In the end there was only one way in and one way out of the besieged city of Sarajevo during the final months of the 1990s Bosnian War, after the air traffic had finally surrendered to the small arms fire peppering aircraft fuselages and the unnerving radar locks of surface-to-air missiles.
The era of the easy route to war for journalists was over. They could no longer hitch a ride on humanitarian dawn flights, from Italy and Germany (boarding conditional on bringing your own flak jacket), to arrive for a late breakfast at Sarajevo’s Holiday Inn near Sniper Alley.
The only route for diplomats, aid workers and journalists to the city was a contour road, more like a goat track, traversing Mount Igman’s precipitous ravines and regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous. The final 60 kilometers to Sarajevo was under the sights of Serbian artillery and mortars; the last 25-kilometer stretch was exposed to heavy machine gun fire.
News cameraman Brian Green and a Danish colleague ran the gauntlet in 1995, with no military escort in an armoured Chevrolet Blazer weighing three or four tons. They traveled under the cover of night, without headlights, along the rain-slicked road.
Deep in the danger zone, a wheel sunk into the road’s soft mud; the two dug themselves out desperately, engine revving and wheels spinning, amid the fear of alerting Serbian forces. Arriving on the city’s outskirts at 4AM, caked in mud and knowing the journey was almost done, they were left stranded in no-man’s land for a couple of hours before the French foreign legionnaires, deployed under UN auspices, allowed entry. This was to be Green’s final war assignment.
“It was a little bit crazy. I was supposed to go for a week and ended up being there for 21 days and you basically lose control when you go into that type of environment. I thought maybe it was a bit silly with a young wife and kid,” says Green.
Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics and eight years later the ski slopes were used as gun emplacements to pound the city with artillery; the ski chalets commandeered for barracks. During the 44-month siege the city averaged 329 daily shell impacts, with every building in the city damaged and 35,000 reduced to rubble.
The Serbian snipers provided the unremitting terror, perching in the foothills to hunt for their victims in the streets below. All residents were fair game, including journalists.
Despite the risks, it was a difficult job to walk away from.
“I loved the element of danger, recording history. It was just absolutely fantastic,” says Green.
In 1992, between covering Middle East wars and the death throes of South Africa’s apartheid state, Green and his wife Lulu bought a house in Johannesburg’s old eastern inner city suburb, Bezuidenhout Valley.
“We bought it for R40,000 ($2,800), fixed it up for R40,000 and sold it for R130,000 ($9,100) a couple of years later.”
Green had at first viewed the renovation through the lens of a fast yield, but it was the process that he found most rewarding. With hindsight he realizes the satisfaction was “to breathe new life into old buildings, giving them modernity and dignity.”
However, he brushes off any common ground between war reporting and property development, as he enters one of the rehabilitated buildings on a 30,000-square-meter piece of previous Lorentzville urban decay, several hundred meters from his property investment 25 years earlier.
His latest venture, Victoria Yards, was once the site for the steam washing of the soiled cloth nappies of the city’s middle class offspring. Among the development’s shareholders are Green and his partner Mark Batchelor, and the Enthoven and Brozin families behind Hollard Insurance and the international peri-peri chicken chain Nando’s.
The walls of Green’s Victoria Yards’ “office for now” are draped with signed limited edition prints by Thomas Pakenham, author of the critically acclaimed chronicle of Africa’s colonization, The Scramble for Africa, who in later life went off script to publish his haunting and evocative photographic portraits of trees.
Green is inspecting a collection of rusted iron horse shoes found at the site with the same delight as a conchologist, while sitting amid regimented rows of industrial light shades imported from India and awaiting installation. He speaks of Mogadishu’s colonial-era Italian classical buildings, Sarajevo’s Islamic architecture, Johannesburg’s “homogenized” mall culture disfiguring and vandalizing the city scapes and a holiday in the Mozambique capital during its civil war.
“I always saw potential in dereliction. I remember going to Maputo in 1989 with my wife and finding a f***ed-up house. And all we could see was how beautiful it was and how we would so love to fix it.”
The disposable nappy ended the reusable cloth nappy cleansing era and when Green and his shareholders acquired the property, in 2016, there were an array of small businesses operating; from chop-shops to carpenters and a film set company responsible for the props of the Oscar-nominated South African sci-fi movie District 9.
Green has eschewed replicating the success of his 44 Stanley mixed use development of restaurants, bars and boutiques, that emerged from a western Johannesburg suburban no-man’s land or pandering to the artist and creatives’ colonies in the adjacent inner city suburbs of Troyeville, Bezuidenhout Valley and Doornfontein.
“There has been a massive interest from the art world… But we want artisans. Cobblers, embroiders, potters, tattoo artists, glass blowers, knife makers, those kind of guys.”
There are exceptions to the Victoria Yards’ ideal. The South African artist Ayanda Mabulu, whose explicit sexual metaphors of Jacob Zuma’s South African presidency has drawn ire and praise in equal measure, is taking up residence, along with former teenage delinquent and armed robber Blessing Ngobeni, who reinvented himself to become an acclaimed surrealist artist.
Victoria Yards “needs to look at other ways of resurrecting the place… the area is very poor. There would be a backlash towards gentrification, because what you do is come here, make a nice place and then eject the locals. That’s not cool,” says Green.
However, the development is not to be confused with philanthropy.
“We are businessmen. We have to make a profit and if we don’t make a profit, I don’t want to be here. We have to make a percentage yield from our investment. But I also think we can improve people’s lives.”
The sprawling property feels too limited for Green’s eclectic designs.
“We want an ecosystem where people can feed off each other”.
There is talk of a foundry where the film set building operation once was.
“The Cuban ballet school was looking at the place.”
Urban farming is a given, with orchards and food gardens, cooking schools, test kitchens, a tool hire shop renting work tables on short term leases.
“We want a baker, a coffee roaster, a framer, metalworkers.”
Green’s free-wheeling vision might be confused with a hipster on hashish, but there are sound business fundamentals of the value chain underlying it, coupled with the want to provide opportunity for artisans.
Neighboring Victoria Yards is Nando’s global head office. By 2025, the purveyor of spicy chicken will have 2,100 outlets worldwide. Every six years the stores are refurbished, with the proviso that franchisees source 75% of their interior decor from South African artisans and artists.
“It’s a hungry machine,” says Green, and the Victoria Yards’ tenants will be ideally positioned to feed it. – Written by Guy Oliver
Covid-19: ‘Help Healthcare Systems In The Early Days Of Disease’
A preliminary screening test app from the Philippines that can help individuals and healthcare systems diagnose Covid-19 symptoms sooner – and in a safer way.
Lars Jeppesen, the CEO and Co-Founder of Enadoc, a tech company based in Manila in the Philippines, and Wasantha Weerakoone, its CTO and Co-Founder, have always been passionate about healthcare. Although running Enadoc, which they co-founded in 2017 with technology solutions integrator Tech One Global, in the Covid-19 pandemic, Jeppesen says they saw an opportunity to not only make a difference, but also “expand the bandwidth and depth” of their services. Enadoc has now developed a screening test app that individuals can use at home, while healthcare institutions can use it on people who have developed symptoms of Covid-19. The Denmark-born entrepreneur shares more:
How did the Covid-19 screening test application come about?
In emerging economies and markets, even big countries like the US and many European countries, the number of doctors per person is limited… Now, we have a virus that has been spreading since November and if the doctor would have been some kind of AI in the background, maybe this data could have been available earlier saying ‘ok, we have some abnormal amount of people who are having the same symptoms, what is happening here?’ But because each doctor in each country, district and village deals with their own situation differently, all of us have our basic education but how do we keep ourselves up-to-date all the time with the latest? So it was always in my head ‘what can we do in this situation to bring more healthcare to more people, and help the healthcare systems in the early days of the disease to screen people or to help diagnose better?’
I think the diagnosis could be done more and more by AI sitting behind some application. And maybe with some telemedicine in between… Because of that, doctors can deal with more patients in a day and don’t need to deal with patients that could be contagious. The first paralyzing situation in the healthcare system was so many doctors and nurses got sick in the early days because they didn’t know what they were dealing with. So, if we had some kind of way of saying ‘ok, there’s something happening here, this patient needs to arrive in the hospital and be put in isolation before, or we need to have certain equipment to make sure we deal with this patient in a different way’, that made us think. Then you start to see the emergence of people coming up with some screening tools and we said ‘ok, maybe we could take all the information available that we could find in the World Health Organization, Department of Health, and all these different sources and put together some kind of framework to help in screening’. We did that and now the application is in data.
How are African countries using the app?
Right now, we have seen around six or seven countries using the app in Africa including Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Uganda. We don’t know the exact location of the user, we just know the app has been used there. We don’t know the individual user, we don’t have an IP address or any phone ID. The platform we are using for the app is Microsoft services.
One of our intentions is to bring this product together with the healthcare app from Microsoft… We bring on the global healthcare AI into the backend of the app and create a kind of an app chat bot where you can say what your symptoms are, not only for Covid-19, but for any kind of disease.
31% Of Small Businesses Have Stopped Operating Amid Coronavirus: Sheryl Sandberg Shares How Facebook’s Latest Product Aims To Help
The coronavirus pandemic has continued to take a catastrophic toll on America’s small businesses. According to Facebook’s State of Small Business report, 31% of small businesses and 52% of personal businesses have stopped operating as a result of the crisis.
“What we know today is pretty sobering,” says Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. “We’re in a really hard economic situation that is hitting all businesses, but particularly, small businesses really hard. We also know how critical small businesses are for jobs—long before coronavirus,” she says. “Two thirds of new jobs in this country happen because of small businesses and so that means what’s happening with small businesses has always been important, but it’s more important than ever.”
Especially concerning is that only 45% of business owners and managers plan to rehire the same number of workers when their businesses reopen. That number is just 32% for personal businesses.
“If these businesses are letting people go, it’s not that they don’t want to rehire them,” Sandberg says. “It’s because they don’t think they’re going to be able to. That’s a pretty serious thing for us to be facing.”
Businesses that have been able to maintain operations still face significant hurdles, namely access to capital and customers. Some 28% of businesses surveyed say their biggest challenge over the next few months will be cash flow, while 20% say it will be lack of demand.
The report, conducted in partnership with the Small Business Roundtable, was based on a survey of 86,000 owners, managers and workers at U.S. companies with fewer than 500 employees. It is also a part of the company’s broader data collection initiative with the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on the Future of Business.
“We were already in the process of developing this report before the coronavirus pandemic hit,” Sandberg says. “We expected it to be a pretty rosy tale back then of low unemployment, flourishing entrepreneurship, and jobs growing all over the world. Fast forward to today and we’re in a very different position.”
Now, the company is launching Facebook Shops, an ecommerce product that allows businesses to set up online “storefronts” on Facebook and Instagram. Businesses can customize their digital shops, using cover images to showcase their brands and catalogs to highlight their products. And just as customers can ask for help when shopping in physical stores, they can message business owners directly via WhatsApp, Messenger or Instagram Direct to ask questions, track deliveries and more. “Our goal is to make shopping seamless and empower anyone from a small business owner to a global brand to use our apps to connect with customers,” wrote Facebook cofounder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a post announcing the new product. As was the case with the survey, the rollout was planned prior to the pandemic, but was accelerated as businesses have turned to online tools to adapt in the face of the ongoing crisis. According to the survey, 51% of small business owners have increased their online interactions with customers, and 36% of operational businesses are now conducting all sales online.
“One of the things I find so amazing is how much of the activity has migrated online and that we’re doing things we never thought were possible,” says Sandberg. “If I had asked you or you had asked me, could I work entirely from home? Can my whole company go home? I would have said ‘No way.’ But we did it. Small businesses have even more entrepreneurial spirit.”
There are more than 30 million small businesses in the U.S., many of which are struggling to stay afloat amid forced closures and are still hoping to receive financial relief from the government. According to a recent survey by Goldman Sachs, 71% of Paycheck Protection Program applicants are still waiting for loans and 64% don’t have enough cash to survive the next three months. As of April 19, more than 175,000 businesses have shut down—temporarily or permanently—with closure rates rising 200% or more in hard-hit metropolitan cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, according to Yelp’s Q1 Economic Average report.
Employees of these businesses are disproportionately affected, with 74% and 70% reporting not having access to paid sick leave and paid time off, according to Facebook’s survey. For hotel, cafe and restaurant employees, those figures are over 90%.
Facebook, which relies heavily on small businesses for advertising revenue, was among the first major tech companies to provide much-needed aid. On March 17, the company announced $100 million in grants for small businesses, the majority of which will be distributed in cash, with some ad credits for business services. Of those funds, $40 million will be distributed across 34 American cities, with 50% being reserved for women, minority and veteran-owned businesses. The other $60 million will be distributed to small business owners throughout the world. In addition to financial assistance, the company also rolled out various product offerings including digital gift cards, fundraisers and easier ways for businesses to communicate service changes to their customers.
Small businesses are resilient, even during times of crisis. According to the report, 57% of businesses are optimistic or extremely optimistic about the future, with only 11% of operating businesses expecting to fail in the next three months, should current conditions persist.
“The report raises awareness about the struggles small businesses face from the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Rhett Buttle, founder of Public Private Strategies and co-executive director of the Small Business Roundtable. “But small businesses have brought us out of previous economic downturns and they will do so again.”
Birds Of A Feather: The Stepchickens Cult On TikTok Is The Next Evolution Of The Influencer Business
Like any self-respecting cult, the Stepchickens follow a strict code of conduct as dictated by their absolute leader, Mother Hen, a comedian named Melissa who posts on TikTok as @chunkysdead. Mother Hen has widely preached a message of peace, telling her 1.7 million TikTok followers: “We do not rule by being cruel, we shine by being kind.” Further, she has asked all Stepchickens to make themselves easily identifiable and make her photo their TikTok profile picture.
Mother Hen has created TikTok’s first “cult.” (Her word.) Boiled down, she is a social media influencer, and the Stepchickens are her fans, just as more famous TikTok influencers—Charli D’Amelio, Addison Rae and the like—all have their fanbases. But Mother Hen’s presence and style is quite singular, particularly in the way she communicates with her followers, what she asks them to do and how the Stepchickens respond to her. After all, not every member of the Charli hive use her image as their profile pictures.
“These influencers are looking for a way to build community and figure out how to monetize their community. That’s the No. 1 most important thing for a creator or an influencer,” says Tiffany Zhong, cofounder of ZebraIQ, a community and trends platform. “It’s become a positive for Gen Z, where you’re proud to be part of this cult—part of this community. They are dying to be part of a community. So it’s easy to get sucked in.”
Mother Hen, who didn’t return a request to comment for this story, already had a popular comedy vlog-style TikTok account on May 6 when she asked her followers to send suggestions for what they could name their cult. From the ideas offered up, she chose Stepchickens, and in the 19 days since, her following has more than doubled. (It was around 700,000 back at the beginning of this month.) She has posted videos about taking edibles, her celebrity lookalikes and her relationship status (“all this cult power, still no boyfriend”). And perhaps in violation of her first-do-no-harm credo, Mother Hen has implored her followers to embark on “battles” and “raids,” where Stepchickens comment bomb other influencers’ videos, posting messages en masse. She has become the mother of millions: TikTok videos with #stepchickens have generated 102 million views on the app, and her own videos have received 54.6 million likes.
Mother Hen is now concentrating on feathering her nest. She has launched a large range of merch: smartphone cases ($24), hoodies ($44), t-shirts ($28) and beanies ($28). Corporate sponsorships seem within reach, too. TikTok accounts for the Houston Rockets, Tampa Bay Rays and one for the Chicago Bulls mascot, Benny, all changed their profile picture to the image distributed by Mother Hen. The Rays sent her a box of swag, addressing the package to “Mother Hen,” of course. She dressed up in the gear (two hats, a fanny pack, a tank top) and recorded herself wearing it in a TikTok, a common move by influencers to express gratitude and signal that they’re open to business sponsorship opportunities. Mother Hen has launched a YouTube channel, too, where she’ll earn ad revenue based on the views that her 43,000 subscribers generate by watching her content.
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Then there is the Stepchickens app available on Apple devices. This digital roost is a thriving message feed—it resembles a Slack channel or a Discord server—where Stepchickens congregate, chat and coordinate their raids. They can also use it to create videos, ones “to glorify mother hen,” the app’s instructions read.
The app launched last Monday and has already attracted more than 100,000 users, a benchmark that most apps do not ever see and the best reach within months of starting. Since its debut, it has ranked as high as the ninth most popular social media app in the world on the download charts and in the Top 75 most downloaded across all types of apps. The Stepchickens have traded 135,000 messages, and the app’s most devoted users are spending as long as 10 hours a day on it, says Sam Mueller, the cofounder and CEO of Blink Labs who built the Stepchickens app.
“There’s this emergence of a more active—a more dedicated—fan base and following. A lot of the influencers on TikTok are kind of dancing around, doing some very broadcast-y type content. Their followers might not mobilize nearly as much as” the Stepchickens, says Mueller. Mother Hen’s flock, by contrast, “feel like they’re part of something, feel like they’re connected. They can have fun and be together for something bigger than what they’re doing right now, which is kind of being at home bored and lonely. There’s untapped value here.”
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