22 October 2019
By Diana Buraka
Philipp Hildebrand, Vice Chairman of BlackRock, spoke at the Swiss Embassy in London. His speech ‘Value and Value’ accentuated the importance of “sustainable investing” being a catalyst for change.
Hildebrand emphasised an indisputably rising demand for companies which aspire to capture opportunities and mitigate risks associated with the transition from a carbon-based economy. He reminded the audience, that just a decade ago, investors would simply have smirked at the idea of asset allocation primarily targeting social or environmental outcomes. Such a cynical attitude wasn’t entirely unreasonable, because even until recently, sustainably meant trading returns for values. Times have changed, and responsible investment is becoming an advantage rather than an obstacle.
Today, we already see the clear trend of many European asset owners asking for detailed information on how managers incorporate ESG guidelines into their investment strategy. Hildebrand is predicting that Millennials, who will be allocating their wealth over the next 15 years, will increasingly target companies with smaller carbon footprints. Hildebrand foresees that the focus of future investors will be on positive social and environmental outcomes, which will be the catalyst for change.
Some of the most heated debates in Davos 2018 were centered around the challenges that AI and robotics pose to business.
The CEO of Google even suggested that AI will be bigger than fire or electricity in terms of business impact. These discussions were by far the most popular of the entire week and the questions always eventually turned to the impact on society, the role of human vs machine and how these relationships will develop. It was noted that the most popular consumer AI interfaces, such as Alexa and Siri, default to female personae and, indeed, there was even serious talk of how humans may soon develop romantic relationships with AI.
But we’re not there quite yet and until we are, the best way for humans to interface with each other, especially when they seem to have culturally different operating systems, is to meet face to face at events such as the Swiss-Arab Network.“The Swiss-Arab Network is not just about business”, says spokesman Slim Habli. “It’s also about building long-term relationships”Another central theme at Davos was the empowerment of women and this is an issue very important to the Swiss-Arab Network.
So whilst Alexa isn’t on talking terms with Cortana, and Siri stays aloof, the organisers of the Swiss-Arab Network are succeeding in their goals to empower (real) women and to help diverse cultures to join together and find common ground.This year the Swiss-Arab Networking event opens its doors in Davos on 23rd January 2019.
by Diana Buraka
Today, on the day of my annual birthday re-incarnation, I was contemplating about an eternal immortality… not that I am excited about ‘still rocking it’ as an ancient and frail Granny, but who would resist the prospect of a wise mind in an everlasting fit body.
‘If Youth knew, if Age could…’ In Freudian times it was not possible to combine the wisdom of the Old with the drive of the Young. But this may change soon!
On my birthday, officially becoming one year wiser, I have discovered that some Artificial Intelligence researchers at MIT, are not far from limiting our human mortality problem merely to ‘a hardware problem’… Meaning, you can continue using your life-long accumulated knowledge and experience even after your death! But what about my body, you would ask…? Well…. this aspect still hasn’t been resolved yet.
So, keep on working-out and training your abs, my friends, because for now your mind is able to continue its perpetual life only as an AI in a computer cloud, basically, in the absence of your current hot ‘body-line’! I am just hoping, my everlasting blonde brainy AI will end up in a hedonistic computer cloud, where adventurous and naughty thoughts are not censored by an antivirus software!
Sounds pretty outlandish to me… even comparing it to numerous ultra-innovative start-up ideas I have featured while covering the Start Global Summit 2018 in Switzerland, a couple of weeks ago.
Life beyond death, and how it works:
Nectome is an American company, founded in 2016 by AI researchers at MIT, which promises a path to immortality. There is a downside… it has to kill you to upload your brain to the cloud. Immortality, induced by a process guaranteed to end life, as you know it.
Never say never… who knows, some daredevil venture capitalists, without any capital, might be even prepared to complete the first funding round donating their own brains…
Nectome offers to preserve your brain forever.
The process starts with an assisted suicide: the arteries of a terminally ill yet still living person are flooded with embalming fluid, converting brain tissue into a map of neurons. From these, Nectome promises to upload your memories and consciousness.
Even though, Nectome does not have a functioning method yet, it hopes to enable an interaction between the uploaded brain and the external world.
And so, once upon a time, when our minds can be uploaded and then resurrected to live indefinitely within a computer simulation, the predictions of futurologist Ray Kurzweil about ‘The Age of Intelligent Machines’ will become reality: the moment when Artificial Intelligence will actually be able to outsmart human beings!
Carpe diem, enjoy the moment while it is still possible to be ‘The Smartest Guy in the Room’ and keep on working on your beach-body six-pack while it still matters!
By Diana Buraka
Cologne welcomed me with the warm breeze, contrasting rain and sunshine, but most importantly, with an uplifting feeling of a new start of an awakening spring season.
My city tour adventures started through the lively Breiten Strasse with its vibrant atmosphere of chilled Reggie tunes, and the local cafés and bakeries, beckoning me with the aroma of freshly baked pastries and neatly arranged breadbaskets.
Colourful decorations of the Hussel Chocolate artisan shop caught my eye.
Chocolate is the answer, I thought to myself! It has been always known as ‘food for soul’. The chocolate may not solve your problems, but, hey, an apple won’t solve them either…! 🙂
When entering the kingdom of Hussel Chocolate, I instantly knew, – ‘I don’t need to be nice anymore, as I can get the best sweets myself!’ 🙂
My favourite pick were the hazelnuts coated in the dark chocolate. Truly irresistible! Obviously, the pack of those hasn’t ever reached an initially intended recipient, as I have instantly opened the Pandora’s box of chocolate indulgence.
Spin forward: after catching few Sun rays by the Cologne Cathedral, I am at the piano bar of Excelsior Hotel sipping on a fresh mint tea with honey, while listening to the tunes of soulful piano jazz and planning my tour through the art galleries. I had a double luck: after the long conference the day before, it was the time to explore the best of this culturally rich city. And what a coincidence, – it was the opening day of Art Cologne (26-29 of April 2017)! Moreover, I was lucky to have a fine Art expert as my personal guide, who I happened to meet by chance on my way to Art Cologne.
Art Cologne is a contemporary art fair, where established international galleries like Ben Brown Fine Arts and White Cube from London, David Kordansky from LA, Pearl Lam from Hong Kong, and other global counterparts are joined by successful young gallery owners like Antoine Levi and Joseph Tang from Paris, Project Native Informant from London, Kai Matsumiya from NY and Teminkova & Kasela from Tallinn, my home Baltic region amongst others, overall showing works of around two thousand artists.
My personal top five selection of the international rising stars may not indicate the next Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons! Nevertheless, they would be serious contenders to replace the current artwork in my office and remind me of the short but sweet memories of my Cologne adventures.
From London and Paris with love; Dancing at the European Championship this weekend in Kremlin, Moscow!
While rehearsing for my big day in Moscow, I’ve been asked by someone watching me practicing, ‘How are you going to compete with the best of the best in the industry? You must be nervous?’ No doubt, I do have the little butterflies in my stomach before entering the dance floor in Kremlin, flooded with the shiny spotlights, surrounded by the TV camera lenses and photographers’ flashlights, along with the air of suspense and anticipation of the audience.
The room is oozing with a complex fusion of scents, from the luxurious fragrances worn by the ladies in long evening gowns, the flavour of freshly cut fruits, champagne and flowers on the neatly laid tables, to the smell of the oak wooden floor mixed with the odour of the spray tan and sweat, – all this reinforces my vivid picture of the competition environment, gathered from the snippets of my last year memories while performing in Kremlin.
Breath-taking or embarrassing, – nothing slips away from the vigilant eye of the attentive Russian audience. But what a joy it is, to dream with your feet, and to share your creative world with others! It is a delightful moment of bliss, when you captivate a fleeting glimpse of an engaged viewer, who feels inspired, carried away or simply intrigued by watching your performance. I feel blessed to do what I love, reaching for the infinite power of imagination, that I express in the conversation between my body, my soul and the rhythm.
Someone said to me once, ‘Yes, it is rewarding to be an artist and a performer, but the price you pay for being so sensitive, that you can mirror your ‘lowest emotional downfalls’ and the thrilling peaks in your artwork, must be simply too high!’.
Sure, it is high! ‘You have to feel the blues, to sing the blues!’
But, boy, it’s worth it! And if I had to choose my way through the artistic jungle once again, I would have taken the same path with the final destination called ‘dance’.
Dance has brought so many colours into my life! Sad moments of being heartbroken, or exciting times of celebrating my success, I had my confidence, that dance will sooth my soul and catch me, when I fall. Dance has always been my most devoted and affectionate boyfriend, who has never betrayed me nor let me down! I always felt welcome in its generous embraces of unconditional love.
Dance made me who I am today, and it keeps me motivated to search for solutions for my brother in a wheelchair to regain his physical freedom. I am deeply moved by the internal strength and the courage of all the people, like my brother, affected by a sudden loss of mobility, who found their impetus to strive and to believe in themselves.
Getting back to the initial question of feeling nervous to perform on the same stage with the most talented dancers from all over the world: sure, nervousness is part of the game, but a much smaller part, compared to the joy and thrill of sharing your creative world with others!
My appreciation goes to all of you, who inspired me, encouraged and empowered me on the way, and gave me the pleasure of the moment to perform for you!
I will keep you in my heart while entering the festive hall of the Kremlin Palace under the tunes of the Russian anthem at the European Championship this weekend!
Now, allow me to share with you my latest dance show, that I did for the London Fashion Week, in which I celebrated the forces, that nurture our passion, our vitality, our zest for life and the power of desire!
Sounds of castanets and the march of a Toreador – that’s the vibe of our opening dance show ‘Carmen’ today at the Masquerade Ball at the Kensington Close Hotel! To the tunes of Bizet’s Opera, we will be performing for you a fiery Paso Doble dance!
WHERE: The Kensington Close Hotel, Wrights Lane, W8 5SP, London
WHEN: Saturday, 12 Nov.2016, door opens at 7pm, show at 9.15 pm
Yet another year we are privileged to be chosen to represent France at the World Dance Championship in Kremlin, Moscow!
For me, this journey always brings nostalgic memories of growing up in the Soviet Latvia, when my father used to come back home in his fighter pilot uniform of the Russian Army.
I recall those days like a Soviet film from the past, where I am able to play a part and shape the storyline.
It all starts from the moment when the sumptuous halls of the Aurora Hotel on Petrovka street, that we call our home for a few days, are welcoming us with the grand style design of the Tsarist Russia.
No time to procrastinate in the lavish hotel lounges, – we register by the delegation of the World Dance Council and get ourselves ready for the mission!
It’s nothing less but the World Dance Championship and the stakes are high!
Hours of rehearsing, grooming and planning… and we are embarking on a journey through the strictly guarded gates of the Red Square. We are wondering through the maze of the endless corridors of Kremlin, till eventually reaching the festive Congress Hall, that breathes with Russian history. You glance at the grand stage and imagine the line-up of the remarkable performers it has seen. And that’s the moment I have to pinch yourself, because in couple of hours we are entering this stage and begin with our own story, that we’ll convey through the fusion of movements, music and our creative spirit.
Investing in Africa – The Challenge of High Returns, Liquidity, Currency Risk and Corporate Governance
by Diana Buraka
Fund managers casting their eyes on hot African ventures. Investing in Africa is still seen as a risky venture, but the quest for higher returns and margins makes this continent attractive for global investors in the long-term. Double digit returns in fixed income investments in selected countries can be attractive in the current low interest rate environment and provide some diversification. Diana Buraka with a report from Fund Forum Africa 2016 in London.
A few years ago one would wonder ‘why’ investing in Africa, whereas now the question is ‘why not’. Considering the growing consumer demand and increasingly liberalised industries it is no surprise that Africa has become a popular destination for business investment.
Diana Buraka, correspondent at FundForum Africa: “Investment in Africa is a very diverse topic. A broad range of views were presented at this year’s FundForum Africa conference. Talking to delegates, fund managers and analysts here it was interesting to see the difference in perspective. Investors and managers based in Africa come up with an assessment which is in contrast to the views of international investors. Overall, Africa is still a continent of opportunities. New technologies, FinTech and innovation in energy and telecom markets as well as financial services represent substantial growth potential.”
Liquidity is a challenge in Africa
But there are also enough reasons to be skeptical about Africa’s sunny growth prospects. Besides corruption, political and systemic risks the number of businesses that are big enough to attract large private equity funds is still limited.
Even when managers have found a promising deal, the owners are often reluctant to give up control. And those who managed to spot the right company and improve its performance within a few years after buying it, struggle to exit by means of an IPO listing due to low liquidity on local stock markets.
Institutional investors face challenges in Africa
For an institutional investor in particular it is very challenging to extract money out of the country or repatriate dividends. This represents a significant risk.
“The biggest fear is getting your money out. Nigeria has imposed capital controls. Egypt has followed a similar approach. If you are an institutional investor or if you are a fiduciary acting on behalf of the pension holders or other investors, you just cannot take such kind of lock up risk in a liquid market. It is just too irresponsible investment, and this is a huge barrier in two of the most liquid markets on the continent” said Adam Choppin, Manager Research – International Equities, Investment Strategy, at FIS Group, Inc at the Fund Forum Africa 2016.
Sound institutional set-up is key for development
Albert Reiter, CEO of e-fundresearch.com and investRFP.com who chaired a high-profile panel at FundForum Africa this year adds: “The institutional set-up in a number of countries is already well developed but the track-record of good governance is still short”. Olusegun Omoniwa, Head of Managed Investments at the Wealth Management Unit of Standard Chartered in Nigeria confirms that there would be a good basis for development of strong local institutional markets: “The pension system in Nigeria is very similar to the one in Chile. Strong domestic institutions and a developed framework could stabilize markets in times of crisis.”
Investors evaluate Frontier Markets in the search for yield
“Talking to institutional bond investors this week I hear that more and more investors start looking at frontier markets also in the search for yield. In the fixed income markets it makes sense to add a few percentage points of double-digit coupons in currencies which have under-performed recently”, explains Albert Reiter from e-fundresearch.com.
The brave will take the risk
Besides the currency risks and plummeting commodity prices, political unrests have lowered the appetite of the more risk-averse fund managers. This may bring down the price tags of the overvalued companies and open up new opportunities for those who are brave enough to take the risk.
“The policies of the Zuma government in South Africa had a negative impact on growth but they’ve been unlucky with the economic cycle also. Both things happened at the same time and that’s a rough cocktail to overcome. I don’t see either of those things changing in the next year” added Adam Choppin by FIS Group, Inc.
More upside on the horizon
Despite some caution there was a rather optimistic outlook on investing in Africa during panel discussions at the FundForum Africa 2016. Stephan Breban, Investment Consultant at RisCura reminded that the biggest headwind for investments in Africa remains to be the misperception and a lack of knowledge also.
“The people will tell you about the oil price collapse, about the political instability, the currency instability, but the reality is, that the number one headwind for in Africa is misperception. People tell you that Africa is failing, but every problem you see is not unique and it was just repeated again. Probably the answer has already been found somewhere.”
Entrepreneurship is Africa’s biggest asset
South Africa is still an important power-house in Africa and home to very dynamic companies and entrepreneurs. With the right policies the country could return to growth. Although the current climate is rather defensive and there is talk about rating downgrades there is also reason to be optimistic.
Albert Reiter: “The most recent elections resulted in some surprises for a number of market participants. Herman Mashaba, the new mayor of Johannesburg who made his money as an entrepreneur in the hair-care business, was offered this job by the Democratic Alliance. He is one of the people to watch as he governs and manages a city of 5 million people – close to 10 percent of the country’s population. If he succeeds it would be very promising for the future of the whole country. He is definitely one to take up the challenge.”
by Diana Buraka
As a performer, I see no harm in making emotional decisions, but when it comes to serious matters such as Britain’s membership of the European Union, the arguments should be more pragmatic than those of voting for the finalists of Britain’s Got Talent or Strictly Come Dancing…
There is not doubt, that Britain’s got talent, but together with Europe, it will have much more talent to make this country proud of its achievements! For example, on the International Dance scene, Britain has for years been represented by the Belgian dancer, Joanna Leunis and the Polish dancer, Michael Malitowski. For several years, Michael and Joanna were championing this country as victors in the World Dance Championship. Those talented dancers from the countries of the Brussels Eurocrats and the Polish plumbers were dedicating their art and careers for the glory of Great Britain… If Britain wasn’t welcoming multicultural talent from all over Europe, it would have never remained at the top of the international Ballroom dance scene.
Talking about couple dancing, there are many parallels in the principle of teamwork, and long-term relationship building as a basis for successful cooperation.
The European Union is just like any other relationship, which is not perfect, but it can bring great rewards, if there is a will to engage and to make it prosper.
The proof, is my own success as a professional dancer. It took us many years to shape our dance partnership to become French Champions in Latin American dancing and reap the rewards of our successful partnership on the international dance scene representing France. If Britain remains in Europe, it can shape European cooperation and will carve its unique role within, striving for a successful future together!
by Diana Buraka
To understand the vague logic behind the will to leave Europe, I decided to get on to the streets of London and to talk to those, who believe they will be better off turning their backs on their neighbours, naïvely hoping to continue benefiting from the European single market in the same friendly spirit.
While the Remain campaign talks about the real economy, Nigel Farage is relentlessly repeating the same old broken record on immigration, playing on emotional strings, that have nothing to do with logic or common sense. Slamming the doors in the face of skilled and talented Europeans, who make this country thrive by working and paying their taxes, is not the way to handle the immigration issue.
Nick, 58, from Woodford, is a souvenir stall keeper in the most touristic part of central London. I stopped at his stall and asked him, if he sells T-shirts with an “I’M IN” slogan. After thanking an Italian tourist for buying a souvenir from his stall, Nick turned to me and said: ‘I hope we leave Europe and stop the immigrants coming to Britain’. Considering what he said from a logical point of view, if there is anyone, who should be genuinely hoping for Britain to remain in the EU, it should be a souvenir vendor like Nick, otherwise, who will buy his souvenirs if not the foreigners, who flood into London?
Nick grumbled, that there are not enough jobs for everyone in the UK, but I told him that in Switzerland, a country that is outside the EU, where I lived and worked almost a decade, I have witnessed louder anti-immigration voices, as Switzerland, like any other country with a high standard of living, attracts newcomers in their pursuit for a better future. So, leaving the EU is no guarantee of fewer immigrants.
Let’s pray, that talented Europeans will still wish to remain in Britain after London loses its crown as the most multicultural and cosmopolitan city in Europe. And also, let’s hope that stall vendors like Nick will still have enough tourists to buy his souvenirs…
In my pursuit for a logical reason to leave Europe, I spoke to Mike, 52, a black cab driver from Greenwich. I asked Mike, about his reasons to vote for Brexit. Mike expressed his worries about the job shortage for black cab drivers. ‘Isn’t it an inevitable result of globalization and technological progress?’, I thought…. But ironically, Mike did not even mention his true worry, which was competition from Uber, instead blaming the immigrants… Neither did he seem to be aware, that a big part of his own income comes from the foreigners who use his services.
Rounding off my discussions with the Brexit supporters that I spoke to, I was left with an impression, that the vote to Leave is so misleading, that even those directly dependent on the European clientele, are not aware of the negative impact on their own financial well-being! If the UK should leave Europe, it will be an impulsive mistake, that in the long run will benefit nobody!