Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sleeping on "Thin Things"...

When we visited Aquila Pre-Primary School, these mattresses caught my eye. The little ones sleep on them daily but gosh! they really do need some new ones - or at the very least, some covers. Another day, another mission...

Resources in schools in Africa are most of the times not elaborate, but really the basics. One would wonder, why could the school not just get what they need from fees? However, it is a simple calculation to realize that the small salaries of educators (not much more than $250/month), daily food, educational variable costs and maintenance of the premises cannot be covered by school fees paid by unemployed parents in these communities. The assistance of the government and private business sector is needed and organisations like ours make it just a bit more easier on the management of these places. We hope to be able to get the matrasses for the small ones... and replace the 'thin things' as the local gardener called them as he carried them out to make up a few rows for the 2-4 year olds to sleep that afternoon...

Monday, January 26, 2009

On the playground at Aquilla Pre-School

Today was a special Monday as we set out to Ocean View, a community that has its share of challenges with drug-abuse and poverty - with numerous kids growing up in unacceptable social conditions. I spend the better part of the morning there and reflected on so many aspects of our company's strategy and ways in development in Africa. Mostly, I just enjoyed playing... - simply enjoying the new toys with the kids! More later...

Books that keep me Busy

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

(Not) one of the "only white tribe" of Africa??!

Jacob Zuma, President of the ANC (and most likely the party's presidential candidate for South Africa in this year's election) made the statement that 'Afrikaners' are the 'only white tribe' in Africa and much needed:

Now I am asking myself ever since, am I part of the 'white tribe' he refers to and do I really associate myself with those who 'play konsertina'? It is easier to answer the 'konsertina' question than the former, as it strikes at the heart of identity and relates to my very roots. It also reflects on the active or passive role that I have played (or not played) after and before(!) 1994 in South Africa. There are many assumptions about diverse peoples living in South Africa. I encounter these daily in my digital life - meeting new people - and also in the South African business environment and political arena. It is simply assumed that I vote for an opposition party; it is assumed that I do not speak an African language; it is assumed I played no role in the struggle against apartheid; it is assumed that I do not intimately know the poor communities where we work; it is assumed that we could learn much and teach little, and it is assumed that I have (or do not have!) money, depending on who I speak to - mostly because of the color of my skin and (maybe) location in Africa.

I have learned much about diversity in Religious Studies; and I have learned more about it in our own home where all were always welcome. Lately, it has been virtual worlds that taught me new lessons about identity and culture: I have two avatars in Second Life (R) - Alanagh Recreant, a pale-skinned and slender English speaking woman and Wilberforce Rau, a dark-skinned and slightly overweight English-speaking African male. There is a reason for choosing these two avatars and over the past year and a bit I have seen how people react VERY differently to each, UNTIL they understand the one to be an alternative of the other, which I may already know. I am fascinated by this observation and wonder how much of it is a reflection on reality. I have never bothered to declare my ethnicity inSL and interestingly, in all this time, only two people have asked me straight-out, "Are you black, Ally?" (In this regard, if you have some time, please read Marion Walters personal observations about identity and Second Life Skin in 2007. I quote a bit: "That said, I really hate the fact that the default color on the Second Life avatars is white, and that you just never see dark-skinned avatars in these online environments. Most people in the real world are dark-skinned, dammit. There are probably a couple of reasons for this. For one thing, global economic and geographic inequities mean that you don't find many Africans playing online games!" I have found that there are many many more dark skins inSL today than in 2007. An analysis needed!

Am I seen in virtual worlds as part of the 'white tribe of Africa' ??? Nope. I don't think so! I am cautiously embraced by the African-American community and welcomed at vibrant initiatives, but the realities of free enterprise and sustainability inSL, fear of the unknown, a desire to do your own thing on your own terms, geographic distance and using the right lingo define me quickly as an 'outsider' from the inside Africa. I also don't think my African brothers and sisters here in South Africa really see me as a 'tribal person' - black or any other shade! :)

I am an Afrikaans-speaking forty-something business woman living in South Africa and being accepted by other citizens - not for my language (tribe) or my skin-color (undefined for the purpose of this discussion) but for my day to day actions, for building relationships one at a time in each circumstance; for breaking down age-old barriers of racism and prejudice through conversation and by not 'fitting' into the mold that history so tragically and painfully tries to pour me and others, into - on a daily basis. I defy definition. I am. And this, "just being" is no less true for virtual worlds than it is for my first life...(I use the term 'first life' as oppose to 'real life' as I believe all of what I do is 'real' and an extension of reflection of my personality). I do, however, debate issues of unity and respect (not tolerance!) and agree it is much needed in the world and in South Africa. We some times tend to be so politically correct, that we walk on eggshells when we talk about issues of race, creed, color, gender, sexual orientation, religion and culture. These are the matters that are part of humanity. Lets not wish it away by not raising the issues.

I am a 'tribe' member, I guess. If one listens to Seth Godin in his video presentation, it is simply clear that tribes are here to stay in the new economy of scale. And, that we all belong to one tribe or another... However, let me at least choose my leaders and my tribe members and don't cluster or box or associate me - merely because I look a certain way or speak another way. I am too much of an individualist to be defined by anyone's prejudice or tribalism... or is that socialism?

One thing I do agree on, and do believe as surely as the sun rises in the morning: I am African and I am serious about doing business whilst trying to do some good.

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The Nobel Prize Winners

Recognition of South African Nobel Prize winners...

Monday, January 12, 2009

"On my way to Court", she said...

I was driving back home. I was 23:30 and I saw her from the side of my eye - the small woman pushing a pram on the dusty sidewalk in the dark. A pram?? I looked again in the mirror, and eventually stopped. It is a dangerous stretch this time of night with many lurking drug lords and gangsters. No place for a woman and a baby (?). She looked no closer than eighteen years old and the baby was tiny and quite wet.

Her name is Shereen, with baby boy Chadley and she is on her way home to Ocean View, she said as I stopped beside her, having turned again. "Get in, I'll take you", and I threw the passenger door wide open. "Why this time of night... with a baby so small?", I inquired, as she started breast feeding to get the baby to quiet down. "I am on my way to Court... tomorrow", she added.

So, this is how my rather full day ended - taking Shereen to her home close to midnight, so she could get a lift from family who demanded she be there tonight already in order to be driven to the Court house: in the morning. She is claiming R800,00 from the father in the SA Navy for "child maintenance" (as she calls it) and described to me how baby boy Chadley needs "way too much" for an eight-month old and she can't keep up. She never asked me for money or for any other help. Maybe the drive in the middle of the night from a perfect stranger, when she so clearly feared the walk, was quite enough. And maybe she will get the R800 for little Chadley tomorrow.

As for me, I know I will return to their shack - "that one without the windows and the door wide open" where the drunken man was scratching his stomach and the rubbish was rotting outside the front gate. I want to keep track of little Chadley...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Chilbo Road Press

I found this fascinating quote today in an excellent article:

President-Elect Obama’s planning team is using web-based and social media tools in unprecedented ways to encourage participation and feedback from US citizens. Draxtor reports on how virtual worlds like Second Life might extend their reach beyond the website to include citizens who might not be able to attend community discussions in the real world.The Chilbo Road Press, Jan 2009

You should read the whole article, which also highlights the great value of using Second Life for discussions on public matters.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Lunch with the Birds At Glencairn

This beautiful seabird, I don't think it is a gull, joined us for our work lunch close to GlenCairn, Cape Town. It was good watching him/her.

I wish I knew more about birds, but not really into bird watching. One of our clients want us to facilitate a bird photography competition for conservation - I better get my act together and starting with lunch among the sea bird may take me in right direction...

I was also disturbed to see the lovely tourism posters of the Southern Right Whale (many in the area!) damaged by vandals. So unnecessary.
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Reflecting on Cory's Predictions for 2009...

I quote directly from the blog of Cory Ondrejka, sharing predictions for 2009:

"1) Second Life will return to steady growth and have a shockingly good 2009
By shockingly good, let's say 50% growth in concurrency and James' measure of active users. Why do I expect SL to rock 2009? A few reasons. First, world-wide recession makes SL more valuable as a source of income, cost effective collaboration tool, substitute for expensive travel, and educational resource. Second, the same recession -- combined with Lively's demise -- means competition will remain non-existent. Third, Linden has had time to adapt to the many organizational changes 2008 brought".

Read the rest of the entry as well:

collapsing geography: predictions for 2009

I have the urge to ask: What do you predict in terms of Africa and virtual worlds; and digitial divide trends? However, maybe I will venture a few predictions myself instead, later. It could be interesting to see how it plays out during 2009.

More importantly, to get back to Cory Ondrejka's prediction of Second Life, that it "will return to growth": I could not help but think about the latest blog entry by iYan Writer inSL where he states he will be busy flying internet space ships instead of bringing new clients to Second Life. I have to add that I have been having my own share of challenges trying to bring executives and professional innovators into SL, and am constantly looking at ways to make it easier.

In our case, affordability is a bigger barrier (even to companies!) than commonly understood. (This was discovered again recently in a conversation with a friend where it was news that I actually pay per 'databyte' download for the entire SL experience - much like paying by the second for mobile connectivity. For me, on one computer, the data download cost alone is 8-10 USD per day or about 300 USD a month., and that excludes telephone monthly rental for the broadband facility itself. We are going through the annual exercise now to calculate costs - in relation with benefit - for Uthango inSL). One of the exciting developments - long awaiting! - is of course the new infrastructure of ICT that is snaking along the African continent and will have a very specific impact on prices in Africa. Costs will drop substantially and accessibility for many Africans to the internet will become a long-awaited reality. I am keen to set up systems to measure impact on virtual worlds in terms of African accessing the platform and will be setting out doing this little piece of research during 2009.

Anyway, I do share the optimism of Cory Ondrejka - don't get me wrong. But I have to check myself, that I am not just of positive disposition and enthusiam, but that it is indeed grounded in real trends. These I am still anaylising....

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"Runway Magazine"

I really get excited when I see the amazing ways in which the Second Life community is using the Virtual Africa sim(s) for different purposes. Here is Mimmi Boa for the RunWay Magazine inSL for a photo shoot. I need to blog soon about all the experiences I have had this past month or so - it leaves me grateful!

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