Arun

Jul 212019
 

In July 2019 the Australian National University was kind enough to bestow on me the award of an Honorary Doctorate. The award was presented at a graduation ceremony for the College of Business and Economics, presided over by the Pro Chancellor of the University, Naomi Flutter, the Vice Chancellor, Nobel Laureate Professor Brian Schmidt and the Dean of the College, Professor Steven Roberts. As part of the ceremony,  I had the opportunity to provide the address to the graduating students. It was 38 years since my own graduation ceremony and the challenge was to share with them some aspects of my journey and learnings that may have had broader relevance for them, recognising their diversity. It also provided me with a chance to acknowledge the many people who supported me in my life’s journey. My speech drew from the notes below.

Chair of the CBE Advisory Board Arun Abey AM and CBE Dean Steven Roberts (left to right) | Image: CBE

With Professor Steven Roberts, Dean of College of Business and Economics at the ANU

Ladies and Gentlemen, to be honoured like this by the ANU is an extraordinary thing and I can only thank the Dean for his support and the University for this honour. I would like to acknowledge and dedicate this honour to the many people who have been involved in whatever I have achieved.

First have been my parents, who if they were still alive would have been thrilled to have seen their undying love and commitment to me, being recognised in this fashion. Second, has been my immediate and extended family and close friends who are an ever-present source of support and inspiration – especially the ability of many of them to succeed in the face of considerable hardship. And I am delighted to have my partner and three of our children here today, as well as one of our closest friends.

Third has been the great teams that I have had the benefit of working with in my professional and philanthropic work. And last but not least has been the ANU, the source of so much learning, knowledge and inspiration. I stand here feeling that it is I who should be honouring the ANU, rather than the other way around.

Let me add my congratulations to all of you who are graduating today and to your rightly very proud parents. About 38 years ago, I sat where you are sitting, waiting to get my degree. I had many happy years on the campus, but was looking forward to excellent job prospects, with Economics and Arts degrees from the ANU. I hope that in listening to the Vice Chancellor’s very generous introduction to me, it has convinced you that the degree that you have earned has opened to you a world of great opportunities. I want to share with you five ingredients that I found helpful in making the most of those opportunities.

I call these ingredients the Five Powers: The Power to Join the Dots, The Power of Possibility, The Power of Making a Difference, The Power of Money and The Power of Privilege.

Your degree is valuable in terms of knowledge, but above all in terms of the ability to think analytically. The next step is to develop the Power to Join the Dots. My first job was as a research assistant at the ANU in the early 1980s. It was a time of tremendous change in the world and Australia saw the election of the Hawke-Keating government. I observed three key things:

• A revolution in investment opportunities domestically and globally, thanks to the government ushering in an era of financial and economic deregulation.
• Second, ANU demographers were predicting that we were going to live much longer, meaning that it was increasingly important for Australians to make their savings work harder by learning the skills of investment, to fund longer retirements.
• Third, the investment industry, which was dominated by parochial stockbrokers and insurance agents who focused on transactions based commissions, was not well suited to this new world. People now needed comprehensive advice to design and implement investment plans, based on rigorous research and a global mindset.

I joined these dots to come up with the idea of pioneering a modern, research based financial advice and wealth management firm, geared for this new world.

It’s one thing to see an opportunity, but it’s another thing to be willing to take the risks to grasp it. This is where the Power of Possibility comes in. I have a question for you: imagine that I approached you when I was 24, with some wild ideas about building a business, competing with the giants in financial services. Would you have joined me?

I had no experience in the industry, all of 3 years work experience, mostly in Indonesian Economic Development and no business background of any sort. Oh, and by the way, I was asking you to invest your life savings and work fulltime in the business and not receive any salary for a year. Most people I spoke to very sensibly said no. But I did find four other similarly naïve, idealistic lunatics willing to join forces with me and we pooled our life savings, which amounted to around $20,000 each. Yes we were naïve. But somehow we also managed over time to attract a team. A great team that also shared the Power of Possibility.

But now imagine our challenge. How could our team of young people in their early 20s with no money, experience nor a big brand behind us, get older, wealthy people, to trust us with their money?

This is where, the third element, the Power of Making a Difference played an important role. When we launched our financial advice business, we all loved what we were doing and we were strongly motivated by wanting to make a difference. Don’t get me wrong, we were all poor and money was important. But our starting point was to better understand the needs of our clients and to guide them well, through the maze of financial markets and global economics.

In both the ipac business then and the Walsh Bay Partners business today, we wanted to make a positive difference to the lives of our clients.
What we discovered was that when people believe that you are smart, but more importantly that you genuinely care about them, they tend to go out of their way to help you. It began with a small, but important number of influential people who, despite our inexperience, were prepared to trust us and to give us a chance.

Over time, this allowed us, with continued hard work, resilience and some luck to build a very successful business, first in Australia, and then globally.
My main point is that working with a sense of soul for others can attract a surprising amount of supporters and in the long run more financial success, than if your focus is just about making money.

The fact that our company had a soul also prevented us from being sucked into the vortex of greed and fear that dominates too many firms. Notwithstanding the tremendous boom in financial services over the past 40 years, the majority of firms in fact have failed spectacularly.
Fundamentally I believe the weakness with all these firms is that they lost a focus on what mattered – helping to improve the lives of their clients. By lacking a soul and focusing only on quick money, they lost perspective and common-sense, despite being led by very smart people.

The way people react to money leads me to the Power of Money which really is about the role of money in life. In business and economics courses, we study the function of money and refer to it as a ‘means of exchange’ as if it as something that is emotionally neutral. The reality is that money is a great emotional force. Along with other great emotional forces such as sex, religion, power and children, it is something that has a major effect on people’s feelings and behaviour. It generates sufficiently strong passions of envy, greed, fear and hatred that will even cause some to kill.

The research we did for my latest book, How Much is Enough?’, co-authored with Andrew Ford, led to the conclusion that it requires considerable skill to use money wisely and that by and large these skills are different to the ones used to build careers and accumulate wealth. Understanding the psychology of money as well its financial functions will be of great benefit to each of you, complementing the technical skills that you have learned.

The opportunity that comes from wealth creation is the rare privilege of being able to use money to create enduring emotional and financial wellbeing for both your family and others. Yet too often we hear of these opportunities being squandered. The statistics suggest that within 3 generations both the opportunity for financial and emotional wellbeing is squandered in 90% of families. This is reflected in the popular parlance of all countries: ‘from shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves’ or from paddy fields to paddy fields in 3 generations’ are some examples.

One of the encouraging things is that there has been much recent research which draws on various disciplines, including evolutionary biology, neuro-science, positive psychology and behavioural finance, which provides deeper insights into how we make decisions. In ‘How Much is Enough?’ we draw on this research to help people make financial decisions which are more likely to improve enduring wellbeing. And in Walsh Bay Partners we translate this into practical strategies for our families and those of our clients.

This brings me to the final power, the Power of Privilege. Privilege exists when you have access to things that others don’t. Some people are born with it, but the beauty of this country is that it is possible to earn privilege. Graduating from the College of Business and Economics at the ANU means that you have already earned a certain amount of privilege – you have access to opportunities that others do not. As you develop your career, your privilege will grow, as a result of greater influence and wealth.

Privilege is often regarded with suspicion. But privilege can be a great thing, if you use it well. Perhaps the greatest thing you can do with privilege is to get involved in engaged philanthropy. This is not just giving away money, useful though that it is. It is about combining your time, treasure and talent to help those less fortunate.

Having grown up with no money, philanthropy was not something that I was naturally drawn to. But I was persuaded to try and help in areas in which I had an interest. What I found was that by drawing on my education and experience in these areas, I was able to work with teams to help deal with the root causes of problems. It allowed me to make a contribution to changing the system in areas that I had some understanding of. It is a power that you will increasingly have.

I now realise that the most powerful moments of my life actually came from my philanthropic work, rather than what I did for myself. In turn this has been invaluable in helping me to use money more wisely and by involving my children in this from a young age, it has had major benefits for them.

I hope this is something you discover for yourselves. A good way of starting, is to stay connected with the University and to support it in whatever ways that you can. This is an extraordinary institution filled with men and women dedicated to using their considerable talents to advance the cause of knowledge and to making the world a better place. I hope that like me, you may take some of their inspiration and sense of humanity with you.

But enough about my journey. Today is your day, a day for celebration. Congratulations again to the graduates and your parents. I hope my thoughts are of some value as you use your degrees to build lives that are enriching for you, for the community and for the world as a whole.  There are many more dots to be joined, possibilities to be grasped and the world desperately needs people who want to make a positive difference. Combined with the wisdom to use money and privilege well, the opportunity for each of you to thrive has never been greater.

Thank you and my very best wishes for the future.

 Posted by at 6:19 PM
Feb 262019
 

‘Counting and Cracking’ is a great play, which has finished a sold out season at the 2019 Sydney Festival and is being performed at the Adelaide Festival. Grab tickets before they sell out. You will not regret seeing it.

‘Counting and Cracking’ from the Belvoir Theatre, reflects playwright Shakthidharan Sivanathan’s journey to discover his Sri Lankan roots and the background to the murderous riots against the Tamils in 1983, which caused his family to migrate to Australia, when he was only 3 years old.  In so doing, the play highlights the consequences of the politics of division. It is a particularly timely reminder in an era which has seen leaders such as Donald Trump, and various others in Europe, Asia and South America come to power precisely on this theme.

The universality of the central themes make it a play which everyone should be able to relate to. But it is more than a political drama. Bringing the story to life through personal stories and experience, gives the play depth in terms of humanity, creating emotional engagement and empathy. Remarkably, while the play deals with dark issues, it is interspersed with humour and the engagement with the audience is easy and just flows to a perfect rhythm.

The play explores the dreadful consequences of division through the eyes and experiences of a Sri Lankan Tamil family. While the opening scenes are based in Australia, through a series of flashbacks, the evolution of the extended family’s story in Sri Lanka is brought to life. In so doing, the play takes on the character of a Shakespearean epic, with betrayal, the cynical pursuit of power, revenge, love, loyalty, hope and compassion being some of the main themes weaved into the story.

While it is easy to condemn the role of various Sinhalese leaders, people and the army for their systematic  discrimination against the Tamils and sometimes use of brutal force, the play draws out the nuances of a complex situation. We get an insight into why the majority Sinhalese, non-English literate, rural poor were drawn to the cynical, demagogic rhetoric of a politician, Mr Bandaranaike, who came from a wealthy, Oxford English educated elite. The parallels with Trump’s America are striking where a billionaire businessman has somehow been able to give voice to a significant, long ignored, under-class.

The politics of division unleash powerful forces which are hard to control. Following the first major Sinhalese-Tamil riots in May 1958 which occurred within two years of him coming to power, Mr Bandaranaike tried to moderate his policies. But the Opposition had now adopted his policies and prevented his attempt to reach a pact with Tamil leaders. Soon after he was shot dead by a Buddhist monk who felt that he was betraying the Sinhalese.

The play gives us an understanding of why 13 years later, the educated Sinhalese youth, frustrated by the failure of the rhetoric of Sinhalese leaders to meet their expectations, launched a Marxist inspired revolt to try and topple Mr Bandaranaike’s wife, who was now the Prime Minister. Around 5,000 of these revolutionary youth were killed by the army, many of whose parents voted to put Mr Bandaranaike into power in the first place.

At the same time, the policies of division created the foundations for the resentment of Tamil youth, culminating in the rise of the Tamil Tigers. Over two decades later Mr Bandaranaike’s elder daughter Chandrika, who had become President, narrowly escaped death and permanently lost the sight of her right eye when a member of the Tiger’s suicide brigade targeted her.

Ironically Chandrika’s husband Vijaya, who was also a politician, had been assassinated some years earlier by the latest uprising of the Sinhalese leftis youth. Politicians from both sides of the fence ended up being assassinated and over hundred thousand people were killed as a result of the politics of division.

Image result for photos of the bandaranaike family
Mrs Bandaranaike, praying at the coffin of her slain husband, had two terms as Prime Minister. The latter term saw the suppression of an attempted Marxist revolution by frustrated Sinhalese youth, who later, also assassinated her son-in-law, while her daughter Chandrika narrowly survived an attack by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber.

We understand, though do not sympathise, with the Sinhalese policeman, whose torture of a Tiger suspect, acts as an outlet for his hatred against the group who killed his son. We see that that perpetrators of violence and injustice can also be victims. There are no winners in this story and the losers are massive, encompassing in essence the entire population of Sri Lanka.  And interspersed with the political story, is the personal story of the family. Our hearts reach out to them as we share their story of devastation, but yet there are elements of love, resilience and ultimately of hope. We walk away contemplating the complexity of the human condition and a deep and nuanced understanding of post-colonial Sri Lankan history.

In the history of the world, there are a small number of leaders who were able to come to power using moral suasion to unify people. Their impact and rarity causes people people like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela to be revered and cherished. More often than not, weak and corrupt leaders seek power by promoting the politics of division.

Student of history may recall the story of Germany where a group of intellectuals backed Hitler, recognising that his insane, simplistic, siren calls appealed to working class Germans who had been devastated by the era of the Weimar Republic. The Jews in this case were the victims of being blamed for all of Germany’s woes. Those same German voters who opted to support this divisive rhetoric, became the cannon fodder of the Second World War with over 7 million dying and their country being destroyed, though not before a dreadful cost was inflicted on the Jewish community through Europe.

At a deeper level, the War including the Asian theatre, reflected the outcome of the long term rise of nationalism and conquest of foreign countries by European powers over a number of centuries, competing to build the biggest empire. Over 70 million people, or 3% of the world’s population were killed and the consequences of the era of European empires built using the double edged weapon of divide and conquer, are still being acutely felt around the world.

We wonder with apprehension what disasters the current generation of demagogic leaders who have come to power in many countries, preaching the same politics of division, railing against minorities in their country, be they Mexicans, blacks, whites, Christians, Sunni, Shia, atheists or refugees, will end up bestowing both on their followers and the rest of the world. How we wonder, do our leaders in Australia rate as dividers or unifiers?

The political story brought to life so brilliantly by Counting and Cracking is not a new one. But hopefully the play will be seen around the world. And people will learn, before it is too late, from the tragic tale of modern Sri Lanka.

https://www.timeout.com/sydney/theatre/counting-and-cracking-review

Oct 202017
 

Don Abey 1 May 1929 – 19 September 2017

My last conversation with my father was when he rang on a Sunday afternoon recently, complaining of the symptoms of a stomach upset and the fact that his hiatus hernia was giving him trouble. The discomfort persisted and his GP insisted that he attend Canberra hospital as a precaution. Reluctantly, my father went to the hospital, was told his vital signs were fine, but was kept overnight for observation.

At around 7.00 the next morning I received a call from the hospital saying that after a violent episode of vomiting, my father had aspirated some of it into his lungs. The stress of struggling to breathe had triggered a cardiac arrest. They were in the process of applying CPR to see if they could bring him back from the dead. Thirty minutes later the hospital advised that they had managed to recover a weak heart beat but that he was on extensive life support systems, to try and provide his vital organs with a chance to recover from the 5-10 minutes of no blood flow.

The prognosis was not optimistic. I flew to Canberra immediately with my sons and we were confronted with the distressing sight of my father in a coma, being linked to a large array of medications and equipment keeping him alive. He never recovered consciousness and a few days later the doctors advised that the medications were now causing more harm than good. My father died within a few minutes of being disconnected from life support.

His passing was the exact opposite to my mother’s, who declined slowly and somewhat painfully over the course of 6 months as a result of ovarian cancer. It’s hard to know which way of exiting life is worse. The death of a parent is particularly confronting, even more so when it is sudden. It causes one to think deeply about many aspects of life and meaning. Here are some of my thoughts, drawn from my reflections at my father’s funeral and followed by my sons’ reflections as well.

When my father was born, on 1 May 1929, the astrologers predicted that he would be a celebrity by the time he could crawl, but would lose this status by his first birthday. He was a bonny baby and his parents entered him into the Lactogen baby of the year competition, which he won. When he was taken out in his pram, members of the public would often recognise him from the newspaper photos and he would soon be surrounded by admirers. But by the time he was one, he had lost his bonniness and with it his celebrity status.

Celebrity or otherwise, I want to share with you why I am grateful that he was my father and the lasting difference he made in my life. There are some important lessons for me as a parent.

But to start with a brief outline of his life. My father was the first child in a family of ten, which ended up settling in the Sri Lankan hill town of Nawalapitiya. His parents were Sinhalese Buddhists, with his enterprising father studying pharmacy and establishing himself as a prominent businessman in the town. A key turning point in his life occurred when he visited his grandfather and discovered a selection of English literature, including Shakesperean plays. He was entranced and brought the selection home where he devoured it.

So began a life of reading, learning, writing and a desire to share knowledge. At the age of 22, rather than pursuing further studies or joining the family business, he joined the Times of Ceylon, the oldest English language newspaper in Asia, as a cadet reporter. His parents were appalled that he had joined such a financially unrewarding profession, lacking in prestige.

But he had discovered the vocation he loved – it was far more than a job. While developing into an investigative reporter, keen on uncovering corruption, he had the good fortune to meet my mother, who was also working on The Times. She came from an educated Tamil, Hindu family and with the parents on both sides disapproving of their courtship, it led my mother and father to elope.

A few years later I turned up, which helped to reunite my parents and grandparents. In the 1960s my father became increasingly concerned about the prospects for a free press surviving in Sri Lanka and successfully applied for a job promoting Ceylon Tea as Assistant Tea Commissioner for Australia and New Zealand, based in Sydney. So in 1962 we began the first of three assignments in Australia. Each contract lasted for about 3-4 years, followed by a year or so of home leave in Sri Lanka, after which we returned to Australia.

In 1974 my father eventually quit promoting Ceylon tea, after that industry was nationalised and returned to journalism via the Department of Education in Canberra, for whom he worked as an editor of various publications. He continued reading, learning, sharing knowledge and writing until the last days before his untimely death. His final home effectively was the National Library where, with the support of the wonderful staff there, he spent a lot of time reading and researching various matters, including material for his memoirs.

We will by the way take on the task of doing a final edit of his memoirs and getting them published in the coming year. Also waiting to be published is a photo-history book of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, which my father began with the famous Australian photographer Mark Strizic.

So much for the facts of my father’s life. But what about the meaning behind them? Everyone close to my father knew him as a multi-faceted character, who could be wonderful as well as difficult. He was not a saint. But there were a number of powerful positive influences that he had on me, which I regard as gifts.

First was his unconditional love for me. There was never a day in my life when I felt that my father would not support my decisions, regardless of whether he agreed with them or not. And that gave me the gift of confidence.

Second was his love of learning, which was infectious. It’s not just that my father loved reading widely – he also loved sharing his discoveries and as friends know, he would send each person e-mails whenever he discovered topics of interest to them. He was committed to my education and while for the most part a private school was out of the question, he discovered the cheapest apartment in Sydney’s North Shore to ensure that I could attend the best public schools in the state. All of this gave me the gift of knowledge.

Third was the fact that my father, and mother, were driven by a deep sense of commitment and passion for things which went beyond themselves. They loved the arts, especially dance and my mother trained in Sri Lanka with the premier dance company, the Chitrasena and Vajira Dance Co. Just before they left for Australia, they were blown away by the latest production of the Company and said: “We must bring them to Australia so that Australians can enjoy this”.

Such an idea was of course ridiculous. It highlighted the naïve idealism of my parents. The Australia we came to in 1962 was about meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars. The Australian Ballet Company had not yet been formed. Under the rules at the time we would not have been allowed into the country as migrants. There were hardly any Asians in Sydney, let alone Sri Lankans.

My mother would wear a sari and I remember wherever we went, we were the centre of attention. I understood what it was like to be ET well before the movie was ever made. So how could a young Sri Lankan couple, with no money and no connections bring out a Sri Lankan dance company to this very different, distant land? And even if the prohibitive costs of travel were overcome, who would come to see this foreign company perform?

My parents’ passion for the cause was such that they did not seem to see these obstacles and in the coming year I witnessed a miracle. First they invited members of the press to our tiny flat, which had enough space to entertain one couple at a time. My mother used her great cooking to seduce these couples and then would demonstrate Sri Lankan dancing to a commentary by my father and some drum accompaniment from me. They also invited the trustees of the Elizabethan Theatre Trust, while my father used his contacts in Western Australia to get in touch with the Perth Festival. By 1963, the same year in which the Australian Ballet was launched, they persuaded the Perth Festival and the Elizabethan Theatre Trust to sponsor the Chitrasena and Vajira Dance Co to tour Perth, Melbourne and Sydney. The sponsors were terrified that audiences would be low, but my father worked night and day to ensure the Company got tremendous publicity and performed to full houses.

All of this inspired in me the gift of the power of possibility: the ability of passion and determination, especially when pursuing a greater cause, to overcome apparently impossible odds.

I saw my parents from the outset enthusiastically embrace Australians and the country to which they were temporarily posted, while retaining their heritage and sense of identity. And I saw Australians, moved by their authenticity and warmth, embrace our family in return.

The last major gift was the gift of freedom. My father never tried to impose his views or wishes on me. I was given the freedom to paint my own canvas. And with the gifts of confidence, knowledge and a sense of the power of possibility, I had the tools at my disposal to make the most of my freedom.

I cannot think of a more precious set of gifts that a parent can bequeath to a child.

The death of a parent is incredibly confronting for all sorts of reasons, not the least the reminder of one’s own mortality, as well as leaving an irreplaceable role in one’s life. As we gather here to see my father lying in a box, on a slab of marble, with his body about to be cremated, we are harshly reminded that while the journey that each of us has in life is different, the destination is the same. It reminds us to make the most of the journey, be it long and short.

When I reflect on how it was that my father for virtually all of his 88 years had extraordinary energy and drive, it strikes me that a key reason was that he was always driven by a greater purpose. He was not a commercial person. He outsourced making money to me. The first part of his career was trying to keep public officials honest. Then he was involved in promoting the best of Sri Lankan culture and tea, the benefits of which he passionately believed in. The final stage of his life, which continued into his retirement, was sharing knowledge, the desire to inform and educate.

It is a profound reminder of the work of psychologist Martin Seligman, who says that enduring wellbeing comes from living a life of meaning and purpose, where one is motivated by greater causes, aimed at benefiting others. So perhaps the best way of commemorating my father’s life is not through flowers or even charitable donations. But as we walk out of here, it is to perform acts of kindness, aiming as my father did, to somehow make the world a better place.

My father in fact lives on through all of you: his good friends and family, with whom he shared his ideas and knowledge and so influenced each of you in various positive ways.  And in turn your friendship and love for him enriched his life and I would like to thank all of you profoundly for your support of him. Just a few years ago, with the help of a team here, he helped to bring out his beloved Chitrasena and Vajira Dance Co for their third visit to Australia, for the Sydney Festival and a special performance in Canberra, with the help of a dedicated team here. An achievement that would have given him great satisfaction

During the past 22 years, since the birth of my elder son, I should mention one more gift. And that is my father’s love for his grandchildren. He was the only grandparent that they had a chance to spend much time with, he was constantly in touch with them and they were always in his thoughts. He adored them as only a grandparent can and was demonstrative in his affection for them. It is something for which I am very grateful.

So to conclude, I am going to ask Ajantha and Ashan to share their reflections.

Ajantha, Arun, Don and Ashan

Ajantha Abey

Friends, family, well-wishers, lend me your ears….

It seemed appropriate to begin today with a reference to the old bard whom Granddad so loved, and I am sure that Granddad would have labelled us all as crooks, had we neglected to send him off without some Shakespeare. Rest assured, Granddad, there shall be more.

As I reflected on Granddad while thinking about what to say, it made perfect sense that a journalist, that someone passionate about words, and writing, and language…about reading, and knowledge, and literature, would be passionate about Shakespeare.

Granddad’s love for writing, for history, and for literature, indeed, is something we are surely all familiar with, and in my reflections, this was something that formed the basis of a great deal of my own relationship with him. With me taking after his own love of academia, Granddad was always incredibly enthusiastic about everything I was doing at school and at university, and he was there for me at every stage.

When I wrote my first ever essay, he was there to help me edit it. Whenever I said we were studying a Shakespeare play, he would immediately burst into an impassioned recitation of its major passages. If I said that I was studying something in history, he would immediately go to his beloved National Library, to supply me with more materials. When I was doing my HSC, he would send me all kinds of books that he found to try and help.

We had many long conversations about history, about literature, about science, and as I imagine many of you have experienced, should he come across anything related to my interest areas, the inbox of my email, would at once be flooded.

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.

So Granddad played this part in my life.

And yet. Upon further reflection, academia, knowledge, writing…these weren’t Granddad’s true passions.

Grandad’s passion wasn’t just for language. Language was his tool to express his passion for people. I came to realise, that his enthusiasm for writing, for journalism, for reading, was really an expression of his enthusiasm for the world around him, and the people in it, whom he found fascinating, and loved dearly. His unconditional love, and devotion for us underpinned the whole of my relationship with him, and he would take an interest in anything I did, academic, or otherwise.

Yes, his knowledgeability about history and Shakespeare seems in keeping with his character, but I’ll also bet that not many 88 year olds in the world could tell you much about Harry Potter or the amateur sport of quidditch, two of my own great passions. This 88-year-old, however, never failed to ask how my games went, and in 4 years of me playing the sport now, Granddad remains one of the few of my friends and family to have come and watched me play … and to cheer embarrassingly from the sidelines and call the other team crooks.

In his writing, and in his love for us all, what was truly remarkable was his passion for life, and in his death, that is how I think we should remember him.

Out out brief candle. Life’s but a walking shadow. Thank you Grandad, for nevertheless shining so brightly for us all.

Ashan Abey

Granddad was very special to me, as he was my last remaining grandparent, and the only one I really knew properly. I had almost 20 full years with you, and for that I am grateful. There are many memories of us together from all over the world which I will remember and cherish forever.

My earliest memories are of us visiting you at your home in Chisholm, playing badminton in the backyard and playing music for you on whichever instrument we were learning at the time, for me, violin, flute, and piano.

I still remember some of our earliest trips to the farm, and quite vividly, I remember that cheeky grin you had as you came back from the chicken pen, clearly having forgotten to close the gate, and leading to hours of chasing chickens around the yards.

I remember one time returning from the farm, sitting in the back seat with you having finished our ice creams, you tapped me on the shoulder and then proceeded to prod your ice cream stick into Ajantha’s ear, and when he turned around, pretended to be asleep.

And then there were our trips to Bali, where visiting the markets there, you would tell everyone you could, including the store owners, that their products were cheap rubbish, and would often go into random stores and start selling their products for them, often for free, much to the displeasure of the owners. You were never afraid to say the most crazy things to random people on the streets, calling everyone crooks and Jintan, whatever that may have meant.

Finally, there is my last memory of you: moving you to your new home. We knew how hard it would be for you to move from a place you had lived in for so long. But every day I have spent here over the past week, I have met another one of your neighbours who talk of how great it was to have you in the building, how funny you were and how kind. It has been a relief for me, knowing at least in your final months, you had as much life in you as ever.

Grandad, I will miss you, and hope you still have all that life in you, wherever you are.

 Posted by at 10:21 PM
Feb 242017
 

Image result for photos of fidel castro

It takes less than 60 minutes to fly from Miami to go back to a world of 60 years ago in Havana, Cuba. It is a world that is truly unique, dominated by 60 years of revolutionary ideology.

Miami is a city which displays the full spectrum of American life. It celebrates the country’s diversity, great strengths, culture, dynamism, violence, drug culture and rampant materialism. How, I mused, would Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin have reacted to the contrast between Miami and the last state to have stuck to its embrace of the Marxist-Lenninist economic model for so long? Would they think their theories a success or a failure?

Cuba has had an unfortunate history. Twenty years after the arrival of Colombus in 1492, the Spanish colonised the country. Even by the standards of the Spanish, the colonisation was a brutal affair, effectively wiping out the indigenous Indian population and instituting a savage system of slavery which was only abolished in 1886. In 1762 the British briefly kicked out the Spanish, but shortly after this swapped Cuba for Spanish controlled Florida.

In 1868 a number of Cubans of Spanish descent began a long and extremely bloody campaign for independence. The death toll and destruction over several decades was substantial and it culminated in 1902, when American intervention saw Cuba nominally gain independence. Nominal because the Americans did not involve the Cubans in the 1898 Peace Treaty in Paris which led up to Independence. And they conveniently inserted into the Cuban constitution clauses giving them the right to intervene in Cuba whenever they saw fit and a lease to establish a naval base in Guantanamo Bay.

At the time of independence Cuba essentially had a two tier economy – a small, landed gentry, mostly of Spanish origin, whose wealth was largely founded on sugar, tobacco and coffee and on display in magnificent homes in Havana and elsewhere, and a much exploited peasant class.

In 1952 Batista, formerly a military officer who during his first four year stint as elected president in 1940, instituted some reasonable reforms, staged a comeback via a military  coup. He suspended the Constitution and revoked most political liberties. He received recognition and support from the USA, aligned with the wealthiest landowners, which increasingly became dominated by US interests and cut a deal with the American Mafia who controlled the drug, gambling and prostitution business.  Growing dissent and riots against the gross inequality that was being created by this corrupt system, were met with increasing repression and ultimately the execution of thousands of people.

In turn this created a ripe environment for a young radical, Fidel Castro, supported by his younger brother Raul and the famous Che Guevara to foment a revolution. The revolution began unpromisingly, low in numbers and suffering many devastating defeats. Through a combination of luck, determination, charisma, better mobilisation of the increasingly restive rural population  and improving military tactics, Castro ultimately prevailed in 1959.

Che Guevara (left) and Castro, photographed by Alberto Korda in 1961

Once in power,  advocates of Marxist-Leninism were appointed to senior government and military positions. Most notably, Che Guevara became Governor of the Central Bank and then Minister of Industries as well as being responsible for the trials and firing squads which dealt with alleged war criminals. This was a set of powers which no other central banker has ever had, but every one of them may wish for.  Businesses, private property and land were nationalised and given to peasants to use.  Within two years the economy was facing the first of many crises, with productivity slumping.

However, this did not stop the move towards full fledged communism, which was spurred in part by US attempts to undermine the Castro regime. In particular, US President Eisenhower secretly authorised the CIA  to ally with the Mafia and disgruntled Cuban exiles to overthrow Castro’s government.  Supported by his successor President Kennedy, the attempted invasion of this motley coalition via the Bay of Pigs in 1961, was a fiasco, with Castro leading the army to rout the invaders.

With the onset of the Cold War, Cuba ended up firmly in the Soviet orbit and became a one party state, heavily dependent on its relationship with the USSR. Castro became the first foreigner to be awarded the Order of Lenin. In the fashion of Mao and Lenin, Castro sought to increase revolutionary zeal domestically, while cracking down harshly on dissent. And he did his best to promote revolution in various other parts of the world, most notably in South America and Africa, where Cuban soldiers were used in many civil wars. He backed Che Guevera who returned to being a revolutionary, travelling through South America and Africa, before being killed by CIA trained troops in Bolivia in 1967. Will there ever again be a central banker with such a colourful resume?

Influenced by China’s Great Leap Forward, in 1968 Castro proclaimed his own Great Revolutionary Offensive, closing all remaining privately owned shops and businesses and denouncing their owners as capitalist counter-revolutionaries. All of these measures caused the economy to go into a further slump and then stagnate with a massive loss of financial reserves. Soviet help was critical in preventing a disaster.

On a positive front, Castro was able to use Soviet aid to implement important social projects.  Major emphasis was placed on education, and under the first 30 months of Castro’s government, more classrooms were opened than in the previous 30 years.  Health care was nationalized and expanded, with rural health centers and urban polyclinics opening up across the island, offering free medical aid.  A third aspect of the social programs was the construction of infrastructure; including substantial road, water and sanitation programs. Fourthly, all Cubans were, and continue to be,  supplied with a basic amount of food free of charge.

But the Cuban economy was critically dependent on the USSR for trade, technology, armaments and foreign investment. By the mid 1980s, over 80% of its trade was with the USSR, which paid 11 times the market price for Cuban sugar.  This system started to come under pressure though with Mikhail Gorbachev’s political and economic reforms beginning in the 1980s and completely disappeared in 1991 when Boris Yeltsin abolished the Communist Party, introduced a capitalist multiparty democracy and officially dismantled the USSR.  This led Castro to declare a ‘Special Period’ – code for extreme economic austerity, including dramatically reducing petrol rations, importing Chinese bicycles to replace cars, shutting down factories not producing essential goods, using oxen to replace tractors, firewood for cooking and electricity cuts that could last for 16 hours a day.  By 1992, the Cuban economy had declined by over 40% in under two years, with major food shortages, widespread malnutrition and a lack of basic goods.

This forced Castro to moderate his policies somewhat.  He ceased support for foreign militants, legalised free farmers’ markets and small-scale private enterprises, eased certain restrictions on emigration, allowing more discontented Cuban citizens to move to the United States.

The Special Period came to an end with the election of the left wing Hugo Chavez to the Venezuelan Presidency in 1999.  This led to an agreement whereby Cuba would send over 200,000 workers, including teachers and some tens of thousands of  medics to Venezuela, in return for receiving subsidised oil.  Cuba also provided military intelligence and other support to help prop up the Chavez regime.  The alliance helped to boost the Cuban economy, albeit at the expense of the teachers and medics – the latter were paid about $US20 a month and began in increasing numbers to flee to the US via Columbia.  The decline of oil prices and death of Chavez have undermined the economic value of this alliance during the past decade.

On July 31, 2006, Castro delegated all his duties to his brother Raul due to acute ill-health. While the transfer was described as a temporary measure, Fidel’s health precluded him from returning to visible power. In November 2016 the death of Fidel, the last true revolutionary Marxist leader was announced, leading Cubans to a period of considerable uncertainty and change.
So what of Fidel Castro’s legacy and whereto Cuba from here? It is worth reflecting that both Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew and Castro came to power in 1959, both running small island countries, albeit Cuba was much wealthier, thanks to having more natural resources.  They both died within a year of each other, but as Forbes magazine recently pointed out, the contrast in outcomes for their respective countries is stark. Lee spearheaded a  remarkable transformation. He took  a country that had no natural resources, not even enough drinking water, and a very poorly educated population and made it one of the world’s most dynamic and wealthy nations. And while Lee Kuan Yew was relatively autocratic, the average Singaporean compared to the average Cuban, enjoys more freedom of expression, better: health care, education, life choices and  potential to thrive, than the average Cuban.
Cuba in 1950, Singapore in 1950, Cuba today, Singapore today
                               Source: Forbes magazine
Lee Kuan Yew began with a reputation for being a left leaning, anti-imperialist firebrand. But in power he was open to learning, developed a coherent development philosophy and was pragmatic in the face of the realities of economics, rather than being stuck in an ideology that was clearly failing. As a result today Singapore’s GDP per capita is almost six times greater than Cuba’s per capita GDP of a little under $10,000.  Reflecting different incentives to work, about two thirds of Singapore’s population is in the workforce, compared to less than 45% for Cuba. At all levels of society, Singapore provides its citizens with a better standard of living and more opportunities to thrive.
It is a moot point what Marx and Lenin would have concluded had they visited Singapore as well as Cuba. The danger is that as demagogues and ideologues, they would have stuck with their failed ideas, as Castro did for far too long.
As a result, today Havana, once a grand city, is literally crumbling. Kicking out wealthy families from grand houses and providing tenancy, for no or low rent, provided a temporary palliative in 1959.  But with no ownership rights, maintenance has been non existent.  Having walked at least 10kms a day through street after street in Havana for a week, the number of buildings that are collapsing around the ears of their occupants is astonishing. The opening of tourism as well as the UN targeting various world heritage buildings, has provided some new and restored buildings. Allowing tenants to have some ownership rights and the ability to sell their properties is helping, but the rules are still opaque and there is simply not enough certainty to encourage significant investment .

The typical scene of a once grand home, handed over to multiple poor families to occupy – maintenance has been non-existent ever since

The streets are filthy with the smell of sewage prevalent in many areas, reflecting broken pipes. Even though car ownership is minimal as are traffic jams, the fleet is so old that it spews out pollution which is odorous, visible and can sting the eyes.  Shops are few and far between and do not have much to offer.  The promotion of tourism has seen the growth of bars and small restaurants. While providing a useful source of employment, tourism has also driven up the prices of scarce food for locals.
For all of these problems, it is a sad reflection that Fidel Castro has probably been Cuba’s best leader since the first Spanish invasion over 500 years ago. While he followed the Cuban tradition of repressive political and disastrous economic policies, he did at least achieve something that no previous leader achieved – educating the population, providing a basic level of universal health care and instituting a social security system that provided for basic needs. It is noteworthy that Cuba’s life expectancy and child mortality rates are comparable to the USA. Not a huge amount of wealth is required to provide humans with the basic foundations for a good life. And if wealth is accompanied by ‘affluenza’ the disease of excessive materialism, it does not produce any meaningful increase in enduring wellbeing.
The peasants and disadvantaged in Cuba, at a basic level may be better off, or at least comparable to their counterparts in the USA and their support for the Castro regime has generally been solid, notwithstanding periods of hardship. Opposition has mainly come from the middle class and professionals, who have far less opportunities than their American counterparts. Their ability to emigrate to the USA, illegally, or in more recent times legally, has provided a valuable pressure release valve.
While most of Castro’s international forays were failures, he was a staunch opponent of racial discrimination generally and apartheid in particular. He was celebrated by Nelson Mandela for sending Cuban troops to Angola in the 1980s, forcing the withdrawal of invading South African troops and contributing to the collapse of the apartheid regime.
And today the country is independent, no longer a pawn of the Spanish, the Americans, the Russians or anyone else. There is a platform for further economic, political and social reform, which could see the country emerge from the shackles of communism and to develop its full potential.  So Cuba is at a critical turning point in its history. Raul Castro has continued and cautiously accelerated some of the reforms that Fidel began, most notably in agriculture and tourism. And improving relationships with the USA was a key step, albeit Cuba still suffers from American sanctions.
While an important step forward, the reforms to date have not occurred in the context of a framework that is clear in its vision, philosophy, direction or goals. The whole process of decision making and what is allowable is opaque.
While further economic reform is important and necessary, thoughtful evolution now is what is required rather than revolution.  Cuba’s next generation of leadership has a chance to develop a coherent philosophy, based on a pragmatic assessment of what works and what does not. They have the chance to draw broadly from the evidence of a variety of systems and the latest research on what is important to create enduring wellbeing for humans.  In this regard as they further reform the economy, they could usefully learn from Bhutan. In its evolution from an absolute monarchy, to a modern political and economic system, the Bhutanese government has sought to assess policies in terms of the impact not just on GDP, but also on Gross National Happiness (see my piece Bhutan: the happy magical kingdom).  In short the optimistic scenario for Cuba from here would be the emergence of enlightened leadership with the courage to shake off its past adherence to the policies of demagogues. And which is able to craft a set of policies, suited to Cuba, drawing from the best in the world.
Whether this, or a darker period awaits Cuba at the elections next year, when Raul Castro will step down, remains to be seen. But the country is a fascinating one for real travellers, looking to experience a country which offers something very different to standard tourist fare. It also provides a useful reminder of the long term consequences of simplistic economic policies, which are being peddled in various guises by the rise of populist leaders around the world.
Our most memorable experience in Havana was being taught how to dance salsa. There were many aspects of this experience that are a metaphor for Cuba.  Our teacher was a graduate in mechanical engineering, who had never worked as an engineer because the salary was only around $20 per month. After working as an air conditioning mechanic, he moved to teaching tourists salsa, something that he does very well. His female assistant, a young, very intelligent, mixed race black woman, had started to study medicine. But the prospect again of a low salary (also about $20 per month) had caused her to switch to studying dentistry as a conduit to becoming an orthodontist, which provided the prospect of doubling her salary.  But with the rise in tourism, she was also studying Italian and English and using her talents as a dancer to make more money part time than she is likely to do if she ever takes up dentistry.
 A country where salsa teachers earn more than professionals has a major economic problem. But economics aside, I have never seen so much joy and energy than watching Cubans from all walks and persuasions salsa in squares, accompanied by blaring ghetto blasters or in cheap night clubs. My mother loved dancing in all its forms and was a gold medal ballroom dancer – a talent that, notwithstanding enthusiastic efforts on my part, I did not inherit. But even she would have been left behind by what we saw on the streets in Cuba. It was a valuable reminder that what can make people happy, at a deep and visceral level, does not require much. We were certainly much happier for the experience.
It made me reflect more deeply on all the research I have read on happiness. There is no doubt that the opportunity to thrive in America, or Singapore is far greater than in Cuba.  But while per capita GDP in the former countries is at least 6 times greater than Cuba’s, the gap in relative happiness levels is almost certainly far smaller. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that every Cuban at least enjoys a very basic level of financial security and reasonable health care, unlike every American. Extended family and community relationships, another important driver of wellbeing, are also probably stronger in Cuba. And in America and Singapore, (as with most other wealthy countries), the complex soft skills on how to best utilise wealth to create enduring wellbeing are still being developed. As we have explained in How Much is Enough? used poorly, wealth can be as much a disabler of wellbeing, as it can be an enabler when used well. Affluenza, drug abuse and other diseases associated with wealth are far greater problems in the USA, than they are in Cuba
If you enjoy what you do and can make even a modest living from it, that is a key pillar of wellbeing. Our dance classes occurred under an asbestos sheet, sheltering us from the hot sun on the roof of an old, crumbling apartment block. Our teachers, despite their qualifications, were very uncertain about what the immediate future in Cuba held. They could not even afford to buy a bottle of water at the cost of $1, but instead boiled their own and took it around in a flask. But apart from income, they both loved dancing. It engaged them, gave them a sense of flow as well as meaning and purpose as they helped their students discover joy in dance. Watch this short video of them doing an impromptu dance together. And try not to smile: Cuban salsa
 Posted by at 1:49 AM
May 212015
 

How well would Ed Sheeran go if he was playing in a city like Omaha, Nebraska, with a population of under 1 million people? My son told me that Ed’s concert at the Sydney Footbal Stadium was sold out in 30 minutes. But Sydney is an international city, with a population 4 times the size of Omaha in America’s midwest.

When you think about it, the fact that an 86 year old Warren Buffett and a 91 year old Charlie Munger are able to attract over 40,000 people to Omaha to spend six hours listening to Q&A on mainly investment issues is truly remarkable. It is even more remarkable when you consider the fact that the majority of the audience flies in from all around America and the rest of the world, has to book accommodation about a year in advance and that any room under $500 is a bargain.

The huge crowd packed into a sports stadium listening to 6 hours of Q&A with Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett  and no Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran eat your heart out: the huge crowd listening to 6 hours of Q&A with Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett

Well, this year we joined the throng to attend the 50th anniversary of the Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders’ Meeting. Thanks to our good friend Scott Pape, the Barefoot Investor, who has been attending for a number of years, accommodation and other logistics were arranged to actually allow it to happen. Scott does a great job in educating his followers, applying Buffett’s principles and it’s worth looking up what he does as well as reading a copy of the latest edition of The Barefoot Investor.

As those of you who have read How Much is Enough? know, I am a Buffett fan and have read most of the books on him as well as his shareholders’ letters. So I was going for the experience, rather than in the expectation of learning anything new. While I did not pick up much in the way of new facts, the experience was great and I walked away with a number of learnings from it.

To have the full experience, we joined a crowd of shareholders the night before the meeting queuing to eat at one of Buffett’s favourite restaurants – Piccolos. The place was packed and buzzing, but sadly the food took me back to Australian food in the early 1960s. It’s one thing to be a fan, but important not to become a cult member, following everything Buffett does, particularly when it comes to diet.

Scott Pape and me joining the throng outside one of Buffett's favourite restaurants - and learning to stick with his investment tips instead

Scott Pape and me joining the throng outside one of Buffett’s favourite restaurants – and learning to stick with his investment tips instead

The venue for the meeting was in a huge enclosed stadium housing 40,000 people –the queues to get the best seats began the previous evening and if you weren’t there within an hour of the doors opening at 7am, you had to watch proceedings on a screen in one of many overflow areas. Even these were completely full.

A huge exhibition space in the stadium was filled with stalls of some the companies owned by Berkshire Hathaway selling their wares. It presented a dramatic visual image of the very diverse array of businesses involved, including: prefabricated housing, confectionary, Coca Cola, lingerie, furniture and railroads to name a few and the very substantial insurance business.

It has become a tradition for the shareholders’ meeting to begin at 8.30am with around a 30 minute video, which in many ways is a metaphor for the meeting itself. It is eclectic and has the look and feel of a home video, despite being professionally produced and featuring a variety of Hollywood and other celebrities. Scenes range from the very serious testimony Buffett was called upon to give to the US Congress some decades ago in the wake of the Salomon Bros scandal (which led to Buffett for some time becoming Chairman of the firm ) to a spoof where Buffett challenged Floyd Mayweather to a boxing fight. Fortunately the video stopped before the first punch was laid.

The meeting then opened to Q&A until 3.30pm, with a one hour lunch break. Questions ranged from highly technical (such as what will a raft of new safety regulations for trains mean for Berkshire’s interests in the sector) to the tough (does Clayton Homes act ethically with respect to its home loans and foreclosure policies) to asking for personal advice with respect to careers and life philosophies.

Despite this great diversity, we left the session with a great sense of coherence which reflects an underlying consistency of values and common sense that permeate all the answers. Here are my main takeaways.

  • Central to Buffett’s success is the fact that he loves what he does and has focused his entire life on getting better at it. In How Much is Enough? Andrew Ford and I argue that while money may not be enough to buy happiness, happiness buys money. In other words, people who enjoy sustained success, figure out what makes them happy first, become very good at it and the financial success then is a result of this. Buffett is the classic embodiment of this idea. He had the good fortune to discover in his early teens that he loved investing, but initially was not very good at it. His love for the work though, led him both to discover great tutors, in particular Benjamin Graham and then Charlie Munger as well as to spend many hours mastering his subject. It is said that Buffett typically reads several hundred pages of material daily.
  • The compound effect of this learning is as remarkable as the effect of compound interest over time. It was demonstrated over the course of the meeting in Buffett and Munger’s astonishing ability to talk with authority on a broad array of topics, rarely having to draw on the managers of the various businesses that they own. But I want to stress that this prodigious ability to learn and apply knowledge only occurs if you love what you do.
  • Equally important is Buffett’s motivation for what he does. Buffett’s sport is not making money per se. Those whose motivation is purely about making money typically end up flouting laws, ethics and make the characters from the Wolf of Wall Street look like innocents. Rather, four of Buffett’s key motivations are:
  1. The intellectual stimulation of analysing companies, not as pieces of paper listed on the stock exchange, but as real businesses and what makes them tick, the sustainability of their cash profits in a dynamic economy and how to value them
  2. The thrill of buying these companies at fair prices, particularly when these businesses can be purchased outright
  3. Providing an environment in which the purchased businesses can continue to flourish, typically under the original owner and management until they choose to retire, with minimal interference from Berkshire’s head office
  4. Genuinely thinking of his fellow shareholders in Berkshire Hathaway as partners and applying the highest fiduciary standards to how they are treated.
  • In short at the heart of Buffett’s success has been passion, a love of life-long learning, continuous improvements in execution, a fundamental commitment to the highest ethical standards and the strength to stay the course. I have come across money managers who have one, two or three of these characteristics, but very rarely all four. Buffett does enjoy the extraordinary financial success he has achieved for himself and his partners. But only because it is a measure of a job well done, rather than because of the pursuit of money for purposes of greed, making up for personal insecurities or a desire to lead a lavish material lifestyle.
  • Buffett, despite projecting a folksy image, is a complex personality, who clearly wants to be appreciated by others and to be popular. But he does not confuse this with being populist – in short, he has not compromised the rigour of his analysis, his focus on long term sustainable success or his values, in order to court approval or popularity.
  • Rather, he has been willing to devote substantial effort and resources to communicating with, and educating, his shareholders and the investing public as a whole. The extent to which Buffett displays empathy in personal relationships is a moot point. His history has been one of being highly introverted and socially awkward. But in mastering the ability to use the key tools of story-telling – aphorisms, analogies and memorable one-liners to make the complex simple, without ever being simplistic, he has become extremely adept at the skill of influencing people.

My lasting impression of Buffett is that he has transcended being a great investor and has emerged as a great leader. It is important not to get caught up too much in the hype of some of his followers and hero worship him. A Saint, a Gandhi, or a Nelson Mandela he is not.

But he has displayed leadership not just in the technicalities of how money should be managed, but wisdom in how it should be used. There are many Buffett wannabes who try and understand the technicalities of what he does, without understanding the underlying character and how the whole has been important to his sustained success.

Munger as usual nailed it when he said that Buffett didn’t want to be remembered as a great investor, or as one of the world’s richest men, rather, he wanted to be remembered as a teacher.

The wannabes who are motivated mainly by making money will end up failing, because the greed that underpins this undermines their ability to withstand periods of great stress. Periods when your strategy, which requires patience to succeed, is perceived by others to be a failure. How many of the wannabes could withstand the many headlines like: “Has Buffett Lost his Marbles?” that Buffett has periodically endured when the market has gone through prolonged manic or depressive phases? Buffett’s emotional ability to stay the course in the face of sometimes overwhelming pressure is arguably his most important strength.  In contrast Isaac Newton lost his entire inheritance when envy drove him to buy back into the South Sea Company at close to its speculative peak, proving that character trumps intelligence. What makes Buffett a leader is that he has both.

And as a leader, putting aside the fortune that he has made for his long term shareholders, he has achieved two extraordinary outcomes, which help to explain why he is able to attract a much larger crowd to Omaha than Ed Sheeran.

  • He has used his skills of influence and teaching directly to help hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people to overcome the behavioural biases that destroy long term wealth creation. And indirectly by influencing a legion of fund managers, like VGI Partners and Magellan in Australia and wealth advisers like Scott and me, he has had an even greater effect, even if the act as a whole is difficult to follow.
  • Spurred by the influence of his late wife Suzy, in the first instance and more recently by people like Bill Gates, he is now devoting the bulk of his fortune to try to solve some of the world’s most important problems via the Gates’ foundation. And he is using his considerable influence to encourage fellow billionaires to join him in this. The long term impact of this is likely to be even greater than his investment achievements

Nobel Prizes for Economics and for Peace have been handed to people for achieving far less.

 

 Posted by at 12:39 AM
Nov 172014
 

Leaping for Joy: Thaji Dias and Kushan Malinda

Leaping for Joy: Thaji Dias and Kushan Malinda Photo: Lukshmannan Nadaraja

A dancer, if she is great, can give to the people

something that they can carry with them forever.

They can never forget it, and it has changed them

though they may never know it.

– Isadora Duncan –

 If you want to know what the term ‘flow’ means and how it can inspire joy in others, then you need to see Thaji Dias dance. Thaji is the principal dancer in Sri Lanka’s world famous Chitrasena Dance Company, which is returning to Australia for the first time after 40 years, performing in the January 2015 Sydney Festival.

The Dance Co was founded 70 years ago by Thaji’s grandparents, the late Chitrasena and his wife Vajira, who at age 82 still teaches at the school. Our families have been closely intertwined for over 50 years and the passion that the Chitrasena Co has brought to their art has been an important source of inspiration for my family and an input into my success in business. So how can a Dance Co be relevant to someone building a financial advice and wealth management business? And what broader relevance does this have to exposing our children and indeed ourselves, to the arts?

To start at the start, the origins of Sri Lankan dancing go back about 2,500 years ago to a time when the then king was ailing. To cure him, the artists of the time put on a ceremony of dancing and drumming which went on for days and nights. The ritual was designed to invoke the blessings of the gods and hence was majestic, evocative and inspirational.

The king happily was cured and granted plots of irrigated land to the artists, allowing them to live amongst their peers as economic equals, while pursuing their art. It has seen the evolution of what Professor Ludowyk describes as a dance form full of fluency, of a great range of variety and accompanied by the drum with its spectrum of seemingly infinite shades of tones. “It is pure dance with its own universal language”.

Following the British occupation of Sri Lanka, the danger was that one of the world’s oldest dance forms would be lost. But then Chitrasena, born into a family steeped in art and culture and trained as a Shakespearean actor, spent seven years in a traditional village mastering the dance, studied further in India, before establishing the first dance school in Colombo in 1942. My mother a journalist, as well as being a teacher, spent years training at the school, before she came with my father to Sydney in 1962 on a contract to promote Ceylon Tea.

Australia in 1962 had virtually no Asians, let alone Sri Lankans, had not yet established a national ballet company and was symbolised by meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars. Notwithstanding this, both my parents, driven by their passion for Sri Lankan dance, came up with the desire to arrange an Australian tour by the Chitrasena Co.  Given that they had no resources and no contacts, the idea was audacious, if not ludicrous.

But their passion meant that they only saw the power of possibility. They used their newspaper experience to invite journalists to our tiny flat, a few at a time, where my mother would first prepare a delicious meal and then demonstrate some of the dance steps, which I would accompany on a drum. This led to contact with the trustees of the Elizabethan Theatre Trust (a predecessor to the Arts Council) with whom the process was repeated.

The end result was that the Trust agreed to sponsor the Chitrasena Dance Co, which in 1963, became, what I believe to be the first Asian dance co to tour Australia, to great acclaim by audiences and critics. For example, Roland Robinson, dance critic of The Sydney Morning Herald, said:

The various pas de deux, performed by Vajira as the Chief Swan and Wimal Nayanananda as the noble King Nala, leave the Western “Swan Lake” sadly lacking in imagination and understanding. This critic has not seen in Western ballet mime, acting and dancing, capable of evoking the nature and spirit of the swan to compare with the performance of Vajira in this role in Nala Damayanthi.

We were successful in gaining sponsorship for the Chitrasena Co to come out again in 1972, again to great reviews. Hope Hewitt, of the Canberra News, said:

The Chitrasena Dance Company from Ceylon gave a brilliant program of dance and music last night at the Playhouse. There was also a strong feeling of sheer delight about the entire performance, which is an attitude to the life the dancers themselves celebrate.

Both in 1963 and in 1972, I was pulled out of school to accompany my parents and the Chitrasena Co on their Australian tour, seeing about 30 odd performances on each tour. I was also taken by my mother regularly to the dance school whenever we were in Sri Lanka. But how did all of this help me in my business career? I think in a myriad ways, not all of which are possible to quantify or understand. But some of the main contributions were to my sense of possibility, inspiration, imagination and integration of ideas.

Watching my parents achieve the apparently impossible, I am sure was an important ingredient in giving me the confidence, as a 24 year old, to follow my own path and become an entrepreneur who wanted to change the world. More generally, I think being close to artists who live simply, inspired almost purely by passion and creativity, has given me a greater sense of personal balance and perspective. It’s also developed the creative parts of my mind, complementing my formal academic education.

The integration of knowledge from many areas has been a source of a competitive advantage for me in business as well as a source of strength personally. The most common comment I get from people who engage me professionally or personally is that: “We value you because you care and think differently”.

And this brings us back to Thaji. Like me she was exposed to the steps of the dance and the sound of drums in her mother’s womb. Unlike me, she had talent, spent all her spare time while growing up at the dance school and has now dedicated her life to being a dancer. In doing she is conscious of the subsantial financial sacrifice that her chosen path involves. But she has found her calling.

What is exceptional about Thaji is the technical virtuosity that she has mastered thanks to sheer hard work, combined with the emotion she feels when she dances. She allows herself to be lost in this emotion when on the stage, which gives her dance an authenticity and magic that draws the audience to her and imparts a sense of joy. The ability to share flow with the audience is what marks her arrival as a great dancer. And one, who at the age of only 26 can still ripen and achieve greater heights.

Thaji (front) performing at the Joyce Theatre, New York in 'Samhara'

Thaji (front) performing at the Joyce Theatre, New York in ‘Samhara’

Recently Thaji had the chance to dance in a remarkably successful collaboration between the Chitrasena Dance Co and India’s Nrityagram Odissi Dance Co which was performed in many dance centres, most notably, the Joyce Theatre in New York. New York critic Marina Harss, said in Dance Critic:

At the Joyce there were three dancers from Nrityagram, and two from Chitrasena, all women. All were excellent…[The choreographers] created an absorbing and varied evening of dances-solos, duets ensembles-that draws on both traditions, a thrilling conversation between two techniques, movement, qualities, and styles

Earlier this year my two teenage sons had the chance to see Thaji at very close quarters in 4 private performances at the Chitrasena Dance Centre. She performed a number of items, choreographed by her cousin Heshma, also a grand-daughter of Chitrasena and Vajira. Heshma’s ability and reputation as an artistic director is growing and spreading, in no small part due her contribution to Samhara and to her latest production, Dancing for the Gods.  Thaji was also accompanied by some wonderful drummers and dancers. The thing that most struck us having spent a lot of time with these dedicated artists is that they have dedicated their lives to creating beauty.

The financial rewards they get from doing this are pitiful and the life of such an artist is essentially a simple one, with few of life’s luxuries. It would be too glib to say that such artists are happier than most other people. But to be able to share in, and enjoy, their creation of beauty is a pretty special experience.

Teaching the next generation

Teaching the next generation

Dazzling the audience

Dazzling the audience

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My sons loved the experience and have become engaged in our ongoing support for the Chitrasena Co. How will it influence their lives? I do not know for sure. But I do know their experiences with these great artists will have a wonderful effect in ways that I cannot predict. To spend time with people who are driven not by money, but by a sense of creative inspiration and joy makes us all better, more rounded people.

I hope that you too will have a chance to see Thaji and her fellow artists perform and walk away feeling just a little bit more joyous and inspired. If you hear of her and the Chitrasena Company performing at a venue near you, don’t miss them!

Thaji performing a classic Kandyan Dance solo

Lost in the moment: Thaji performing a classic Kandyan Dance solo

 

 Posted by at 11:01 PM
Jul 062014
 

One of the entrances to Dharavi Slum

One of the entrances to Dharavi Slum

What does the word ‘slum’ conjure in your mind? Lots of sad, very poor people, squashed together, living in abject misery? Despite my South Asian origins and work in developing countries, more often than not I would unquestioningly accept that stereotype.

And what prospect could there be for redeveloping a slum in which both slum dwellers and developers may benefit? I could not imagine how this would be possible.

But this is one of the case studies that I was exposed to along with 80 other business leaders from around the world, during a fascinating week at the new Harvard Business School Campus in Mumbai. In this report I want to share some learnings from the case study on the Dharavi slum in Mumbai, which included a visit to the slum.

Mumbai is India’s most dynamic and wealthiest commercial city, boasting a significant degree of world class business talent and of course Bollywood. Property prices in the city are amongst the highest in the world. The city also has the both the largest, absolute number and proportion, of slum dwellers in the world, with close to half the population (ie around 6 million people) living in slums. Of these, Dharavi is the largest. It is home to about 700,000 people, living in an area of around 2.23 sq kms. The size of the average dwelling is 100 sq feet – measure it out and you will find it is an area which is not much bigger than a Queen size bed.

It is a challenge for those living in the West to understand how one would simply survive in this environment. Astonishingly though, from the positive energy many of the people in Dharavi showed,  they seemed almost to be thriving. So how can this be possible?  At the risk of simplification, may I suggest three key factors:

  • Where people have come from
  • The environment of the slum in comparison
  • People’s hopes and aspirations for the future

Many of the slum dwellers in places like Dharavi are economic refugees from neighbouring rural areas where life, especially for the millions of landless labourers, is incredibly harsh and with seemingly no prospects for a better future. Following the Harvard course, I spent some time touring rural areas in the neighbouring state of Rajasthan. It is very arid, with many still performing work in fields or herding livestock, much as they did in medieval times.

Boys loading a camel cart in rural Rajasthan much like medieval times

Their accommodation is at best similar to that of the cattle herders of Samburu Village in Kenya (please see my post: ‘The Most Contented People on Earth, but are they the Happiest?’) . But unlike the Kenyan villagers, the landless labourers in India do not own their livestock, nor do they have any security of tenure. In this sense, even the less ambitious lack the contentment of the villagers of Kenya.  The more ambitious and entrepreneurial are those who move to the cities in search of escape from multi-generational poverty and servitude.

Stone Hut near Ranthambore

Stone hut in a Rajasthan village with no electricity or running water

The slums in this sense are a half-way house for those searching for this escape. At its worst, the  accommodation is similar to what they are used to.  And they probably have access to (stolen) electricity, better basic medical services and much better income earning prospects. Income earning is not through secure paid employment with fringe benefits. It involves doing physically gruelling work, in tough, unsanitary conditions and with limited OH&S. But at least there is work as well as small business opportunities.

The slums are a hive of entrepreneurial activity.  An extraordinary array of small industries operate from tiny premises including textile dyeing, recycling, metalwork and food manufacture. There are also a fantastic number of services ranging from the people who put a stool and a mirror outside their front doors and provide haircuts and beauty treatments to a never ending supply of street vendors. One study suggested that Dharavi has around 5,000 informal businesses. These businesses produced goods worth about $600 million annually, or more than the output of several newly established government sponsored Special Economic Zones around the country.

A tiny bakery - Dharavi is full of small businesses like this

A tiny bakery – Dharavi is full of small businesses like this

 

Bread delivery from bakery Compressed

And here’s the delivery man-can’t say the bread’s not fresh!

Some of these entrepreneurs become millionaires, build two-three storey dwellings within the slum and drive Mercs. That said, I do not want to glorify life in slums. Many are destined for a life of continued gruelling work. They lack financial security and good health care. They are vulnerable to exploitation by more powerful leaders and live in a grossly polluted environment – all of which limit one’s ability to thrive.

But there is far more industriousness, entrepreneurialism, dynamism and above all hope for a better future in a slum, that is masked by the physical squalor. And there is a very strong sense of community, long lost in our more sanitised, luxurious but sometimes very lonely, Western environments. There is a continuous interaction between all age groups, with the elderly in particular having a chance to play an important role in day to day life.

How does this translate into property redevelopment opportunities? As part of the case study, we met the remarkable Mukesh Mehta who has been working on the Dharavi Redevelopment Project since 1997.He and his team guided us through our visit to the slum. Mehta’s plan involves in essence a public private partnership. Developers would be responsible for building infrastructure such as roads, schools and hospitals. The infrastructure would be of the quality to attract the middle class to the area. The government or charitable trusts would be responsible for maintaining the infrastructure once built.

‘Registered’ slum dwellers would receive new apartments in the development at no cost in return for giving up their ‘squatting rights’ and providing their support. The developers in turn would have the right to build additional apartments for private sale. They would pay a fee to the government for the development rights, which would include the right to build higher rise buildings on a particular plot size, than normally allowed.

On paper, the potential profitability to developers is over half a billion dollars in the case of Dharavi.  And on some estimates if this creative approach was applied to all the slums in Mumbai, the state government would stand to gain nearly $25 billion. While the magnitude of these numbers reflect Mumbai’s very high land values, the approach nevertheless highlights the potential to involve the private sector in profitably redeveloping a slum, while benefiting the slum dwellers and government.

For more than a decade, Mehta’s team has worked tirelessly to present their plans, get input and approval from the thousands of stakeholders involved. Last year they came very close but they have yet to conquer finally the political deadlock that stymies many good initiatives in India. Whether the advent of the new Modi government makes any difference remains to be seen.

Neverthless, the entrepreneurial energy of Dharavi and the creativity and commitment of Mehta’s team continue to shine through. There is a lot more energy in slums and hope for the long term future of their inhabitants, than I ever imagined.

 Posted by at 2:00 AM
Dec 082013
 

Samburu Village Elders Talking About Village Matters

Samburu Village Elders talk about matters over a game

“They have no electricity, no running water and no mobile phones, but they are the happiest people in the world”, our guide insisted. I was intrigued and dubious. Bumping along a dirt track, I was in the Samburu district of Northern Kenya with my elder son, heading towards a village of 25 families.

Our first glimpse of the village was not encouraging. Behind a thick fence of thornbush, to keep out lions and other predators, were houses, made from sticks tied together, with cow dung covered walls and scrap cardboard and plastic sheeting on the roof to keep out the rain. The peak height of these houses was about 4 feet and each was around 100 square feet in area.

A bit of plastic sheeting enhances the roof of a traditional house

A bit of plastic sheeting enhances the roof of a traditional house

 

Inside -The hearth in the foreground, parent's sleeping area in the background and cow dung covered walls

Inside -The hearth in the foreground, parent’s sleeping area in the background and cow dung covered walls

We were welcomed at the entrance by Fred, the Chief’s son. For an entry price of $20 each, Fred, who spoke remarkably good English, gave us a tour of the tiny village. We met the elders who were intently playing a game, during which they also discussed any village problems. We were given a brief welcome of songs and dances, before examining the small village.

Fred - the well educated chief's son, content with the ancient livestock herding life

Fred – the well educated chief’s son, content
with the ancient livestock herding life

The villagers were livestock herders, tending to cattle, goats and sheep and mainly consuming milk, blood and a little meat. Everyone looked remarkably healthy despite such an unbalanced diet. Apart from the plastic sheeting for the roofs and some tin cooking pots, there were no signs of modernity. To a large extent the villagers were pursuing a semi-nomadic lifestyle of herders as it had been pursued for thousands of years. That said, all the children attended a nearby school run by Catholic missionaries and proudly showed off their ability to count and their knowledge of the alphabet. And they did use money.

Fred too had been to the school and clearly had the education to pursue a more ambitious career. At the end of the visit we were exposed to a line-up of village women selling colourful trinkets. Fred showed an extraordinary combination of IQ and EQ in suggesting that a reasonable price for a handful of these trinkets was around $500. Even when I bargained him down to $100, I knew I was paying about 5 times the price compared to a street vendor, but somehow he made me feel good about it in terms of the positive impact on the lives of the villagers.  I hope that my much better educated son picked up some valuable life skills from Fred.

Kenya has many slums in Nairobi and other towns. They are filled with people from rural areas hoping to make a better life in the city. Fred could have used one of these as a stepping stone to something materially better. But  Fred was proud,and loved his life, of looking after cattle in the middle of the bush, surrounded by wild animals and exposed to the elements. It was a not dissimilar life to Nelson Mandela’s early childhood. And the hour or so that my son and I spent sitting with Fred in his family’s hut, trying to see the world from his eyes, was a valuable education.

Fred said few people ever left the village, despite having the option to do so. Indeed just 5 kilometres from the village were other villages which had better housing, with electricity and all that goes with it.

But did all this mean that the villagers were truly happy? Thinking about this made me realise how complex the whole topic of happiness is. I have little doubt that the villagers would rank highly under standard wellbeing questionnaires. They loved their work and there was a strong sense of supportive relationships within the tight-knit village. Their modest needs and close cooperation gave them a sense of security and they were connected to the natural world.

Hanging out in the village - content, but is this thriving?

Hanging out in the village – content, but is this thriving?

They were not exposed to tv programs illustrating the opulent lives of the rich and famous or promoting the American dream as the ultimate lifestyle. Nor were they exposed to a diet of thousands of daily advertisements, using inane celebrities to convince them how life could not be perfect without the right watch, handbag or other material thing.

No, here was a group whose conscious decision to continue to pursue a simple lifestyle, combined with a strong sense of family and community relationships, resulted in relatively high contentment.

But the wellbeing movement has also developed the concept of thriving. Is simple contentment the same as thriving?  It would be hard to argue that the  full potential of the young villagers to develop creatively, intellectually, culturally or economically was even close to being fulfilled. Did their ignorance of this mean that it did not matter?

I will let the reader contemplate and come to their own conclusions on this matter.

For me,  my insatiable thirst for knowledge, innovation and restlessness for ‘improving’ things, means that I could not be happy pursuing the lifestyle these villagers pursue.

A visit to a traditional Kenya village is invaluable for reminding one that thriving needs to be built on some very basic foundations: loving what you do, being part of a community of supportive relationships and being connected to nature. The paradox of the Western world is that while having the opportunity to build on this foundation, we can completely lose it. And for that a visit to Sambura village was worthwhile. Even if I paid too much for the trinkets.

 

 

 Posted by at 10:58 AM
Feb 232013
 

Harvard 2013 Bulletin No 2

Here’s my second bulletin summarising key takeaways from a recent week at Harvard Business School. The thoughts and views should be regarded as mine, unless otherwise attributed.

Picture: Martin LaMonica/CNET

Terrapower and the Energy Revolution

Not content with trying to foster an education revolution, Bill Gates is also trying to foster an energy revolution which he sees as key to the alleviation of poverty. A think tank that he put together to look at wind, solar, geothermal, tidal and nuclear came to the conclusion that nuclear was the only feasible option if the objective was to provide global access to efficient, affordable energy, while making a substantial difference in carbon emissions.

According to Gates, “If you want to improve the situation of the poorest two billion on the planet, having the price of energy go down substantially would be the best thing you could do for them. That along with the carbon constraint, is hugely important, partly because global warming makes tropical agriculture virtually impossible.”

That said, Gates was also concerned about the environmental risk of nuclear power and the threat of nuclear arms proliferation. So he commissioned research reviewing academic papers to see if there were better ways of doing nuclear power than present techniques. This led in 2008 to the formation of TerraPower, of which Gates is a foundation shareholder, to develop a safe, cost effective, sustainable nuclear reactor.

Specifically, TerraPower  uses a travelling wave reactor design. This system burns uranium rods much more efficiently and completely, which in theory means that it could actually be fuelled by existing ‘used’ nuclear waste rods. Far less waste is also produced and because the fuel rod actually burns for decades, it is far more difficult to access byproducts inside the reactor core for the purpose of making weapons. Modern technology also allows the reactor to close down automatically in the event of a major problem, unlike the older style reactor in Fukushima.

TerraPower’s aim is, via computer simulations, to develop a viable design for the new generation reactor and in due course to licence this to nuclear power operators. Significant progress had been made since 2008 in overcoming the technical issues, but TerraPower  projected that commercially proving the project could take another 10 years and $4billion.

Whether TerraPower succeeds or not remains to be seen, but what interested me in the case was the array of talent now being harnessed looking at new nuclear technologies.

At the same time there is ongoing research devoted to improving the extraction of energy from oil and gas fields. For example, another case involved a company called Foro Energy which has developed breakthrough laser technologies which if proven commercially, could reduce the cost and improve the speed of drilling deep wells for oil and gas considerably. It also has the ability to remove decommissioned wells much more easily and cheaply.

Looking at these and other cases, led me to feel much more optimistic about the long term energy outlook. Combined with developments in energy saving technologies as well as ongoing progress in solar energy research, I believe that there is every prospect that 10-15 years out our kids will continue to enjoy an abundance of energy, with much less reliance on oil.

And if Gates’ education and energy revolutions achieve their full potential, the impact on global poverty by 2030-40 could be substantial indeed.

Feb 112013
 

 

ArunHarvard1

Thoughts from a stimulating week at the great Harvard Business School

 Harvard 2013 Bulletin No 1

Introduction

At the start of each year I try and come to a one week leadership program at the Harvard Business School as part of my aim to keep up to date with some of the latest research ideas, how they will affect the world, our lives and ultimately our wellbeing. The program is intense, with classes starting straight after breakfast, finishing shortly before dinner and then group study classes meeting to discuss the course material and cases for a few hours after dinner. Over the coming week, I will post a series of bulletins which will summarise some of my key takeaways from the program. 

I should say that these takeaways incorporate my learnings from a number of sources, not just Harvard. So unless I attribute otherwise, the thoughts and views should be regarded as mine.

By far one of the most valuable cases was that of the Khan Academy, that is heralding the start of an education revolution

The Education Revoluton and the Khan Academy

The Khan Academy’s mission is simple as it is bold: “To [change] education for the better by providing a free world class education to anyone anywhere”.  Founded by Salman Khan, the  Academy is a YouTube based not for profit education business.  It has over 3,000 video tutorials on topics ranging from maths, to physics, history and finance and has attracted over 4 million unique viewers.

Salman Khan graduated from MIT with three degrees and then moved into the hedge funds management business. One of his cousins asked him to help tutor her in maths, which led him to post on YouTube various tutorials for her use in her own time.  Somehow other students stumbled across these. The enthusiastic and positive feedback that Salman received from these unexpected users, together with his discovery that he had a passion and talent for producing educational videos, led him to abandon his high paying hedge fund job, to launch the Khan Academy as a not-for profit. His growing realisation that what he was doing could revolutionise education, gave him a new sense of meaning and purpose.

The beauty of the system is its free availability to anyone at any time. Traditional classroom learning means that a certain amount of time is allocated to each topic, regardless of whether this is sufficient to gain mastery of the topic. Using the Khan Academy, students are able to work at their own pace, giving everyone the chance to achieve mastery, before moving on to the next topic. It is currently designed as a supplement to, rather than an alternative to school based learning. While users span the spectrum of age categories, most are high school or college students looking to supplement their classes with outside help.

Amongst disadvantaged students, particularly in poor countries, the Academy could of course become a primary source of education.

The Los Altos School District in California piloted a classroom based program with Khan to improve student engagement and provide more flexibility for students to work at their own pace. The success of this program led to it being rolled out more widely during the 2011-12 school year.

 Salman had the good fortune to be discovered by Bill Gates, who found his videos useful for teaching his daughters certain concepts. The Gates Foundation and Google, among others, have provided initial funding of around $10 million to the Academy, allowing it to expand its scope and reach, with a small but dedicated band of people, including some great computer programmers. There is a marvellous TED talk in which Gates MCs a presentation by Salman on the Academy:  Khan Ted talk.

But better still, if you just want to experience the site for yourself, or for your child, go to YouTube, type in ‘Khan Academy’ and you will see an array of videos arranged by different topics.

An even bigger revolution in education may  occur in the University sector. A term I heard often at Harvard was the rise in MOOCs – Massive Open Online Classrooms. Already there are a number of institutions offering a university education online. Even the major universities around the world are providing more and more content online.

Currently, the top universities are only able to accept a small percentage of the students who apply and have the abilty to perform well, because of the physical limitations of their buildings, accommodation etc. But imagine what is going to happen as some of these universities extend their courses online. There is theoretically no end to the number of students who could access the courses and interact with the material. Rather than restricting entry, in the online world, anyone may be allowed to enrol, but of course they would need to pass their initial courses to move on.

There are a number of issues that still need to be worked out, but the trend seems to be unstoppable and the implications for second and third tier universities is potentially grim. But for disadvantaged students around the world the rise in MOOCs could make a significant difference to their ability to close the education gap.

In the meantime, sample some online education for yourself. Find a topic that you are interested in and enjoy having Salman Khan help bring it to life

 

 

 

 Posted by at 9:49 AM

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