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Maya Brahmam's blog

Mandela on My Mind

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Last Friday, July 18, was Nelson Mandela Day, a day to recognize and remember his legacy to the cause of social justice – including the fight against extreme poverty. Mandela has inspired countless people with his ideas and actions.

The moment of personal inspiration came when I read a friend’s blog post several years ago in which he described a visit to Mandela’s prison cell, where he spent more than 20 years – a small cramped space that couldn’t constrain his larger vision. In Long Walk to Freedom, an autobiography he began writing in prison, Mandela said, “It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”  I found these words compelling, as they challenge each of us to examine our own life and direction.

In a very visceral way, Mandela understood the concept of inequality. He established the “Train of Hope,” which made its first journey to deliver health care to underserved rural populations in 1994, the same year that he was elected as South Africa’s president. He also believed in the promise of education. In 2001, at the opening ceremony of a secondary school, he stated, “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that a son of a mineworker can become the head of a mine…

Mandela is for my generation what Gandhi was for my parents: A legend in his own time.
 

The Importance of Learning and Climate Change

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While at the Carbon Expo in Cologne at the end of May, there was a great deal of interest in the climate change learning programs that we shared with attendees. The sense I got as I spoke with participants from a range of sectors (engineering, risk management, energy consulting) is that people are realizing that knowledge needs to be converted to learning to become practice, especially on a topic as complex as climate change. This was one of the drivers behind the development of our recent Massive Open Online Course on climate change.

The Digital Media Academy at the 7th World Urban Forum

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It’s a sign of the times that we had the first digital media academy at the World Urban Forum this year. Digital media has come a long way and is here to stay. Its effects have been transformational in many areas of communications – print journalism, book publishing, and marketing & advertising. Now, learning is seeing itself transformed by the same technologies that offer reach, scale, and interactivity at a price tag that’s hard to beat.

I was invited to share my experience in promoting the WBG’s first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on climate change, as I had created the communications strategy and overseen its launch, which was heavy on social media and reach to the developing world. I was inspired by earlier campaigns and also by the TED organization’s single-minded approach to branding. See attached presentation for details.

Women Visible

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As we approach International Women’s Day on March 8th, I was moved to write about the visibility of women. Women visible – or not – conjure up many images. Think about it.

Women in business.

We’ve heard about women not being sufficiently represented on the boards of major corporations. According to new polls of Fortune 500 companies reported by Anne Fisher on CNN, the numbers of women in leadership haven’t shifted much: “Women's share of corporate board seats, at 16.6%, hasn't grown at all since 2004. The percentage of female executive officers at Fortune 500 companies is even smaller -- 14.3% -- and has remained flat for three straight years…” Why’s that? It’s linked to women’s visibility: "Being visible and making your accomplishments known is essential to getting the kinds of experience that can move you up into senior management, but some corporate cultures penalize women for that.”

Storytellers Redux: A Development Slam

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We had an interesting experiment last month with our very first Development Slam – modeled on the idea of a Poetry Slam – that was held with Aspen Institute’s New Voices Fellows and the World Bank Group’s storytellers.

The Slam allowed people to share their experiences in an interactive way with their peers and allowed the audience to participate as well via an open mic.

All About A MOOC (Not A Moose)

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Well, it’s finally happening. The World Bank Institute is launching its first MOOC on climate change on January 27, 2014 on the Coursera platform. I still remember when we first talked about MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses), colleagues wondered what they were. MOOC sounds like “Mook,” which means a foolish, insignificant, or contemptible person –not the same thing at all!

MOOCs are a way for many people to have access to knowledge – democratizing knowledge, if you will. According to a Short History of MOOCs and Distance Learning, the first MOOC was launched in 2008. It was on ‘Connectivism and Connective Knowledge/2008’ (CCK8) and was created by educators Stephen Downes and George Siemens. Based on a credit course at the University of Manitoba, Canada, this was the first class designed  as a ‘MOOC’ and used many different platforms to engage students with the topic, including Facebook groups, Wiki pages, blogs, forums and other resources. Around 2,200 people signed up for CCK08, and 170 of them created their own blogs. The course was free and open, which meant that anyone could join, modify or remix the content without paying (although a paid, certified option was offered).

The Power of Storytelling

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Think back to your childhood…do you remember your favorite story?  Whether it was Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves or Pinocchio, I bet you can recall every detail. Why do stories hold such power over our imaginations and why are they being talked about so much in businesses today?

Steve Denning, former Director of Knowledge Management at the World Bank, explains in the Science of Storytelling posted on Forbes, “Slides leave listeners dazed. Prose remains unread. Reasons don’t change behavior. When it comes to inspiring people to embrace some strange new change in behavior, storytelling isn’t just better than the other tools. It’s the only thing that works…” In fact there is scientific evidence that storytelling mimics the way our brain works, and this is why we remember stories so well.

The Dog Days of Summer

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During these last warm days of summer, how about some climate cooling? This unusual idea is being proposed by David Keith, professor of public policy and applied physics at Harvard. In an article in the MIT Technology Review, Keith says that reducing carbon emissions alone won’t be enough to stave off the arctic ice melt or loss of crops due to higher temperatures. He says that “geo-engineering” is one way to do this. This idea’s not without risks, however, and of course it is still untested.

The issue of climate change though is quite serious, and according to Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C World Must Be Avoided, a report by the Potsdam Institute commissioned by the World Bank, the scenario of a world warming to 4°C is likely in this century. It should be noted that a warming of 2°C is considered by many to be the “tipping point” for irreversible environmental damage.

The Wellspring of Ideas: Tacit Knowledge

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Tacit knowledge has emerged as the “holy grail” of sorts, with many organizations (including the World Bank) seeking a way to capture and deliver it.  Tacit knowledge is a difficult concept, which I thought was worth exploring a bit.

The origin of this idea has been widely credited to Michael Polanyi, a Hungarian scientist of the 20th century. In his book, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, Polanyi examines how individuals gain knowledge and share it, arguing that knowledge is highly personal, saying “into every act of knowing there enters a passionate contribution of the person knowing what is being known.” He goes on to say that we can see personal knowledge (tacit knowledge) at work in the area of skills and connoisseurship and that some types of knowledge have limited capability for transfer – hence the difficulty of this quest for tacit knowledge. A useful analogy for this kind of knowledge transfer is the master-apprentice relationship, where the master’s knowledge is passed along to the apprentice in practical ways. What’s more, there is a wide body of evidence to show that tacit knowledge is substantially correlated with job performance. 

The E-workers

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The Economist recently wrote about the "workforce in the cloud" and how the global mobile workforce is being tapped by online talent marketplaces like Elance.com and oDesk.com. This has allowed professionals worldwide to compete globally for work and has saved businesses money. Last year, the value for this online work topped $1 billion for the first time and is expected to reach $5 billion by 2018.

These exchanges are providing opportunities to build businesses without borders. The Guardian reported that a start-up firm, Boutique London Lets, which rents luxury apartments to international business travelers and tourists, has tripled turnover every year for the last three years. The firm used online talent marketplaces to help with recruitment, was able to expand to separate London and Manila offices, and used the “workforce in the cloud” to handle their communications. The owner can keep control of the business while traveling and visiting prospects and staff.  The company also uses e-mail, video conferences, online groups, and instant messenger to train staff and is exploring how to create an internal social media network for sharing informal staff interactions.

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