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Youth 20 Dialogue in Berlin

Some minutes with Julia Amerikaner, one of the argentine delegates.

The Youth 20 Dialogue is the official G20 forum for young people.  As the SABF, it’s objective is to gather young professionals of different cultures to tackle the future of the international agenda. In this edition, Julia Amerikaner was the argentine delegate.

 

SABF: Tell us a bit about the activities during those days.

Julia Amerikaner (JA): The conference lasted a week and more than 70 young participants from different countries and organizations were gathered. This year, not only delegates of the G20 countries were there, but other guest countries as well (like Norway and Singapore) and multilateral organizations, like the World Trade Organization, World Labour Organization, United Nations and regional organizations like the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

The final product was a special editorial of 25 pages that resumed the 10 topics that youth considers a priority. Between those: global economy, gender equality, digitalization, sustainable development, terrorism, migration and refugees, within others.

During the first days of the conference, we got together in informal workshops to discuss these topics and set forth recommendations for the G20 governments. Afterwards, each one of us chose a topic and worked on it in teams.  In between, we had the opportunity to meet experts in each field and enhance our work.  After the first draft, each team had to present their topic to the reset of the conference and we went through each point altogether.

Consensus was key: there were easily 5 drafts before getting to the final document (and a lot of nights up until 4 am!).  We discussed about which ideas to include (or even which entire paragraph should be deleted); the nature of the recommendations and the capacity of the governments to set them forth.

After closing the document, each group chose a speaker to present the theme to Merkel.  The speaker had two minutes to pitch their idea and, later on, accepted questions from Merkel.

 

SABF: How were the different topics developed? Which one interested you the most?

JA: At the beginning the topics were worked by everyone, it was an exchange of ideas, opinions and points of view.  Later, each participant had to focus on one topic in groups of 4 or 10 persons.  In my case, I was passionate about three:  anti-corruption, digitalization and gender equality.

Finally, I chose to work in the digitalization committee. To understand my decision, you should know that I work as an adviser in the Ministry of Culture of the Nation.  When I began, almost a year ago, everything was done on paper. Today I’m leading a project to implement a digital platform to organize the work at the Ministry; from the planifications of their activities to the budget execution.  I felt that I had a lot to contribute to the group and also had the chance to deepen my own knowledge and apply what was learnt in my country. I really feel that the modernization of the State is important to progress and to improve the quality of the services offered to the citizens.

 

SABF: As you worked on the digitalization topic, did you come across any uneasiness?

JA: I’ll make an observation (It could be considered as “uneasiness”) and I will say something very obvious:  Our context, the place where we grew up and the things that surround us, really define the way of seeing the world. I say this because I was surprised that the in the gender equality committee (composed entirely by europeans and none from Latin America) did not include gender violence in their first draft. The argentine delegation, together with the mexican, requested that it should be included in a paragraph in the official document about the gender violence and domestic violence.

This anecdote serves to emphasise that diversity, especially in a working group, is important.  I believe that if Argentina and Mexico would not have been part of the discussion, then gender violence would not have been included in a debate about equality; a terrible mistake, in my opinion.

 

SABF: At the time of promoting the objectives of the G20, what do you think is the role of Argentina and what do you think is the most urgent aspect to strengthen?

JA: I think Argentina has the unique opportunity next year as we are assuming the presidency of the G20.  There are only three latin american countries in the group (Mexico, Argentina and Brazil).  So I think Argentina can emphasize certain topics in a unique way: the poverty and migration as one of the most relevant.  I would also like the country to take a long term perspective and emphasis on sustainable development and politics on renewable energy, as well as gender equality and digitalization.

 

SABF: What did you want to pass over of Argentina to the rest of the countries?

JA: I became a very close friend of the delegations of Korea, Indonesia and Singapore. All of them said that I was the first argentine they met. That tells you everything.  As a delegate, you want to share the best of your country: the sympathy of Argentina, the friendship, but also the cleverness of argentines to solve problems.  I wanted to transmit that we were an open country, friendly and, above all, leave a good impression.

 

SABF: You had some training on public speaking, anything you would want to share about that?

JA: Thess conferences show the importance of public speaking. For the ones that don’t have much experience in this, I believe the most important part is to lose the fear and to try it: start speaking in public, by small steps, without embarrassment and with conviction.  At the moment of preparing a speech, the best thing is to write down what you want to transmit and generate something coherent.  Where one idea follows another one naturally.  Above all, be clear and concise, give examples.

 

SABF: One of the topics for Y20 was the lack of economic opportunities for young people and the lack of representation of youth in the global economy. According to statistics 25 per cent of youth in middle-income nations and 15 per cent in high income nations are NEETs: not in education, employment or training (OECD, 2017). What’s your perspective?

JA: This was one of the main topics: young employment.  It’s something that generates a lot of concern; from Latin America to Europe, Africa and Asia.  Above all, I believe that participation of youth in politics and social civil organizations is key.

 

SABF: How was it to share some moments with Angela Merkel?

JA: It was amazing.  I think that the presence of a Head of State — and someone as influential in the international scenery as Merkel– was a positive message to us and an important signal for youth.  It means “we care about what you are saying”, given that they generated the institutional space to give us a voice.  Also, Merkel had a lot of questions and she seemed interested.  It was not a “passive listening” on her behalf but she made us stand up for our points and develop others.  For the digitization team, she inquired about artificial intelligence and future challenges.

 

SABF: What are your expectations for the coming G20 in Argentina?

JA: I may be repeating myself a little… But my expectation is that this is a great opportunity for Argentina to itself before the world.  I would like to see us leading the regional agenda in topics such as digitization, gender equality and sustainable development.

 

SABF: Do you have an anecdote to share?

JA: Uf, thousands.  But I would like to tell one about how I met the delegate of Arabia Saudita. We both participated in a workshop about gender equality and as I talked (or she), a sense of complicity developed.  We had a lot in common, all of those who shared ideas were in sintony. She said something and I was thinking “yeah, that’s right”.  I said something and she would look at me like saying “I agree completely”.  When the workshop ended, she came to me and said “We haven’t met yet, right?” And I said “No, but we should”.  After that, and together with the delegate from Singapore, we spent hours talking about different topics, always feeling we had a special connection.  That’s something amazing that this kind of international conferences give: the chance to connect instantly with a person from a completely different environment, that you met two days ago.

 

SABF: From the global challenges that were set forward, which was your favourite?

JA: My favorite is Assuming Responsibility. Already it’s title expresses a key idea: what happens is our responsibility.  It’s time to assume that responsibility and be proactive at the moment of solving problems that unsettle the world for hundreds of years: wars, forced migration, sickness, injustice.  In a world evermore connected, I think it’s irresponsible to look the other way and say “this is not my problem”.  Someone else will not fix this and this will affect you too.  We all have the potential to be agents of change.

North Korea: the last frontier

In today’s world, where borders seem to have surrendered to the phenomenon of globalization and communism disappeared with the opening of Cuba and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 90s, it remains an isolated Stalinist state.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea occupies the northern portion of the Korean peninsula. It is headed by the only case of a communist dynasty in the history established by the supreme leader and eternal president of Korea, Kim Jong-Il and is rule under the “Juche” ideology whose vocation regulates every aspect of the citizen’s life. It is a totalitarian regime based in the cult of personality of their leaders. After the death of supreme leader in 1994, came to power his son Kim Il-Sung and after his death in 2011, the current ruler Kim Jong-Un.

It is a heavily militarized regime with one of the largest armed forces in the world. This is so because the country is since ever in  state of war as a peace was never signed after the Korean War.

South Korea, a democratic and liberal regime has reached a high level of development is the south of the peninsula with support from the United States and Japan. Meanwhile the North Korean regime has seen its existence compromised with the fall of the Soviet regime and the inclusion of China in the economy and world order. While Beijing remains its mainstay, criticism from its biggest ally do nothing but increase.

It is in this context and with the coming to power of the supreme leader’s grandson, the positions and the rhetoric of the regime have been radicalized. The pursuit of nuclear weapon and the missile development has become a priority for the regime and its existence.

 

Current status

2017 has been a challenge year so far to the international community. North Korea feels its own existence in danger and it shows it with provocations and threats.

In March Koreans conducted a four missiles trail. The missiles traveled nearly a thousand kilometers, three of them reached Japanese waters. It is estimated that the exercise goal were US bases in Japan. China interceded in United Nations to calm down the reaction of the United States, South Korea and Japan. Since then the United States called to end the strategic patience towards the regime and South Korea expressed concern at the progress of North Korean missile program.

Two others missiles test were made, one in late March and another in April. Both of the without success. The issue was addressed at the meeting between President Trump and President Xi Jinping. Koreans threatened an unforgivable reaction to what they saw as an american provocation as the US announced and increasement of its presence in the peninsula.

The North Korean press made threats of nuclear attacks on American soil after the US announcement. Indeed it is estimated that a nuclear test site is operable since April.

In this context the Japanese reported that the North Koreans have the ability to launch warheads with sarin gas. North Korea announced that they will respond to any attack with total war. The regimes showed its potential during a military parade in occasion of the commemoration of the 105th anniversary of the birth of the Supreme Leader.

The Vice President of the United States,Pence, said that all options are on the table regarding the Korean crisis and recommended the regime not to test the determination of President Trump.

Japan meanwhile urged North Korea to refrain from further provocations and claims to the role of China in the conflict.

However, North Korea did another missile test unsuccessfully as it exploded after launched. Pope Francis called for a peaceful solution to the Korean crisis.

In May North Korea announced that it can conduct a nuclear test at any time and call for the immediate suspension of US anti-missile shield.

A new President in South Korea assumed after a political crisis and corruption scandal, saying o be ready to travel to North Korea if the conditions were acceptable. It was the end of 10 years of conservative government in South Korea. Nevertheless North Koreans tested the new South Korean president with another missile test. The White House called for tougher sanctions to the regime. Moscow and Beijing were concerned at the escalation of tension. The European Union considered North Korea as a threat to international peace.

Furthermore the United States and Japan called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council after two missiles tests in less than 15 days. Russia called to stop intimidation to North Korea.

In this context  a massive cyberattack occurred and there were strong versions that It could have been originated in North Korea. At the United Nations, Washington and Beijing prepare a resolution with sanctions against the regime. 18 companies and regime figures were sanctioned. In response North Korea conducted a new missile test. UN called North Korea a threat to international security.

In June the North Koreans again tested a missile showing significant progress. The death of the US extradited prisoner, Otto Warmbier, created new tensions between the administration and the regime Trump. It was first accused of stealing a propaganda poster during his visit to North Korea.

 

An agenda for Korea

The evolution of the first half of the year shows that North Korea feels threatened and it believes that the only solution is the development of technology: a kind of technology that will make extremely dangerous a possible invasion.

The only deterrent will be the nuclear weapon as well as the missiles to reach South Korean, Japanese and even American soil and so neutralize any threat to the regime.
The objective of the North Korean regime is causing a high cost to any military intervention on its territory. And there is not one greater than the nuclear, so it is difficult that they will give up the development of this technology.

The sanctions have not been effective as in the case of Iran, as the North Korean economy is not integrated into the international economy and the North Koreans seem not revealed by harsher condition. The famine between 1995-1997 is a clear example of this.

The role of the Chinese and Russian governments is critical to achieving a resolution to the conflict as they have a certain influence in the regime.

Any attitude and demonstration of force will only reinforce the alleged weakness experienced by the regime. It will increase the regime desire of the nuclear weapon.

Only dialogue and multilateral negotiations will find the solution to the Korean problem.

Will the international community give an opportunity to build bridges of trust and to avoid what it looks like a inevitable all-or-nothing confrontation?

Diversity in tech and why we need it

It is a wide known fact within the industry of IT that there’s not a lot of diversity among people who build the internet. Why is this a problem and why should we address it?

Technology is everywhere. We use technology to communicate with our peers at work, with our families, with our friends. We use technology to search for information, we use it to get our news, we use it to learn and to grow. Being such an omnipresent factor in our lives, in everyone’s lives, it is imperative that technology is built for everyone. Moreover, it’s important that technology is built by everyone.

While it is true that most people are born naturally empathetic, there’s only so much our empathy can go. To give a silly yet relatable example, last weekend we forgot to purchase vegan sweets for an event. The reason being: it’s always been our (then absent) vegan friend who thought about those things. One can make an extra effort to be empathetic and walk in someone else’s shoes, but not sharing their reality only allows us to do it to some extent.

Of course, the lack of empathy when building a product can go beyond sensitivities and affect functionality as well. A clear example of that are facial recognition algorithms. Take the case of Joy Buolamwini, an African-American MIT student, whose face was not being consistently recognised by the face-detection algorithms she was using to complete her studies. In order to test her assignments, she even had to recur to wearing a white mask to increase contrast in low-light environments and have her face detected.

Does this mean that whoever created the face detection algorithms is racist, or that the algorithm has a racist bias? Not at all. Most face detection programs use artificial intelligence, where a neural network needs to be trained with a set of samples (in this case, faces), that will allow it to determine patterns to match against. The main cause for black faces not being recognised, or Asian eyes detected as closed, is that the set of samples used for training the neural network was not diverse enough.

While it can seem hard to, as individuals, influence how a phone screen blocker detects Asian eyes or how crime prevention algorithms identify suspects, the truth is that we all have a part to play. Diversity is key, and we all can start by encouraging others to become involved. Examples of this are Rails Girls and Django Girls among others, which are organisations aimed at increasing the proportion of women in tech, and Black Girls Code, which aims to increase the number of women of color in the digital space. Another great example is the Algorithmic Justice League, created by the aforementioned Joy to highlight algorithmic bias.

If you feel identified with any of these stories, get involved. If you ever found it difficult to use an app or website due to your ethnicity, age or disabilities, get your community involved. Educate them, attract them to the industry. Increase diversity in the development teams and in the test groups. If you didn’t, if you’ve never had any struggles at all, make a special effort to become aware of social bias. Start by looking at your surroundings. Inspect the company you work at and analyse whether it’s diverse enough. Encourage diversity. Improve tech.

What would be of Sherlock without Dr. Watson? The case of data analytics.

Being able to tell a good story is as important as good data analysis.

Sherlock had the ability to analyze and put together odd pieces of events. But his findings were set on paper in a catching way by his friend Dr. Watson. Being able to tell a good story is as important as having the right data analysis to back it up.

Traditionally, concerns were focused on how to minimize data processing time and how to build a model with the highest predictive value. Today’s concerns are towards what actions can be taken based on predictive modelling and what constituencies will support or block implementation.

“Data, hardware, and software are available in droves, but human comprehension of the possibilities they enable is much less common.” Tom Davenport. HBR.

Data analytics is without question on the rise and it was enabled by technology. Today there are thousands of businesses that collect vast amounts of data but are at a loss when trying to put this information to use[1].

Why are both important?

In an organization efforts are aligned through its strategic objectives and in most cases data allows to measure progress in order to reach these objectives. Within the decision making processes in organizations people with tech and non-tech skills coexist and both are equally important. “Without data you’re just another person with an opinion.” As said by Deming.  But without a hypothesis/objective you’re just a person with data. Communicating proposals validated on data points and generating consensus throughout the organization drives meaningful new ideas. Enabling to leverage data in order to achieve business results and create insight.

When does analytics fail? The case of Netflix

A couple of years ago Netflix launched a $1 million prize for the team that could come up with an algorithm that improved by 10 points the current match making of recommendations.  So the algorithm was developed and there was a winner but it was never implemented because Netflix changed its service from DVD-by-mail to streaming.  Meaning the whole organization was changing and the algorithm developed was rendered useless in most part[2].

References:

[1] http://burning-glass.com/research/hybrid-jobs/

[2] http://techblog.netflix.com/2012/04/netflix-recommendations-beyond-5-stars.html

MERCOSUR is dead

With more than 1 million square kilometers, with a GDP of more than 4 trillion dollars and with a population of approximately 275 million inhabitants, MERCOSUR is characterized by a history of impulses and stagnation. After being born as a process that was disruptive for the time, and especially, to mark the end of the confrontation thesis between the two biggest countries of South America, MERCOSUR has been losing its impulse.

During the month of March 2016, MERCOSUR had its 25th anniversary, an event that was little promoted, which happened almost unnoticed for civil society and to which governments did not give much importance. The media, although they did not refer to this anniversary as an event of transcendence, recalled it in their publications with titles that reflect a pessimistic perspective: “25 years of MERCOSUR and very little to celebrate” (La Nación, Argentina https://goo.gl/s2ju3R), “A sad regional birthday” (El Observador, Uruguay https://goo.gl/ENlIOL), “MERCOSUR will celebrate 25 years of creation and will be without pain or glory” (ABC , Paraguay https://goo.gl/VxSKNE) or even Globo (Brazil https://goo.gl/YrL3E7) detailed that: “… the anniversary comes amid the political crisis in Brazil and the wear and tear of the bloc”. However, there were two optimistic headlines: “MERCOSUR, 25 years of success” (La Razón https://goo.gl/3oomlE) in Bolivia, which is currently in the process of joining, and Telesur (https://goo.gl/fNrXXI): “MERCOSUR celebrates 25 years betting on economic integration” highlighting the progress in social and cultural issues.

However, the current situation shows that there is a crisis and an opportunity for the process of integration. There are two possible ways, self-criticism and call to action, or resignation. The international system up to 2016 demonstrated the importance of every State to belong to broad integration processes and to large trade blocs, since it increases the possibilities of commercial transactions, with enormous political and economic opportunities. But last year was a turning point in the history of integration. The Brexit and the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency who withdrew the country from the brand new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) shows an uncertainty in the economic, geopolitical and also social area, especially after a time when diplomacy and international negotiations had created a conducive environment for the trade blocs, from the Trans-Pacific Partnership itself to the Pacific Alliance, in an attempt to focus the world economy on Asia-Pacific, which is interpreted as the engine of the international economy in the next years.

According to many analysts, nowadays MERCOSUR is the moment of the ‘Black Swan’. This theory develops the possibility that unexpected situations lead to a rebirth of the bloc after a long hibernation in an unpredictable and uncertain international political and economic context. Among other things, this new impulse is brought about the emergence in Latin America of a new integration process, the Pacific Alliance, which calls itself as an innovative process which follows the patterns of the new international system focus on the new center of geopolitics and world economy. In contrast to MERCOSUR that was born in 1991 inspired by neoliberal ideas, after the change of political climate there were only advances in the social, cultural and, in some cases, political areas.

MERCOSUR needs to adapt to the new regional and international situation. Since it was born in the 1990s in a neoliberal context, it developed in the 2000s in a political climate framed in the ‘turn to the left‘ and is now in a different regional climate with the so-called ‘turn to the right‘ (1), into an international environment where it seems that the status quo is going to have an unpredictably change. This is precisely one of the weaknesses of the MERCOSUR project; it depends almost exclusively on ideological complementarity, extreme inter-presidentialism and pro-tempore presidencies pendulums. However, it should not be forgotten that this harmony between governments and presidential diplomacy is the success factor of the bloc (2), a bloc that does not fit the models of classical integration, because there is neither a significant institution nor a supranational level. We could say that MERCOSUR follows its own model (3) which is precisely the cause of its progress but also of its obstacles. There is no single model for the integration and cooperation processes, because each one is adjusted to its member’s reality (4). MERCOSUR was born with the deficiency that it followed the priorities and objectives of the governments of turn, reason why before each political change, MERCOSUR is stalled.

If we see the present, it is possible understand that after the first phase of economic complementation the bloc did not have more advances in that field, but it did cross with strength the 2008 crisis that was originated in the developed countries, the congruence of the politics of the ‘Turn to the Left’ made it advance in the social and cultural level, and the leadership of Brazil, on the one hand at regional level, on the second hand as an emergent power (5), gave some dynamics to the process but that could not cross political climate changes.

Nowadays, MERCOSUR is immersed in a crisis, but it is not the only integration process that is on crisis, even the European Union (EU) which is considered the deepest process of integration and the example to follow, is in its greatest crisis (6), or the Trans-Pacific Agreement which few months after seeing the light, goes through its first moment of darkness. However, MERCOSUR is marked by a change of political conjuncture of the ‘turn to the right‘, the strongest partner, Brazil is in a social, political and economic crisis, Argentina is politically divided but in a stable situation, Uruguay is in a cautious mode, Paraguay is expectant of the Bolivian incorporation to be able to increase the commercial flows and thus to leave the mutual geostrategic prison, and the most problematic partner, Venezuela, that after Chávez’s death, the country entered a political-social crisis that divides the country and makes the member be suspended from the bloc, but having the pro tempore presidency, a big deprivation.

That is why MERCOSUR is dead, because the bloc is experiencing a credibility and survival crisis. It was unable to adapt to the new era, to the new international and regional reality, and neither was there political efforts to have an economic deepening. It is necessary that the projects transcend political administrations and be guided by the wishes of the people, which at first are forgotten. Furthermore is needed a common external agenda, because that was built for the majority partners (Brazil and Argentina) for the benefit of their own interests, which sometimes are not complementary and even hurt the smaller partners. A common agenda would give the bloc the tool to go on new international negotiations, deepen current alliances and having a voice in international forums. With Brazil immersed in its internal sphere, it would seem the moment for Argentina to be the leader of the process, but for that to happen it must prioritize the interest of the bloc to the national interest, and generate instances that allow a better complementation after the changes of the administrations.

Between the 20 and the 24 of March, the XXVII Round of the Committee of Bi-regional Negotiations between MERCOSUR and the European Union will be held in Argentina to promote stalled trade negotiations. But the bloc also has several open fronts, negotiations with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), and the rapprochement with Korea, China and Japan. In a Multiplex World, all actors have the potential to increase their international insertion, if they maintain a clear strategy (8). It is time to see if MERCOSUR can achieve this strategy.

 

(1) Carné, Jonatán. “¿América Latina da un Giro a la Derecha?”, SABF Blog, 2016, http://blog.sabf.org.ar/2016/04/06/america-latina-da-un-giro-a-la-derecha/

(2) Malamud, Andrés. “La diplomacia presidencial y los pilares institucionales del MERCOSUR: un examen empírico”, Revista electrónica “Relaciones Internacionales”, 2010.

(3) Bizzozero, Lincoln. “Los primeros 20 años del Mercosur: del Programa de Liberalización Comercial al Plan Estratégico de Acción Social”, Revista Densidades, 2011.

(4) Peña, Felix. “Los 25 años del Mercosur y opciones en el camino de su evolución futura”, Newsletter, 2016.

(5) Carné, Jonatán. “¿Qué pasó con las potencias emergentes? El Caso de los BRICS.”, SABF Blog, 2016, http://blog.sabf.org.ar/2016/07/06/que-paso-con-las-potencias-emergentes-el-caso-de-los-brics/

(6) Domínguez, Emiliano. “La encrucijada europea: ampliación y Brexit”, SABF Blog, 2017, http://blog.sabf.org.ar/2017/01/30/la-encrucijada-europea-ampliacion-y-brexit/

(7) Acharya, Amitav. “From the Unipolar moment to a Multiplex World”, YaleGlobal Univertisty, 2014.

Disinformation Era

Imagine the following situation: it’s Tuesday, it’s late, and you’re just arriving home. The day has been dreadfully long, so you choose to browse your favourite social network to unwind for a while. Your feed is full of the same old: funny jokes about the latest mediatic politician, videoclips of some corny pop artist, memes about some Turkish chef, and an avalanche of baby pictures and first wedding anniversary memorabilia. You scroll, scroll, scroll, until you find a video of a cat. Now, that’s relaxing.

This behaviour is hardly surprising. The excess of information creates an overload of our receptors, causing us to shut down our senses. There is so much of it around, that it really is an effort to take it all in. We tend to absorb only the information that’s preprocessed, the easy bits. This could be tightly bound to the fact that laziness is an evolutionary trait in humans[1]. We’re built to save energy in a calorie-restricted environment. Of course, that’s not our current reality, but the evolutionary trait still remains.

Which leads us to the main causes of disinformation: the lack of diversification and the lack of verification of sources.

Let’s start with lack of diversification of sources. Believe it or not, there are people who rely exclusively on social media to keep informed on current events. Facebook, Twitter, even 9gag! One of the main issues with this approach is that the information found on such media is highly biased. The feed is composed by people we choose to follow, people we choose to befriend. With that in mind, the information and points of view we will be presented with are limited.

“Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you what you know”

Not only are we conditioned by our choice of people to follow, or people to be friends with, but also social media will keep feeding us only a subset of the available information. Social networks will determine what to show us in our main feed based on what we have searched, what we have liked, and whose profile we’ve opened in the past[2], thus creating a retro-feeding loop of related content. We’re therefore being presented only with information that an algorithm calculated that we’ll like. The posts we see, the ads, and clickbaits, all relate to our history and encase us in a pattern which in itself provides the algorithm with more detailed information about our perceived preferences.

In addition to that, some social networks give you the option of hiding a certain type of posts, either by author or, more dangerously, by content similarity. In this case, people choose to ignore information. Of course, you might want to block content from someone you dislike (just unfollow/unfriend them, trust me on this one), but an alternative reason for it might be that the information we’re wanting to block makes us uncomfortable. We experiment cognitive dissonance: mental stress caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously[3], or when being presented with evidence that contradicts our beliefs. The ways of solving this discomfort is by either changing our beliefs, which is the most difficult and unlikely solution of all, ignoring the new information that causes our discomfort, or seeking sources that coincide with our beliefs and allow us to deem the new evidence erroneous. This last solution is what is called Confirmation Bias[4].

This ultimately leads us to the second main cause of disinformation: the lack of verification of sources. On one hand, our need to get rid of our cognitive dissonance through confirmation bias will predispose us to believe whatever sides with our beliefs, regardless of the source. We will gladly accept the words of whoever confirms our theories and ideas, even when we might be wrong (there are still people who believe the Earth is flat). It’s quite unlikely for someone to seek alternative sources of truth, trying to find points of view that contradict our truth. On the other hand, our lazy nature will lead us to believing any plausible information presented to us blindly, without going to the extent of cross-reference checking with reliable sources.

Of course, not all the information we find on the Internet is true. The best way of finding reliable information is by consulting reliable sources. A potential sources reliability ranking could be the following (from most to least reliable):

  1. Official documents, laws, and decrees (true by their enunciative nature)
  2. Scientific papers (highly reliable due to the supporting research and scientific evidence, slightly less reliable because each research opens the challenge of disproving it)
  3. Highly renowned newspapers (you would expect serious newspapers to verify their sources and have editors who make a sanitization of the publications)
  4. Less renowned newspapers (articles are less serious and sometimes more oriented at sensationalism)
  5. Social media (absolutely unreliable, where every John and Jane can write whatever they please)

In this schema, information can only be as reliable as the least reliable source that’s been quoted as a reference (i.e. if a major newspaper shares news from a less renowned newspaper, the information will only have reliability of level 4). With this in mind, anything found on social media has to be regarded as highly unreliable information. And yet, some people end up believing even the most ridiculous Alternative Facts[5].

While there doesn’t seem to be a way of fixing the disinformation globally, there is a way of solving it on a personal level: inform yourself, look for reliable sources that confirm what you have read or heard, look for alternative points of view, try to avoid the confirmation bias. If you’re too lazy to do it on your account, get a reliable fact checker (like Chequeado.com or Politifact). Do not stay with the apparent truth.

Keep informed.

 

[3]: Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. California: Stanford University Press.

Success and the power of mentorship

 

“And you ask any successful person how they got to where they are today, chances are they’ll tell you about a mentor they had somewhere along the way.”– Barack Obama[1]

People are complex but, in a great way, we are defined by our environment and ambitions.  Having clear objectives, is the first step towards success, because after that moment you can work towards them.

Today, looking backwards, having gone through university and some first professional experiences I’m convinced that a mentor can bring down obstacles.  The first time I came across a mentor formally was during my participation in the SABF team and I will always be grateful for her dedication.

A mentor gives you the means to improve personal and professional skills. It raises awareness of your strengths and weaknesses to better align yourself towards your goals. It inspires you and brings more confidence when facing challenges.  It´s important to be open minded to receive advice and be willing to work on it.

To find a mentor the most important thing is to learn to approach people for advice.  And to take the most out of the relationship, you have to be honest about your own personal and professional objectives.

Without doubt, if you seek for a mentor you will win opportunities to meet interesting people and enrich your experiences.  Always be open to give advise, people are amazing!

European crossroads: enlargement and Brexit

The process of incorporating a State to the European Union is complex and lengthy. The exit is equally complex although there is no precedent. Admission requires the application of the Copenhagen criteria summarized in stable democratic institutions, rule of law, market economy and acceptance of European law, such requirements do not seem easily met by many of the candidates. As obvious as it may seem the admission of a new state requires that it be European. An example of this is the failed application of the Kingdom of Morocco in 1987 to the European Community.

In the current universe of candidates, to access as members, we must make a difference between the official candidates who are under negotiation or awaiting launch, as is Turkey (which meets few of the requirements of the commitment and that is why his candidature moves at glacial pace since 2005. Given the current political situation we do not see a change in the short or medium term), Montenegro (since 2005), Serbia (since 2012), Macedonia (since 2005) and Albania (from 2003) and potential candidates with or without formal request presented as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

The European Union has had a long and complex path, from the European Union of Coal and Steel in the 50s to the Lisbon treaty, creating strict and necessary regulations for its continued expansion. But this should not be the only thing to consider.

We should not miss the funding values of the Union whose bases constitute the real soul of Europe today. The European Union was conceived beyond economic integration from a moral criterion and from the ashes of two world wars that changed history and shaped the world. They are the humanist and democratic principles of Konrad Adenaeur, Jean Monnet, Alcide de Gasperini, Robert Schuman among many others that should guide the future of the Union.

The European Union represents a unique case of integration in world history that has established peace and prosperity in a continent that took the blows of dominance and hegemony over the last 500 years.

Brexit is also a new opportunity to advance towards fuller integration and a more comprehensive concept of Europe. The mission of the Union should not be limited against the criteria of incorporation of members nor diminished in terms of objectives based on the lack of commitment of present or potential members.

The European Union is open to European states entity but it does not have an ecumenical mission in the old continent. Those who can commit to the funding values of the Union and want to run the risk of full integration will be those who enjoy the benefits and virtues that 50 years of integration have harvested.

Europe’s future depends on it. The EU should not be lost before the paradigm of believing that more is better but those who can commit willingly with the European principles and values are those to be called part of the European integration.

What was a utopia today is a reality. Its future depends on the integrity within the principles of its funding spirit, those sown in the ashes of World War II, and present in the minds of all Europeans long before.

A day will come when there will be no battlefields, but markets opening to commerce and minds opening to ideas. A day will come when the bullets and bombs are replaced by votes, by universal suffrage, by the venerable arbitration of a great supreme senate which will be to Europe what Parliament is to England, the Diet to Germany, and the Legislative Assembly to France.

A day will come when a cannon will be a museum-piece, as instruments of torture are today. And we will be amazed to think that these things once existed!

A day will come when we shall see those two immense groups, the United States of America and the United States of Europe, facing one another, stretching out their hands across the sea, exchanging their products, their arts, their works of genius, clearing up the globe, making deserts fruitful, ameliorating creation under the eyes of the Creator, and joining together, to reap the well-being of all, these two infinite forces, the fraternity of men and the power of God.”

Victor Hugo. Discours d’ouverture, congrès de la paix, [Opening address, Peace Congress], Paris (21 August 1849)

From Idea to Startup in 7 Posts: Presentation

With this post I’m opening a new space in this blog that I will call Bringing the “B” (as in “Business”) back to “SABF”. This first series will be all about going from “I’d like to start a business” to having a small start-up running, and beyond that. I invite you to follow it, leave your comments and ask questions.

I will start by telling a bit about myself. In 2008 I began the BA in Business Economics at UTDT. A year later, I embarked on my first entrepreneurial project: I built, with two friends, a social network for our university’s students (ditellianos.com.ar, we shut it down a year and a half ago). Also that year I participated for the first time in  SABF, an experience that had a great impact on me in many aspects.

The year after that (2010) got even more interesting. In February I travelled with two friends from college to London, where we took part in the Entrepreneurs International Challenge’s finals at LSE (the week-long event combined team competitions with talks and workshops). When we came back to Buenos Aires, the three of us started planning the creation of Cena Plus, a web-based restaurant reservations system (an OpenTable.com clon for Latin America). As if that was not enough, in the second half of that year I did an ERASMUS Semester at Prague’s University of Economics, another lifechanging experience. We closed 2010 by launching CenaPlus.com the second week of December.

During 2011, we focused on growing Cena Plus, afiliating more than 90 restaurants in Buenos Aires and processing hundreds of reservations. But of course we faced tough competition. Last December, Cena Plus was acquired by Restorando.com, this industry’s leader. By the end of last year I graduated from college and, as it was agreed in the acquisition deal, I joined Restorando’s team. Today I work with them full-time. (Oh, and in 2011 I participated in SABF once again)

In all these years I learned a lot: if I began a new start-up today, I would have a great advantage and I would do things somehow different from how I did in the past. That “advantage” and those lessons are what I will try to pass on with the series.

I’d like to be clear about something: little of what I’m going to write is completely new. You can find most of these ideas spread through other blogs, books and talks. In fact, the lessons I learned come from a mix of experiences and an insaciable hunger for learning about these topics from any resource I can put my hands on. The value I intend to create lies in bringing all these ideas, ways and methods closer to the SABF community, in a didactic and entertaining format, and mixing them with personal experiences and lessons (and possibly those of other SABFers as well).

I will focus on web-based business (that includes offline-online hybrids). The decision is based mainly on two reasons: 1) my richest experience comes from that industry and 2) it’s very likely that if you are reading this and thinking of starting up a business, it will be web-based. As a matter of fact, in order to avoid making the series too abstract, with each post we will be following the creation of an imaginary start-up of this kind.

I’ll finish by leaving a roadmap for the weeks to come, with the titles of the post’s of the series and, below, some resources you might want to take advantage of if you didn’t know them.

(You will get access to these articles by clicking on their names every time we upload a new one)

  1. On Motivation, Opportunity Cost and Ideas
  2. Validating your Idea
  3. Minimum Business Plan
  4. MVP (Minimum Viable Product)
  5. I already have a working and tuned MVP… Now what?
  6. Co-founders, Culture & Team Dynamics
  7. Funding

Resources:

“Global Objectives, Collaborative Actions”

This past Friday, December 2nd, the SABF 2012 Lauching took place, During this event, the achievements of the seventh edition were presented, as well as the new objectives and the Main topic for the eighth edition. Also, the new team was presented, as they will be the people in charge of making SABF 2012 possible. This event took place in the Magister room at ITBA and was attended by ex – participants, team’s family, ex-organaziers and members of the SABF community in general.

First of all, Nicolas Loreti, Co-Director of SABF 2011, made a summary of last edition’s results. He mentioned the achievements and also complications that they had to overcome. After that, he introduces the new directors: Paula Montaldi and Lucas Díaz. They shared with the audience which the objectives for this new SABF will be. Among them we can mention:

  • Redesign of the blog
  • Boost of SABF Community
  • Improvements in the benefits for sponsors
  • Optimization of internal tasks of the team
  • Improvement in the quantity and diversity of applicants
  • Improvement in the relationship with related organizations

After that, the moment that we were all expecting arrived: the presentation of the main topic. The co-directors mentioned how difficult this task had been, and how they had came up with this idea. The process involved ex-organizers, new team members, the Board of Trustees and other members of the community. The conclusion they have arrived is that the discussion about exponential times (last edition’s main topic) had been a bit abstract and theoretical. This is why the new approach will focus in practical actions applicable in the real world. To achieve those objectives in a global level, today more than ever the role of collaboration and the work in conjunction are essential. That’s why the topic will be centered in three different levels:

  • Regional level
  • Organizations level
  • Individual level

With these three approaches the Main topic is:

Global Objectives, Collaborative Actions.

Finally the new team was introduced:

Student Relations
Soledad Delgadillo
Helena Polyblank
Sebastián Fenelli
Lucas Palomeque
Michel Estrebou
Fundraising
Jesica Klein
Olivia Cesio
Juan Berardi
Information Technology
Esteban Ordano
Enzo Altamiranda
Media & Communication
Federico Bond
Luciana Reznik
Hernán Suris
Speakers
Celeste Molina
Laura Varela
Konstantinos Papalias

The SABF 2012 will take place on 3rd, 4th and 5th of August and the application period will go from February 1st to May 6th.