Madagascar Notes 2014

2 April 2014

Today, we leave the grey skies of London for our honeymoon in Madagascar. What can I say, other than: “I like to to move it move it!”

3 April 2014

Nairobi, en route from London to Antananarivo. Now we are looking forward to a relaxing and adventurous two weeks in Madagascar.

4 April 2014

After watching swallows swooping and diving at Nairobi airport, we flew to Antananarivo, where we were met by our driver for the week, Harrison. The drive through Tana and on to Andasibe took 4-5 hours, with generally good roads and beautiful rural scenes of rice paddies, mud and stick houses and occasional granite outcrops. We were both exhausted and went to sleep early after a simple dinner of soup.

This morning we woke late (9 am) and went to meet our guide at the National Park. He took us to one of the smaller, community-run national forests, where we opted for a three hour walk. We were incredibly lucky to see first the largest species of chameleon (2 ft in length) and then a family of Indri lemurs, and later common brown lemurs. It is such a delight to see these exquisite creatures in their natural habitat, leaping from tree to tree, stretching between the branches to forage and sitting tree forks to rest. They are naturally curious and some were definitely checking us out. We also visited a sacred tree along the river, where local Malagasy and foreigners (mainly Chinese) come to pray, make small offerings (money and sweets) and light candles. Indira asked a Malagasy man, who had come to pray, to ask for a blessing on our marriage.

After the forest walk, we went to the local village and walked down the main street. The people are poor, living in simple wooden houses and shacks, most without electricity and sanitation. Nevertheless, the streets are vibrant with markets, traders, shops and children returning from school. Some of the Malagasy, especially the rural forest children, are still afraid of white people, as a result of stories told since colonial times of Europeans stealing their blood, heart and sex. Even so, most people have been friendly and not too averse to our photo taking. Now, as I sit in the restaurant, with music playing and cicadas chirruping, I am totally content. The forests are definitely my place of rejuvenation and relaxation.

5 April 2014

Today, we made a 7.30 am start at the Analamazoatra Nature Reserve. We were once again very fortunate. First, we found a family of Indri lemurs that were singing. This strange, plaintive sound is extremely loud, and echoed in reply by other families in the forest. Different family members do appear to harmonise, and though it is more of a howl than a melody, it is exquisitely beautiful and moving. Next, we spotted the small, brown and incredibly cute bamboo lemur, living up to its name by chewing on a stick of bamboo. Finally, we found a family of five sifakas lemurs with their radiant redish-brown fur and white, tufted faces, which literally appear to fly through the forest from tree to tree. Watching them move is one of the miraculous sights that I will treasure forever.

Other highlights of the day included finding two night jars at the base of a tree, completely camouflaged, two different species of chameleon, and the aptly named, bizarrely shaped giraffe beetle, with bright red torso and long black neck, as well as tiny frogs (thumb sized) and spiders the same size. Back at Vakona Lodge, we were lucky to have a front row seat (on the balcony overlooking the lake) of a Madagascar Kingfisher, with its striking orange and blue plumage, brilliant in the light as it dove for fish.

8 April 2014

On Sunday, we drove 6-7 hours from Andasibe to Antsirabe, through verdant landscapes of rice paddies. Along the way, we stopped at a market stall to buy bananas, and another later for corn and spiny (Chinese) cucumber. We also came across a festive gathering of families along the river, near some granite outcrops, where people congregate, perhaps once a month, to do laundry and have a picnic. The clothes spread out on the hillside rocks made a colourful mosaic.

Antsirabe is a fairly big city, the capital, bustling with trade, human chariots (pus-pus?) and bicycle carts (tuk-tuks). Our accommodation, the Couleur Café, was a lush green oasis, with manicured lawns and blossoming bushes, in total contrast with the dusty scenes beyond its walls. We slept, beneath a mosquito net as we have done every night, with the added benefit of a crackling fireplace.

On Monday, Indira woke feeling unwell – seemingly a stomach bug which left her weak and unable to eat the whole day. Consequently, she spent most of the 7-8 hour drive from Antsirabe to Morondava flat on her back on the back seat of the car. As we drove, the landscape became visibly drier, with rice paddies giving way to maize fields and mango trees. We passed huge eroded gashes of red earth, in stark contrast to the green hills and blue skies.

At one point, we stopped near a rural school along the roadside. Soon, an excited throng of children surrounded Indira. We went into the classroom – fairly well equipped with desks and blackboard – much to the delight of the chattering kids. Even the teachers seemed happy with the unexpected curiosity of our visit. As we approached Morondava, we got our first glimpses of the baobabs that characterise this region, before arriving at Chez Maggie, the beachside accommodation where we are staying two nights.

This morning, Indira had recovered some of her strength and appetite, so after breakfast we took a canoe ride across the lagoon and a short way up river, flanked by mangrove forests. Our local guides, two brothers from a nearby island, pointed out the kingfishers along the banks and gave us some idea of life here. We passed an abandoned hotel, which was wiped out by a cyclone in 2003, before visiting the little fishing village across the lagoon. The community seemed fairly self sufficient, but clearly poor, with simple wooden huts and no running water or sanitation. Apart from the poverty, the biggest eyesore is all the plastic litter (bottles and bags). It seems that the plastic ‘flowers’ of Western civilization bloom most prolifically in the poorest communities, a rather sad legacy of ‘progress’.

11 April 2014

On Tuesday afternoon, we drove to the avenue of baobabs, about 30 minutes outside of Morondava. It was such a privilege to be among dozens of these mighty giants, which I believe are around 300 years old. As is to be expected, there were local villagers selling crafts – we bought some wood carvings – and little children pestering to have their photos taken. Indira became quite the favourite among the kids and added to their wonder when she played the Indri singing she had recorded on her iphone. The group ‘selfie’ was also a delight to behold. I put my sun glasses on one little girl, and then a cheeky little boy, to everyone’s general amusement. We stayed until sunset and were able to soak up some of the magic of the place, as birds swirled above and finally settled in the trees.

On Wednesday, we flew to Tana, where we were put up in a hotel (Les Flots Blue) by Air Madagascar due to them rescheduling our connecting flight. We went into town for dinner with Tim and Hery (co-authors for the Madagascar chapter of the World Guide to Sustainable Enterprise) and Tim’s wife.

Yesterday, we flew on to Nosy Be and arrived at our little slice of paradise, L’heuer Bleu, where we will stay for our last five nights. Our wooden bungalow look throw coconut trees to the ocean and small bay, and we have a salt water spill pool and a fresh water swimming pool, plus bar and restaurant deck, all a few metres from us. Last night we went for a stroll along the beach, past two football games, one Malagasy boy practicing break dancing, one descaling a fish, two cutting up a small shark, and lots of little kids diving from a boat and swimming in the sea. These are the places for which the word ‘idyllic’ was invented.

This morning, we woke to watch the sunrise, then went back to bed for a few more hours of sleep, before taking a dip in the pool (me) and having a delicious breakfast – with fresh fruit and juice – on the deck. Now we are back at the pool – Indira sun tanning and me writing; both as happy as pigs in mud.

Wrote Roots in the Skies (poem)

15 April 2014

Our stay at Nosy Be has been extremely relaxing, with many hours spent by the poolside after a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit and juice, pancakes (or scrambled eggs) and tea (or coffee). Lunch has typically been salad rolls and dinner, when we have felt hungry enough, has been a mix-and-match with salads, chips, spaghetti, breaded Camembert, and a variety of desserts, such as coconut or banana tart and Caribbean banana. Most afternoons we walked the 2 km stretch of beach to the other side of the bay and several times took a stroll through the adjacent village. We got the impression that many local Malagasy are still poor, but not as destitute as some in the rural areas of the mainland.

One disappointing discovery was that the sex tourism trade flourishes here – typically old, white men from France and Italy with young Malagasy women, some quite possibly underage. We even had the embarrassment of two men in the bungalow next to ours carrying on indecently with young girls on the balcony at 2 am one morning. We found out that two French men and a Malagasy were murdered on the very beach that our bungalow overlooks. In October last year, they were caught and burned to death by an angry mob who claimed they had a history of paedophilia or capturing young children all over Madagascar. No wonder the FCO and other government offices issued (albeit misleading) warnings about travel to the country.

Yesterday, we went on an excursion to the nearby mini island of Tanikely, 20 minutes by speed boar. Our intention was to snorkel among the coral reefs, but the water was full of stinging jellyfish. I still went ahead and saw some beautiful, colourful fish, but suffered stings on my face, arms and legs as a consequence. Fortunately, the discomfort was temporary and the rashes disappeared quickly. The coral itself was disappointing, 99% bleached and much of it broken, leaving the seabed looking like a cemetery of bones. The guide said this was due to the damaging effects of storm activity and tourism, but I suspect the acidification of the oceans due to climate change is playing its part as well.

After relaxing under the shady trees on the beach – and spotting a curious macaco lemur overhead – we had a picnic lunch (mostly seafood – crab, shrimps and barracuda, but also potato salad and coconut rice). Beneath a nearby tree, we watched hundreds of hermit crabs scurrying to and fro, before walking up a path through the forest to a lighthouse on top of the hill with panoramic views of the surrounding ocean, with Nosy Be, Nosy Komba and the Madagascar mainland on the horizon.

On the way there, we stopped to watch some grey lemurs in the trees and were attacked by a swarm of mosquitos. By the time we realised, our legs were already full of welts. From the lighthouse, our guide spotted a beautiful chameleon with a green body with dark blue stripes and an orange head. Our guide told us that local people often kill this particular species, because it has suicidal tendencies which bring bad luck. Apparently, if the chameleon cannot find enough food, it deliberately eats poisonous leaves (such as cassava), then hangs itself from a branch by its tail and dies. Sad but true.

Our final night was spent watching the third in the Madagascar animated movie trilogy, having watched the first two on previous nights. The tide in the bay was very high, washing right up against the beach houses. We suspect the full moon or lunar eclipse which are due around this time must be the cause. We will take away many wonderful memories from Madagascar – of the lemurs and chameleons, the excited school children and the curious villagers we met, the incredible baobabs and tropical beaches, and our friendly guides. We return with a few gifts – sculptures of baobabs, a canoe and a woman and bright kaftans with ethnic designs.

Now on our way home, just a hop (Antananarivo), skip (Paris) and jump (Amsterdam) – and 24 hours of flying.



Zimbabwe Notes 2014

28 May 2014

Good session in Joburg this morning for Dimension Data on “Your Future Fitness as a Leader & Transforming your Organisation”. Tonight I fly to Zimbabwe – beautiful land of my birth – to speak at a CSR and CSV Indaba. I look forward to unmasking elephants in the room.

RIP Maya Angelou – you inspired many and will continue to empower through your words. And still we rise!

30 May 2014

En route Harare-Joburg-Cape Town. After my parachute-in visit to Zimbabwe – arriving in the dark and leaving the dark – I come away with a few impressions.

Power supply is intermittent, with many street lights, and even airport terminal lights, either turned off or not working. The two nights I stayed – in a hotel and a lodge – were both without the luxury of hot water. Roads in the city lack maintenance, but are by no means undriveable. The mood swings between hope and pessimism, but the general feeling is of being let down by government. The biggest immediate problem seems to be a liquidity crisis, including government employees being paid late for the past three months.

Despite all this, the people I met at the conference I was speaking at all displayed great pride in being Zimbabwean, and especially their ability to survive and adapt. This is a country that has been through decades of breakdown, and the result is remarkable resilience. As I commented to one of the delegates, these survival skills may be in premium demand in future as the rest of the world enters decades of increasing volatility and crisis.




USA Notes 2014

6 September 2014

On my way from London to Detroit today to explore a transatlantic partnership on sustainability and CSR.

7 September 2014

Residence Inn Ann Arbor is home away from home for the next week. It’s near a Burger King & a shopping mall (Briarwood), so I’m all set ;-). Oh my ding-dong-doolally word! I discovered some bigger-than-my-face cookies at the mall (no salad on the side either). As it is, I’m feeling guilty about breakfast, not because of the waffle I had, but everything was throwaway – cups, plates, cutlery, milk.

I spent the day walking around the city, including Michigan University campus and the Museum of Art. There was even a touch of Cambridge about the Law Club building, so I really feel at home. But it got me thinking: Why do we create inspiring green park campuses for students, then send them to work in soulless grey towers?

Among the more interesting sights: American Apparel advertising that they are ‘Sweatshop Free’ in their shop window, and a pedestrian crossing sign that someone had added wings to, so that it looked like an Angel Crossing. Or perhaps it was Nike, which I just discovered is the Greek Winged Goddess of Victory.

12 September 2014

Meetings yesterday were with Tom Bruusema from NSF Sustainability and J. Scot Sharland from AIAG (Automotive Industry Action Group). Enjoyed dinner last night with the inspiring Pradeep Chowdhry – serial innovator, BOP (Bottom of the Pyramid) pioneer and sustainability professor. Today, I also had a good conversation with General Motors Director of Sustainability David Tulauskas. Expecting great things from the new GM.

13 September 2014

Detroit, MI – I have enjoyed my week in Michigan. Working with Chad Kymal from Omnex has given me a rare opportunity to come full circle with my professional journey, connecting back to the kind of business transformation consulting I did at Cap Gemini 20 years ago, but this time applied to my area of interest, i.e. corporate responsibility and sustainability.

The process of co-creating services for Omnex led to an intellectual breakthrough of my own, namely to coin Creating Integrated Value (CIV) as the successor to CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), CSV (Creating Shared Value) and Corporate Sustainability. This is about integrating across issues – which we’ve called S2QE3LCH2, standing for safety, social, quality, economic, environment, ethics, labour, carbon, health and human rights – as well as across management systems and the value chain. Besides designing the CIV approach and services in some detail, the outcome is that Omnex wants me to head up (part time) their CR & sustainability services globally.

Apart from working, I had a chance today to visit the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, where I drove in a Model T Ford and saw a replica of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory complex. It was good to see an acknowledgement – in their review of the 20th century – of the historical impact of the environmental movement after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and more recent pioneers like Seventh Generation. I was struck by how far our technology has come in the past 100 years, but paradoxically how we have failed to reimagine the car in all that time.

Displays like the Weinermobile made me think that innovation without a meaningful goal – like creating a better world – is a waste of imagination. By contrast, Edison’s inventions have all gone through countless waves of creative destruction and reinvention. Of the two figures, I found myself impressed by Ford and inspired by Edison. I also visited the Detroit Institute of the Arts before heading to the airport (and passing the World’s Largest Tyre along the highway).



Sri Lanka Notes 2014

27 September 2014

On my way to Colombo in Sri Lanka. I will lose 4.5 hours but gain about 10 degrees Celsius. Looking forward to a week of new (in)sights.

28 September 2014

Watched “Transcendence” on the plane. It didn’t get great reviews but I enjoyed the human vs machine, imminent apocalypse sci-fi action. Was surprised with floral greetings at the airport in Colombo – a garland of fresh orchids that made me feel very welcome to Sri Lanka. Loving the fresh tropical fruit – not only the availability but also many varieties of each fruit.

30 September 2014

Yesterday, I did a study tour with two colleagues from MVO Nederland. Our first stop was the Dutch fort in Galle, uninteresting except for the fact that its ramparts likely saved lives during the 2004 tsunami, which killed more than 30,000 Sri Lankans. Next, we visited a care home for the mentally and physically disabled, which relies on the Buddhist practice of dana (giving) among the local community, as well as donations from a Dutch multinational, to sustain itself. The residents seemed well looked after, albeit without much in the way of stimulating activities at the home.

Our final destination, 2.5 hours further along the highway and up a winding road into the mountains, was Talawakelle Tea Estates near the small town of Deniyaya. It was fascinating to be shown how this Rainforest Alliance certified farm has changed and adapted to reduce the use of chemicals, increase biodiversity corridors, improve worker’s health (including tackling alcoholism) and stimulate children’s education. They are even piloting an employee ownership scheme called Growing Together, where families are given a plot of land to grow their own tea, which the estate guarantees to buy.

It is not hard to see why foreigners described Sri Lanka as a paradise. The landscape is lush and tropical, with coconut, papaya, banana and mango trees, bright hibiscus and sweet smelling frangipani flowers, rice paddies carpeting the valleys and green tea plantations clinging to the hill slopes. The humid climate is mildly oppressive, but is regularly cooled by torrential downpours. The population remains poor, with per capita GDP of $3,280, but unemployment is less than 10%, GDP growth is around 7%, urban slums are few and far between and the infrastructure is already well established and maintained (especially the roads).

2 October 2014

Last night I attended a dinner at the residence of the Netherlands Ambassador in Sri Lanka & was treated to delicious food and fabulous company. Guests were mostly Sri Lankan and Dutch business leaders. I usually have mixed feelings about the role of privileged diplomats in developing countries, but in this case their relationship brokering and facilitation of knowledge and technology exchange seems to add genuine value.

Today, I took a walk from the hotel down to the National Museum & Gallery. The museum was fairly old fashioned in its displays, but included some beautiful stone carved statues and ancient paintings (some 5th century) – mostly of Buddha and other religious figures. I’m loving the Buddhist culture in Sri Lanka – it resonates very nicely with my Taoist philosophy.

The city bustles, as most do, but gives the distinct feeling of being midway through a massive upgrade – which is precisely what you would expect in an emerging economy. The steamy tropical air is pungent with the whiff of sewage and petrol fumes, interlaced with the scent of spices and fruits. Everywhere you look, construction is going on – with pavements being dug up and new hotels and office blocks rising from the dust.

The traffic is chaotic – with three wheelers, cars and buses weaving every which way – but there is more patience and discipline and less honking than in other emerging cities like those in India or Malaysia.

The emergent nature of things here may explain the generally positive attitudes and cultural pride I have encountered. Having lived with deprivation and conflict in the past, the present wave of income growth and peace (not unrelated) brings a certain contentment and hope for the future, despite many still being poor.

The high levels of education, good English among the professional classes and relatively well protected labour rights all give Sri Lanka a competitive advantage in the region, besides their cultural geniality and natural assets.

3 October 2014

Looking forward to giving the keynote on sustainability leadership at the CSR Sri Lanka inaugural conference. We’re holding the fort for CSR around the world, as CSR International joins with CSR Netherlands and CSR Sri Lanka this week.



Russia Notes 2014

17 November 2014

On our way from a rainy London to an icy Moscow, where the temperatures will not rise above freezing for the duration of our visit this week. Later, hearty dinner at Jagannath, the first/only vegetarian restaurant in Moscow, then a short walk in the freezing cold.

18 November 2014

Hotel Kyznetskiyi Inn, Moscow – Indira and I arrived in Moscow yesterday and were met at the airport and delivered to our hotel by our host for the next few days, Victoria. After checking in, we discovered a charming vegetarian café – apparently the first/only in the city – where we enjoyed a hearty meal and delicious sweets (both rather more inspired by India than Russia). Our rather stylish hotel, which is decked in marble, furnished with gilded chairs and swathed in theatrical drapes, is unfortunately also located right next to a nightclub. Needless to say, it was ‘all about that base’ and we were kept awake by a dull throbbing soundtrack until the early hours.

Today, we had a sumptuous architectural & cultural eye-feast at the Kremlin, Cathedral Square, Lenin’s tomb and the Pushkin gallery. At 10 am, somewhat bleary eyed from the 3-hour time difference with London, not to mention a general lack of sleep, we were met by Victoria at the hotel and set off on foot to see the Kremlin. It is a vast complex and it is hard not to be impressed by the cathedrals with their scalloped roofs, bell towers and golden domes (or in the case of Saint Basil’s Cathedral, its smartie-box coloured turrets looking like something out of a fantasy candy-world.

The visit to Lenin’s tomb was slightly surreal; he looks more like a Madame Tussauds wax work than the real remains of a national hero and global icon. We stopped at the local, exclusive shopping centre and I had a hot chocolate, which, I must add, was like melted chocolate with no more than a drop of milk, so thick and rich it was. Then we walked the 3 km or so to the Pushkin Museum and Gallery, and discovered that not only did it have nothing on Pushkin, it had no Russian art either. So we whisked around the Roman, Greek, Egyptian and Mesopotamian display halls and paused briefly in the European section to admire some beautiful Rembrandt portraits (of an old man and an old woman).

Victoria then took her leave and we had a scrumptious late lunch at The Academy restaurant – cream of broccoli soup and spaghetti with fresh tomatoes and basil for me. I then had a quick peek in the adjacent cathedral (spectacular, yet a bit same-old same-old), after which we strolled back to the hotel, as the setting sun turned golden turrets brilliant and factory smoke pink against the fading sky.

We stopped on the way (mainly to thaw out) at the Magnolia café – a bakery with an assorted array of treats (Indira had a beetroot red ‘velvet’ cheesecake; I a much less adventurous cinnamon biscuit). Final stop at an international bookshop, where we bought a beautiful hand-sized edition of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (for Veneta) and an illustrated collection of Pushkin’s fairytales.

19 November 2014

Another sleep-deprived night of base-beat torture. In the morning, we were met by Alexey Kostin, who I have only previously met virtually as Russia’s contributor to The World Guide to CSR. In fact, it was Alexey who recommended me as a keynote speaker for tomorrow’s conference. After a coffee, we took the subway (which seems perfectly efficient, albeit rather noisy) to visit the art gallery of Zurab Tsereteli.

What a revelation! We were blown away by the variety, vividness, energy and scale (micro and macro) of his paintings and sculptures. I loved how so many of his art works depict ‘ordinary’ people, although he is no stranger to celebrity sculptures (Putin, Charlie Chaplin, Princess Diana, Van Gogh, Mother Teresa, etc.).

I kept shaking my head in awe at the volume of work, the audacity of ambition and the incredible diversity of styles, themes and subjects. He is a true artist – a creative spirit who could express himself in virtually any medium, should he choose to do so. Afterwards, we travelled to the Venetsia restaurant for an excellent lunch, before returning to the hotel (and a quieter room, we hope).

Alexey’s perspectives on Russia and CSR were most interesting and informative. It is clear he fears for the impacts of the present Ukraine crisis, although does not believe Putin is entirely to blame. CSR, it seems, has stalled, with companies adopting a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude. Meanwhile, with plentiful resources and a strong oil and gas industry, environmental issues like climate change stand little chance of making it onto the agenda.

Although multinationals keep pace with developments like GRI reporting, it seems the appetite and pressure for transforming business to be more sustainable is negligible. I have a feeling Russia will need to discover its own path towards creating integrated value, perhaps through corporate governance or state sponsored social responsibility.

There is already a strong paternalistic tradition of philanthropy, but this is unlikely to do much more than treat the symptoms of our socio-economic ills, rather than the cause. Somehow, the situation here appears similar to how I image the operating context and approach of Rockefeller in the ‘robber baron’ 1800s in the USA. Of course, tomorrow’s conference may dispel this as a myth.

In the evening, we met Fabrice Mathieu, head of sustainability for Royal Canin, for drinks at the Space Bar at the top of the Swiss Hotel, with 360 degree panoramic views of the city.

20 November 2014

Looking forward to giving the keynote speech on Making a Difference through Social Responsibility at the MGIMO International Forum in Moscow. Later, excellent insights by Indira on social enterprise on the positive economics panel.

21 November 2014

En route Moscow to London. A misty, frosty morning (-8 degrees C) as we leave Moscow behind on a delayed flight home. Yesterday’s conference was more typical of an academic colloquium than a commercial seminar, with an over-packed agenda, much pontificating and little real discussion or audience participation. It presented a mixed picture of the state of CSR in Russia, with some clearly stuck in philanthropy mode and others excited about social enterprise.

If there was a common theme, it was a pervasive sense of crisis and relative impotence in the face of a less than positive outlook. My presentation and Indira’s panel contribution were both well received, and there is a good chance we will be invited back. However, I was left reflecting that ‘strategies for resilience’ may be a more helpful topic in future than ‘making a difference’ or ‘positive economics’.

Despite the warmth and hospitality of our hosts and Alexey, I could help feeling an insidious bleakness, whether from the dearth of trees in the city, the concrete block architecture, the stark winter landscapes, or the pessimism shadowing a shrinking economy facing multiple crises, I cannot be sure.

Nevertheless, it was wonderful to share this experience of Russia with Indira. Not only are we creating a rich mosaic of shared memories, but we are also starting to shape a collaborative and complementary work offering. Ahead, we have Ecuador and very likely Sri Lanka together.



Ecuador Notes 2014

8 December 2014

Arrived in time to see a beautiful sunset casting swathes of pink across the skies of Quito, then on to Roberto and Johanna’s home (and ours for the next week), where we had a simple yet tasty dinner (cheese, bread and salad). The evening ended with piano recitations by Roberto and his two daughters, before jetlag finally caught up with us and we fell into bed and slept like a log (until 5.30 am).

Today, we attended a stakeholder mediation for Tevcol, a security transit company that is being certified to the S2M standard for which I am the international verifier. The dialogue was held at the foundation and gallery of the famous Ecuadorian artist Guayasamin. His portraits are so powerful in the stark way they capture human emotions, many representing the suffering and pain of the indigenous population.

After driving around the Old Town of Quito and stopping for ice cream overlooking one of the valleys, we went with Roberto and Johanna to the Vigil of the Virgin Mary, which is commemorated every year on this day. The community event was held at a private Catholic school and included a recitation of the five joyful mysteries surrounding the life of Jesus, with dozens of Hail Mary’s and various songs and testimonials in between – all in Spanish of course. It was strange, yet also familiar (given my Christian youth), to experience this devout religious event. I suppose it was a kind of cultural education.

9 December 2014

Today, we are once again back at the Guayasamin Foundation, attending a sustainability measurement workshop for SERTECPET (an oil technology and servicing company). As we arrived early, I had the chance to inspect some of Guayasamin’s paintings. His style, often using a palette knife to apply layers of paint and variations of colour, resonates strongly with my own evolving preference.

11 December 2014

Excellent dialogues yesterday on creating a Sustainable Quito and promoting culture and social responsibility.

12 December 2014

Yesterday was a day of shared sustainability insights at Hexagon’s CSR forum in Quito, with me preaching Integrated Value (CIV). Today, early start (3.30 am) to get a flight to Cuenca for a CEO breakfast, university lecture and lunch with the mayor.

13 December 2014

About to set off on tropical adventures with my love. Super excited to be heading to the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest today, visiting communities 5 hours drive from Cuenca.

15 December 2014

En-route from Quito to London via Guayaquil and Madrid. After a mad scramble to catch the planes in both Quito and Madrid, finally I have a chance to catch my breath and catch up on the diary. On Wednesday (10 December), we conducted a dialogue with a variety of stakeholders interested in the arts and culture of Ecuador. Incredibly, Guayasamin’s son (Pablo) and grandson were attending. Afterwards, we had a chance to talk with Pablo and he shared some insights about his father. Apparently, his personal motivation was promoting peace, rather than happiness.

In the evening, we were hosted for dinner by the British ambassador in Ecuador (Patrick Müller) and then on Thursday (11 December), with all international experts present – myself and Indira, Wendy Chapple from ICCSR at Nottingham University, where I did my PhD, and Aris Vrettos from the Institute for Sustainability Leadership at Cambridge University, where I am Senior Associate – we held a seminar on the Sustainable Quito strategy for the Environmental Secretariat of the local government.

In the evening, we attended a dinner hosted by Gustavo Baroja, the Prefect of Pichincha province and on Friday (12 December) we woke at 3.30 am to catch an early flight to Cuenca, where we had breakfast with Juan Pablo Eljuri, CEO of Eljuri Group and apparently the richest man in Ecuador. Next were presentations to a packed hall of academics and students at one of the private universities, lunch with the city major (Marcelo Cabreia), a short bus tour in the rain and evening talks to around 300 executives at an event jointly sponsored by Diageo and Eljuri Group.

By this point, we were all exhausted and rather short tempered from lack of sleep, altitude sickness (which affected Indira the worst) and the stress of the relentless pace of work. Also, in typical Latin style, the agendas, formats and timings of events were all moving goalposts, so we did not feel as prepared as we would have liked. Nevertheless, the presentations seemed to go down well, with Aris on sustainability trends and leadership, me on sustainable business and integrated value, Indira on migration trends and social entrepreneurship, and Wendy on co-governance and certification systems.

On Saturday, we awoke in high spirits and set off at about 8.30 for Macas in the Amazon region, roughly a 5-hour drive. The journey through the winding alpine roads of the Andean landscape was spectacular, gradually giving way to the more forested scenery of the Amazon region. On the way, we passed little shrines on the mountain roadside and stopped for lunch (rice, beans and plantain bananas) in a town called Chordeleg, which specialised in fine jewellery.

As soon as we arrived in Macas, we were taken to a beautiful open sided, wooden roofed meeting space, surrounded on all sides by the rainforest, where the assembled community of indigenous leaders were all waiting for us, many wearing traditional face paint, headdresses and clothes. Our messages seemed to be well received and sparked a dialogue in which several of the leaders expressed their passion for the forest, their pride in their culture (most were from the Achuar nation) and their anger at the extractive industries and the national government, especially President Correa, who they see as a sell out to the oil and mining companies.

We felt immensely privileged to be hosted by the Prefect of the region, Marcelino Chumpi and President of the Achuar nation, Jaime Vargas. The Achuar nation is one of the few that was never conquered or colonised, perhaps because of their remoteness in the Amazon and their reputation as fierce warriors who practiced the art of tzanza, shrinking the heads and sewing the lips =of their slain enemies. This fearsome tradition apparently continued into the 1960s, according to a documentary that was made in 1965. To our great surprise and delight, Jaime arranged for us to visit one of the remote communities living in the Amazon rainforest the next day.

In the morning we set off in a 9-seater plane and flew to Tzapapentza, a small community of 300 people (the second largest of the Achuar nation) living in the Amazon near the border with Peru. To get there, we flew for about 40 minutes from Macas over breathtaking vistas of continuous rainforest. Apparently, it takes them days on foot and by canoe to reach the nearest town. We arrived to find the community assembled under a massive open-air pergola.

Immediately, the President of the Achuar nation (Jaime) and the protector of the community sat on chairs opposite one another in the middle of the assembled group. Both looked impressive in their regalia of face-paint and feathered headdresses, and in the case of the Protector, a rifle across his lap. They entered into a melodic call-and-response greeting, passing on news and asking permission to enter the community, while drinking the local brew (chicha) from patterned bowls made from clay.

While this was going on, a steady stream of women was passing bowls of chicha to each of us as guests, for us to sip. The drink had a sour, fermented taste and, I noticed, the froth of what looked very much like saliva floating on the surface. I later found out that this wasn’t far from the truth, as chichi is made by chewing grain (maize of quinoa) and spitting it into a bucket for fermentation for a few hours. Chicha literally means ‘to sour a drink’. After a series of speeches by the local leaders, Roberto and Aris made short comments of thanks and shared some ideas on how we may support them and their cause.

Their most immediate need seems to be to have a road built, which would allow them to get their products out to the national and international market. Apart from traditional housing (made from timber), they do have many basic facilities already, including electricity (from solar panels) and a small information centre, which connects them to the Internet. They wear Western clothes and they have a school and dusty sports playing fields (for football and ecua-volley, a type of volleyball), but no clinic or doctor. Any emergency cases have to call on a flying doctor.

As a gesture of goodwill, we clubbed together and I offered a gift of cash ($240) on behalf of the team. In my little speech, I told the story of the two hungers in Africa: the lesser hunger for food and water and houses, and the greater hunger for a sacred purpose in life. Today, I said, we join with the Tzapapentza community in their sacred task of protecting their cultural rights and their forest. The money, I said, is merely a token of our gratitude for being welcomed into the community, knowing that friendship is the true gift that keeps on giving.

After sharing lunch – including a scrumptious caimito fruit (like a grapefruit sized grape, which tasted a bit like mango, but without the stringy texture; I brought home 5 seeds in the hope of growing it in Cambridge and in Swellendam), plantain, coconut water (slightly fermented) and chicken soup for the others. We then flew to Shell (a small town) and drove back to Quito, nearly missing our flight to Madrid. In fact, we only made it thanks to a bridge constructed by the current government and opened a week earlier. Ironic really, having just spent the last few days listening to strong declarations of opposition by the Achuar people to the incumbent president and his government.



South Africa Notes 2015

28 January 2015

I’m on the National Express bus from Heathrow Terminal 5 to Cambridge, via Stansted Airport, the final leg of my journey home from Swellendam. It has been a good two weeks or so, achieving that rare balance between work and leisure, family and friends, activity and reflection. In Joburg, I delivered six 3.5 hour MBA lectures over the course of 4 days at GIBS – tiring but rewarding. Happily, my contract as Transnet Chair of Sustainable Business has been extended for another year, and plans to create an African Centre for Sustainable Enterprise were given another injection of energy.

Besides work, I had the chance to spend time with Richard Combrink, first to work on the Ubiquity University course on Finance and Management Accounting that we are co-designing, and then for a movie (Mr Turner) and dinner. Richard was one of my first role models, when he was my maths teacher in high school, and I still have great admiration for him. His positive attitude and perseverance are great strengths, which I have no doubt will reap their rewards one day, despite numerous setbacks over the past 10 years. I also had dinner with high school friend, Clinton Bacon, and his wife Bev. We live very different lives now, but it was wonderful to catch up and know that he is still the warm, funny guy I knew 20 years ago.

Indira flew directly to Cape Town a few days before me. On the morning I arrived, we all went for lunch with my uncle (Dad’s brother) Jim and aunt Sue at their home near Muizenberg. Their son Anton and daughter Vivienne (with 8 month old twins), both of whom I haven’t seen for at least 25 years, also popped in, so it turned out to be a nice family gathering. We also took the opportunity to ask Jim for a few tips about setting up Whispers of Africa, drawing on his vast entrepreneurial experience. We then headed to Kirstenbosch to check out the new Boomslang aerial walkway through the forest canopy, named for its snaking, ribbed design. After meeting my friend Dale Williams for tea, we drove the 2.5 hours to Mountain View Swellendam.

The next two days, Indira and I drove to Witsand, where we swam in the tidal pool, sunbathed (at least she did, while I hid under the umbrella and read my book) and climbed the giant sand dunes. We ate at the Anchorage restaurant and the Breede River Lodge and watched kite surfers zipping up and down the bay and river estuary. We also went with my parents to the Blue Cow tearoom in Barrydale, overlooking a dam broiling with masses of hungry catfish. On Indira’s final day, we took a leisurely drive to the airport, stopping to explore the Stone Age Klipgat caves near Gansbaai (which we discovered by accident). We also swam at Grotto Bay (with its leg-achingly icy water), had lunch in Hermanus and enjoyed tea in the gardens at Houw Hoek Inn. It was a fabulous few days of contentment, brimming with joy and love.

Yesterday, I drove with Mom to the airport. We took the N1 route, via Bonnievale and Robertson, with their scenic vineyards flanked with bougainvillea and canna flowers, and Worcester, where we stopped for tea. En route, we talked about art, spirituality and the power of resonance. Mom also shared some interesting meditations and dreams she has had. We met my friend Sean de Bruin for lunch at Tygervalley Mall, then Mom and I watched ‘Into the Woods’, a fun twist on some classic fairy tales (Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood).



Personality Q&A

This Q&A is taken from a “Friendship Quiz” that I responded to in 2005, when they were doing the rounds on email. A bit of fun …

2005 Interview

What time did you get up this morning?

About 7.30. Long, long time ago, I used to jump out of bed at 6 am like clockwork. But more recently, I’ve been spoiled. Maybe I just need beauty sleep more and more these days?

Diamonds or pearls?

I like the organic lustre of pearls, preferably ones that look natural, rather than artificial. I am also a sucker for pearl symbolism (something beautiful emerging from a tiny piece of grit). In general, I like simple, elegant jewellery on women.

What was the last film you saw at the cinema?

Mr and Mrs Smith. I enjoyed it as an action-entertainment film with an interpersonal twist of humour, although I must qualify that I went in with extremely low expectations. It was a good distraction for a few hours. Generally, I like a good suspense/whodunit, epic scifi and romantic comedy. And now I’m developing a taste for filme la francais.

What is your favourite TV show?

I don’t watch a lot of TV – there are too many other better ways to spend my time. But I do enjoy a good series. Way back when, it was Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure. I really like David Lynch’s quirky communities and eccentric characters. Currently, it is probably CSI – nothing like a good bit of forensic investigation, although I can do without the cam zoom-inside-the-body (usually mutilated or decaying) tricks which seem all the rage these days.

What is your middle name?

Well, I either have none or two. I was born middle nameless. But on my 21st, I added two middle names – Africa and Merlin-Tao. For me, names should have symbolic meaning, and these self-chosen names are all about my roots in Africa and the contribution I can make to the continent, as well as the path that I am treading in this life, which aspires to be the Way of the Mystic.

What is your favourite cuisine?

It has to be Indian curry (vegetarian of course, nothing with a face) – the spices, textures and flavours are a sure guarantee that I’ll overeat every time. Cheese probably comes a close second, but I’m quite fussy which cheese. I like flavoursome kinds like Gruyere, Apple-smoked Cheddar and crispy Danish Blue, but I avoid the gooey ones like Camembert (unless of course they are crumbed and deep fried with a fruit preserve on the side).

What foods do you dislike?

All time most disgusting (I am ashamed to say as an African) must be okra – green, slimey and stringy. Asparagus also falls into the category of stringy foods (although it has the additional sin of being anaemic). Although to be honest, I have been known to eat the dreaded stuff if it is fresh and well disguised. The other never-eat-unless-you’re-starving-to-death food is olives, of any hue. But I like olive oil – how does that work?

What are your favourite potato chips? 

That’s an unfair question, like asking your favourite sexual position. How to choose!? ALL potato chips are good (and sex is even good without potato chips). But if I were forced to choose, it would probably be Chinese Chutney flavour, or Sour-cream and herbs, fried to a crispy golden delight (I think I need a job in a Chip Marketing department).

What is your favourite CD at the moment?

Tough one again. I like so much music of such a variety. But right this moment, it is probably a compilation I made myself, called Haunting Beauty. It includes tracks like My Immortal (Evanescence), Lonely Sky (Chris de Burgh), and You Have Been Loved (George Michael). If it has to be a bought CD, it would probably have to be the Moulin Rouge soundtrack.

What kind of car do you drive?

Umm, a gold (read: dirty beige-brown) one. Rover, automatic. Cars are not really my thing, beyond getting me from A to B. But if I had to go a bit more upmarket, I’ve always liked the Honda Prelude, and further up the ego-chain, Mazda’s sports cars have a nice sleek look about them, without having to lie flat on your back to drive them.

Favourite sandwich ?

Toasted Italian bread, melted butter, with bacon (vegetarian of course) and fresh tomato slices, seasoned with salt and pepper. Darn – now I’m drooling on the keyboard!

What characteristics do you despise?

Misguided self-importance, devious manipulation, deliberate dishonesty, any kind of proselytising

Favourite item of clothing?

I have a weakness for African-style shirts. The colours and patterns invigorate me, and the loose-fitting style relaxes me. Having said that, I live in t-shirts, and will seldom put on trousers if I can get away with it – not everyone feels as comfortable about this as I do.

If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go?

The Amazon rain forest is probably the one place I have a real yearning for. Lush, natural forests are where my soul finds peace. And then I want to travel in Africa forever – I can never get enough of its earthy sights and sounds. The list of other places I’d like to see is as long as the world is wide – mostly places of natural beauty (like Alaska and New Zealand) or ancient civilizations (like Petra and Machu Picchu).

What colour is your bathroom?

Let me first confess that I had to go and look. White walls, olive-green bath, basin and toilet, pink(ish) carpet. If the water is hot and everything flushes, I’m not particularly concerned to be honest.

Favourite brand of clothing?

No-name brands. Although, I could tell you a little secret about a certain Presidential Shirts company in South Africa. I expect one day, I will only wear Madiba (Mandela) type shirts when I go to formal functions (with trousers of course, despite the inconvenience).

Where would you retire to?

Leaving aside that I don’t plan to retire, I would like to live somewhere near the sea or indigenous forests. Misty Cliffs in Cape Town or Knysna up the east coast of South Africa come to mind.

Favourite time of day?

It has to be the time I so seldom see (through no-one’s fault but my own) and that is dawn. Every time I see a sunrise and breathe in the fresh, crisp morning air, I berate myself for not being up to experience it more often. I am at my most alert and creative in the morning (although, as my wife will testify, NOT immediately after waking up).

What was your most memorable birthday?

My 21st. I had a ceremony where I invited family and friends, I went through a renaming ritual (see 5 above), and accepted a wooden Ankh (Egyptian Key to Life), which my parents carved and inscribed with hieroglyphic symbols that held special meaning.

Where were you born?

Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Favourite sport to watch ?

Virtually any sport (although I still struggle to appreciate golf and motor racing) – I’ve even world championships for darts and poker. But favourite, I would probably say rugby (or one-day cricket .. or athletics .. or ..). I have presumed that women in skimpy bikini’s playing volleyball isn’t so much a sport as a guilty pleasure.

Who do you least expect to send this quiz back to you?

God (she’s a notoriously bad correspondent!)

Coke or Pepsi?

Coke, although it has to be with popcorn at the movies, or when I’m hot and thirsty (like after a game of soccer), and preferably with a slice of lemon. Otherwise, I’m not a great cold drink drinker. (A beer shandy slides down well sometimes though .. beer mixed with lemonade for the uninitiated).

Are you a morning person or night owl?

I think I answered this one already. I occasionally get a late-night burst of energy.

What is your shoe size?

Seven, so yeah, about the same age as I act most of the time.

Do you have any pets?

Absent pets, back in South Africa, yes – Bobby and Dusk (dogs) and Pippa and Shadow (cats). I used to have a wonderful pet rat with a kink in his tail, called Sniffles. I also have quite a few pet carvings (mostly made from wood), which I dote on and find are remarkably low maintenance.

Any new and exciting news you’d like to share with your family and friends?

Sure, why not. I’ve just signed the publishers agreement for my next book, called Business Frontiers.

What did you want to be when you were little?

Bigger? No, seriously, I’m not sure I remember wanting to be anything. I know I did consider being a missionary at one stage.

What were you meant to be doing today?

Analysing my research interviews for my doctorate.

What is your favourite colour?

Probably purple and yellow.

What is your favourite ice cream flavour?

Lemon / citrus .. preferably creamy ice cream (Italian), but sorbets are also nice.

What book are you currently reading?

I seldom read one book at a time. At the moment it is South Africa: The First Man, The Last Nation (RW Johnson), The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (CS Lewis), Nelson Mandela: In His Own Words, Poem for the Day, The Seed Is Mine: The Life of a South African Sharecropper (C van Onselen), Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change (DE Beck & CC Cowan), and The Impressionists: The Complete Guide From Cezanne to Van Gogh. Oh, and I suppose I should add the Encarta Concise Dictionary and Websters Thesaurus (I’m on a little spree of reading them, page by page). So there you have it – sounds more impressive than it is. It just means I take aeons to finish books.


Ireland Notes 1996

12 May 1996

Aran Island. As I sit here on a stone bench out the back of the Lodge, sun caressing my body and playing hide and seek among the clouds, views of green fields diced up by stone walls, listening to Irish love songs on my walkman – this is contentment! These Aran Islands have a stark and barren beauty that touches the soul. The feeling here is one of wholesome living. On our first day here – Wednesday – I cycled to the northwest end of the island, a 12 mile round trip. The day seemed timeless. Together with Niroshini and Ayala, I lingered on beach, flat-rock, volcanic sea shore and cliff – a perfect day!

Subsequently, we had meetings with the island Cooperative and Credit Union, both inspiring modes for community empowerment and self-reliance. Time spent with our hosts, Dara and Tess, has been interspersed with discussions of Celtic Christianity, Island culture, and engaging in life in spiritual, academic and pragmatic ways. These have confirmed my sense that rootedness and involvement is one of the most effective ways and authentic means of responding to the issues of the contemporary world.

aran island

Yesterday, we all created a special ritual, consisting of walking seven times around a well (in accordance with ancient Celtic tradition), chanting “This is sacred ground on which we walk, for the spirits/nature/people are with us, which makes it sacred”, followed by a cleansing and blessing drink from the well. We then acknowledged the beauty above, below, around and within us in a Native American adapted chant, as well as imagining ourselves rooted to the earth and connecting our energies with it and each other. Finally, we made a procession down to the ocean to drum beat, where we symbolically cast our “baggage” upon the waves to be cleansed and washed away, ending with a vocal expression of the chakra energies.

Last night we joined the locals in the pub to soak up and join in with the music making – flute, whistle, fiddle, drums, accordion, banjo – a sound sensation! Today, we leave by ferry for the mainland. Before coming to Aran, we travelled via Belfast and Dublin. Most worthwhile was a visit to New Grange, a 5 000 year old prehistoric burial site with exquisite swirling patterns carved into the rocks, 18th century graffiti, and a special Winter solstice sun-lighting effect. Being in the chamber, as well as walking among the standing stones around it, was simply awe-inspiring; almost a mystical connecting experience back through the millennia of time.

18 May 1996

I am on the ferry from Belfast heading back to Edinburgh. The field trip is over. Yesterday, I walked the 23 mile ancient pilgrim trail of St Patrick, from Ballintuber Abbey to the top of the Croagh Patrick mountain, passing over field, bog, road and rock, through sun, rain, wind, hail and mist. On the way we saw ancient burial sites and inscribed standing stones. We witnessed death and life in the same field – the skeletal remains of a sheep and a newborn lamb only hours old, swaying on wobbly legs trying to get its first suckle. I can imagine how such a pilgrimage might serve as a spiritual journey also – the ecstasy and the pain, losing the way and re-finding the path, the seasons, the cycle of life, the nourishment from the grove streams and the panoramic view from the mountain summit.

In my time in Ireland, I’ve come to appreciate the potentially dynamic role of music in culture and community, the value of roots and discovering one’s past, as well as finding ways in which to make a unique contribution to the world. Also, I have

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Ecuador & Dominican Republic Notes 2012

05 September 2012

En route to Quito. It’s been a tiring day-and-a-half of airports, queues, flights, taxis and a brief few hours in a hotel. London-Miami-Santa Domingo-Panama City-Quito is certainly not the most direct way to get to Ecuador, but needs must.

The air time has been unusually unproductive and unreflective, despite pre-flight plans to mark Cambridge dissertations. Instead, I have been entertained by the Alien prequel Prometheus, an offbeat Scottish heart-warmer The Angel’s Share (bad lad finds meaning in life via a whiskey distillery) and the amusing period film Hysteria (about the invention of the vibrator as a cure for anxiety in housewives). I have also been listening to the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (A Study in Scarlet) and At World’s End (Ken Follett), besides reading wizard detective Pete’s exploits in Moon Over Soho (Ben Aaronovitch).

Ahead lies a busy schedule of talks in Ecuador, followed by a keynote in Dominican Republic, hopefully with a few days of R&R in and around Santa Domingo.

07 September 2012

Had a great day yesterday – addressed a CEO breakfast in Guayaquil, then drove 3 hours over the Andes to visit a porcelain factory in Cuenca.

I’ve written a review of John Elkington’s The Zeronauts – “guaranteed to inspire a new generation of sustainability”.

08 September 2012

Had a good workshop today in Quito, using the CSR 2.0 Self-Assessment Diagnostic tool. Interesting regional differences between cities.

09 September 2012

Arrived in Dominican Rep last night. Today, explored Santa Domingo’s old city. Hot & sticky, but a wonderfully vibrant culture & great music. Enjoying working at my hotel in Santa Domingo beside a pool with turtles swimming around & basking in the sun on the rocks! 🙂 Watching the US Open Tennis men’s final. Can Murray hold his nerve & go on to win his first grandslam title? Go Andy go!

11 September 2012

Enjoyed giving the keynote at Dominican Republic’s 1st CSR conference by INTRAS. Tonight, a taste of Santa Domingo’s music & dance!

13 September 2012

In transit in Miami airport for the n-th time. One day, I need to get beyond the terminal to the beach! Looking forward to being home.

19 November 2012

I’m in Quito, Ecuador for the week, presenting at various events on the ethical economy, responsible business 2.0. & future fitness

Just heard that I’m to be included in the CSR International Top 20 Sustainability Leaders of 2012, based on an expert poll.

21 November 2012

Had an interesting session today at the Chamber of Commerce in Quito, talking about safe, shared, smart, sustainable & satisfying futures

23 November 2012

Another busy day in Ecuador, including a TV interview. Tomorrow is the Charity Ball, where I’ll be posing as a penguin

24 November 2012


Had a packed week, presenting to students at the Catholic University, entrepreneurs at the British-Ecuador Chamber of Commerce, local government agencies at the National Decentralisation Strategy event, NGOs dealing with women and rural development, companies embarking on S2M certification in the security and oil sectors, and the newly established Minister of Transparency – all this as part of Responsibility 2.0 Week. The forums gave me a great opportunity to test out my 5-S Future-Fitness Framework, which proved to have great potential as a tool for dialogue and planning among multiple stakeholders. Participants were able to identify problems, measures and actions to guide progress towards a more safe, shared, smart, sustainable and satisfying future.

As always, I was generously hosted by Roberto Salazar and his companies, Hexagon and S2M. We have resolved to collaborate on a research paper based on our experiences this week, and I will also focus one of my Guardian columns on dialogue as a catalyst for social cohesion in Ecuador. We finished off the week with a Charity Ball last night, which saw me schmoozing with the British and EU ambassadors in Ecuador, doing my best to impersonate a penguin (in my tuxedo). There was a fantastic live band called The Academicians and the lively dancing was pure joy to watch – and to indulge in. No wonder Latin Americans score so high on measures of happiness and life satisfaction. Somehow, celebration is at the heart of their culture, despite all the challenges faced by people in the region.

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