Ten interesting things we read this week

Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are: Philanthropy (An IPS officer becomes the savior for the marginalized students), Parenting (It was never meant to be this isolating), Business (Inside the airline industry's meltdown; Marico's Harsh Mariwala on FMCG start-ups), and Investments (Mark Hawtin on Digital 4.0 and post-Covid beneficiaries)

Published: Oct 16, 2020 02:13:17 PM IST
Updated: Oct 17, 2020 10:16:41 AM IST

reading_16th oct_bgImage: Shutterstock

1. How an IPS officer is changing the fortunes of students from marginalised communities in Telangana [Source: Economic Times

One of the ways to eradicate poverty is through providing good education to the poor. And this is what Mr. RS Praveen Kumar, an IPS officer. He heads the Telangana Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society (TSWREIS) and its sister organisation, the tribal welfare residential educational institutes (TTWREIS) as its secretary. He is widely credited for leading the remarkable turnaround of the institutes, with what he says has been unstinting support from the state government. Over the last five years, these residential schools — which provide free education, boarding, food and other facilities to Class V-XII children from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in straitened circumstances — have been churning out a string of success stories.

Last month, the institutes saw a record of sorts with 706 students clearing the intensely competitive Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) Mains (qualifying rate of less than 2%), for which parents typically spend lakhs of rupees on private coaching. “This is just a humble beginning. I expect close to 100 seats in the NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test, a common qualifying exam for medical colleges) exams. Imagine, 100 of the poorest of the poor, going to medical colleges,” says Mr. Kumar. A 1995-batch IPS officer, credited with two mass surrenders of Maoists, among other milestones, Mr. Kumar took the unusual step in 2012 of requesting then chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy that he be posted as secretary of the social welfare residential schools’ society.

It wasn’t easy for Mr. Kumar as there was stiff resistance from the school teachers, who went on strike. This had been a post held by IAS officers and not a coveted one at that, with terms often lasting just a few months. Mr. Kumar had to assure them that he was not there to police them. “I went to the hostels and told them, I belong to a Scheduled Caste, both my parents were teachers and I studied in social welfare hostels. I said I wanted to repay my debt to the institute which is responsible for whatever I am today. They reluctantly withdrew their protest,” he says. Mr. Kumar has overhauled the education system in Telangana and this is what India needs in every state to empower the poor to study and in return serve the nation.

2. Parenting was never meant to be this isolating [Source: NY Times

Until early 2020, family and community members would help with holding, grooming and sometimes even feeding your baby. Basically, in all of human history, parents have never, ever raised children in isolated nuclear units the way they have been doing for much of 2020, with little to no hands-on family or community support. Individual families being completely responsible for children “is absolutely unheard of except in total emergencies,” said Stephanie Coontz, an emeritus professor of history and family at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and the author of “The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap.”

We’ve always had someone looking after children. From colonial America through the early 20th century, there were almost no parents whose days were dedicated to just child care without support. Poorer parents worked alongside their children as young as 5 in crowded tenement sweatshops, textile mills and in the fields, while older children and other family helped care for children too young to work. And wealthier white families were not doing the child care without household workers. “Middle-class women were able to shift more time into child rearing in the 1800s only by hiring domestic help,” Coontz noted.

But, things are changing now, with pandemic forcing everyone to stay indoors. Even before the pandemic, modern mothers and fathers were spending more time with their children than they did 45 years ago. Mothers were spending five hours a week doing things like reading to children, ferrying them to activities and helping them with homework, compared with 1 hour and 45 minutes in 1975, and they have less solo leisure time than their midcentury counterparts. Those parents “complaining” about caring for their children are possibly doing so because this is not sustainable. At this point, many parents who remain employed are scared to lose their jobs or be pushed out of them to care for children.

3. Citizens’ assemblies are increasingly popular [Source: The Economist]

People of every country have their opinions about how and what the government should do to tackle problems. But, they don’t have a platform to convey their thoughts. This is now changing through “citizens’ assemblies”. These involve a group of around 100 people, broadly representative of the population (by gender, age and socioeconomic status, say), meeting over several weeks or months to debate tricky topics, such as whether to legalise abortion or how to respond to climate change. In the course of the best-organised assemblies participants hear from experts on all sides and produce recommendations to which their governments have promised to respond.

Last year President Emmanuel Macron created a “citizens’ convention on climate” to come up with measures that will enable France to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030. The proceedings, which were disrupted first by national strikes and then by the covid-19 lockdown, concluded in June. The 150 participants called for two changes to the constitution to help preserve the environment and biodiversity, and a law to criminalise “ecocide”. Two citizens’ assemblies have taken place in Ireland to discuss a variety of topics. The original impetus was the financial crash of 2007-09, which left many in the country feeling disillusioned with politics and made politicians more willing to experiment, recalls David Farrell of University College Dublin (UCD), who advised the Irish government on the projects.

Participants seem to enjoy the process. Isabelle, a finance director from western France, said she initially thought the invitation to take part in the convention there was “a joke”. It turned out to be anything but. The experience, she says, has been “enriching” but also “shocking”, as it has opened her eyes to the climate crisis. What is clear is that citizens’ assemblies are most successful when politicians actually listen to them. If these groups work well, they will provide the elected representatives with a mind-clearing idea of what voters really want.

4. The island brokers are overwhelmed [Source: NY Times

The coronavirus pandemic has changed everything. The way we work, the way we communicate, etc. Safety is of utmost importance in these uncertain times. And the rich are queuing up to buy islands with all the necessary amenities, so that they can survive for as long as possible. “This has been the busiest two months I’ve had in 22 years of selling islands,” Chris Krolow, the chief executive of Private Islands Inc., said in July. The pace has not slowed since then, he said. Before the pandemic, an island was typically a vanity purchase that a wealthy client would pursue sometime after retirement, brokers said.

This new wave of island buyers is less driven by ego than a desire to escape the virus, and brokers, like their clients, are newer to pondering survival. So even after a few harried months, brokers are struggling to meet their clients’ new requests, like having agriculture to go with the helicopter landing pad. Dylan Eckardt, an agent for Nest Seekers International, says he gets a lot of calls in the vein of, “Money is no object, put me wherever my family can’t get sick.” He recently tried to deliver on this for one family by renting them a private island in Maine for $250,000 a week.

“Before, an island was a toy,” said Marcus Gondolo-Gordon, the chief executive of Incognito Property based in England. Now clients describe dreams of a “a bloody long boat ride” to ensure that no one will cruise up and infringe on their isolation, he said. They also want access to fresh water, solar panels and a house that is ready to sleep in, tomorrow. And the islands are selling like hot cakes. By the time a client steps on an island’s shore, it’s already gone to another buyer!

5. How millennials became the burnout generation [Source: BuzzFeedNews]

Burnout is something that’s common these days as most of us are working from home, and stretching ourselves. But millennials are the ones who are experiencing burnout the most. Even the author of this piece says how he has been postponing his weekly to-do list. He writes, “None of these tasks were that hard: getting knives sharpened, taking boots to the cobbler, registering my dog for a new license, sending someone a signed copy of my book, scheduling an appointment with the dermatologist, donating books to the library, vacuuming my car.” And he’s not alone. And the reason behind not getting such tasks done is burnout.

So, why are you burned out? Because you’ve internalized the idea that you should be working all the time. Why have you internalized that idea? Because everything and everyone in your life has reinforced it. Life has always been hard, but many millennials are unequipped to deal with the particular ways in which it’s become hard for us. “Burnout” was first recognized as a psychological diagnosis in 1974, applied by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger to cases of “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.” Burnout is of a substantively different category than “exhaustion,” although it’s related. Exhaustion means going to the point where you can’t go any further; burnout means reaching that point and pushing yourself to keep going, whether for days or weeks or years.

Pundits spend a lot of time saying “This is not normal,” but the only way for us to survive, day to day, is to normalize the events, the threats, the barrage of information, the costs, the expectations of us. Burnout isn’t a place to visit and come back from; it’s our permanent residence. To describe millennial burnout accurately is to acknowledge the multiplicity of our lived reality while recognizing our status quo. We’re deeply in debt, working more hours and more jobs for less pay and less security, struggling to achieve the same standards of living as our parents, operating in psychological and physical precariousness, all while being told that if we just work harder, meritocracy will prevail, and we’ll begin thriving. The carrot dangling in front of us is the dream that the to-do list will end, or at least become far more manageable.

6. Inside the airline industry's meltdown [Source: The Guardian

Very few sectors have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic like the air travel. Many people from the industry have been jobless. When an airline no longer wants a plane, it is sent away to a boneyard, a storage facility where it sits outdoors on a paved lot, wingtip to wingtip with other unwanted planes. In February, Patrick Lecer, the CEO of Tarmac Aerosave, the company that owns the Teruel boneyard and three others in France, had one eye cocked towards China. Before the pandemic, there were 78 aircraft at Teruel. By June, there were 114, running near the full capacity of 120-130. Patrick Lecer’s other three boneyards were also “close to saturation”.

Mr. Lecer said, “I’ve been in this business almost 40 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this. The mood is bad. It feels like a tragedy.” Among all the industries hit by Covid-19, aviation suffered in two distinct ways. Most obviously, there was the fear of contagion. No other business depends on putting you into knee-by-thigh proximity with strangers for hours, while whisking potentially diseased humans from one continent to another. Early in March, the International Air Transport Association (Iata) published two potential scenarios. The more extreme one forecast a global loss of revenue of $113bn. By June, Iata had to issue a revision: Revenues will fall by $419bn this year, precisely half of what airlines earned in 2019.

Boet Kreiken, the executive vice-president for customer experience at the Dutch carrier KLM, said, “I’ve seen some crises in my time – the Iraq war, 9/11, Sars, the Icelandic volcano eruption. I know in the gut what that feels like. But this was something else.” Iata predicts that passenger numbers will return to pre-pandemic levels only by 2023, but others in the industry grimly cite 2024 or 2025. In Asian countries including China and India – markets that have been growing faster than most others, as flights became increasingly affordable – Dennis Lau, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Cirium, expects a quicker rebound.

7. Robert Frank — Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work [Source: Skeptic]

In this interview Robert Frank, a Goldwin Smith Professor of Economics at Cornell University, talks about his book Under the Influence. He has published on a variety of subjects, including price and wage discrimination, public utility pricing, the measurement of unemployment spell lengths, and the distributional consequences of direct foreign investment. For the past several years, his research has focused on rivalry and cooperation in economic and social behaviour.

Mr. Frank talks on various topics and some of them are luck, life, peer pressure and pressures on peers, happiness vs. purpose/meaning/comfort, abortion, capital punishment, polygamy, prostitution, and the selling of organs. He also talks about men having 2-3 wives and how it does inequality to other men. That’s like 90 men are fighting for 70 women and the top (rich men) are lucky.

Talking on organ donation, he says there are compelling reasons to make selling of kidneys legal. He says, “you can live with one kidney. My neighbor donated one of his kidneys to the mother of one of his daughter’s friend a couple of years ago. Couple of days in hospital, and he was back to work in 3-4 days. He never talks about it and most people who know him have no idea that he did that. And his life expectancy, unless he has an accident that damages the one remaining kidney, is exactly the same would he had not done that.” Finally, he talks on the Universal Basic Income (UBI), saying he likes the UBI way than before.

8. Mark Hawtin discusses the move to Digital 4.0 and a focus on post-Covid beneficiaries [Source: GAM Investments

In this short video, Mark Hawtin, investment director at GAM Investments, emphasizes on focusing on the post-Covid beneficiaries. He says, “One of the areas that we're looking at currently which is very relevant for a post-Covid world is the move from what we term Digital 3.0 to Digital 4.0. Digital 3 is very much about the big consumer platforms that have been built over the last 10 years.”

Digital 4 is much more about the way in which the next wave of technology will involve greater use of data, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, the connectivity of everything and 5G as an enabling technology. In this time, he says that there has been focus on companies that can benefit from the Covid. But he suggests thinking beyond the pandemic. He thinks many themes have been neglected and he finds few areas interesting such as industrials, technology, healthcare and fintech.

He says, “As we move into a post-Covid world I think one has to be aware of holdings in some of the widely held mega-cap names like Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook in particular. These are broadly held across many many strategies; some of them not even directly technology or growth related. There is a danger that as the market looks beyond Covid these mega-cap names start to go through a period of underperformance as we see a cyclical move into names that will be perhaps much more beneficiaries of a post-Covid world.” And hence, it’s time to focus away from the Covid beneficiaries and onto the post-Covid beneficiaries.

9. Kunal Bahl on successfully raising Angel Investment for your startup [Source: LinkedIn]

The key task for any entrepreneur is raising capital to grow business. So, in this article, Kunal Bahl, entrepreneur and investor, provides some tips for the budding entrepreneurs. Over the last 9 years, after investing in 120+ start-ups (several have gone on to become unicorns and soonicorns, while several didn’t work out) through Titan Capital, here are some thoughts that may be helpful for entrepreneurs to understand how seed-stage investors think. So, what is the investors’ motivation for making angel investments? He writes, “given we can only build one business at a time ourselves, being a small part of another entrepreneur’s journey as it gets built out, and enabling their success, gives us immense vicarious joy and satisfaction.”

When investing at the seed stage, what are they looking for? As there is no product at this stage, they look for: 1) quality of the founding team, 2) size of the market, and 3) unit economics. So, what should founders expect from angel investors? Mr. Bahl writes, “More than capital, the best founders want to surround themselves with good people. As the first investors in the venture, we occupy a different kind of space in the entrepreneur's mind - we don't compete with the VCs as our cheque size is modest and tend to see ourselves as collaborative seed stage investors. We don’t have hard lines drawn on how much ownership we need to have. We are very friendly and easy to work with and usually don't ask for a long list of rights.”

About exiting investments, he says, “Angel investments follow the Power Law and not the Gaussian curve as the stock market. A few investments will deliver outsized outcomes. We think of our investing activities as a business and not a fund. The returns generated from an exit are reinvested behind the next cohort of stellar entrepreneurs. One would want to ensure that there is continuity to this process so that we can help as many entrepreneurs as we can in their respective journeys. Which is why we tend to invest at the earliest stages, mostly by ourselves, taking a very risky bet on what we believe is a passionate entrepreneur and promising business idea.”

10. Podcast: Marico’s Harsh Mariwala on FMCG startups and preferred segments for M&As [Source: VC Circle

In this podcast, Harsh Mariwala, founder, Marico Innovation Foundation & chairman of Marico, talks about investing in new-age consumer brands and their future. He also talks about how he is open to acquiring more new-age FMCG brands after taking over male grooming start-up Beardo earlier this year. He also said that the company would look at acquisitions in the health and beauty segments, in line with its focus areas, as well as the hygiene segment in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

He also talks about Marico Innovation Foundation, a non-profit organisation that Mariwala started in 2003, and how the government can help start-ups. He feels, apart from giving incentives on the fiscal front and the taxation front, ease of doing business is something that the government needs to think about. He says that the key to start-ups’ growth is to have something unique and not be a “me too” business.

Finally, for budding entrepreneurs, particularly for launching consumer brand, Mr. Mariwala gives three tips to ace and grow: 1) It should be a me too kind of an offering, because in a highly competitive environment, me-too won’t succeed. You need to identify what is that something that stands out. 2) Execution is the key. Ideas can look good on paper, but for it to work, you need to execute it well. And for execution, you need talent. 3) Finally governance is crucial. You have to do things in the right manner, because if you take short cuts, in terms of compliances or other regulations which you are to follow, then it will hit back.

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