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Archive for the ‘Caught my attention’ Category

I returned late last night from Stockholm. The first leg of my flight was on Brussels airlines flight. Their in-flight magazine “There” carried very interesting articles on how social networking is transforming travel and shopping sectors.

Nick Calrke, an editor of a city travel guide, writes on how twitter has enriched his travels. He was at a shopping mall in Copenhagen and tweeted about it. Within minutes he got responses recommending a pastry shop on the ground floor and a better mall close by. A guide book cannot compete with this kind of knowledge being shared by-the minute on social media. This coming from the editor of a city speaks for itself. Also guidebook does not lend itself to social interaction.  A group of friends landed in Brussels without any plans-but after asking their twitter followers, they were invited to a private party and saw in the new year with the locals.  

Foursquare is a networking site for travelers. It has a “check in” system which enables you to tell your friends exactly where you are, using the GPS on the phone. It is not just about what you are doing but where you are doing it. It has a game like feel. You can earn points every time you check in and become mayor of somewhere if you check-in enough number of times. Now Facebook too offers a similar functionality called “Places”.

Other sites making an impact on travel are Tripwolf, TravBuddy and Tripatini-dubbed “Facebook of Travel”. David Appel, founder of Tripatini says, “it is no longer about the writer telling the reader where to go and what to see. It is about sharing knowledge when things happen, using people you are connected with online and pooling resources. Which is why social media for travel shows no sign of reaching its final destination-travelers will always want information and social media sites will always be able to provide it.

A Spanish fashion brand Desigual has launched a campaign that rewards its fans for being kind to online bloggers. Fans can indicate which item from their current line they’d like and wait for the company to alert them to a particular blog post to target with uplifting comments. These are not the company’s own blog but rather their favorites chosen from across the web. The first 100 comments that received a reply from the blogger will receive the clothing item they requested. Being a blogger this campaign truly wowed me. What would I not give to be selected by Desigual.

Barcelona is the hotbed of companies with websites that steer purchases through peer group recommendations and collectively bargained discounts.  It may not seem like a great marketing idea, but venture capital is pouring into “Social Shopping” sector.

As they say “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come”

PS: You can read few more interesting articles from “There” magazine here

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I don’t know how many of you watched CNN heroes last Saturday. It was an award show, and if you are thinking it’s another one like the Oscars, you are mistaken. These awards were for real life heroes who are making a difference to the society in their own small way. 

What stuck me when I watched these people and their work was the power of human will. Whatever situation life thrusts you in, it is possible make the best out of it. I was reminded of a quote from Fountainhead “I feel like an alchemist, who took the worst of human refuse and converted it into diamonds”. All these people were selected through online and on-air polls conducted over a two month period. 

The story that moved me the most was that of 12 year old Pedreja. He was diagnosed with leukemia. He found that the bone marrow donors, especially in the minority community were very less. He decided to change this even as he was undergoing treatment. He drove across the country and encouraged people from minority communities to register as bone marrow donors. He made good use of the bald head which he developed as a result of chemotherapy. He used it to raise funds for his campaign by selling advertisement space on his head. In three months he raised $100,000 and signed-up more than 5000 people to his registry. I loved the way he ended his acceptance speech, “You are never too young to make a difference” 

Keyla had an autistic cousin sister whom she was very close to. This 18 year old girl realized that her cousin was very good with music. She was able to memorize songs easily. So she developed a new teaching method using piano keys. She assigned alphabets to the keys and used melodies to teach language and even emotions. This is an area that doctors have grappled with for decades and her methods have created a break-through in autistic research. Although she has won many awards, she says nothing compares to the gratification she felt when she could communicate to her cousin. I understood exactly what she meant when they showed a video, at the end of which her autistic cousin Lorena said, “I love you Keyla” 

These two children made the biggest impression on me, although the others were no less inspiring.  

There was Peter Kethene who lost his parents and several of his siblings to an unknown disease in Africa because his village did not have doctor. He decided that the only way he can help his village is by educating himself. He worked hard and got into a prestigious high school at Nairoi and then university of Washington to study medicine. Even as he was studying he raised funds for setting up a clinic in his native village. In the two years since its inception, the clinic has provided service for more than 18000 patients who previously had no medical care. He ended his acceptance speech with a message to Africa, “Hang in there, the world is watching over us”…………. Is it really?  

There was Steve Piefer who went to Kenya after he lost his child. He fed the starving children in schools and set up computer labs powered by solar energy for them. His work has benefited 11,000+ children. 

Update 15/12/2007

Maya bought to my attention another inspiring story of S.Ramakrishnan, one of the nominees for the Heroes award. He was one of the three finalist is the category ‘Medical Marvel’. He was paralyzed from the neck down in an accident when he was 32 years old. He decided to build a haven for severely disabled children and adults in India. Amar Seva Sangam has become one of India’s largest centers for disabled people and serves thousands of people in 330 villages in Tamil Nadu. The program empowers the disabled through vocational training, operates a school for hundreds of disabled children and offers another specialized school for children with cerebral palsy and mental retardation.I am truly proud of this fellow Indian. Hats off to his courage.

If you are interested in knowing the stories of all the winners and the nominees you can visit http://cnn.com/heroes

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Last Sunday I was watched a talk show on TV called “We the People”. The discussion was about child labor in India and if the solution is as simple as banning it. I have always been on the wall on this subject, especially with respect to employing them as domestic help because I have seen first hand that alternatives are much worse. They work long hours in export companies exposed to health hazards and sexual abuse, they are more protected in a home environment. One person in the audience also made this point. There was a famous designer called Ritu Kumar who talked about craft being passed down generations from father to children. If you ban children from working, these crafts would be lost to the world and they will also lose their livelihood. The other point made was that if you send them to government schools, by the end of their schooling they do not have any skills that can provide livelihood, is it the right option for them? For many children it is the choice between starvation and working. There were, of course few panelists who were outraged that we could still make excuses for child labor after 60 years of independence. 

Till this point in the debate, the audience was divided evenly in its opinion on the subject. I should say so was I. Then, a person who had worked as a Jari worker in his childhood spoke. He talked about how he was forced to take up a job after his father fell ill. He had to work continuously for 14 hours every day. His two fingers are still deformed due to this. He talked about how they were beaten when they made even small mistakes. The anchor asked him, “If it is a choice between starvation and work, isn’t it better to opt for the latter”. He said, “All I can say is that childhood happens only once in a person’s life. If that is spent in these conditions how would his adulthood be? Please give us a chance to live. This can’t be called a life.”. Then he was asked, “The government schools are bad and they don’t equip people for livelihood. Is it fair to force them to go school when they cannot support themselves at the end of it”. He said, “Don’t keep blaming the government. Aren’t you all the people who elect them? It is your responsibility too”. Then the anchor asked, “What if your circumstances are so bad that you cannot survive without sending your children to work”. He said, “if my circumstances were that bad, I will choose not have children”

This was the turning point of the debate. After this, no one could give any palatable excuse for child labor. Even I am in no doubt now. What I would not want for my child, I should not accept for any other child. As one panelist rightly put it, “We do not have enough moral indignation to bring it to a stop. There was a village where I worked and the entire village decided that even a single child of the village would not work. It is because everyone realized that it was inexcusable.”

 I gained another important insight from this debate. If you want to truly understand a problem, just talk to the person who has been through it.

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A couple of months back I remodeled my living room. We hired a contractor to do the painting work. Typically how the contractor earns his living is by taking a percentage on the labor he employees. He charges us, Rs120/ person/day. He would pay Rs100 for the painter and earns a commission of Rs20 per person. The work at my house was completed in a week’s time. A couple of days later, we wanted to hire him for another work in my husband’s office. It was then we discovered that he died of a heart attack. I was shocked. He was a pretty young guy, in his early forties. 

This week my husband told me a very heartening piece of news. All the people whom the contractor employed have decided to pay Rs20 out of their daily wages to the family of the deceased man for the next six months. When you are earning Rs100 a day, Rs20 is a huge amount isn’t it?  I felt, it was a truly magnanimous gesture.  

Then there was a news item this week of man in Madurai who feeds 250 destitutes everyday. I had read this story couple of months back in ‘The Hindu’. Krishnan was a catering graduate and was about to leave for a training in Switzerland. One afternoon, as he was cycling down the streets of Madurai, he saw destitute man eating his own waste. He was so shocked by the scene. He bought a few iddlis from the nearby shop and gave it to him. This incident turned out to be the turning point of his life. He quit his job and started distributing food to destitutes. He used to cycle down the roads of Madurai and hand them food packets. When he started in 2002, he used to cook in his mother’s kitchen all by himself and distribute food to 40 people everyday. He said, “I wanted to feed them what I ate, not some low quality stuff”.  

Today he feeds more than 250 people everyday. Initially his parents were shocked that he gave up a lucrative job to do this but now they are proud of him. Krishnan claims that not a single meal has been missed so far. “My family or friends step in if I am ill or away,” he says. “If I leave them hungry for a day, they will again return to garbage bins” . He also helps in cremating the dead. 

For more details you can refer to this article which was published in The Hindu on June 4th . If you want to help Krishnan in his mission, he can be reached at these numbers 0452-4353439 and +919843319933 

The more I get to hear such stories, the more I feel, you need not be wealthy to be charitable. All it requires is a large heart.

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