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What You Don’t See In Travel Brochures

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With their colorful costumes and tall stature, the Maasai people of the Great Rift Valley region of East Africa are perhaps the most photographed tribe in the world. Their fierce adherence to an ancient way of life is glorified in coffee table books and travel magazines the world over. The Maasai people of East Africa live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania along the Great Rift Valley on semi-arid and arid lands. The Maasai occupy a total land area of 160,000 square kilometers with a population of approximately 1.2 million people.

I visited the Maasai people of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in 2014. Whilst they live within the confines of the roles they play as glamorous tribals for visiting tourists, they are reportedly constantly battling government initiatives that erode their way of life and meager livelihoods.

Indigenous people such as the Maasai worldwide are between 300-500 million, embody and nurture 80% of the world’s cultural and biological diversity, and occupy 20% of the world’s land surface. Some indigenous people strive to preserve traditional ways of life, and at the same time seek greater participation in current state structures.

But all is reportedly not well for these pastoral farmers since the land they grace has been under threat by mining and wildlife concessions for nearly 50 years. Local indigenous councils have been battling with authorities during this entire period: it seems like both their luck and existence are running out.

An additional problem for the Maasai apparently is the discovery of vast quantities of helium in the Tanzanian East African Rift Valley. The BBC News in June 2016 reported this find as a “game-changer”, especially as previously-known world supplies are running out.

A group of researchers from Oxford and Durham universities in the United Kingdom, working with the Norwegian helium exploration company Helium One, have discovered what they believe is a vast supply of the element in an unlikely place.

“Their research shows that volcanic activity provides the intense heat necessary to release the gas from ancient, helium-bearing rocks,” according to a statement from the University of Oxford.

“Within the Tanzanian East African Rift Valley, volcanoes have released helium from ancient deep rocks and have trapped this helium in shallower gas fields.”

Robert Richardson, Professor of Physics from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, won the 1996 Nobel Prize for his work on “super fluidity of helium”, and has issued a warning that supplies of helium are being used at an unprecedented rate and could be depleted within a generation.

Professor Richardson warned the gas is not cheap because the supply is inexhaustible, but because of the Helium Privatization Act passed in 1996 by the US Congress. The Act required the helium stores held underground near Amarillo in Texas be sold off at a fixed rate by 2015 regardless of the market value, to pay off the original cost of the reserve. The Amarillo Texas storage facility holds around half the earth’s stocks of helium – around a billion cubic meters of the gas. The US currently supplies around 80% of the world’s helium supplies.

Richardson said it has taken 4.7 billion years for Earth to accumulate the helium reserves; we will have exhausted them within about a hundred years of the US’s National Helium Reserve having been established in 1925.

Helium is used in hospitals in MRI scanners as well as in spacecraft, telescopes, nuclear research and radiation monitors. Until now, the precious gas has been discovered only in small quantities during oil and gas drilling. Using a new exploration approach, researchers found large quantities of helium within the Tanzanian East African Rift Valley.

Prof Chris Ballentine of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford, said: “This is a game-changer for the future security of society’s helium needs and similar finds in the future may not be far away.”

The discovery was reported in the US journal Popular Science.

“To put this discovery into perspective,” Prof Ballentine continued, “global consumption of helium is about 8 billion cubic feet per year and the United States Federal Helium Reserve, which is the world’s largest supplier, has a current reserve of just 24.2 billion cubic feet.”

The Tanzania find could reportedly thus be sufficient to meet global demand for nearly seven years, and may be more than twice as large as the US helium reserve.

This latest find, estimated at 54 billion cubic feet of helium ($3.8 billion), is a major shot in the arm to global helium reserves which have been running dangerously low, with prices rising by 500% in the last 15 years, according to Global Risk Insights (GRI), which provides expert political risk news and analysis on events affecting business, investment, and economic climates worldwide.

While this scientific find has excited scientists the world over, the other side of the equation is the possible land-use stress to the Maasai people under whose land this discovery has been made. But the Maasai are no strangers to land grabs since the time they moved into the Rift Valley from South Sudan during the 15th century.

During the 16th century, their presence ranged from Lake Victoria to the Indian Ocean and from the highlands near Nairobi to the Serengeti plains in Tanzania. There they peacefully co-existed with other tribes and often times came to the aid of their neighbors during Arab slave raids. The British, who arrived in the late 18th century, saw the Maasai as a nuisance and negotiated a 1904 treaty to move the Maasai to a piece of land in the Rift Valley.

In the 1950s, in a deal that was very similar to the previous dealings, the British successfully convinced the Maasai to move out of the Serengeti land to the Ngorongoro highlands where fellow Maasai already lived in order to create a better wildlife corridor. The Maasai lost the best dry-season rangeland in their area to the benefit of all the wildlife among which they had lived for so many years.

Realistically, the major priorities of the governments of Kenya and Tanzania are economic growth, and both have relied on tourism and other projects to obtain this.

“Modern society demands resources to maintain a standard of living commensurate with people’s expectations, and a suitable level of environmental quality is inherent to this standard. Trade-offs are inevitably made between the activities that provide energy, minerals, timber, and food and the need and desire to preserve ecosystem services. Such trade-offs are often highly controversial and politically volatile,” writes Lee Gerhard of Kansas Geological Survey, in a conference presentation entitled Meeting Societal Resource and Environmental Requirements into the Twenty-First Century.

The author, a chemical engineer by training, has investigated and determined that there is no chemical way of manufacturing helium, and that current supplies originated in the very slow radioactive alpha decay that occurs in rocks. Commercial helium is produced as a byproduct of natural gas processing. Most natural gas deposits also contain smaller quantities of nitrogen, water vapor, carbon dioxide, helium, and other non-combustible materials that must be removed via “upgrading” to produce natural gas with an acceptable level of heat energy.

Once the helium has been separated from the natural gas, it undergoes further refining to bring it to 99.99+% purity for commercial use. The question remains if the helium found in Tanzania would require large operations for upgrading it.

This author also believes that the environmental impact of recovering the helium gas can be reduced by newer drilling technologies such as lateral drilling and gas fracking without disturbing the land above. In my opinion, the Tanzanian government needs to actively seek the cooperation of the Maasai society while trying to create a formula for sharing royalties.

These profits I believe should be invested into the Maasai society through a structured program to prepare them for modern society through vocational education and other cottage industry enterprises. An international NGO should be used as a vehicle for this equitable transfer. I envisage that in doing so all aspects of the helium issue can be attacked: global scientific progress, GDP growth, and most importantly, allowing the Maasai to earn royalties while holding on to their culture, which is a heritage that belongs to all of us globally.

During my planned travels through Maasai lands and the Rift Valley areas in the near future, instead of capturing images of their enactments of various ceremonies popularized by travel magazines, I am planning on spending time inquiring about their progress with the government agencies regarding the helium issue. Watch this space for more.

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Farmer Forays: ‘Creating A New Line Of Business’

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Shola Ladoja; image supplied

Nigerian agripreneur Shola Ladoja, the founder of Simply Green, says the pandemic-induced lockdown brought with it logistic adversity, but also more local sales.  

With the marauding coronavirus disrupting lives and businesses in Nigeria, the financial stability of a majority of the country’s 200 million inhabitants has been severely affected.

The significant toll it has taken on economic activities has forced many small and medium enterprises to reimagine new ways of staying afloat. Covid-19 is also set to radically aggravate food insecurity in Africa. In spite of Nigeria’s dependence on oil, agriculture remains an important cornerstone for its economy, providing employment for millions especially in the informal sector.

The threat of starvation is so present that in a public address in May, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, urged Nigerian farmers to produce enough for the country to eat, saying that the country has “no money to import” food.

But every cloud has a silver lining. The food shortage has presented some agripreneurs in Nigeria with serendipitous opportunities.

Shola Ladoja is the founder of Simply Green, which is a farm-to-table company specializing in vegetables, fruits, juices, spices and herbs. The border lockdown has meant that many of the retail and supermarket chains can no longer import foreign produce into the country.

But this hurdle created a new opportunity for Ladoja.

“[Previously], I tried to get my juices into local stores in Nigeria but they all turned me down and most of them wanted to buy imported juices. The lockdown meant that they had to buy a local brand like mine because they could not get them from abroad anymore. We are now able to sell a lot more during this time than previous years,” says Ladoja.

On the logistics side, however, Ladoja has also felt the pinch of the pandemic like most business that require consistent movement of goods and services. The lockdown scenario prevented his workers from coming in and as a result, the company’s daily delivery of juices, has come to an abrupt stop.  

Ladoja has had to start thinking outside the box to make ends meet.

“We have come up with a fruit and vegetable box, which we sell directly on our website to our customers. So, they can now buy lettuce, kale and carrots, which we have never done before. So, this period has forced us to think about how we can expand the business and this time we actually created a new line of business, which was not in the plans for this year,” says Ladoja.

According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), even before the Covid-19 crisis, farmers had not been able to satisfy the demands of Nigeria’s population.

“I feel like the government should give out grants and loans and support for small businesses so that they don’t crash. I have friends who have complained they are going to shut down their businesses because they haven’t been paid for two months. A lot of people cannot sell their produce in Lagos because the markets are closed which is going to affect a lot of farmers at this time,” says Ladoja.

Nigeria used to import over a million tonnes of rice from Thailand annually. That number has been significantly reduced with the implementation of high import taxes. This has led to an abnormal increase in food prices in Nigeria since the onset of the coronavirus with the UN estimating the number of people facing acute food security stands to rise to 265 million globally in 2020 as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Nigeria has substantially increased domestic rice production in the pandemic but is still a long way from reaching the levels needed for the country to sufficiently feed itself. Coupled with the decline in global oil prices, it is safe to say the adverse economic impact of Covid-19 on Africa’s most populous country is going to be felt for a long time to come.

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All For Grooming Future Leaders

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Katlego Thwane has had to dip into his own savings, with the Covid-19 crisis, to fund his noble cause, teaching the underprivileged in a South African township.

He is in his twenties, yet turning around the destiny of underprivileged young people around him.

Katlego Thwane, a 28-year-old born and bred in South Africa’s lively township of Soweto, is an educator and founder of the Atlegang Bana Foundation here that caters to primary school learners who struggle to keep up at school and need additional help.

“Our foundation also provides for needy learners from underprivileged backgrounds. One of my biggest campaigns at the foundation every year is to give confidence and motivation to learners for the year ahead,” says Thwane.

He has bagged numerous awards and accolades for his work, as a 2017 Young Community Shaper, 2018 Lead SA hero and featuring on live television show Big Up on SABC Mzansi in 2018.

Growing up, he was a “naughty boy”, as he describes himself, but says many are now astonished at the serious, ambitious young man he has become.

“Teaching has always been a passion of mine. I love seeing change, transformation and grooming leaders, and value their education while being innovative in taking our country forward.”

Thwane has recently established a clothing brand, BANA, under the Atlegang Bana Foundation. He is also currently handing out food parcels to the needy in his community, in partnership with Hollywoodbets.

“The virus has affected us immensely with many parents losing their jobs or taking salary cuts, we are not receiving the financial support as before. This has led to me [dipping] into my own personal pocket and [using it] to buy tutors data for teaching virtually,” says Thwane.

Most schools continue operating online because learners haven’t as yet returned to school, however, this has come with its share of setbacks.

Makosha Masedi, a parent of a Grade 4 learner, says her challenges come with network issues and understanding the tasks given to the child.

“Some of the programs that the work is loaded on to is not friendly for all devices, so submitting and retrieving becomes a problem, as also understanding some of the work,” rues Masedi.

But Thwane powers on, hoping for a better tomorrow, for himself and his country.

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The Mother-Daughter Duo Behind A New Inclusive Community Teaching Budding Professionals How To Better Engage At Work

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Mother-daughter cofounders Edith Cooper and Jordan Taylor launched Medley to help young professionals gain the skills they need to bring their most authentic selves to work. COURTESY OF MEDLEY

Edith Cooper, who spent more than 20 years as an executive at Goldman Sachs, knows what it’s like to stand out in a workplace. Being one of few people of color in a sea of white faces over the course of her career hasn’t been easy. But rather than dwell on this reality, Cooper, who now sits on the boards of Etsy and Slack, has championed her differences. That’s what helped her rise through the ranks at the bank to eventually head its human resources department, an accomplishment she says was a result of her ability to connect with people of all backgrounds.

That quality would continue to work to her advantage: As Goldman Sachs evolved, so did its staff. Diversity was reflected not only in employees’ skin colors and genders, but also in their ages and geographical origins. Cooper was awakened to the fact that if the company was going to thrive, it would need to create an environment wherein its multifaceted staff could feel comfortable embracing their differences and, in turn, learn from them. 

“If you can figure out an environment where people can thrive together, it’s powerful,” Cooper says. But it’s a process that takes time, especially if newer, more inexperienced employees aren’t equipped with the proper skills to navigate this balance between professionalism and open expression. 

That is in part what inspired Cooper’s new startup, Medley, which she launched with her daughter Jordan Taylor, a former chief of staff at Mic and Harvard Business School Baker Scholar, to provide a community in which young professionals can gain the skills they need to bring their most authentic selves to work without fear. In light of the heightened tension surrounding ongoing racial injustice that’s inevitably seeping into workplace communication, it’s an ideal time to learn this skill.

Taylor has also had her fair share of experiences being the “only one in the room,” but as an emerging leader, rather than an established executive like her mother. Graduating in the top 5% of her class and being one the first 20 Black students to be named a Baker Scholar meant she was constantly figuring out how to relate to peers in predominantly white spaces. She figured it out, but Medley is a platform she wishes had been around when she was finding her voice among people whose backgrounds were much different than hers.

Medley groups young professionals in their 20s and 30s with other like-minded members whose workplace values, concerns and priorities align. The professionals that make up these eight-person groups differ, however, in terms of gender and ethnic background, which Cooper and Taylor hope will translate to increased empathy that members can apply within their respective workplaces.

“This idea of people being able to bring their true selves to work and to be able to talk through what that looks like is at the core of what Medley is offering,” says Cooper.

In addition to full access to workshops, panels and conversations led by experts across industries, members commit to a 90-minute virtual meeting each month, facilitated by a Medley-certified coach and focused on addressing and reflecting on ongoing experiences in their personal and professional lives. Cooper credits Medley’s robust network of coaches to the guidance she gained from Merche Del Valle, former global head of coaching at Goldman Sachs and a certified lifestyle, nutrition and wellness coach.

Merging personal wellness and professional development in group discussions is a priority. “You can’t just look at your career in a vacuum,” says Taylor. “In order to meet your potential, the ability to have a more holistic approach is incredibly important.”

To ensure that people of all socioeconomic backgrounds have the ability to join the community, Medley offers a sliding scale fee ranging from $50 to $250, depending on the financial situation of prospective members. Cooper and Taylor are also in conversations with companies interested in partnering with Medley to give their staff reimbursement for membership. 

With the help of investors including Away cofounder Jen Rubio, dtx company founder and CEO Tim Armstrong and MIC cofounder and former CEO Chris Altchek, who contributed more than $1 million to the project, Medley was ready to launch in May 2020 as an in-person membership hub in New York City. Shelter-in-place mandates halted the launch, but also presented an opportunity for Medley to instead be virtual and incorporate international members. The more springing corporate workers that can benefit from the community’s aim to build the next generation of confident, communicative professionals the better, the mother-daughter team notes.

“Medley gives people an opportunity to be a better human in relation to the people they work with and quite frankly in society,” Taylor says.

Brianne Garrett, Forbes Staff, Leadership

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