Saturday, April 28, 2007

No low tech

I recently joined the board of directors of a group of companies that has been around for 8 generations of the founding family. Part of the business is really "just" bulk international commerce, an activity many people in the so-called "high-tech" businesses would consider as "simple" and "low tech". Having now a more detailed view of the strategic issues of the group's businesses, the impacts a rapidly changing environment can have on its performance, the commercial, operational and financial challenges, I can only testify to the fact that there is no such thing as a low tech business. The number of parameters to monitor and to get right is simply mind-boggling.
The session of the board that I attended a couple of days ago has been an amazing experience for me, as it's been a prime opportunity to discover a bit more of the business and to meet a few very impressive board directors who are also serving the group. Perhaps the most moving encounter I had was that of a gentleman who just stepped down after over sixty years of service: the incarnation of a part of the group's history. One of the things I heard (and liked a lot) during the board meeting was a deep held belief that I share: good business performance is first and foremost about having the right people on board. A corollary of that is that everything dealing with human potential management (recruitment, training & evolution, performance assessment, team dynamics...) belongs to the most critical and most strategically important processes a business can have in today. No doubt I will learn a lot serving in such a business environement; I just hope I can bring as much value as is rightfully expected of me.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Kiva's Great Business Quest

As ever when doing my research on the web, trying to find out what's new (and relevant for me), I have hard time saying how I "discover" interesting stuff. So, I cannot tell you how I found Kiva, but I can tell you that after some research on that organization I am totally fascinated by the greatness of its mission, using the global reach of tools of the Information Age to bridge gaps, facilitate economic development and change lives. However, this is far from being YAC (yet another charity)

Kiva operates a site that essentially offers all now standard  e-commerce functionality to let you choose to lend to specific businesses which need fairly reasonable amounts of money (at least by the standards of so-called developed countries). The cases are presented in a very summarized way and micro-credit organizations or NGOs will take care of qualifying the borrower and following the use of funds with Kiva's help, which in turn means that the lender (you) will get her money back most of the time.
Now, this goes well beyond charity: it's a real instrument of development (although I am not sure all of those little businesses respect the requirements of durable development - maybe the next frontier). I just love the idea that in this deal it's not about giving money to people, it's not about subsidizing poverty; rather, it's about giving a helping hand to people who do want to build their business and increase their prosperity in a lasting manner. I just love the idea that we are **not** "buying" their silence and acceptance of a lesser condition and unfair use of global resources like so many relief programs do; we are not buying their dignity, but instead facilitating their own personal quests. So Kiva's is not the simple quest of a bunch of generous souls in the US, it is the compounded business quests of all the little entrepreneurs in remote places of the planet who will do better in a matter of 6-36 months simply because some people decide to postpone an expense of as little as 25 € for that same period of time.

So you my dear reader, if you can afford to postpone one or more of your expenses by a couple of months, please do visit Kiva's website and consider it as a great way to share the luck you and I received at birth with people who have an equal right as we have to pursue their quests and dreams.

Here are a few comments from traditional media (it's so funny that the BBC still thinks in terms of national borders which is meaningless most of the time when it comes to the beautiful global reality of the Internet):

'Revolutionising how donors and lenders in the US are connecting with small entrepreneurs in developing countries.'
-- BBC

'If you've got 25 bucks, a PC and a PayPal account, you've now got the wherewithal to be an international financier.'
-- CNN Money

'Smaller investors can make loans of as little as $25 to specific individual entrepreneurs through a service launched last fall by'
-- The Wall Street Journal

'An inexpensive feel-good investment opportunity...All loaned funds go directly to the applicants, and most loans are repaid in full.'
-- Entrepreneur Magazine