire to get solar panels on their homes for consistent power and hot water. It would reduce their footprint and enhance the eco-tourism experience ~ what a treat talking to these switched on women.

The next morning there is a knock on the door at 7:00 AM and breakfast is brought in. The kids are heading off to school and drop by to kiss me goodbye. I chat with the women in the courtyard while they wash dishes and spin their yarn. They tell me I should go to the square and see the ruins, which will take about 45 minutes. It will only cost 10 soles.  I can't imagine I'll be there all that long but nod and stroll into the square and onwards through a small lane into the open field and wow.... 

Raqchi is home to an ancient temple of the Inka, Wiraqocha Temple. There in front of me, in all its glory, are the huge remains of the walls, buildings and stones of a simply stunning archeological site, which for most of my visit I have all to myself.  Not visible from the road and entirely unexpected having arrived on dark,  I am awe struck by the sacred beauty of Raqchi and my previous night's reluctance to stay here turns to gratitude for this magical gift.