Control content, control data, control the world – the AT&T buyout of Time Warner

AT&T’s takeover of Time Warner makes strategic sense for the shareholders of AT&T. The only surprise is that early rumours of Apple buying over Time Warner did not come to pass.

AT&T are primarily a telecommunications company. They already control the data flows and analytics and understand all the little things that make people/customers tick. However, what they’ve not had is the content that their customers require and monetise the flow of content to the people who need it most.

Through the acquisition of Time Warner, it reduces AT&T’s transaction cost of providing the content to customers which is supported by superior data.

It’s akin to an infrastructure company laying pipes to bring water to households actually now providing the water along with the pipes they already have rather than have a separate company providing the water.

Why content matters

You have data on the information and content your customers require. However, you cannot act on the data yourself if you do not control the development of the content and intellectual property (IP). You can either try and create the content on your own or simply buy the largest available content provider available for sale.

This is what AT&T have done and it allows them to suddenly use the data and deliver even larger profitability to their shareholders by giving their customers the data they seek.

HBO (think Game of Thrones, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Sopranos, etc), CNN, DC Comics (Superman, Batman, and the new UN ambassador, Wonder Woman), Hulu (Netflix’s rivals) are all now going to be under AT&T’s control.

This will allow them to control the entire spectrum of services they provide to customers and create an ecosystem (of both infrastructure and content) that may be difficult or unfeasible to leave for any customer.

Big data just gotten bigger

You know HOW your customers access information. You now know WHAT information your customers seek. Bring the two together and you create superior propositions for customers which rivals are unable to match.

The advertising potential also has now grown exponentially as AT&T monetise the data analytics and provide superior insight to advertisers.

Bringing the fight to the competition

The moment Google and Facebook moved from being search engines or networking platforms to becoming media and content companies with their own telecommunications infrastructure, the fight was on.

Facebook and Google are already providing Internet and call facilities. They also started buying or developing content facilities (Youtube acquisition by Google or Facebook Video/live).

This mean either existing telecommunications companies get into the business of content development or acquisition or they themselves get acquired. I suspect this was a major impetus for AT&T in their decision to buy Time Warner.

What next?

It’s always easy to bite, but it’s important to be able to chew and swallow. It remains to be seen how well the merger itself works. Most mergers are fraught with complications, from realising business benefits to cultural differences.

It will be interesting to examine Apple and Google’s next reactions. Google have developed their own hardware (Pixel) and Apple have long wanted to get into the business of content and IP.

Perhaps a takeover of Netflix by Apple in the offing?


The unassuming flower – The books that shaped the life of APJ Abdul Kalam


apj-kalam-my-journeyI recently read Abdul Kalam’s (the 11th President of India and one of India’s greatest sons) biography, ‘My Journey – Transforming Dreams into Actions,’ which was a brief book about his early childhood, his development and anecdotes about how his life was shaped.

In the book, Abdul Kalam touched on the topic of books that shaped his worldview. I wanted to share his thoughts about books and the ones that shaped his life as he himself said: “the transfer of thoughts and ideas, ideals and principles is a part of the circle that is life.”

Abdul Kalam describes books having always been “close companions” in his life life and how he used them to help him“understand the world.”

The works of Leo Tolstoy, Walter Scott and Thomas Hardy were constant companions of Abdul Kalam. He also was moved profoundly by the poetry of T.S. Eliot, Lewis Caroll and Wlliam Butler Yeats.

He however highlighted a few books that had a last impact of him.

The first was ‘Light from Many Lamps,’ which was an anthology of inspiring stories by various authors and edited by Lilian Eichler Watson. He describes the impact this book had on him as thus: “If I am ever in danger of being swept away by my own emotions, this book brings about a balance in my thinking.”



thirukkuralThe second book was the Thirukural by Thiruvalluvar, a collection of Tamil rhyming couplets.

Written over 2000 years ago, the Thirukkural is arguably one of India’s greatest written work and discusses the human condition, ethics, morality and virtue.

He describes this particular kural (or rhyming couple) as one that has influenced him profoundly:


உள்ளுவ தெல்லாம் உயர்வுள்ளல் மற்றது

தள்ளினுந் தள்ளாமை நீர்த்து

(Think of rising higher. Let it be your only thought.

Even if your object be not attained, the thought itself will have raised you.)



Finally, the religious texts of India, including the Quran, the Vedas and the Bhagawat Gita were also instrumental in Abdul Kalam’s development.

He considered that these religious texts “all hold deep philosophical insights into the plight of man and have helped me resolve many dilemmas.”


From the Quran, he narrated how an excerpt from verse 35 of Surah An-Nur (‘The Light’) had a particularly profound impact on him,

نُورٌ عَلَىٰ نُورٍ ۗ يَهْدِي اللَّهُ لِنُورِهِ مَنْ يَشَاءُ

“Light upon light. Allah guides to His Light to whom He wills”

From the Bhagavat Gita, Abdul Kalam narrates the words of Lord Krishna to Arjuna in the battle of Mahabharata (during another vision of the garden where all the flowers which blossomed in the morning now fall to the ground)

See the flower,
how generously it distributes
perfume and honey.

It gives to all,
gives freely of its love.

When its work is done,
it falls away quietly.

Try to be like the flower,
despite all its qualities.


Abdul Kalam once wrote a poem which he used to recite to young people he met which best describes his feelings about the written word:

Books were always my friends
Last more than fifty years

Books gave me dreams
Dreams resulted in missions

Books helped me confidently take up the missions
Books gave me courage at the time of failures

Good books were for me angels
Touched my heart gently at the time

Hence I ask young friends to have books as friends
Books are your good friends.

This was the legacy of the great Abdul Kalam.

“Hard work and piety, study and learning, compassion and forgiveness – these have been the cornerstones of my life.”

Former Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam Died At Age Of 84




A Man’s A Man For A’ That by Robert Burns (a Tamil Translation)

Speech delivered to the Mother Club (established 1801), Greenock Burns Club.

6th October 2016, Greenock

Good evening everyone

My name is Reza Ali.

I would like to first thank the honourable members at the Mother Club for allowing me to be here this evening.

It is indeed my privilege and my honour to be able to address this esteemed audience.

I must also of course thank the boss and my mentor, Raymond Jack, for his support and for inviting me to my first Burns Supper earlier this year which was an eye-opening experience.

I live between Singapore, Glasgow and London but am originally from the southern coast of India, from Tamil Nadu. Not unlike Robert Burns, I also come from a line of farmers!

I was based out in Glasgow for a big part of last year on work and during the time I had the opportunity to explore the different parts of Scotland and it was on one of those trips that I visited Ayrshire and explored Robert Burns’ home and got drawn into the fascinating life and times of Rabbie Burns. His depth and breadth of writing from nature to hardship to love to family demonstrated a mind and soul that was as unique as it was brilliant. His ability to recognise and more crucially to empathise with the nature of the human condition is something is what makes Robert Burns truly great.

It was then I came across the poem ‘A Man’s a Man for A That’ and was drawn to its messages of universal brotherhood, liberty and social equality.

It is also my view that Rabbie Burns’ egalitarian world view is the perfect antidote this deeply divided world needs.

It was with this in mind that I embarked on this journey of translating ‘A Man’s a Man For A That’ into Tamil as I thought promoting and propagating the virtues and ideals espoused in this poem will benefit the wider community. Tamil is the language of my birth, an ancient language, and one that is still spoken by over 70 million people today. It is my hope that this Tamil translation can be further improved by my peers and also further bring the genius and the universal and timeless messages of Robert Burns across southern India.

With the Executive Committee of the Mother Club (L-R: Bill McCready (Past President), me, Jim Donnelly (President), Jamie Donnelly (Senior Vice President))

Robert Burns, ராபர்ட் பர்ன்ஸ்

A Man’s A Man For A’ That 

மனிதன் என்பவன் மனிதனே அதற்காகவே

(The full translation and a brief history of Tamil can be downloaded here:)

அங்கே, யாரேனும் ஏழ்மையான ஆனால் நேர்மையானவர் உள்ளனரா,

வறுமையின் காரணமாக அவர் தலை தொங்குகிறது, அதற்காகவே.

நாமும் கடக்கிறோம் அந்தக் கோழை அடிமையை,

வறுமையை விரும்ப மாட்டோம் அதற்காகவே.

அதற்க்காகவே, அதற்க்காவே.

நமது கடின உழைப்பை மறைதுவைப்போம் அதற்காகவே.

சாதனை என்பது நமக்கு தங்கத்தில் முத்திரை பதித்த முகமே,

அவன் தங்கமே அதற்காகவே.

நாம் நமது வருமானத்தில் சிறந்த உணவை உண்டாலும்,

சாம்பல்நிற முரட்டு கம்பளியை அணிந்தாலும்,

முட்டாளுக்கு கொடுங்கள் பட்டாடையும், திராட்சை ரசத்தையும்,

மனிதன் என்பவன் மனிதனே அதற்காகவே.

அதற்காகவே, அதற்காகவே.

அவர்களின் ஆடம்பர பகட்டைக் காட்டிலும்,

நேர்மையானவன், ஏழையே யாயினும்,

அவனே அரசன்.

நீ பார்க்கலாம் எஜமான் என்றழைக்கப்படும் கனவானை,

விறைப்புடனும், கர்வத்துடனும் செல்பவனை

பல நூற்றுக்கனக்காநூர் அவன் சொல்லை வணங்கினாலும்,

அவன் முட்டாலன்றி வேறில்லை.

அதற்காகவே, அதற்காகவே.

அவரது பட்டமும் பெருமையுரைக்கும் நாடவும் மற்றும் அனைத்தும்,

சுதந்திர புத்தியுள்ள மனிதன்

அதைப் பார்த்து நகைப்பான் அதற்காகவே.

ஒரு இளவரசன் உருவாக்கலாம் ஒரு வீரனை,

ஒரு கனவான், பிரப்பு, அதற்காகவே.

ஆயினும் ஒரு நேர்மையானவன் எல்லாவற்றிக்கும் மேல்,

நன் நம்பிக்கையை, அவன் அதற்காக குறை செய்யக்கூடாது.

அதற்காகவே, அதற்காகவே.

அவர்கள் தங்கள் கடப்படுகளுக்காகவும் அதற்காகவே.

மற்றும் உணர்வு மற்றும் பெருமை மற்றும் மதிப்பும் வலிமையும்,

தங்கள் உயரதிகாரம் மேல் என்று அதற்காகவே.

நாம் அனைவரும் பிரார்த்தனை செய்வோம் அது நடகட்டுமென்று,

எல்லாவற்றிற்கும் அது நடக்கட்டுமென்று அதற்காகவே,

உலகமெல்லாம் உள்ள உணர்வும், மதிப்பும்,

அதற்கான பரிசை பெற வேண்டும், அதற்காகவே.

அதற்காகவே, அதற்காகவே.

அவையனைத்தும் இன்னும் வருமென்று அதற்காகவே.

உலகிலுள்ள எல்லா மனிதர்களும்,

சகோதர்களாக இருப்போம் அதற்காகவே.

The Fram Polar Ship

6 leadership lessons from the first men to reach the South Pole.

(Adapted from blog post originally posted on August 4, 2014)

I had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful city of Oslo and the Fram Museum, which houses arguably one of the world’s most important polar ships, the Fram.

Roald Amundsen’s cabin in the Fram

The Fram ship was captained by Captain Roald Amundsen as he led the first men towards the South Pole during an era considered the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. This was an era of intense rivalry and competition as men and nations were competing to be the first to achieve feats of exploration.

The rivalry between Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott are legendary as both men vied with one another to be the first to reach the South Pole.

Amundsen won and earned the distinction of being the first man to reach the South Pole. Scott who managed to reach the Pole later met with a tragic end and never made it back to his camp.

There are numerous accounts about their journeys and the historical reactions that followed both Amundsen and Scott’s achievements.

I want to highlight the six leadership lessons one can learn from Amundsen’s approach to his trip to the South Pole.

  1. Clarity of mission
  2. Clear and consistent leadership
  3. Attention to detail
  4. Constant preparation
  5. Avoid arm-chair expects (and get the right people into the team!)
  6. Luck – is what you make of it


Flag used by Roald Amundsen

1. Clarity of mission

Amundsen was very clear that his primary objective was to be the first man to reach the South Pole. He expended his energy, his thoughts and his efforts to this one single endeavour.

On the other hand, Scott’s agenda was never very clear and he wanted to conduct scientific research, exploration and also reach the pole but nothing was clear defined. One example was when Scott and his team were returning from the Pole, defeated and already running low on supplies, he decided to stop at the top of the Beardmore glacier and deemed it fit to ‘geologise’ and subsequently add more than 15 kilograms of rock to their loads, which slowed them down further and precipitated the crew’s sad demise.

Amundsen was very clear about what his expedition’s objectives were and what his own ambition was and set out to dispassionately attain it.

A confused mission and vision will ultimately confuse your team and lead to misaligned goals and values which will scupper any business or programme.


2. Clear leadership

Scott was a product of his times and was extremely formal, conventional and hierarchical and this is what the English establishment demanded this of anyone who was leading an official British mission.

Amundsen on the other hand was an extremely competitive, relentless and focused individual who was also hugely innovative and was ruthlessly direct in his leadership.

As an example, most of Scott’s team (which was made up of sixty five men) was was picked by various external parties. Within that team included a Captain Oates with whom Scott clashed with on numerous ocassions. Oates was never silent about his conflict with Scott either which only served to undermine Scott further.

Amundsen on the other hand handpicked 19 men for his lean Fram expedition. In his team was a Hjalmar Johansen who was a noted explorer too. However, there was an incident where Amundsen made a mistake in setting off for a trek too early. This mistake almost cost the life of one of the men and Johansen publicly berated Amundsen in front of the other men. Amundsen dismissed Johansen from the expedition to preserve the unity and integrity of the team.

One may argue that Amundsen could have taken a different tact or approach. Ultimately, for an expedition into a great unknown, there has to be absolutely clarity and trust.

Constant undermining of leadership would have led to mistrust and confusion and in the end cost lives.

As the National Geographic  puts it very eloquently, “Amundsen was also a man of towering ambition, prey to the same dangerous dreams and impulses that drive all explorers to risk their lives in wild places. Amundsen’s greatness is not that he lacked such driving forces but that he mastered them.”

It is vital that whilst there is space for disagreements and diversity of thought within any team, once a decision has been taken, it has to be followed through by everyone and anyone seeking to undermine a decision after it has been taken has to be either counselled or removed from the business.

3. Attention to detail

The clarity of the big picture is important. For any project or mission to succeed, the attention to detail, regardless of how minute, is also crucial.

In the case of Amundsen, he had a laser-like focus on every aspect of the Fram expedition – from the food chosen to the mode of travel to the choice of clothing.

Amundsen knew that in order to travel the distances they were targeting, they had to be able to get around quicker than if they were to do so purely on foot. To this end, Amundsen spent considerable time perfecting their ski equipment and footwear. This was something Scott’s team did not do sufficiently and towards the later stages of Scott’s expedition, this proved to be fatal.

Amundsen also spent considerable time with the Inuits and adopted fur suits along with their windproof outfits. The Inuits also wore their clothing loosely to reduce sweating (which helps retain body heat and also prevent freezing of clothes).

Even the way the fuel cans were sealed played a big role in the Antarctic expeditions. Scott had used incorrect washers for the fuel cans which led to evaporation of the fuel – which is a critical component in turning ice to water for drinking. Amundsen had worked this out earlier and had ensured that the cans were sealed properly to prevent any loss of fuel.

Food was an important component in the expedition which Amundsen paid a great deal of attention to. Amundsen, following his time with the Innuits, understood that an exclusively meat diet consisting of penguin and fresh seal meat was vital to remaining healthy. Although this wasn’t understood scientifically then, fresh seal and penguin meat provided enough Vitamin C to prevent scurvy (an ailment that afflicted sailors in those days and which was fatal in the long run if not treated).

On the other hand, a number of historians have indicated that the lack of good nutrition was one of the many reasons for Scott’s failure. They also tended to overcook the penguin and seal meat  (to remove the ‘fishy’ taste) which destroyed the Vitamin C present in them. Amundsen’s indifference to palate meant that his expedition ensured that they ate very unappetising biscuits (made from oatmeal, yeast – with enough Vitamin B, beef fat and pounded dried beef!) and which provided them with essential roughage. Again, this is something the British expedition team chose to ignore.

As Geir Klover, director of the Fram Museum in Oslo, explains, “”Amundsen had a tremendous reputation. He was a meticulous planner, easily the best organised explorer of his generation.”

The attention to detail, especially for major campaigns, is absolutely critical in not only determining the success or failure of the campaign, but between life and death.


4. Constant preparation

During the winter months, Amundsen and his team spent the days optimising their equipment, their clothing, their logistics and working to improve their efficiency. It was an extremely focused team with a clear view of what needed to be done to achieve the task at hand.

Scott’s team spent the time engaged in a series of meetings, lectures, reviews, and reading. This led to missed opportunities for the team to review their practical and operational needs and performance.

A clear vision, decisive leadership and attention to detail are matters which determine how well a team is prepared for a mission.

The need for constant preparation is vital and whilst it is easy to slip into a routine of meetings, conferences and discussions, without preparing for the tasks at hand, it will be near impossible to do a great job.


5. Avoid arm-chair experts (and get the right people into the team!)

Amundsen had one of Norway’s skiing champions in his team (despite the fact he wasn’t an explore or mountaineer). He also ensured that he had canine experts and dog handlers to choose the best dogs for his journey.

Scott chose not to use dogs – which he thought was more noble. This was also counter to the prevailing view in Britain in those days that dogs were of dubious value as a means of Antarctic transport (which was subsequently proven to be false).

To further compound matters, Scott had also instructed a member of his team who knew nothing about horses to choose the ponies for the expedition. The ponies chosen were of poor quality, age and condition and which only served to hinder Scott’s expedition.

Amundsen also made it a point to engage with the right people and subject matter experts (such as Fridtjof Nansen – another famous Nordic explorer) as he formulated his journey towards the South Pole.

6. Luck – is what you make of it

Amundsen summed it up best when he said:

“I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it.

Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.”


Magnificent Nine

The Amazing Story of the Magnificent Nine!

I had the pleasure of watching a fantastic Japanese film, The Magnificent Nine (殿、利息でござる! (Tono, Risoku de Gozaru!). The trailer can be viewed here.

The Seven Samurais have always captured the imagination of people with their valour and bravery. However, this riveting film based on a true story of the magnificent nine heroes – and theirs is a story that must be told and spread widely – is an important one.

This is a movie about sacrifice, about going beyond one’s own sense of privilege and thinking of the wider community and striving to support one’s people and community regardless of the hardships this may bring about. This remarkable tale was recorded by the priest Zuishi Eishu in his book, “Koko-on-ki.”

The story is set in the middle of the 18th century (1766 to be precise) during the Samurai era. The place is Yoshioka, a poor town, within the Kurokawa district in northern Japan. The people of Yoshioka were ruled at the time by a young feudal lord by the name of Shigemura Date.

When I first started watching the film, I’d assumed that it was a comedy; and whilst there were some laughs and warm-hearted moments, it could not make the deeply philosophical messages about the themes of sacrifice and noblesse oblige.

Yoshioka was a small ‘post town’ – so called because it was under the obligations of an old tradition (established 150 years earlier) called the “post horse duty” – where it was the duty of the folk of the ‘post town’ to transport all of their feudal lord’s goods at their own cost (including that of horses and labour) to the next unfortunate ‘post town’ which had to do the same until it got to its desired destination.

Due to the severe burden placed upon it, the little town of Yoshioka faced a growing exodus.  The people of the town, already in dire straits, went bankrupt and fled. The remaining town folk faced an increasingly greater burden as more people left and had to deal with growing costs of the post-horse duties.

It was at this point, one of the remaining residents, a tea grower by the name of Sugawaraya, hit upon an idea of a collective solution that will reduce the burdens of the townsfolk.

The idea rested on a simple premise. A select group of investors will band together and raise 1000 ryos (an old Japanese denomination) or US$3 million in current day terms and loan that full amount to Lord Shigemura Date, who was in straightened financial circumstances.

Subsequently when their Lord pays the interest on the loan, the yearly interest income will cover the full costs of their ‘post town’ duties for each and every person in the town. This meant that all of the people of Yoshioka will be able to escape the debilitating effects of the post-down duties and be able to build better live for themselves.

These few men had a belief that since they have the means, the can band together and create a solution for all of the people in their society. This small group of men will receive no returns nor profit as a result of doing this and their only benefit is the collective well-being of their town.

The efforts of this small band of heroes meant that the town of Yoshioka flourished and grew for a hundred years as they were paid an interest by the Lord and his successors till the end of the Edo era. Yoshioka entered the Meiji era as a vibrant town with a healthy and prosperous community.

It was profoundly moving to watch the story of the sacrifices of these unassuming few. One of them, Kokudaya, stated in his will simply, “Do not tell others what I have done.”

However the legacy of these men has somehow endured the test of time due to the efforts of the aforementioned priest, Zuishi Eishu.

Kokuday (who came from the Asanoya clan who were famous for their sake brewery) has his name living on as a beer and sake brewery in Yoshioka to this day. Please see photo below.


The thoughts and words of Kokudaya’s brother, Jinnai Asanoya, also were very profound. When they were in the presence of a very powerful official of Lord Shigemura Date’s court and enquired why Jinnai had not used the horses or palanquin sent to fetch him, Jinnai demonstrated his Confucian belief system which guided him and  formed the cornerstone of his values and attitudes towards life.

Jinnai explained to the powerful court official that he was taught that as Man is the lord of all creation, it was not right for one to ride on the back of an ox or a horse and cause it grief. He further explained that riding a palanquin was even worse as one man being carried by another man showed nothing but contempt. He also felt that one should not make use of men or cause suffering.

Jinnai spoke the truth, risking potential death, knowing fully well that Lord Shigemura Date himself often used the palanquin and horses! This virtuous quality of speaking the truth, even in the most dangerous of circumstances is one that one should seek to emulate.

Jinnai, who lost his sight from his middle age, also spent the rest of his life spending the profits of his business in building and repairing the roads and bridges of Yoshioka. His sake business grew from strength to strength despite at one point being almost bankrupt because he contributed the most money to fund the loan at the expense of his business.

However Lord Date, who heard of the selfless sacrifice made by these men, ensured that Jinnai remained in business and ensured that Jinnai followed his commandment that: “Your business must not be ruined. If you fail because of your lord, then my honour will be stained.”

Kokudaya, his brother Jinnai Asanoya, Kokudaya’s son Oteomon also embody the values of filial piety and honouring of parents. Kokudaya and Jinnai’s father, unknown to them, had previously already started collecting money to do precisely what they did – to loan money to their feudal lord and use the interest collected to offset the post-town burden. His sons, when they found out, were determined to complete the task their father started, to the point where Jinnai sacrificed his entire business to fulfil his father’s dreams and desires.

This fascinating tale (and beautifully captured movie) encapsulates the ingenuity of men in times of need. It also extols the timeless values of service, duty and sacrifice above one’s own needs. Values which transcend culture, language and faith.

The notion that ordinary men can indeed make a profound difference if they had the right set of values and the company of like-minded men is one that is made powerfully through this movie and story. Get the DVD!!

If you are keen to read a more detailed plot and summary of the film, the links below will be a good place to start:

For those with Japanese proficiency:

For anyone keen on visiting Yoshioka today and learning more, please visit:


(C) Mike Luckovich



“I believe this [income inequality] is the defining challenge of our time.”
Barack Obama (2013)


“One of the leading economic stories of our time is rising income inequality, and the dark shadow it casts across the global economy.”
Christine Lagarde (2015)


There is a clear recognition of the risks, dangers and the pain which income inequality imposes on society. Despite the recognition, it is a problem which seems to constantly be forwarded on to successive generations to resolve rather than finding a decisive set of solutions.

We will all do well to pay heed to the US Senator John Sherman who in 1890 when he introduced his landmark Sherman Antitrust Act said that he sought to “put an end to great aggregations of capital because of the helplessness of the individual before them” and also because he fundamentally believed that amongst all of the nation’s problems, “none is more threatening that the inequality of condition, of wealth and opportunity.”

So why does inequality matter? Why is it important that we all strive towards resolving it? Societies that are hugely imbalanced and unequal ultimately become fractured which in turn lead to painful social and economic consequences that affect everyone. Neither the rich nor the poor will be able to avoid the huge social costs of a fractured society.

The stark facts

  • 62 of the richest people in the world own what the bottom 50% of the world’s population own.

  • 1915: The richest 1% of Americans earned 18% of the national income.
    1930s to 1970s: The share plummeted and remained below 10%
    From the 1970s: The share has increased to almost 30%

  • 1980: The top 0.1% wealthiest Americans controlled about 9% of all household wealth
    2015: The top 0.1% own 22% of all household wealth.

  • USA: The top 1% of America control 40% of America’s wealth

  • Germany: Poverty has risen by half since 2000.

  • 1965: CEO pay at the largest 350 U.S companies was 20 times as high as the pay of the average workers
    1989: The figure is 58 times as high
    2012: The figure is now an astounding 273 times as high.
    (It is worth bearing in mind that Peter Drucker argued that the pay ratio between the top executive and the humblest worker should be no greater than 20 to 1.)

  • OECD: The gap between the rich and poor is now at its highest level in OECD economies in 30 years according to a report produced in 2014. The overall increase in income inequality has been driven by the richest 1%.
  • 2008: The United Nations University (UNU) and the World Institute for Development Economic Research (WIDER) estimate that the global Gini coefficient (a measurement of inequality between 0 – representing complete equality and 1 – representing complete inequality) was 89.

    An alternative way to interpret this is that in a population of 10 people, if one person had $1000, the other nine have only $1 each.

  • 2014: The Credit Suisse Global Wealth report estimates that that the richest 0.7% (who hold over US$1 million in wealth) held 44% of the global net worth.

Some context

The economic success stories of many countries hides a dangerous truth – that a significant majority of economic gains are going to those at the very top of the income distribution whereas those lower down have seen real incomes stagnate or diminish.

This has in turn perpetuated further inequality as those in a position of privilege often use their wealth and influence to shape policies that further increase their concentration of power. These policies have not necessarily been in the interests of those lower down the income ladder.

A research conducted by Martin Gilens, a political scientist at Princeton, lends credence to the notion that the US government responds more positive to the most affluent ten percent of Americans whilst “the preferences of a vast majority of Americans appear to have essentially no impact on which policies the government does or doesn’t adopt.” (A video of Gilen’s lecture can also be viewed here.)

The erosion of the social compact

This wasn’t always the case though. Whilst there has always been inequality, it has never been to this extent or been as pervasive. There was also more concerted effort to reduce the level of inequality and dampen its deleterious impact on society.

The experience of the First World War revolutionised American attitudes towards taxation and redistribution of income. When the War Revenue Act of 1917 was passed, there was talk of “conscription of income” and “conscription of wealth” at a time when young men were enlisting en masse. “Let their dollars die for their country too,” one congressman said. The call for fiscal patriotism helped legitimate the progressive income tax in the United States, and by 1944 the top marginal rate had risen as high as 94 percent.

Across Europe, a fear that the lack of reform could lead to social and political turmoil and the horrors of two World Wars meant that policies such as social insurance, minimum wage, a strong welfare state and progressive income tax were implemented leading to more egalitarian societies and economies.

inequality 2The experiences of global ears produced visions of a social bond holding countries together and nurtured the notion that every single person owed a debt to the welfare of the broader community and society.

However since the 70s, the disappearance of these conditions has meant that the support for egalitarian public policies has also diminished.

We now live in a world where even high skilled jobs are being commoditised so that even highly educated workers are not making sufficient progress as gains in economic growth are limited to a very elite group of financiers, entrepreneurs and managers. In the past only unskilled workers lost jobs to automation, now even highly skilled occupations are at risk with the advancement of artificial intelligence, robotics and automation.

The social structure of Silicon Valley provides us with an instructive view of the future: One where expert systems have replaced the majority of people and a tiny but well-remunerated minority direct the economy whilst the majority exist to serve them alone.

The conflict is no longer just between the working class and the middle and upper classes – it is now between a tiny elite and the great majority of citizens. As the majority develop a sense of common interest, or what Marx may have termed ‘class consciousness’, the need to resolve inequality will become more acute as the resentment of it intensifies.


What happens when income inequality starts to become entrenched?

  • Health: Societies that are more unequal tend to have lower life expectancies, higher infant mortality, higher levels of infant mortality and high levels of diseases and conditions such as HIV/AIDS.
  • Human capital development: As inequality rises, scores on the UNICEF index of child well-being become significantly worse. Literacy rates are also lower and youth unemployment also becomes a major issue. A higher level of equality also leads to a greater level of innovation as a result of greater access to opportunity.
  • Social mobility: Inequality restricts social mobility – equality of opportunity is enhanced by greater income equality. Reduced social mobility further exacerbates income inequality and this becomes a vicious spiral from which an effective functioning economy becomes more and more difficult.

    inequality1 2
    (C) Walt Handelsman
  • Economic progress and stability: An IMF report highlights that by reducing inequality and bolstering longer term economic growth are “two sides of the same coin.” In both rich and poor countries, inequality is strongly correlated with shorter spells of economic expansion and growth over time. Unequal economies are also more susceptible to severe boom-and-bust cycles leading to greater volatility and crisis. Extreme levels of income inequality depress economic growth. An OECD report estimates that inequality has had a cumulated loss of GDP across OECD economies of 8.5% over twenty-five years.
  • Social challenges and issues: Inequality breeds corruption. Unequal societies also lead to greater economic instability. If one considers the root causes of the Arab Spring, the lack of economic opportunity or equality is one of the main drivers leading to revolt.

A blueprint for change and resolution

The solution and change required for income inequality is not a zero-sum game. There will be those who are impacted more than others, but it is essential in calibrating the world in a more equal way.

It is very easy to be dangerously complacent and ignore equality, but chronic economic inequality hurts everyone, both the rich and the poor.

Resolution of a problem like inequality requires a revolutionary approach. We need to accept a fiscal revolution or risk a social one.

I’ve highlighted below briefly some key practical steps that need to be considered as we seek an urgent resolution to the problem of income inequality.

  1. Tax reforms – Income taxes need to be more progressive (the way they were previously in times of greater equality). There needs to be a reform in the way the transfer of wealth is also taxed. The OECD has suggested that attempts to reduce inequality tax and transfer policies will not harm growth as long as the chosen policies are well designed and implemented. The OECD further argues that redistribution efforts should focus on families with children, on the youth and the improvement in human capital investment through the promotion of skills learning and development.
  1. Continued focus on economic growth and employment – Policies targeting economic growth need to continue as growth ensures jobs are created and ensures employment. Employment will support social mobility which is essential to the reduction of inequality.
  1. Ensure emphasis on social mobility – Social mobility is a key driver towards the reduction on inequality. Emphasis on education, skills learning and development is vital to support social mobility.
  1. Support small savers and small businesses – Policies should not be tilted towards just merely taxing the rich but also be aimed at increasing the wealth of small savers and businesses. For instance we should consider the introduction of accounts for small savers and businesses that guarantees positive returns in excess of inflation. It is also a widely observed phenomenon that lower income families borrow more to support their consumption and this in turn creates a systemic risk.
  1. Enhanced social policies – Governments and policy makers should also consider more directed interventions to enhance the social conditions of lower income families. For instance, in the UK, the Child Benefit offers a weekly allowance to parents for every child they raise. The transfer could be better targeted by making the income taxable as personal income, which will reduce the size of the benefit for those in higher tax brackets or who do not have face any other mitigating circumstances. In the UK, child poverty has dropped sharply whilst in the USA; it has risen by a third between 1969 and 2013. A child-benefit programme will help make a major dent in child poverty and also represent a powerful investment in the future. Introducing a child-benefit program in the US will make a major dent in child poverty and represent a powerful investment into the future.
  1. Minimum wage – Governments should also take an active review of the minimum wage policies in their countries and recalibrate them to local conditions. There is always a temptation to keep minimum wage lower because neighbouring countries are keeping theirs lower, but this beggar thy neighbour policy will not benefit anyone in the long run. Countries that make the effort to ensure greater equality will be healthier in the long term.
  1. Automation and technological change – Governments should take an active interest in the direction of technological change. It is mostly governmental grants and labs that are responsible for the underlying research that has led to the progress in automation and technology and they therefore have the right to ensure a clear review is undertaken to mitigate the social impacts of technological change through appropriate fiscal and taxation policies.

It is crucial that we as a collective rise up to face the challenges of income inequality and work closely to create a more equal society. The corrosive impacts of inequality will affect us all and the sooner we can find solutions to achieve an equal society, the better, for all.


e-Learning and the needs of developing countries

Having had the pleasure of speaking at the UNCTAD14: e-Learning – Leapfrogging Skills Development session on the 21st of July 2016 in Nairobi, I am enclosing below some of my thoughts on e-Learning and the needs of digital countries in terms of knowledge development and how to best address them.

Details of my fellow participants can be found here.

The full video of the session can also be found at E-learning: Leapfrogging skills development from TrainForTrade on Vimeo.


ACCA, as the global body for professional accountants , has within its DNA embedded the notion of delivering public value and to also advance the science of accountancy.

As an organisation committed to innovation and providing opportunity, it was only apt that we became the first professional accountancy body to develop ACCA-X, a comprehensive suite of learning modules towards financial literacy, accountancy and business skills using MOOC (Massive Open Online Content) learning through an exciting partnership with edX and Epigeum .

In the 12 months since launch (from July 2015), there have been over 120,000 learners from over 210 countries who have participated and engaged with the courses and started their journey towards a better understanding of accountancy, business and finance.


Four key areas for developing and transition economics to consider for e-Learning knowledge development:

  1. Tackling the employability gap

  2. Building the foundations for data-led learning

  3. Capacity building for educators and policy makers

  4. The value of partnerships


Tackling the employability gap

  • Employability is one of the key policy issues of our times.
  • Linking education to employability and improving overall efficiency and productivity is something policy makers and politicians are grappling all over the world.
  • Interestingly, UNCTAD Secretary General Mukhisa Kituyi highlighted in a high level policy roundtable during the first day of the UNCTAD14 conference that employees in developing nations only have an output that is 10% of their counterparts in the EU.
  • It is important to note though that employability is an issue that afflicts both developing and developed nations equally. It is a problem in India (with increasing numbers of graduates unable to find relevant jobs); it is a problem in China (with the numbers of graduates increasing from 1 million in 2000 to 6.1 million in 2011); it is a problem across the EU with over a fifth of 15 – 24 year olds unable to find gainful employment. Further details can be found here.
  • Reasons for this employability gap:
    1. mismatch in skills required by industry and what they are being trained towards;
    2. lack of clarity of skills needs and dialogue between educators and industry;
    3. education and training style (focus still on role learning – does not foster mental agility and innovative flair)
  • This is where technology and e-Learning becomes an enabler to helping fill the gap between education and technology:
    1. Technology allows for learners to reflect, plan and articulate knowledge
    2. E-learning embeds amongst their learners core digital literacy skills – which is crucial
    3. Learning and assessment become more authentic through digital learning à more closely aligned to workplace
    4. For instance with ACCA-X, there is an emphasis to ensuring that the business and accounting theory is supported by interactive simulations of actual practice and with significant support in ensuring learners understand the link between the theory and how they can be expected to apply their knowledge in practice and enable them to be work-ready.
    5. E-Learning allows for students to become active agents of engagement and change and allow them to further develop their social and leadership skills. It also aids students towards becoming self-aware and independent learners which could be argued is the main purpose of education. It is this quality that should be at the heart of institutional strategy policy formulation.
      (C) zodakreza
  • E-learning allows the opportunity to establish a clear pedagogy (to cater to the different learning styles) – to the right levels of assessment – to effective monitoring and management (through data) and support a process of continuous improvement.



Building the foundations for data-led learning

  • The data allows for identification of hot spots, areas for improvement and ensure a programme of targeted support and intervention.
  • Data analytics and review is a critical component to aid both educators and learners along with policy makers.
  • The availability of data to enhance educators’ ability to better support their learners is a major component of effective e-Learning.
  • Tutors also have the tools to enhance learner management and be able to teach to scale.
  • The availability of learning data will also be instrumental in helping policy makers and researchers identify the learning gaps and hot spots and ensure there is effective capacity building taking place at appropriate levels to resolve outstanding issues.

Capacity building for educators and policy makers

  • This is often an area that is overlooked as e-learning programmes and initiatives are rolled out.
  • Whilst there is ample learning support for students to help them make the relevant transition to e-learning and blended learning, there isn’t always the same level of support of policy makers.
  • A key policy area for policy makers is to provide the right levels of support to educators as they embed e-learning within the curriculum.
  • The ACCA experience has demonstrated that there needs to be support for educators in helping develop blended learning solutions so that they are able to best leverage the opportunities offered through e-learning.
  • It is a large shift away from strictly face to face traditional’ transmit’ style learning – and training and support needs to be given to help educators adapt to e-Learning.
  • Educators and teachers also need to be given the comfort and confidence that e-learning is not designed to replace them. It is in fact designed to re-configure their role and their place in classrooms.


The value of partnerships

  • Developing effective partnerships will be the most effective way for countries to develop effective e-learning and knowledge platforms and solutions to meet their needs and ambitions.
  • The development of high quality e-learning (from the pedagogy to course development to platform development and delivery) can be extremely resource and investment intensive. This can be a significant deterrent for various developing and transition economies to either defer investment or worse, to develop poorly designed e-learning solutions which hinder more than they help.
  • The ACCA experience has shown that through partnerships, it is possible to develop a high-quality learning experience and allows for stakeholders in developing and transition economies to scale the learning curve much more rapidly.
  • Partnerships between policy makers, educators, industry organisations and employers is vital in developing the e-learning solutions developing nations needs.


E-learning solutions represent the most efficient way for nations to build the productive capacity they need to support the wider learning and development programmes to support their employability agenda, to promote social mobility and tackle the endemic problem of inequality.

The path of e-learning and digital learning that remains ahead of us is an exciting one. It is not without its challenges but a focussed and targeted approach of developing the appropriate e-learning solutions that are fit for purpose and in partnership, where possible, will ensure that much more rapid progress is made.