Why do Charity Boxes Get So Little Patronage

Charity Box

Charity Box

As I walked towards the store exit at Shoprite, Ikeja Shopping Mall, the day before yesterday, I noticed a see-through plastic charity box like the one in the picture, standing on the floor. I couldn’t quite remember if it had always been there on previous visits or if it was just placed for the first time, but for some reason it caught my attention immediately that day.

I believe now what attracted me to the box was my desire to see the Naira denominations shoppers were dropping into it. When I stepped closer, all I could see were the lower denominations ranging from N5 to N20! What surprised me in a humorous way was that at that very moment I was also searching through my pockets and wallet with my minds eye to remember if I had any N10 or N20 notes I could drop in the box. I chuckled!

Considering the abundance in the large store and the seeming affluence of the shoppers, why were they dropping such low denominations instead of higher ones? Why was I also looking for a low denomination to drop when I knew I had higher ones? Was it a crime to drop a N200, N500 or even a N1000 note to help the needy?

I thought about this for a while and eventually concluded that this inclination may come down to the general distrust Nigerians have for charity boxes. Does the money actually get to the intended recipients? What is the real motivation (now thinking in a broader sense) behind forming charities in Nigeria? Is it for the same selfish and corrupt intent we commonly see? At least those were the questions running through my mind when I really thought about it.

Despite my concerns, I sincerely hope the money gets to those that really need it. It would also help if we were told what the previous donations were used for and who the beneficiaries are; then maybe we would be encouraged to give more!

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Can Women Mentor Men?

I often wonder why when we talk of mentoring my first thought goes to men or male mentors. Very rarely do I talk or even think about female mentors. Interestingly, this predisposition applies to most men and maybe even women. When the subject of mentoring comes up especially as it relates to a mentors gender, we most often imagine a HE. Even where such relationships do exist i.e. female mentor to male mentee, it is not usually recognised and acknowledged as such.

What could be the reason for this? Is it due to gender inequality or the age old perception of women as being the weaker sex?

I’m not writing to question whether women can be good mentors generally. That question, I believe, was well answered in the article Male vs. Female Mentors by Connie Glaser. I am writing – as the topic suggests – on the question of whether females in any leadership capacity can effectively mentor males. Before I delve further, it would be worthy to define in lay man’s terms who a mentor is and what mentoring is all about.

A mentor must be experienced in at least one area of life, mature, approachable, patient, and have a sincere interest in grooming anyone (approved by the mentor) that has shown a keen interest in learning. Notice I didn’t use the word ‘teaching anyone’ because I’ve found that most times mentors are busy people. They don’t always have the time to spend exclusively with their mentees, sharing their knowledge and experiences, but they usually provide an open atmosphere for you to learn from them. They can give you access to their work, their time, their resources, their social or business networks, and sometimes even their personal lives. This level of access makes it possible for the mentee to learn proactively without having to be spoon fed.

A mentor doesn’t have to know everything and of course most don’t, but they do have to be knowledgeable and experienced in the area that made them attractive to the mentee in the first place. It is possible that a mentee may even have some skills that the mentor lacks but this should in no way hamper the relationship. Instead, it should strengthen it. Mentoring is about bringing out the best in people thereby enabling them reach their full potential and this can happen for a mentor as well even if not obviously. There’s no rule that says learning must be a one way street.

One may then ask, can’t women provide the kind of mentoring mentioned in the paragraphs above?

I’d say a big yes! But then, mentoring a man is another issue. A male mentor would most times display strength, manliness, and leadership and these traits would be very attractive to most male mentees. A female mentor on the other hand could at her unguarded moment experience sudden unexplainable mood swings, become unnecessarily emotional and generally act like a woman (for lack of better specific examples), in the presence of her mentee. Such behaviour could immediately have a negative impact on a man because most men see this as a weakness.

In times past as well as in our present day women have ruled nations of the world, no doubt, and even less notable women hold influential positions in the midst of their male counterparts, but I can’t say if they inspire enough confidence in the minds of the younger male folk who should see them as potential mentors, as much as a man would do in a similar position.

For a male mentee considering a female mentor, it is important that he defines from the start exactly what aspect of the mentors life he would like to learn from, so he doesn’t get discouraged or confused about her suitability as a mentor… (I’ll end this thought here)

There aren’t many examples I can find to prove that women have mentored men neither is it common for a man to choose a female as a mentor when there are so many men he can choose from; what I can confidently say is that women have shown exceptional leadership in many male dominated areas of life and mentoring men should be a one of those areas.

In all honesty, this topic turned out to be a lot deeper than I had imagined and I admit that discussing it can create some controversy… I’ve had to review it several times too… Well, I leave the rest to my readers to decide… Nuff said.

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How LinkedIn Killed My African Dream

LinkedIn connects you to opportunities around the world

LinkedIn provides businesses and individuals the opportunity to reach a global audience beyond their regional boundaries

I joined LinkedIn as an employee in 2009 and honestly it was just out of sheer curiosity and a subconscious fear of not wanting to be left behind in the world when it came to the internet and the way it is changing how we live and communicate with each other. Ironically, even in my desire to be counted amongst the living in the virtual world, I still hold this belief deep down that someday someone can and will pull the plug on the whole system and those whose lives are wrapped around the internet (well, almost everyone that matters) would be simply put, finished! I’m no doomsday theorist but I do have my fears no matter how unreal or impracticable they may sound.

I digress…

We all come to that time in our lives when we have to make hard decisions about our careers and lives, a time when we are tired of ignoring that small still voice that quietly reminds us of how unfulfilling our lives would be if we don’t take that bold step to follow our own passions and dreams. My time finally came in March 2012. At that time, everything around me was telling me that I needed to make a change and I did. It’s not been a walk in the park experience but I’d say it’s been very fulfilling. Becoming an entrepreneur calls up traits that most of us either don’t know we have or have chosen not to utilize.

In the course of building my business, I realized the enormous challenges I had to overcome and the limited resources I had to work with, so I set out to use every possible tool within my reach that could help me achieve my goals. Naturally, LinkedIn was top on my list and I suddenly realised that there was a lot more I needed to know about maximising my presence on that business networking site. I remember the numerous articles I had read (many I ignored) teaching how to use LinkedIn and how some of them required some sort of financial commitment to participate. I also remember feeling ‘lost at sea’ about what to do to make LinkedIn work for me, so I decided I had to do something about it. I’ll come back to how I solved this problem later.

My business revolves around real estate service provision and other opportunistic investments. I sell high-yield investment-grade property around the world including but not limited to Dubai, United Kingdom and within Africa. My target market though was limited to Nigerian based clients but the more I used LinkedIn the more I saw the possibility of selling to a wider group of clients and that’s when my ‘African dream’ of selling to only my countrymen and within Africa died. The task ahead of me was now a much bigger one and coming from Nigeria didn’t make things any easier. In fact it complicated things because I was now faced with the task of proving my credibility before anything else!

I love my country but I must admit that Nigeria has got a really bad image out there in the international community. This was the rude shock I got when I tried reaching out to people on LinkedIn. To make matters worse my LinkedIn profile was in a bad shape. At that time it must have been somewhere around 50 – 60% completed and it lacked a professional touch. I could imagine some of the foreign connections I tried reaching out to saying to themselves “Yep, this must be one of them scam artists. I can’t wait to receive a mail from him telling of some inheritance left by the widow of an oil sheik that he wants me to claim…” Well sadly, it is true that some Nigerians are notorious for such scams but for some reason, probably due to the volume of such mails coming out of Africa we are the ‘world leaders’. Every nation has its own fair share of criminals but why does Africa seem to take the cake in this case?

Back to my story about how I solved the challenge of using LinkedIn…

I met The LinkedIn Expert, Viveka von Rosen, on Twitter a while back even though for a long time it never occurred to me to reach out to her for assistance. At some point I decided to do so and I think she can tell the rest of the story better than I ever could.

Since giving my profile an expert’s touch, I’ve received several requests from property developers around the world interested in doing business, a lot more sales leads and most importantly I’m building relationships with individuals and businesses in different regions of the world. Things can only get better.

LinkedIn as a business networking site is meant to add value to your business and your life, if that isn’t the case for you then I think it’s time you take it as a major project and do something about it like I’ve done. All the best!

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A Winning Smile Increases Business Sales

I hurriedly left the library I was working in earlier today due to the terrible hunger I was feeling. I tend to work better and longer on a fairly empty stomach but like many habits I sometimes take it too far. This was one of those occasions. The hot sun that hit my face when I got out in the open from the cool air-conditioned building didn’t help matters either. I was beginning to feel quite uncomfortable.

The first shop I entered to grab a bite was a pharmacy/mini-mart opposite the library I had just left. After looking around the shop for a while, I walked towards the counter where I had seen some imported biscuits placed on a rack. I picked one I’m used to buying and asked the sales person, a middle-aged woman, how much it cost. I already had an idea of the price so when she mentioned an amount higher than what I was used to buying it I smiled at her and told her I could actually get it cheaper in a supermarket just a stone throw away. I then dropped it back on the rack and slowly walked away but still looked around on my way out of the place.

One thing I remembered while walking out was that she had a very unfriendly disposition even before I opened my mouth to speak. Despite my attempt to be friendly, it didn’t improve her mood and neither did it improve mine.

Even though we’re not consciously aware of it, it’s a known fact that other people’s moods tend to affect ours…

When I stepped outside, the hot Sun again reminded me that I needed to buy a cold drink and I was suddenly longing for a bottle of coke. So I walked back into the shop, opened the fridge, and took out a chilled drink. As I began walking towards the counter, I wasn’t looking forward to seeing the face of the lady there especially after my earlier encounter. I was pleasantly surprised though to see another lady with a very welcoming smile; she wasn’t even looking at me at the time. I then took an even deeper look at her to scan her face and see if her smile was forced but she was clearly smiling naturally. I paid for the coke but lingered for a few seconds because honestly I was happy to be around her even if for only that brief moment. If not for the extra price I had decided not to pay, I would have taken the biscuit I had attempted buying earlier just because of her. The pharmacy/shop now seemed like a happier place to be in and I was all of a sudden glad to be there, all because of one smiling sales person across the counter.

We often don’t appreciate the impact a smile and happy disposition can have on customers and our businesses, for those of us that deal with customers frequently. A friendly smile and disposition may not make a customer spend more money than he/she had planned to at that time but it will most likely make them return another day just because of the way they felt and the atmosphere of the place. That was my experience and I believe it would apply to any other person.

This might sound like a no-brainer but we often forget to apply this simple rule to our daily lives so it becomes a part of us. It would ensure we don’t have to put on a forced smile when attending to customers and clients. Also, instilling it in employees minds would ensure it becomes a part of the organisations culture.

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Demystifying the Islamic Banking Concept

Historically, Islamic banking was one of the efforts the colonised Islamic countries evolved in order to build up their economies as much as possible, in accordance with Islamic faith in the face of discriminating foreign banks. Although the concept of Islamic finance can be traced back about 1,400 years, its recent history can be dated to the 1970s when Islamic banks in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were launched. Bahrain and Malaysia emerged as centres of excellence in the 1990s. It is now estimated that worldwide around US $1 trillion of assets are managed under the rules of Islamic finance.

In Islamic countries their laws had and have to be adjusted to accommodate Islamic banking. But in non-Islamic countries where such a bank is established, it is the bank that adjusts to the existing laws.

Non-interest banking or Islamic finance rests on the application of Islamic law, or Shariah whose primary sources are the Qur’an and the sayings of Prophet Mohammed, and very much in the context of Islam emphasizes justice and partnership.

The main principles of Islamic finance are that:

  • Wealth must be generated from legitimate trade and asset- based investment. (The use of money for the purpose of making money is expressly forbidden).
  • Investment should also have a social and an ethical benefit to wider society beyond pure return.
  • Risk should be shared.
  • All harmful activities (Haram) should be avoided.
     

Islamic finance specifically prohibits the following:

  1. Charging and receiving of interest (riba).
  2. Investments in businesses dealing with alcohol, gambling, drugs, pork, pornography or anything else that the Sharia considers unlawful or undesirable (haram).
  3. Uncertainty where transactions involve speculations or extreme risk.
  4. Uncertainty about the subject matter or terms of contract (this includes a prohibition on selling something one does not own).

What then is permitted under Islamic finance? As mentioned above, the receipt of interest is not permitted under Shariah. Therefore, when Islamic banks provide finance they must earn their profits by other means. This can be by profit-share relating to the assets in which the finance is invested, or can be by a fee earned by the bank for services provided.

There are a number of Islamic financial instruments (products). These include but are not limited to:

  1. Murabaha: is a form of trade credit for asset acquisition that avoids the payment of interest. Instead, the bank buys the item and then sells it on to the customer on deferred basis at a price that includes an agreed mark up for profit. Here, mark up is fixed in advance and does not change even if the customer does not take the goods within the time agreed in the contract.
  2. Ijara: is a form of lease agreement whereby the bank buys an item for a customer and then leases it back over a specified period at an agreed amount. Ownership of the leased asset remains with the lessor bank, which will seek to recover the capital cost of the equipment plus a profit margin out of the rental payable. Emirates airline regularly uses this form of finance to finance its expansion.
  3. Mudaraba: is essentially like equity finance in which the bank and the customer share any profits. The bank will provide the capital, and the borrower, using their skills and knowledge, will invest the capital. Profits will be shared according to the finance agreement, but as with equity finance there is no certainty that there will ever be any profits, nor is there certainty that the capital will ever be recovered.
  4. Musharaka: is a joint venture or partnership between two parties. Both parties provide capital towards the financing of projects and both parties share the profits in agreed proportions.
  5. Sukuk: is a kind of debt finance. A conventional, non-Islamic bond or debenture is a simple debt, and the bondholder’s return for  providing capital to the bond issuer takes the form  of interest. Islamic bonds, or sukuk, cannot bear interest. So that the sukuk are Shariah-compliant, the sukuk holders must have  a proprietary interest in the assets which are being  financed. The sukuk  holders’ return for providing finance is a share of the income generated by the assets.

THE SHARIA BOARD

The Sharia board is a key part of an Islamic financial institution just like the board of any financial institution. It has the responsibility for ensuring that all products and services offered by that institution are compliant with the principles of Sharia law. Boards are made up of a committee of Islamic Scholars and different institutions can have different boards.

The last statement above is what drew the irking of religious leaders and other critics of Islamic banking. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) however, has removed that provision to suite the Nigerian case.

CHALLENGES

The challenges even in openly acknowledged Islamic countries with Islamic banking include lack of basic principles on how to implement profit/loss sharing for existing businesses that only require ad hoc working capital, long-term projects and personal/consumer loans. Experts in different types of businesses are required to evaluate and monitor the debtors’ activities with respect to profit or loss. Islamic banks shun small scale businesses as per the difficulty of monitoring businesses which on their own usually lack records of their activities. Also small businesses do not want their activities hundred percent in the public domain through the bank up to tax authorities; even publicly quoted companies have reluctance to display their nakedness to all in spite of IFRS requirements. This explains the excess liquidity in the bank for small scale business. Long term project is also unsuitable for Islamic bank as there is a lack of robust project evaluation models that will not use interest element. This leaves the bank inclined dominantly towards short term financing for trade.

CONCLUSION

Whether we call it Non-Interest Banking or Islamic Banking is a matter of nomenclature. It does not change the basic fundamental concept of Islamic Banking. Countries have adopted this form of banking and it is working for them. HSBC in the UK has it as a product. Saudi Arabia, UAE, South Africa, Malaysia (where we copied the microfinance banking model) among others, have all adopted Non-Interest Banking and it is working for them. It is estimated that over US$1 trillion worth of assets is controlled by Non-Interest Banking.

Advocates of Islamic finance claim that it avoided much of the recent financial turmoil because of its prohibition on speculation and uncertainty, and its emphasis on risk-sharing and justice. That does not mean that the system is free from risk (nothing is anyway), but if you are more exposed to risk you are likely to behave more prudently.

On a final note Islamic finance or Non-Interest Banking is a financial product like any other and should not be seen as the solution to the problems in our financial system as it  creates its own peculiar problems.

Reference: Ken Garret, March 2011. Freelance author and lecturer.

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Are you taking enough risks…

I want to share with you a poem which was taken from the book ‘Addiction by Prescription’ by Joan E. Gadsby. Culled by Wayne Lambert.

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.

To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.

To reach for another is to risk involvement.

To expose your ideas, your dreams,before a crowd is to risk their loss.

To love is to risk not being loved in return.

To live is to risk dying.To believe is to risk despair.

To try is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The people who risk nothing, do nothing, have nothing, are nothing. They may avoid suffering and sorrow,but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live. Chained by their attitudes they are slaves; they have forfeited their freedom. Only a person who risks is free.

Remember that you have to take risks to be free. Transcending risk and fears is growth beyond your comfort zone. Once that comfort zone expands, it cannot go back to its previous dimensions.

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

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I choose life

It’s not usually my style to sit down and write during a work week; in the heat of the grind…, most especially on a Monday… But I was drawn here by the sad news I just received of the untimely death of two colleagues who were involved in an automobile accident, with a third still lying critically injured in hospital. I pray she lives to tell the story.

We usually don’t feel the sting of death unless it happens to someone close, or to someone we knew in person. As I write, I feel a heaviness in my heart, such grief that two young men were cut down in their prime… One of them just got back from his honeymoon and I’m just wondering: What is life really? What am I really here for? Could I be the one that would be the reason for weeping one day? That’s not for me! I choose to live! But is my affirmation alone an assurance of my staying alive?

I was going to call my late colleague to apologise for not attending his wedding and not even sending a word… But I guess I’m too late! He’s gone. Everything he was doing on earth is over! What of his poor wife? Can she even claim she was married? What of the stigma that goes with such events which in some quarters could be seen as a bad omen? I leave these questions to your imagination for answers.

What really are the lessons I’ve gathered from this sad event, like many others that have occurred in the past?

Life is short

Life isn’t always fair

Life doesn’t always give answers to most questions

Life should be lived everyday bearing in mind it could be our last.

Life is a mixture of pain and happiness…; served most times in undesired proportions.

Life will go on when we die.

Life is all about the choices we make everyday…

I’ll leave you with a quote from Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro). I believe it drives home my message:

“Set forth the wine and the dice, and perish who thinks of tomorrow! Here’s Death twitching my ear, “Live,” says he, “for I’m coming!”

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